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» 13 ) It was the late ’80s. The comedy boom was on. Seinfeld and Roseanne were on the verge of becoming blockbusters. Clubs were littered with comedians doing “tight 10s,” the 10-minute set that could become your late-night talk show set and ultimately, if you were luckiest, a sitcom. But even co- medians who didn’t get their show were making decent bank on road work, writing gigs and holding deals.
And me? I was new in town. An idealistic, willful, not yet ex–New Yorker, mid–cross fade from performance art to comedy. I never intended to live in Los Angeles. Or to be a comedian. I’d moved to New York, the city of my dreams, to be an artist and made something of a splash as a perfor- mance artist. But I had an are-we-really-go- ing-to-grow-old-together feeling about my relationship with performance art. I started looking around. And I fell in with comedy. Right around the time I also fell in love with a media maven named Greg Miller.
Greg was about to launch a screenwriting career. He needed to be in L.A. We tried the difficult bicoastal scenario, then sublet our East Village pad. Bye-bye Hell’s An- gels. Hello City of Angels. I figured there were comedy clubs both places. No big deal. Right? So not right.
I just didn’t get how completely Los An- geles was about show business, not the process of making the work. Maybe it was being a fish out of water that helped me see there was something missing in the comedy world. I sensed something unheard, untold, unknown. Dots unconnected. I was looking for this thing and there was nothing to swipe right on. It had to be conjured. But what was it? That question was the beginning of UnCabaret.
I toggled back and forth between art spaces and comedy rooms. From Beyond Baroque to the Laugh Factory. From Cal- Arts to a one-nighter in West Covina. From Highways to the Improv.
Then, one night I’m waiting to go on at the Comedy Store. Andrew Dice Clay is onstage. He’s woman-bashing as per usual. I’m hating him, hating the audience for laughing at him, hating myself for hating them. Even hating myself for hating him. And I don’t do well with hate. Hate and anger make some people funnier. Not me. And then I have this thought. There has to be a better way.
I know now that the “better way” has two parts. The first is a shift in your internal state. I wasn’t looking for that yet. The sec- ond part is circumstantial. That’s the part I was ready to look for. There has to be a better way began running through my mind like a news ticker.
Then one night, driving home after a particularly unsatisfying gig on a comedy stage in Encino, I remembered how, as a hospitalized 5-year-old, I freaked out be- cause the other kids were playing doctor. We were in the hospital. Couldn’t we play
anything else? School, house, astronaut? I remembered thinking, “There has to be a better game.” And I realized I’d come full circle. I’d never suggested a different game at 5. But now I had another chance. So like
the last time you laughed?” I asked. “We don’t laugh,” they answered. “We’re women, we’re artists and we’re lesbians. At comedy clubstheymakefunofus.”“I’llmakeyoua comedy show,” I said. “It will be unhomo-
We did a few shows at the Women’s Building, experimenting. Then they lost their funding and I moved UnCabaret to Highways, where we gestated. I got more specific, booking just Judy Toll and Taylor Negron. Taylor was so L.A. Born and bred. Filled with contradictions. Known for his over-the-top film and TV roles and also so dada. Poetic. And on the sexually am- biguous spectrum. Judy was confessional. Emotional. I tended to be conversational, heady and new age–y. We were all friends. The DNA of UnCab was formed.
I took a break to run my historic cam- paign to make first lady an elected posi- tion during the ’92 election. Afterward, I knew it was time to get UnCabaret back up. America was changing. There was a lot to talk about. So I started looking at clubs, theaters, art spaces. Nothing seemed right. Then Jean-Pierre Boccara called. Jean-Pi- erre was the impresario who’d created both Lhasa Club and Cafe Largo. He had an even bigger vision now.
In his beautiful Parisian accent he asked me if I’d like to do something in his new venue, LunaPark. Yes, please. I’d like to do this comedy show, UnCabaret. “Will it be funny?” he asked. “No,” I joked. We booked it for three Sunday nights. It ran for seven years.
The decision to do UnCabaret on Sundays was intuitive. Lucky. Sunday proved to be the perfect night. Sunday is the day we ex- pand. The big Sunday newspaper, church, family, naps. And on Sunday night, industry suits come out but sans the actual suits. I wanted UnCabaret to be real — a show, not a showcase. Of course I see now: Everything is a showcase for something else.
The venue was ideal. The restaurant and outdoor lounge made it easy to hang out after the show. And there were two great showrooms, both almost always filled, cre- ating a vibe of happeningness. David Byrne talks about how the architecture of CBGB helped shape the music. The same is true for LunaPark and UnCabaret.
You’d walk through the chic restaurant and open a door into a stairwell, beginning to put the rest of the world behind you. Then down a flight of stairs, to face yourself in an enormous mirror. The comforting “look check.” Big, elegant crystal chandelier over- head. At the landing, you turned away from your reflection, from ego, and walked down another flight of stairs to the basement. The subconscious. Then into the showroom, which was womblike. Smallish with low ceilings, perfect for comedy.
It was in this room Bob Odenkirk met his wife, Naomi. Julia Sweeney told the sto- ries that would become God Said Ha! on Broadway and beyond. It’s where I came to understand that for me, gifted funny peo- ple talking about their now is the best kind of funny. Not always the funniest kind of funny. But sublime in a way that sure-fire material just can never be. ( 16 »
“I’ll make you a comedy show,” I saId. “It
wIll be unhomophobIc, unxenophobIc,
unmIsogynIst. It’ll be the uncabaret.”
– beth lapides on uncabaret’s genesis
countless smitten lovers, rather than walk away, I decided to try to change the object of my affection, flummoxed though I was as to how.
After a gig at the legendary Women’s Building one night, I was doing postshow chat, pumped up with adrenalin. The crowd had been beyond receptive — they seemed starved for laughter. “When was
phobic, unxenophobic, unmisogynist. It’ll be the UnCabaret.” It was a download. One of those ideas that feel different from other ideas. Like God, the Big Thing, whatever you call it, is speaking directly to you and through you.
So UnCabaret was conceived conversa- tionally. But what was it exactly? I only knew these three awful things it wasn’t. And a fourth, unnamed in the moment: unhacky.
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