Q: What are the pluses and minuses of working in front of a live audience as opposed to YouTube or TV?
A: I sort of treat them the same way. In a live performance, you need the audience’s permission to edit.I think that's so cool. That struck me, in a way, the idea of getting the audience's permission. It's totally magickal right? Cole is savvy enough to know that this is, of course, a kind of very polite (we can say 'formal') lip service. Even in a cabaret setting, even among his crowd of adoring fans who know and love him, it's impossible to get the audience's permission as such. Consensus building is always a fantasy, and Cole knows this. He's being cute, and letting you know that he's being cute. He concedes that he needs the audience's permission in order to "edit" or assert his will, but of course he doesn't actually solicit the audience's permission. It's impossible, but the nod towards the phantom of willpower, control, "permission" are at the heart of what makes Cole's work so exciting.
On Tuesday night, soul sister Dan Fishback came over and cooked dinner. We watched Dude, Where's My Car? and talked about how great Cole's show was. I met Cole through Dan many years ago, and I remember a number of times, back in those halcyon pre-Recession days, when Dan and I worked together at the law firm and would hang out at the front desk, watching Cole's YouTube Videos, and saying to each other how we wished that he would do more real, live performances. How brilliant we thought he was, how we couldn't wait for him to do shows so we could go with all our friends and everyone would know how amazing and talented and smart Cole is. And I think I can safely speak for Miss Dan when I saw that we feel vindicated.
Of course Cole is adorable. Of course Cole is cute, and seems very sweet, friendly, good-natured. Of course he has excellent stage presence, having been trained as an actor. He can, of course, sing and dance very well, and has eclectic, idiosyncratic taste in music. These are great things, but they do not necessarily a great show make. They're not enough. Cole's work is so striking because he's not subverting the actual tropes of performance or cabaret or anything. It's not like he's going onstage and being horrifying and ugly and aggressive, daring you to find him charming (meanwhile, this puerile kind of low-intellect "punk" shtick is exactly the kind of thing shit I would pull). What Cole does subvert is the audience's expectations. It comes back to this idea of "the audience's permission". Cole makes you strikingly aware of what you want. It's a really hard thing to do: how can you make an entire room of people not only cheer for you (which any fool can do) but be conscious of their desire to cheer for you. Cole makes you make up your mind. The way he does it is by performing a kind of fearless making up of his own mind. For me, everything is about courage. Cole may or may not be actually fearless, in his day-to-day life, but onstage he shows that questions of fear or comfort are more or less irrelevant. He admitted during the performance on Monday that he was nervous. He admitted that he was scared of fucking up the lyrics to one of the songs, and he did fuck them up-- more than once. And he admitted that he was frustrated and he tried to stop the song. But then Kenny started playing the chorus, and Cole shrugged and jumped back into the song and fucking nailed it. It was sort of like that awful moment in Peter Pan, when the audience has to cheer really loudly or Tinkerbell will die. You sort of know that she's going to live, anyway, but you clap regardless. That suspension of disbelief is comforting; it's a game, you want to play it. Cole abandoning a song mid-verse is uncomfortable. He might really just walk out (almost).
And then, you know, technically, it was a fucking flawless victory. Who cares about Queen's dusty, musty old lyrics? I've seen Cole perform a number of times, and while it's always been a treat, I can say with some certainty that on Monday night his voice sounded better than I've ever heard it before. It was frankly staggering. Kenny's work was absolutely pitch-perfect. Of course Kenny is known for his work in Kiki and Herb and Our Hit Parade, but like Cole, the range of musical interests and styles he indulges in is intimidatingly vast. How I wish I could have seen Kenny's solo show about Grace Jones (which he said in an interview I furiously read just after moving to NYC was about the death of nightlife culture), or his collaboration with Bridget Everett, At Least It's Pink. His heartbreaking solo chamber musical about being a queer in the armed services, musical Say Seaboy, You Sissy Boy? broke hearts all over town. Kenny's of course also a member of The Julie Ruin. Like Miss Escola, Miss Mellman has worked across a variety of genres and themes and brings his wisdom to the cabaret stage. They're not fucking around; they're not experimenting. It's not research, or it doesn't seem to be. They're actually doing all of this on purpose. The songs were well-chosen, beautifully paced, and I gotta say, performed really fucking well. It was such a treat to see two performers clearly and earnestly plying their trade, applying their weirdo musical passions along with good old fashioned elbow grease to make something really good. You can tell they worked on this. It shows.
Cole makes really intense eye contact, when he wants to. Sometimes he tries to be a little bit unnerving, I think, for comedic effect. I would liken this less to the stare of a deer in the headlights, than a deer glaring at you from behind the wheel. I've always thought that discussing Cole's performance strategy alongside a dichotomy of "cute vs creepy" was kind of pedestrian, sort of misses the point. However, his show on Monday really was scary, in a way. In full disclosure, I'm friends with Cole. I totally love him as a person, and I know that he's had kind of a crazy year this year, so maybe that's informed my reading of his show. But even for those in the audience who don't know him, the show had the feeling of someone who has clearly become aware of the stakes being raised. His sort of cynical references to his own love life (the original ballad he penned "Slut on a Monday Night" never sounded better) dovetailed into jokes about name-dropping and people's fear of mortality. He openly addressed his nervousness onstage, his feeling of fear and failure with the same earnest eye contact that he discussed his first scandalous kiss, in the backwoods of Oregon. Cole seemed to be inhabiting the world of his performance in a new way. There was extra gravity onstage on Monday night. I got goosebumps. I'm so obsessed with this idea of getting the audience's permission to edit. I thought maybe it refers to a kind of utopian consensus-building, the kind that's nice to imagine but practically impossible. Maybe the idea of the audience's permission as Cole referred to it is actually consent, like how you would ask for consent when you're having sex with someone. Is it okay to do this? Do you like this? And Cole, like any Slut past a Monday night worth her salt knows, getting consent is a two part process. Part of it is of course asking the other person (the audience) if they are okay with what you're doing, if they like what you're doing. As a cabaret performer that's easy enough to do, the audience claps. But the other part of getting consent is making yourself vulnerable. This is what I like. This is what don't like. Here, let me show you.
In OTHER inspiring news, Gio Black Peter has just released the fantastic new video for his song "Flip Flopping" which is maybe my favorite song off of his Virgin Shuffle E.P. It's NSFW and is directed by Matt Lambert & Gio Black Peter.
Gio Black Peter FLIP FLOPPING from gio black peter on Vimeo.