CMJ Day Two: Margaret Cho at the Living Room
plus Emilyn Brodsky, Elon James White
The Living Room
Wednesday, October 21
I don't know what the true barometer for stupidity is, but it may just be this: not realizing you are watching a bisexually themed comedy show, instead of a depressed Russian folk singer-songwriter, until it's halfway over.
In my defense, something immediately seemed wrong: upon entering into the Living Room on Wednesday night, despite waifish boys assembling guitars and keyboards on the tiny stage, the crowd was markedly devoid of all CMJ paraphernalia. There were few festival badges swinging from neon orange lanyards, even fewer thin blue cheesecloth totes bulging with crappy free CDs. The audience looked entirely too presentable. And so I texted my very good friend, who swore up, down, and sideways that yes, this was the Paste Magazine showcase with folkster Alina Simone and prodigal rocker Jason Trachtenburg of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. So I settled in among the sea of eager thirtysomething sapphic couples (which surely seemed more than usual for a grungy, rigidly youthful CMJ show?), and waited.
Then a woman, who would later be revealed as host Emilyn Brodsky, started a monologue about motorboating and extolled, in some detail, about how much everyone in the audience loves women. (Sure, we all love women, especially Alina Simone? That's why we're here?) And then she introduced a woman named Sara Benincasa, who the soon-to-be-flogged text friend told me was an up-and-coming Queens guitarist, but was instead a raunchy comedian who began apropos of nothing with, "My boyfriend and I went off birth control. We're finally ready for our first abortion. I'm a feminist, so I hope it's a boy."
And yet, as Dwight Shrute once explained the nature of bear attacks, "They always come when you least expect it." So perhaps the morose Simone was just moments away, and this just some brilliantly absurd lead-in, some sort of quantum mechanics paradox of varying kinds of humorlessness? No, it wasn't--it was a preface to the following comedian, Elon James White, who ranted to some larger success about his mother's penchant for screaming "Hallelujah!" at inopportune times and how people always think he works in the mail room because he's African-American. And then there was more talk from Brodsky about how White's girlfriend was hot, and Benicasa's breasts were spectacular--and they were, true--but as this evening seemed dramatically far from the expected, I nearly left.
Then, in yet another surreal moment, the evening's surprise guest took the stage: Margaret Cho, the well-established face of HBO specials, raunchy albums, and movies that involve John Travolta face transplants. She's been plastered prominently on the CMJ Marathon site, actually, and perhaps logically. Her set was largely musical numbers and guitar interludes, interspersed with awesomely filthy cracks about anal bleaching, dating an ugly man for four years so she'd seem "deep," and, topically, her currently cracked and hoarse voice. "I sound like a Muppet who's transitioning," she moaned. This led to a solo version of a newly recorded song she recorded with Andrew Bird--for a country-western track about a homicidal ex-crush, it was quite soothing--and a crunk-rap take called "My Puss."
And after that... well, Alina Simone, apparently, was scheduled to go on in a mere three hours. But after hearing the musical majesty of "My puss is the best on the block/ Your puss invaded Iraq," there was really little left to be experienced, in the evening or in life.