Never Too Gay to Cabaret: A Conversation With Julie Klausner

She may deny it, but it’s true: Julie Klausner has become one of NYC’s new queens of comedy. The author/TV

The New Queen of Cabaret? (withreservation)
The New Queen of Cabaret? (withreservation)

She may deny it, but it’s true: Julie Klausner has become one of NYC’s new queens of comedy. The author/TV writer/performer/broadcaster/astute observer of the human condition via Twitter (“Instagram should just be called ‘I’m outdoors’”) may best be known for her successful podcast, How Was Your Week?, which has found its way onto pretty much every important listing of must-hear Internet programming. Her direct style, disarming charm and seemingly bottomless pop culture knowledge always gets the funny out of her guests, which have included such stand-up luminaries as Joan Rivers and Patton Oswalt. This week, the comedic polymath will perform in her debut cabaret show, Too Gay For Brooklyn, at Joe’s Pub, on June 18 and 19, with guests Ted Leo and Bridgett Everett. Ms. Klausner joined The Observer for a chat to discuss her new show, the cruelty of teenage horniness and why she’s heard quite enough from The Decemberists.

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NYO: Let’s talk about the cabaret. In your last podcast you were almost apologetic. Are you still scared?

Julie Klausner: I’m still scared. I’m mostly governed by fear. It’s always difficult taking your thing and applying it to a different environment, especially one that charges more money for admission, because you never really get rid of the guilt that you’re doing what you want to do. The idea that anyone would really pay for that privilege is always a bit odd.

NYO: You said there’s not going to be any dancing. Can it still be cabaret?

JK: I think of cabaret shows very much in accordance with the personality of the performer driving the vehicle. I think of Sandra Bernhardt, or Bridgett Everett. They’re entertaining personalities with whom you’d like to spend the evening. “An evening with” sounds silly. If, say, it’s “An evening with The Decemberists” or “An evening with Chris Rock,” Chris Rock will be performing at you. The Decemberists will be doing whatever the hell they do at this point. Probably singing songs about nautical artisanal jackets that people stitched from burlap, I don’t know.

NYO: Would you not go see that show?

JK: I do not want to see that show. I do not want to see The Decemberists sing about whatever you can buy at the Brooklyn Flea. I feel like every aspect of the Brooklyn Flea is the subject of a Decemberists song.

julie klausner
One of Rolling Stone’s Top 10 comedy podcasts.

NYO: Hopefully the cabaret will be more interesting than that. You’ve got Ted Leo as one of your guests.

JK: I love him. I have a very successful relationship with him and I’ve been trying to apply it to other relationships in my life that are not as successful.

He’s marvelous to drink with. I’m a lightweight. Ted will drink so much more and seem completely functional and then the next day say, “I don’t remember how I got home.” When he gets drunker, he reveals more and more about precisely just how much he knows when it comes to topics like comparative religion and world history and mythology. He’s really smart!

NYO: Is drinking the basis of a good relationship then?

JK: Oh, God no. I’ve had plenty of examples that show that’s not the case.

NYO: You’ve also got Bridgett Everett on. How well do you know each other? Is it the same as with Ted?

JK: Not at all. I don’t know her as well. I have a very fawning attraction to her. She’s larger than life when she’s on stage. She’s a rockstar. I enjoy watching her. I enjoy knowing her. She’s one of those people you can never contain so you want to enjoy her as much as you can before we all die.

NYO: Wow, thanks for the mortality reminder!

JK: It’s true! You have to remember that, because otherwise you don’t seek out the big moments and the tender moments.

NYO: Well, it seems like you’re taking advantage of that, since you appear to do a lot of things. You’re most famous for the podcast, though.

JK: If you want to be very generous with the word “famous.”

NYO: You have a degree of minor Internet notoriety. How’s that?

JK: Yes, yes. Absolutely.

NYO: There’s so much comedy on the Internet, how did you go about getting your podcast to stand out?

JK: I stand out because I’m unique because I’m consistent. I knew that I wanted to do it every week, partly as a challenge to myself and partly because I knew that if I was going to make any sense in the multitude of media available to a comedy audience I would have to do twice as much work as anyone else. I don’t have confidence in other parts of my life, but I do feel that way as a writer and as a broadcaster.

NYO: Do you think it has given you the opportunity to do things that you couldn’t in other media?

JK: Absolutely. There’s something to the spoken form of it that makes me feel more liberated to express how I really feel without fear of upsetting somebody. If you’re typing something out, whether you’re writing on a blog or in a piece or in a tweet, you’re more likely to be misquoted or held up to the flame.

I talked about my breakup on the podcast in a way I doubt that I would’ve been able to in any other form. At the time I wasn’t ready to write an article about it, I wasn’t able to blog about it, I didn’t have a book in me at the point. I was experiencing it in real time and was able to confide in an audience that knows an intimate version of myself.

Art Girls Are Easy
The comedienne’s first young adult novel.

NYO: Talking about writing, you have written a memoir, which has been optioned by HBO. How was it finding that out? 

JK: It was fantastic and terrifying, I had to option my life rights that went along with it, but it was exhilarating as it gave me a sense of breaking through. I have always struggled, so when it was optioned it gave me a bump that I haven’t had before with all my hard work.

NYO: I hear Lizzy Caplan has been signed on. How do you feel about being played by Janis Ian from Mean Girls?

JK: I love Lizzy! However, the show is not going forward in that form. When I was told I was thrilled, I got to know her. She’s so smart and sexy and so funny and so kind. I was flattered that she could represent any version of me. I think she’s a true talent, so unique.

NYO: You’ve also written a young adult book, Art Girls Are Easy. It seems quite sexy.

JK: Yes, it’s sexy. The premise is sexy, the cover is sexy. It’s very much about the lust that you are saddled with at 15 or 16.

NYO: Is it reflective of you as a teenager?

JK: I was so fucking horny it was a nightmare. It’s a terrible joke that God plays on us with our hormones, because our brains are growing in this bizarre way, but at the same time you want to connect with others. That’s a lethal combination.

NYO: Do you enjoy being a funny person?

JK: I love being a funny person. I never feel the pressure to be on, although there’s something phenomenally irritating about someone who finds out you’re a comedian and then starts smiling like they’re ready to laugh, that’s annoying. The worst part is not being able to experience joy.

NYO: In what way?

JK: Well, I think that comedians are neurotic. I have trouble letting my guard down, as I’m constantly very critical and that gets in the way of me experiencing true, earnest happiness.

NYO: Is that something you can work on?

JK: I am going to try my best to be happier, but fun is always tough. You can’t try to have fun. If it’s a project for you then that’s antithetical to what you’re pursuing.

NYO: Coming back to the cabaret, what do you hope to get out of it?

JK: If it goes well, I’d love to do more. I want to enjoy spending time in front of an audience in a way that I haven’t before. I love singing, I love music, I love the form of cabaret. I would love to apply my particular talent to that format.

NYO: Are you allowed to reveal any of the songs?

JK: I do have this extraordinary medley that I worked out with Jon Spurney, the musical director. It’s a combination of Ethan Schwartz and Ben Folds, and it’s beautiful in a way that’s so fantastic and successful. I hope to give that to an audience.

Never Too Gay to Cabaret: A Conversation With Julie Klausner