On episode nine of Mic Dispatch, correspondent Chantel Simpson talks to comedians Eric Schwartau and Steven Phillips-Horst, the co-creators of Talk Hole, an inclusive comedy show in New York City. Then, correspondent J.D. Samson buzzes around Manhattan with comedian and drag king Murray Hill to get Hill’s perspective on drag and the entertainment industry’s many glass ceilings.
Murray Hill, comedian and drag king: Instead of waiting for someone to invite you into the private club, you make your own club and you invite everybody. And that’s been my thing since day one of doing Murray.
Jordyn Rolling, correspondent: Hey guys, I’m Jordyn Rolling, in for Natasha Del Toro this week. On this episode of Mic Dispatch, we explore the expanding world of inclusive comedy. First up is ‘Talk Hole,’ a show on a mission to change the predominately white and cis male industry through its diverse lineups and subversive style. Correspondent Chantel Simpson got to hang out with the show’s hilarious creators.
Chantel Simpson, correspondent, to Eric Schwartau and Steven Phillips-Horst, co-creators of Talk Hole: What would you say to people who think women and gay comedians are not funny?
Chantel Simpson, to camera: I’m here at Asia Roma, waiting for Eric and Steven, the duo behind Talk Hole, a comedy show like no other.
Phillips-Horst: Are straight men funny? That’s my question. I’m not sure they are. I think that, you know, I think there’s something about being, like, what society has viewed as the neutral form for so long that’s, like, really unfunny. That’s like — that’s just like kind of deeply, deeply boring.
Simpson: Talk Hole is a comedy show that’s gained notoriety within New York’s alternative comedy scene. Why? Well, here, comedians can literally let their hair down.
[Phillips-Horst, performing at Talk Hole: It’s so fun to be in a basement. It’s one of my favorite thing that’s under other rooms. It’s super, super awesome because you can’t see the outside. So if you want a break from the air or the sun, come to a basement.]
Phillips-Horst: My former manager called me a hyphenate.
Schwartau: What does that mean?
Phillips-Horst: It means I write, I sing, I act. I’m not really known for my dancing, but I can do it.
Simpson: Can you show us a little bit of your moves?
Phillips-Horst: Here’s like a classic, just like a — and you’ll notice that was, like — that was —
Schwartau: That was yours?
Phillips-Horst: Yeah. It’s one of my things. That was 720 degrees, I think.
[Phillips-Horst, performing at Talk Hole: Wow. I don’t feel hot at all.]
Schwartau: There’s no green room besides, like, this kind of wet spot where we start the show. You’ll see that there’s a fly in there. So this is kind of where the magic happens.
Phillips-Horst: We started in 2015, and here we are three and a half years later, still in a basement.
Schwartau: Same spot.
Phillips-Horst: Yep. Haven’t really evolved.
Simpson (voiceover): But what has evolved is the community of dedicated fans that flock to Talk Hole’s shows. They come for the atmosphere but stay to laugh out loud at the comics handpicked by the duo.
Simpson, to Schwartau and Phillips-Horst: How would you describe the demographic of performers that you have onstage?
Schwartau: Women of color.
Phillips-Horst: Women of color.
Schwartau: Queer people.
Phillips-Horst: Queer people of color. Men.
Schwartau: Gay men.
Phillips-Horst: Cis gay men.
Schwartau: Cis gay men.
Phillips-Horst: Cis white gay men. That’s us.
Max Wittert, comedian, performing at Talk Hole: I’m just gonna take a swing at political ****, you guys, because there’s just like no other choice at this point. Like, I can’t just sit up here and start talking about the normal stuff that I talk about, like, you know, like, getting **** on or whatever. But I’ll try to work it in.
Simpson: Why don’t you book straight white guys?
Phillips-Horst: We don’t book —
Schwartau: ’Cause they’re not allowed. We want people to know they’re coming to a space where, like, they’re not going to hear jokes that have traditionally — usually are said by straight men that, you know, diminish women or minorities because that was obviously comedy like many years ago.
Phillips-Horst: And comedy still today. There’s so much straight guys out there, they don’t need more venues. You know, there’s like — their voice has been heard and it’s being heard and no matter what we do, it’s going to be heard. So like there’s no need for us to elevate those voices.
[Ziwe Fumudoh, TV writer, performing at Talk Hole: The problem with Kanye is that I’m so mad about what he said the other day. And I wrote that joke months ago.]
Simpson (voiceover): In addition to hosting their nontraditional comedy show, Eric and Steven dabble in creating videos that make fun of creatives and millennial consumer culture.
[Schwartau in art fair video: If there’s no urgency, you know, what do you have?]
[Actor in art fair video: I do cave paintings. ****, just like make ****. You know? The work that I have here, you’re not gonna see on the walls because this isn’t a ******* cave.]
Schwartau: That art fair video specifically comes from our experiences, like, as kind of outsider-insiders in the art world. More outsider. We want to do things that feel very close to home — almost like where you’re kind of wondering, “Is this real, or is this fake?” you know, “Is this a hoax?”
[Phillips-Horst in video: I’m like really depressed.]
[Schwartau in video: Wait. What if we open a store?]
[Phillips-Horst in video: I love that.]
Phillips-Horst: You know, in this day and age, especially in the creative economy, like so many people’s jobs is just sitting around trying to think of ideas. We’re self-satirizing as much as we’re satirizing everyone else who has to do that for living.
Simpson (voiceover): Each Talk Hole show is generally centered around a theme.
Phillips-Horst: We try to create a campaign around it and satirize maybe some contemporary branding or what, you know, corporate America is doing around that idea. So this month it’s shame, but like —
Simpson: What does that mean?
Phillips-Horst: Well, we saw these ads and we were like, “Shame is being sold to us.” And we were also seeing pride sold to us and we were just like, “Well, what’s the flip side of pride?” It’s shame. But I think it’s also more broadly relatable — not just to gay people, but to anyone. Because, you know, we’re all walking around with huge bags of shame.
[Phillips-Horst: And we’re selling totes that say, “No bottoms.” This is a limited edition tote that has no bottom. It’s $25 in addition of 10.]
[Schwartau: Where’s that bowl? Oh, there’s the bowl.]
[Phillips-Horst: We had a contest. We asked you what you are ashamed of.]
[Schwartau: “Being an American in 2018.” That’s not really a joke. It’s like, that’s true. We’re all ashamed of that. “That I live with my parents.” Which I mean, if you’re living with your parents in this neighborhood, that’s not really something to be ashamed of.]
[Phillips-Horst: That’s fabu-****. Yes!]
Simpson, to Jon Wan, performer: Oh my god.
Simpson: It smells so bad.
Wan: It’s truly walls inside of walls. Look at these boxes.
Simpson: So why is Talk Hole such a special comedy night?
Wan: The line up is diverse. When you have performers that have different backgrounds and different points of view, it makes for a richer comedy and a richer performance and better storytelling.
[Wan performing at Talk Hole: I came back to New York a month later, recharged and decided to try my luck as a waiter in the restaurant biz. I landed a job through Craigslist at a rustic-chic new American joint in Brooklyn where they made us wear chambray shirts and say things like, “Sure, the chopped kale salad is available as a lunch or dinner item.” I thought to myself, “Wow I’m really living.”]
Simpson: What do you want Talk Hole’s legacy to be?
Phillips-Horst: Wow. So we’re dead.
Schwartau: Legacy. Obituary.
Phillips-Horst: Cool. You know, it was the Patti Smith of its day, you know. People were shooting up in the bathroom, you know. There were punks. There were artists. There were people, you know — there were, you know, rabble-rousers and anarchists, and they all came together to laugh as the world was burning. Right?
Schwartau: Yeah. I was just thinking how this couple met at Talk Hole. And I love that. Like, I just want people to have these stories of their youth back in the day. I mean, I think this is just the beginning. I mean, I want to put, you know, a justice on the Supreme Court eventually.
Phillips-Horst: There we go.
Phillips-Horst: No, I want a Talk Hole in the White House I think would be huge. I’d love to have our own sort of —
Schwartau: Branch of government.
Phillips-Horst: Yeah, or island or something. I want to annex something, but in a nice way.
Schwartau: So that’s about it.
Rolling: And in our next story, we meet comedian and drag king Murray Hill, who’s been pushing comedic boundaries since the ’90s. Hill recently caught the mainstream media’s attention after actress Scarlett Johansson dropped out of the upcoming film Rub and Tug due to backlash surrounding Johansson — a cis woman — being cast to play a transgender man. Hill’s name was circulated as a possible replacement. J.D. Samson explores the struggles drag kings like Hill face in the entertainment industry.
J.D. Samson, correspondent: I know how hard it can be to make it in the entertainment industry as a genderqueer woman. I’ve been thinking a lot about drag kings and how they make a lot less money than drag queens. They also struggle with inclusivity and visibility within the drag community. Is it simply because we want to see the glitter and fancy outfits, or is it part of a wider issue of existing within a patriarchal society? I’m on my way to meet up with Mr. Murray Hill, comedian and veteran of the drag king community, who in his words has been the next big thing for the past 20 years.
Hill: Over 20 years, I’ve been out on the streets looking like this. I’m not reading books, you know, writing a thesis at Oberlin College. I’ve been discussing gender issues, politics out there, which is part of, you know, feminist performance art. You live it. You embody it.
[Hill during a performance: Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a semi-famous comedian that none of you have ever heard of before — Murray Hill! Let’s hear it! Come on!]
Samson (voiceover): Murray performs as an old-timey, middle-aged showman — mixing stand-up and silly song-and-dance routines to unsettle audience members.
Hill: Again, the language was very different back then. There wasn’t any. But, you know, I’m like, where’s the lesbians? Where’s the butches? Is there an opposite of drag queen?
Like, there was nothing. This is like ’90, maybe ’95. It’s like, all right, so every single person is taking pictures of drag queens. I wanted to be like, “Well, what’s on the other side of this?”
[Hill, looking out car window: Oh my God, they have pride at Levi’s?]
Hill: I think that was 1994 I ran for mayor against Giuliani, who’s now even more crazy.
Samson: Oh I remember that so well.
Hill: Because that’s when, you know, Giuliani was enforcing those cabaret laws that just were overturned like last year.
Samson: I know.
Hill: My platform was, “Let the kids dance.”
Hill: Because dancing was illegal in clubs.
Hill: And mostly targeted the gay clubs, of course.
[Hill, at show: If you’re under 30, this is tap dancing!]
Hill: I’ve always felt there was a ceiling for me in everything — in my whole life. There’s eight glass ceilings and then there’s another glass ceiling that’s called RuPaul’s Drag Race.
[Hill, rehearsing: Hey guys, guys! We’re rehearsing! The band. What the hell are you doing? Come on, I’m not kidding around here.]
Samson: In my own career, you know, people have said to me, “I thought that the world was ready for you, but they weren’t.”
Samson: “And it’s not going to happen.” Has anyone said that to you, or do you feel like that ever?
Hill: Oh yeah, I hear that all of the time! Instead of waiting for someone to invite you into the private club, you make your own club and you invite everybody. And that’s been my thing from day one doing Murray.
Samson (voiceover): Murray’s unwavering optimism, however, seemed to conceal more complex feelings about what it means to be on the outside looking into a male-dominated industry.
Samson: It’s complicated to see how much drag queens are making and all the outlets they have in which to make money.
Hill: So I don’t necessarily always think it’s an individual issue, I think it’s like a larger societal issue and that it’s much more complicated. You get down to money, you know. Who makes more money, who’s spending money at clubs, who’s going out and buying more drinks, who’s going out and having the apps? Lesbians can’t sustain their positions, from a monetary point of view.
Samson: Due to many factors such as gentrification and the mainstreaming of queer culture, lesbian bars have become few and far between in New York and all over the world.
Hill: Every lesbian bar has closed. You can’t really blame that on RuPaul.
[Hill, in various rooms at show venue: You got time to lean, you got time to clean! So this is showbiz, guys. This is it right here. Showbiz, showbiz. It’s the worst lighting you can possibly imagine.]
Hill: When you’re working under eight glass ceilings, you gotta always work a lot harder, just — not even break it or any of that crap, you just —
Samson: And do you have anger about that? Like do you get frustrated, do you feel —
Hill: I definitely get frustrated, sure.
[Hill, performing at show: Anthony, I’m reading your mind. He’s thinking, “Is it a man, or a woman? Is it a man, or a woman? Anthony, the answer is no.]
Hill: The drag queens — it’s funny, it’s bright colors, it’s excitement. Femininity is so blown out everywhere — in fashion magazines, in movies. When you’re impersonating a guy, it’s like, who gives a ****?
[Hill, performing at show: You know what I mean, it’s like — What is this gay guy by himself? I’ve never seen that in history before. Holy ****, look at that! Holy ****! Who’s the top and who’s the bottom? Oh, this one goes (shrugs). Bottom!]
Samson: How do you feel like Murray contributes to the identity politics conversation of now?
Hill: There’s been so much fighting for equality, and lot of suffering. And that’s all so that we can get to a place of choice and freedom. It’s not to a place, where you — now you enter like ******, you know, like, a queer coin slot, where it’s like, “OK, nickels go here, dimes go here.” It’s like, it’s all separate. “Drag king” is too specific. That’s like when they say “black female comedian.” It’s like, well, they don’t say that for the guys.
[Hill, looking at new haircut: Just like I met you 20 years ago.]
Hill: For me, the evolution of it is just being like everybody else — not that I’m like this underground, scary drag king. It’s just, nah — Murray Hill, you know, your Jewish Uncle. I’ve been the next big thing for the last 20 years. But I think it’s close. I think everybody else is ready. Almost. Showbiz.
Rolling: I think we’re ready. Well, that’s it for tonight’s show. As always, thanks for watching, and don’t forget to follow Mic Dispatch on Facebook Watch so you never miss an episode. We’ll see you next time.
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