Asperger’s Are Us has a few requests for audience members in advance of the Boston-based comedy troupe’s Aug. 5 performance at the Lawrence Arts Center.
First and foremost, don’t expect to see the guys – that would be Noah Britton, Jack Hanke, New Michael Ingemi and Ethan Finlan, all of whom are openly autistic — poking fun at their condition or using the show as a lofty platform for autism awareness.
And also: bring snacks. Canned goods, cereal, Pepsi and bananas are all on the guys’ wish list.
"‘Cause in RV parks, the only food available is whatever you can hunt from the slower people staying in the RV park,” jokes Britton, the self-described “old man” of the group.
Britton has been tasked with RV maintenance — a daunting task, as the 30-year-old pre-used vehicle has taken to breaking down quite a few times already — during the troupe’s cross-country summer tour. He’s about a decade older than his fellow performers and friends, whom he met 11 years ago as a counselor at a summer camp (Hanke, Ingemi and Finlan were all campers) for kids with Asperger’s.
The age gap doesn’t matter much to the guys, who all share the same quirky, absurdist sense of humor (anticipate that, plus plenty of word play, at the Lawrence show) and a disorder that so often makes socializing and communicating a challenge.
“When I met them, I desperately needed to meet other Aspies. I hadn’t known about my own diagnosis long, and I was like, ‘I need to find somewhere where I can find my own people,’” recalls Britton. “You know, you spend your whole life (having Asperger’s) and are like, ‘What? I’ve never even met anyone who speaks the same language as me,’ and then you do, and it doesn’t even matter if they’re 12. You’re so psyched.”
Since 2010, the friends (aside from Britton, they’re all in their twenties and in college, though academics have been put on hold for the moment) have performed as Asperger’s Are Us, though this summer’s tour is their biggest foray into the national comedy scene yet.
Their biggest break may arrive in the form of a documentary, also called “Asperger’s Are Us,” executive produced by Mark Duplass. The film, which debuted to a warm reception at the South By Southwest festival in Austin earlier this year, is slated to hit Netflix in the fall.
Growing up, Hanke used humor as a “shield” in social situations. It was his way of “making people like me” and finding likeminded friends – a hobby, he says, that has now become a career, oddly enough.
“In the small scale, it feels normal. We’re used to touring by now, somewhat,” Hanke says of the group’s recent successes. “But I guess in the big sense, I still have a hard time believing that this is our life right now. It’s utterly unlike anything I expected to be doing at 23.”
At the moment, that entails anything from spelunking in Ohio to gigging at such prestigious venues as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. That’s life on the road, and so far, audiences have been receptive to the Asperger’s Are Us brand of humor.
Mainly, the guys are there to make each other laugh — their influences include Monty Python, Andy Kaufman and Steven Wright — but if audiences find it funny too, well, the more the merrier. A one-on-one conversation, Hanke explains, is harder to navigate for a person with Asperger’s than performing to an impersonal auditorium packed with row after row of anonymous faces.
As much as the group prefers to shy away from an ambassador role, they don’t mind talking about Asperger’s with those who are genuinely curious. After every show, the troupe does a Q-and-A session with the audience, fielding questions from parents and teachers and others looking to better understand autism.
“Honestly, if someone wants to hire us to do some kind of educational lecture, we will, but we’re very happy to just be funny on stage and appeal to people who have similar senses of humor,” Britton says, “And that’s really, I think, what every comedian wants.”
Catch Asperger's Are Us at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. Tickets cost $10, and can be purchased at the Arts Center ticket office or at www.lawrenceartscenter.org.
Anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people flocked to Lawrence’s Free State Festival events, according to estimates from festival organizers, putting this year’s numbers roughly in the same range as 2015 figures.
Still, it’s an imprecise tally, said festival director and ideas programming coordinator Sarah Bishop, who hopes to have more detailed analysis when results from this year’s survey (it’s distributed to festival attendees) become available later this summer.
The 2016 Free State Festival, which was held June 20 through June 25 in various venues across downtown Lawrence and the city’s Cultural Arts District, drew its biggest numbers at June 25’s free Public Enemy concert outside the Lawrence Arts Center. At final count, approximately 8,500 people attended the show, surpassing the crowd at last year’s free performance by George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic by about 500.
“We were really excited to see so many people from out of town coming in for both Public Enemy and Kris Kristofferson,” Bishop said. “It really drew people from a wide swath surrounding the area.”
Fans traveled from as far away as Connecticut, Maryland and even Canada for the Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter’s June 22 concert, she noted. The sold-out concert filled Liberty Hall, where Kristofferson celebrated his 80th birthday the same night with a cake from downtown Lawrence’s Ladybird Diner.
Other festival highlights included June 24’s evening of free live music outside the Lawrence Arts Center (Bishop estimates an attendance of about 2,000) and Monday’s stand-up performance by “Lady Dynamite” star Maria Bamford, whose sold-out gig packed Liberty Hall.
Even free events, like the weeklong “The Art of Conversation” programming at the Watkins Museum of History, did surprisingly well, Bishop said. The talks aligned with this year’s festival theme of activism through art, each day dealing with contemporary topics such as gender and sexuality, health policy, race and law enforcement, and the politics of water.
“People were really engaged and enthusiastic,” Bishop said. “It was really nice to see residents connecting in that way and having great conversations about these important political, social and cultural issues.”
While the festival has focused on Kansas history and culture in the past, the 2017 and 2018 editions will ask “audiences to think about how the global and local connect,” as per a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for Arts to “take the festival to an international level,” Bishop said.
The 2017 festival, which will most likely fall amid June’s Final Friday, will tentatively have a Mexican emphasis, with issues like immigration — and the growing number of immigrants arriving in Kansas each year — being especially timely now, Bishop said.
“We’re thinking about the ways in which Lawrence connects with Mexico, the ways in which Mexican culture manifests here in Lawrence, Kansas, and the really interesting art that’s being (created) in Mexico,” she said. Bishop also plans to include more educational outreach programs in 2017, ideally working with students at Centro Hispano to produce bilingual films.
This year’s festival initially received $60,000 from the City of Lawrence, falling short of the $100,000 requested by festival organizers, but later picked up an additional $7,375 from the city’s transient guest tax (that’s the 6 percent tax charged on all overnight hotel stays in Lawrence) grant program.
Bishop hopes this year’s high attendance, particularly of those visiting from outside Lawrence, will help convince potential funders of the festival’s financial viability. Just as important: “putting Lawrence on the map as a creative hub,” she said.
Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said she had yet to see any detailed information on the 2016 festival’s impact on downtown businesses, but that the event consistently “does wonderful things” for the local economy.
Folks often “rediscover” downtown Lawrence at the Free State Festival, she said.
“I would venture to guess people spent money downtown, whether it’s a bottle of water or an expensive meal or an outfit they’re buying for the event,” Zogry said. “It really does bring people down here who maybe don’t come downtown as often, if they’re living across town or in Eudora or Baldwin City or Topeka or even Kansas City.”
Monday brings the arrival of this year's Free State Festival and its fully stocked lineup of music, art, film and ideas. Among the many attractions: "Lady Dynamite" star Maria Bamford (you can read our interview with her here), Radiolab co-founder Jad Abumrad, film screenings galore and a solo acoustic show from Grammy winner (and birthday boy!) Kris Kristofferson.
We've rounded up a few of the many noteworthy Free State Fest happenings here, but you can always peruse the full schedule at www.freestatefestival.org.
This interactive sculpture, constructed from 6,000 incandescent light bulbs by Canadian artists and collaborators Caitlind r.c. Brown & Wayne Garrett, utilizes pull string switches and everyday domestic light bulbs, “re-imagining their potential to catalyze collaborative moments and create an enveloping, experimental environment.”
It’s interactive, too: Viewers work together as a collective to animate “lightning” on the surface of the sculpture in “impromptu collaborations,” turning the entire cloud on and off.
The artists will be on hand to discuss their work during a free INSIGHT Art Talk from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Lawrence Arts Center’s black box theater. The exhibition itself opens at the end of the talk and will remain at the Arts Center through June 25.
If you missed last year’s critically acclaimed musical satire about gun violence in Chicago, here’s your chance to see it on the big screen.
Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Spike Lee and co-written by Lawrence's own Kevin Willmott (the filmmaker is also an associate professor of film and media studies at Kansas University), “Chi-Raq” is a modern adaptation of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata,” in which the women of Greece hold a sex strike in the hopes of ending the Peloponnesian War.
Tuesday’s screening, slated for 8 to 10:30 p.m., will also include the short film “Juvenile Justice: The Road to Reform.” Tickets are $8.
An Evening with Kris Kristofferson
The Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter rings in his 80th birthday Wednesday from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. in a sold-out solo acoustic show at Liberty Hall.
Miss out on tickets? Catch “Uncle Howard,” Aaron Brookner’s tribute to his late uncle (director Howard Brookner’s body of work, buried for 30 years in the bunker belonging to Beat Generation icon and one-time Lawrencian William S. Burroughs, finally gets its due), at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Lawrence Arts Center main stage. Tickets are $8.
A Journal-World-adjacent activity kicks off the docket Thursday: “Telling Stories that Matter: Journalism in the New Media World” from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. at the Cider Gallery.
Featuring Roy Wenzl of the Wichita Eagle, Jeremy Schwartz of the Austin American-Statesman, Kate Mather of the Los Angeles Times and the Journal-World’s own Karen Dillon, this panel “takes on hard questions to prophesy what investigate reporters and their readers have in store” in today’s (and tomorrow’s, perhaps) media landscape of “sound bites, social media and free online news sites with less-than-stellar reporting credentials.” Journal-World managing editor Chad Lawhorn moderates.
Next up: Patricia Lockwood, the poet who the New York Times Magazine once dubbed “The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas,” gives her hometown a sneak peek of her new memoir, "Priestdaddy," from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Arts Center’s large gallery. The reading will be followed by an audience Q&A and book signing, with copies of Lockwood’s latest poetry collection being sold by the Raven Book Store.
Outdoor Music: The Americans and more!
LA-based rock-and-rollers The Americans (claims to fame include gigs on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and the first dance at Reese Witherspoon’s wedding) headline an evening of free live music from 5 to 11 p.m. outside the Lawrence Arts Center.
The group, whose sound boasts “deep roots in traditional American music,” take the stage at 9 p.m. following the 6 p.m. screening of “American Epic,” the new documentary executive-produced by T Bone Burnett, Jack White and Robert Redford.
Other acts include 40 Watt Dreams at 5 p.m., Little Soldier Singers at 6 p.m., Katy Guillen at 6:45 p.m., Arthur Dodge at 8 p.m. and Son Venezuela at 10:15 p.m.
Saturday promises two festival headliners amid an already-packed schedule. First up (in an anachronistic sort of way) is Radiolab co-founder and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Jad Abumrad, presenting his multi-media talk, “Gut Churn” at Liberty Hall. Slated for 7 to 8:30 p.m., this “engaging” presentation delves into the anxieties of the creative process, and will be followed by a Q&A. Tickets cost $25.
Elsewhere in downtown Lawrence, hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy (featuring Chuck D and Flavor Flav) will perform a free concert on the Lawrence Arts Center’s outdoor stage from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., and if last year’s free George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic concert is any indication, the crowd will be packed.
Free State Festival headliner Maria Bamford on getting older, saying no and the many endearing qualities of pugs
In her critically acclaimed, semi-autobiographical Netflix series "Lady Dynamite," comedian Maria Bamford mines her very real struggles with mental illness (the Minnesota native checked herself into a psych ward a few years back after being diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, and subsequently checked out, at least partly, from Hollywood) for very quirky, very frenetic, at times very poignant laughs.
On Monday, she'll stop by Lawrence for a co-headlining appearance at the Free State Festival. Slated for 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., "An Evening with Maria Bamford" entails a stand-up performance by the funny lady in question, followed by a short film screening and Q&A.
Here, in an edited and condensed version of our interview with Bamford, the "Lady Dynamite" star and executive producer shares her thoughts on getting older, saying no and the many endearing qualities of pugs.
Your show is very upfront about your experience with mental illness. Do you think “Lady Dynamite,” and other current shows tackling mental illness, would have been possible a generation ago? Are we undergoing some sort of shift that’s allowed a show like yours to be produced and be successful?
I think there’s been a huge shift in terms of hearing so many more people talking about it. I felt relatively comfortable talking about it. So many different shows are addressing different parts of it, whether it’s PTSD or OCD or bipolar. I haven’t seen a show featuring schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia, but I can’t wait until that’s addressed. A main character with schizophrenia would be wonderful.
Your parents, or fictionalized versions of them, get a lot of screen time on “Lady Dynamite.” How do they feel about the show?
My parents called me after they’d seen most of it, and they just loved it and were really excited. I think my dad had some friends at the lake watch it and had sort of a party, which I think had been a mistake (laughs), because it’s not for everybody. But I know they’re very proud. My sister is very proud of it and thinks that it’s great. They were all just very happy for me. Obviously I couldn’t have done that show or any other stand-up or whatever without their support and love. I’m so grateful that this happened now in my life, because I have so much unconditional love around me that even if it was just a giant flop, it would have been OK.
The show does a great job of capturing this sort of quintessential Midwestern-ness, from your omnipresent politeness and cheery attitude to your dad taking you to the Dairy Queen for a pick-me-up after a rough day. But you actually spent your hospitalization in LA and not in your real-life hometown of Duluth, unlike what we see in the show. Why make that change in setting?
I didn’t do all the heavy lifting in the writing of the show, but I think it was more interesting to go back to Duluth and have this feeling of a different space to go into entirely. In real life, it was more complicated. I also wanted to be among friends — my friends are very important to me — so my parents came to visit me in LA when I was hospitalized rather than me going there. But there are some great mental health facilities in my hometown. They have a great psychiatric facility for kids, which I’m sure I would have taken part of when I was a kid. But when I was there, I think there were just nuns. And I would go sit on the couch and talk to a nun, which can be therapeutic in its own way.
Your character seems to really be living under the thumb of her own passivity and tendency to be overly polite in all situations — including one in which a therapy leader is unsuccessfully baiting her to get angry during a game of badminton — which I recognized as an issue that a lot of women in particular struggle with. Is that something you’ve experienced personally, this compulsion to always please and be polite?
I think it was definitely an observation of the writers. I, of course, like to think of myself as this direct, confident person, and it was funny to see the reflection of probably more of what I really am. I’m definitely passive aggressive. My husband’s from Philadelphia, and it’s funny how he’ll just say how he feels about something, and it’ll take me a few days to say, “Hey!” Or I’ll just kind of dance around it.
My dad sent me to a Dale Carnegie course when I was 16, and one of the primary (tenets) was “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain — compliment.” My father also told me, “If you want a man to love you, just listen.” What I interpreted that as is “Don’t talk, and always be positive,” which is so funny because my mom is not like that. My mom is a megaphone (laughs).
One thing I was concerned about in the portrayal of the hospitalization was that it would be realistic. Playing a game — like, that could never happen in a psych ward. There aren’t a lot of planned activities. If there are, they’re super depressing. They’re like, “We can have a dance class, but we all have to stay seated in our chairs.” What!? I was feeling bad before, but now you’re going to play REO Speedwagon, and I can’t stand up? (laughs)
That's weird. You’d think they’d be very encouraging about movement in alleviating depression…
Nope. I think, at least from what I could tell, it was a legal issue. There weren’t enough people to watch everybody, and maybe the disparity of ages of everybody in the ward. It was literally insanity, and very funny, in retrospect.
I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the awful but hilarious jobs that your character takes on despite some very serious misgivings — like, for example, a cartoon about Sea World produced by Bill Cosby, or “Lock Up a Broad,” the game show where women are literally caged until they apologize for their alleged transgressions. Do any of these come from real job offers you’ve received?
I have a very champagne problem of getting all these job offers. And I’m so grateful to have job offers, and also, I think, having the work ethic or the willingness to earn, like, “OK, yes, get out there. Hustle!” This is what it’s about — you do a job and be of service and be pleasant. But then what happened in terms of when I got the job (as the “Crazy Target Lady” in a series of ads in 2010) for Target, I realized the job itself was really fun, but I couldn’t disconnect myself from what I was saying, which is basically encouraging people to buy enormous amounts of consumer goods that they don’t necessarily need or want.
The joke on the show was “Nobody says no.” Now, I’ve turned down and will continue to turn down commercial jobs, just because I know myself. Which is really a lot of (the reason) why commercials pay so much, is because there’s sort of a gag going on criticizing anything about the corporation. And any employee can tell you that about working for a corporation — you’re paid to be a part of the team. But now I don’t take those jobs because I know that it will affect me emotionally. I know I’ll start to feel bad if it isn’t something I believe in.
Your character makes this remark in the very first episode about “what a great late-in-life opportunity” her new show is for her — you’re 45, not old at all — along with some other jokes about not having kids at her age because it’s too dangerous. How does it feel finding all this success at this point in your life?
It feels great. There’s no pressure. I don’t feel that thing I felt when I was younger of like, “Oh, this is going to make me or break me,” or “This is the be all end all.” I think that’s one gift of getting older — you just keep going. There’s highs and lows, and there’s another day. It’s been really fun just to enjoy it and pay off our house and prepare for retirement in an “Abundant Now.” We’re doing a lot of affirmations in our family (laughs).
Your dog Bert is also a character on the show, which is funny because the first time I remember seeing you was during a bit on “Kroll Show,” where you also played a woman who was really, really into pugs. What is it about these little dogs that you’re so drawn to?
They’re super affectionate, pugs. Although those pugs on the show are professional, so they weren’t as affectionate because they were always working. But my unprofessional dogs at home are just so loving and so soft and don’t need any exercise, for the most part. It’s also a nice reflection of, you know, when you think, “What am I like?” And I hope I’m like this. I hope I’m slightly adorable and useless.
Barry Crimmins won over audiences at last year's Free State Festival, where the veteran stand-up comedian, political satirist and activist joined director and comic Bobcat Goldthwait for a screening of "Call Me Lucky." Goldthwait's critically acclaimed documentary chronicles Crimmins' story of survival, from his brutal rape as a boy growing up in upstate New York to his later advocacy against child sex abuse and online child pornography.
The film also serves as a "testament" of sorts, Crimmins says, to the relationships he's forged with fellow comedians over the years, as a peer and as an owner of the legendary Ding Ho and Stitches comedy clubs in Boston. Among the many now-famous funny people on his "Thank-God I was nice to that kid" list: Louis C.K. The superstar's production company, Pig Newton, is set to produce Crimmins' one-hour comedy special, for which Crimmins will return to the Lawrence Arts Center stage June 4.
Lawrence has treated him well over the years, and the comedy special (Crimmins has opted to keep prices low, at $10 for general admission) is his "thank you" to the many friends he's made here — "It's my way of saying, 'I think your town's the greatest.' I mean, I just do," he says. "I really do."
In advance of the big night, Crimmins chatted with the Journal-World about "Call Me Lucky," political correctness, the state of comedy today and way, way more insightful and provocative stuff than we could include here. Read on for an edited and condensed version of our interview.
What’s life been like since “Call Me Lucky” came out?
It’s been very busy. I’ve been on the road a lot, doing a lot of smaller dates to get my act together, because I spent almost two years on the movie before that. And in particular since “Call Me Lucky” hit Netflix, I spend a lot of time just sorting through mail and communications from abuse survivors who felt like, I guess, from watching the movie, that I was someone they could talk to. That takes up a chunk of every day. For the first several months (the movie) was on Netflix, it was a big chunk of every day. That’s now quieted down a bit, but it’s still a daily obligation I make every effort to try to keep up on.
Was that a surprise to you, to get that huge influx of messages from survivors?
No, because I’ve been public for almost a quarter century now. I wrote about this in the Boston Phoenix years ago and from that point on. I did the work exposing the child pornography trafficking on AOL, and that kept me in the public eye. I would continue to comment on things, including particularly the scandals of the Catholic Church. I don’t have scientific information about child abuse, but I have an incredible wealth of anecdotal information because I feel like everybody tells me everything, you know? I’m used to it. I knew before we did the movie that this would happen, but it still became even overwhelming for me. It just adds up. You add up five or six really tough stories in a row, and you get a little weary. But then when you hear from people you spoke to a couple weeks ago, and they’re gaining ground and doing well, you get a little shot in the arm. It’s two steps forward and one step back sometimes, but I’ve gotten better also with finding other resources for people and trying not to handle everything myself. But if anybody writes me, I really do try to get back to them.
Do you think we as a society have a problem verbalizing the word “rape” and what constitutes it?
Sure, we do. We really need to call rape, “rape.” We really need to describe what it is and we really need to be able to live with that. People who use the term “political correctness” all the time tend to be some of the biggest censors, even though they’re allegedly fighting for free speech. As Mark Twain said, “use the right word, not its second cousin.”
You remarked in the documentary — and have continued to discuss this issue since — that a lot of these people who pride themselves on being so politically incorrect regard themselves as cutting-edge rebels, but really they’re just reinforcing the “oppressive status quo.”
Well, that’s it. You’re this brave, cutting-edge rebel, and all you’re doing is what’s most convenient for yourself and your narrow view of things. I’m in the comedy business, and I’ll talk about this in the show, but it’s the guys who say, “The world used to be 99 percent based around people like me. Now it’s only 97 percent based around people like me. What’s up with that?” They lose a little tiny bit of work over it, and they’re all upset. I’ve been losing work for decades because of how I speak. I’m not calling myself a martyr over it, but I’m just saying that if their soap pollutes the river, they’re probably not going to let me stand on their soapbox.
What are your thoughts on the current state of comedy?
When I got into it, there weren’t very many comedians. I don’t know if there were 100 comedians when I got into it in the early '70s. I mean, there are far more comedians in Lawrence than there were in the United States when I started doing comedy. When I was a kid, we all wanted to be rock 'n' roll stars, but it turns out you had to be able to do something. Well, there’s not that kind of a threshold for comedy. You just need to be able to think you can do something. I think there’s a problem in comedy right now, in that there are so many people calling themselves comedians that they’re really creating this sort of enormous mountain for the people with some real talent and making it much harder for the people with real talent to be seen and get stage time. There’s really good young comics who are getting buried in this, and that’s who I’m most concerned about. These kids go out and do open mic nights, so they have two minutes. When you’re putting your act together two minutes at a time, it’s going to look like a ransom note. In a way, it’s this huge vindication for those of us who got into it a while back and really sort of made it into something that other people wanted to do. On the other hand, it’s created a real economic crisis for the workers, because basically, everybody’s a scab. There’s a million people waiting to do what you do. It’s like Syria’s taking in comics now. It’s a refugee crisis.
At one point in your career, I think it was the '80s, you said you were almost ashamed to call yourself a stand-up comedian.
What happened was the comedy boom came and really, at that point, the problem was everybody wanted to open up a comedy club but there weren’t enough comics. There were suddenly 600 comedy clubs in the country, and on a Saturday night, there weren’t 600 people that could headline a show, unless you allowed the headliner to be someone who used every hack premise and lowest-common-denominator thing. And that’s what they did. And the audience that digs that became the audience at comedy clubs. But we didn’t come with a laugh track, you know? It was like, “Come on, when are you going to talk about airline peanuts or women going to the bathroom in pairs?” I’d go out and play the clubs — and I’d just done the HBO young comedians special or something — and they’d put some local, real hacky act on in front of me, just doing all this crotch stuff and whatever, and I would follow and struggle. But fortunately when the comedy clubs got stupider and stupider, I got lucky — Jackson Browne took me on tour with him, Billy Bragg took me on tour with him, and Dar Williams, and I always went out with Steven Wright. And then I was able to develop audiences in these towns kind of free of the comedy clubs, and I could go back and play places like the Lawrence Arts Center.
Mark Twain once said, “the secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow.” Do you think a person has to go through immense pain in order to be a truly great comic?
No (laughs). And if I said yes, there would be people out there hurting themselves right now, so I’d better say no (laughs). I don’t think there are a lot of people in this life who don’t go through some sort of immense pain sooner or later. What Twain’s talking about is sort of constructing humor and not necessarily being eligible to write it or speak it. He’s saying that there’s a dark underside to things that generally the real strong stuff comes from. I agree with that. We all go through some things, but the idea that it’s necessary to comedy. ... You could do the same (thing) with insurance salespeople and say, “Well, it turns out every insurance salesperson has been through some crap, which explains why they screwed you out of that annuity” (laughs). I don’t know. Maybe I should be smart enough not to even answer that, because I’m sort of a “see the ball, hit the ball” kind of comic and don’t take it apart that much, you know? I guess sometimes I know more than I realize, but I like to keep it that way.
Recently you tweeted about Jared Fogle and really spoke out about poking fun at the hypothetical situation of him being assaulted in prison.
I abhor all rape, and if I say it’s OK to rape this guy in prison, then a kid who’s in prison on a marijuana rap is going to get raped, too. And that just means there’s going to be more rage and more violence, and it means that I’ve OK’d rape on any level, and I don’t. It’s a horrible thing. I’ve been raped; no one should ever be raped. If I had my way, that would be it. Snickering about Bubba and the soap in the shower and all that crap — forget it. People say that to me all the time and really think I’m going to light up. They couldn’t be more wrong. I’m disgusted. I’m just like, “Why do you presume I’m in favor of rape? I’m not.”
Do you see any situation where it might be OK to joke about sexual assault? Like, for instance, if a survivor wanted to talk about their personal experience?
I think it’s OK to joke about the hypocrisy, the cowardice surrounding it, the injustice for the victims — all those things are good things to go after. Go after the hypocrisy, go after the cowardice, go after the institutions that cover it up, go after the rapists and facilitators, but the minute you get a snickering little joke in there about some child or some woman or man getting raped, you’ve lost me. You have a First Amendment right to do whatever you want. I have a First Amendment right to take you apart after you do it.
Speaking of using comedy to go after institutions, you describe your two big life goals in the documentary as dismantling A, the Catholic Church and B, the United States government.
I do (talk about) it as a peaceful overthrow, but that got left out of it, I guess (laughs). But, yeah. It just means I want to take down oppressive institutions that are not what they seem to be.
Are you any closer to accomplishing those goals?
In a way, the (Bernie) Sanders campaign is encouraging, and as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, I think the new pope’s job is to change the subject and not the Church. I mean, it recently came out that they’re teaching new bishops that it’s not necessarily their job to turn in (suspected abusers) to civil authorities, and I’m a big “render unto Caesar” man on that one. And he sent his representatives to a U.N. hearing on torture to assert that the rape of children, particularly by the clergy, is not torture. I disagree. I’m glad that he’s concerned about climate change. So am I. But he’s not doing anything to change the climate of the Church. He could really make a difference. There haven’t been any of the major fundamental changes the Church needs. I’m glad the guy pays lip service to socialism. If he wants to redistribute the wealth, he could give me the keys to the Vatican vault, and I would be happy to fly over to Rome and start helping on that front.
But I’m a heretic, former altar boy who was abused and humiliated on the altar every morning by a priest who hated me because he knew I probably wasn’t a good prospect to rape, so he was trying to drive me off every day. And he humiliated me in front of a group of people who, had they noticed or said anything, maybe someone would have looked into this guy and found out he was one of the most savage pedophile priests who has ever been documented. He was the guy who would orally rape little boys and tell them they had to swallow because it was like the Eucharist, because he was God’s representative on Earth. I know several people who committed suicide because of that priest, and there’s a lot more stories like that out there.
But we’re getting places. “Spotlight” won the Academy Award (for Best Picture). Granted, it was about journalism, but it won the Academy Award. Things are moving along.
Political satirist Barry Crimmins to film comedy special in Lawrence next month; Louis C.K.’s Pig Newton to produce
Well, comedy fans, here's a spot of sunny news for you on a rainy day:
Barry Crimmins, the veteran political satirist and activist who "won hearts" during last year's Free State Festival with his critically acclaimed documentary "Call Me Lucky," returns to Lawrence next month — this time to film his one-hour comedy special, the Lawrence Arts Center announced Monday.
The action will go down June 4 at the Arts Center's main stage, 940 New Hampshire St., with shows slated for 7 and 9:30 p.m. In another fun tidbit, Louis C.K.'s production company, Pig Newton, will produce the show.
For those of you not in the know, Crimmins' satirical writings and comedy routines have largely focused on the need for political and social change over the years. In the 1990s, this led him to spearhead a crusade against images of child abuse on the internet, calling for police investigations of ISPs. His work has earned him the “Peace Leadership Award” from Boston Mobilization for Survival, a Community Works “Artist for Social Change Award" and the “Courage of Conscience Award” from Wellesley College and Massachusetts' The Life Experience School.
Crimmins is also the founder of the Ding Ho and Stitches comedy clubs, which have hosted performances, among others, by Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Kevin Meaney, Jimmy Tingle and filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait, who chronicled Crimmins' personal life in the "Call Me Lucky."
Podcast nerds may also recognize Crimmins from comedian Marc Maron's popular "WTF" podcast.
We've reached out to Crimmins to see if an interview might be in the cards before his Lawrence visit, and are hopeful at the prospects. In the meantime, you can purchase tickets (they run $10 for general admission) for Crimmins' big show(s) at www.lawrenceartscenter.org.
- In other artsy news, Tuesday is the last day to catch Kansas University's visual art department's annual senior show. The send-off to graduates, which kicked off Sunday, will feature work from students in painting, drawing, sculpture, new media, installation, textiles, ceramics, metals and printmaking. Check it out anytime between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the Art and Design Gallery (and also rooms 412 and 421) of Chalmers Hall, 1467 Jayhawk Blvd.
Free State Festival headliner Maria Bamford reverses course after threat to cancel over Kansas lawmakers’ LGBTQ limits
After announcing on Twitter Thursday night that she planned to cancel Kansas performances in support of LGBTQ rights — and in protest of state lawmakers' efforts to limit them — Free State Festival headliner Maria Bamford has apparently decided to reverse course and use her Lawrence gig as a "fundraiser for local LGBTQ."
The comedian, whose Netflix series “Lady Dynamite” premieres in May, originally tweeted that she would cancel performances in Kansas, North Carolina and "any other state not allowing access to lgbtq."
The Kansas House and Senate last month introduced legislation that would require transgender students at Kansas public schools and universities to use restrooms, showers and locker rooms designated for the gender listed on their birth certificates. North Carolina recently passed a similar law.
After speaking with Bamford's agent Friday morning, Free State Festival director Sarah Bishop confirmed Bamford had recommitted to the festival.
"I think it's really worked out for the best for everyone involved. We're thrilled," Bishop said, adding, "It's been an exciting 24 hours."
Details of the fundraiser, including whom it will benefit ("presumably an LGBTQ rights advocacy organization," Bishop said) and how it will work are yet to be determined, but Bamford's standup, short film screening and Q&A remain scheduled for June 20 at Liberty Hall as planned, Bishop confirmed.
Earlier Friday, Bishop issued a statement via email expressing the festival's support for the LGBTQ community:
"We strongly feel that her appearance in Kansas has the potential to build support for the LGBTQ community and to draw attention to LGBTQ civil rights issues throughout the state," Bishop said of the comedian. "We are committed to the Free State Festival as a means of celebrating Kansas’ history as a progressive, free state that honors and embraces all individuals regardless of gender, race, sexuality, class or creed."
I've reached out to Bamford's team for comment and will keep you in the loop if we learn anything new.
Addison Frei has come a long way from his first professional gig. Now an acclaimed jazz pianist living in New York City, the Lawrence native got his start performing for Sunday brunch patrons at the Eldridge Hotel.
At 10, he was tall enough to touch his feet to the pedals but perhaps not tall enough for guests to see his head peaking out over the music rack.
“I’m sure that raised a few eyebrows,” recalls Frei, who credits those first gigs — his parents “really went to bat” on selling hotel management on the idea of a 10-year-old pianist — with giving him the endurance needed for the life of a professional musician.
At 24, Frei is returning to his hometown for another gig, this time with a few musical friends in tow, as part of the Lawrence Arts Center’s 940 LIVE! concert series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31.
He’ll be joined by girlfriend Tahira Clayton, whom he met as a student at the University of North Texas, on vocals, and childhood friend and Lawrence musician Lucas Parker, who regularly performs with the funk band Mouth and a hip-hop collective called Hearts of Darkness, among others.
Frei collaborates with Clayton on a fairly frequent basis now, but with Parker based in Lawrence and on the road much of the time, it’s harder to get together.
“We really grew up learning music together, so it’ll be great to invite Lucas back,” Frei says of the set list, which much like his upcoming sophomore album, "Transit," should include a mix of original compositions and jazz standards with perhaps a Motown tune and a little blues thrown in. “Pretty much every time that I’m able to make it back to Lawrence, we find a way to wrangle something up.”
In the year since Frei’s last visit, the 2010 Lawrence High School graduate has kept busy working as a freelance musician out of New York, picking up a first-place award at last November’s American Jazz Piano Competition in Melbourne, Fla., and winning top honors in the jazz pianist category at last month’s 13th annual Unisa International Piano Competition in Pretoria, South Africa.
Frei’s win marked the University of South Africa-sponsored contest’s first year to include a category for jazz, a uniquely American genre that for whatever reason (Frei guesses British and Dutch colonial influences have historically placed more emphasis on classical music) is “still somewhat new” in post-apartheid South Africa. The decision to open the competition to jazz was made in large part to inspire South African musicians in pursuing the genre, Frei says.
“I think being part of cultivating a new listening culture there was a cool aspect of it,” says Frei, who thought of himself as a sort of “representative” for jazz while abroad.
During his time in Pretoria, Frei was hosted by a music teacher at a local elementary school, who brought him in to perform first for a group of 20 students, and later for something like 400 kids, “all crammed into a room going wild and crazy and thinking I’m famous and a celebrity,” he recalls.
“Somebody from New York City is intriguing,” Frei speculates, adding, “I think the music probably captivated them, too.”
In recent years, the Internet has helped in closing what Frei calls “the gap in jazz education” globally.
These days, “there are so many do-it-yourself possibilities with putting out music online and finding unique paths to share your art,” Frei says, that even the competitive music scene of New York seems more inclusive, or at least accessible, for young musicians and up-and-comers.
In the Big Apple, he’s found a supportive group of fellow musicians — ones who will empathize over staying up late to play another jam session only to wake up early the next morning for rehearsal.
With his family having since relocated to Florida, Frei doesn’t have a home base to visit in Lawrence. He still visits about once a year, to reconnect with friends like Lucas Parker or the many teachers — among them Dan Gailey, his mentor from the Kansas University School of Music jazz studies department, and Julie Rivers, of Topeka, his private piano teacher — who have been so “very kind” to Frei over the years.
When Frei left for New York after graduating college nearly two years ago, the whole thing “felt more like a long vacation.”
“Just walking around Mass Street yesterday,” he recalled last week, “I’m feeling more and more like a New Yorker.”
If you go What: 940 LIVE! presents Addison Frei in concert
Where: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Cost: Tickets are $10 for students and $15 for adults. They can be purchased at the Lawrence Arts Center box office, www.lawrenceartscenter.org or by calling 843-2787.
The Lawrence Arts Center is going to the dogs this weekend — and chickens and lions and kangaroos and donkeys.
Actually, we’re not so sure about the dogs, but the Arts Center’s productions of “La Fille Mal Gardee” and “Carnival of the Animals,” premiering as a double feature Friday at 7 p.m., will indeed feature plenty of kids in costume as cuddly critters. Also adding to the cuteness: a real, live miniature horse.
“It’s a first for the Arts Center,” says “La Fille Mal Gardee” director Paige Comparato, who as of Wednesday hadn’t yet seen the horse’s performance chops on stage. “I think the kids are really excited.”
Young dancers (mostly from the Arts Center’s School of Dance) ranging in age from kindergarten to high school make up the casts in both productions. Comparato’s abridged version (co-directed by Emma Davison) of Frederick Ashton’s take on the classical comedic ballet of young love in the French countryside follows Lawrence Arts Center dance artist-in-residence Eleanor Goudie-Averill’s reimagining of Camille Saint-Saëns’ famous musical suite “Carnival of the Animals” as a modern dance production.
Even those unfamiliar with Saint-Saëns’ repertoire will likely recognize movements such as “The Aquarium” and “The Swan” from his 1886 classic, says Goudie-Averill.
In the Arts Center’s staging, co-choreographed by Donna Jo Harkrider and Monika Ivy, furry and feathered creatures are called to King Lion’s Court for a chance via competition to rule the kingdom for a day. Much to the king’s dismay, his rowdy subjects (they’re animals, after all) run amok.
One of Goudie-Averill’s favorite moments is a rare bit of serenity in the cuckoo’s solo, scored by Saint-Saëns’ haunting ninth movement, “The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods.”
“It’s just this beautiful moment of calm within a production that is fun and chaotic in other parts,” she says.
If you go What: ""Carnival of the Animals" and "La Fille Mal Gardee" When: Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Where: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. Cost: Tickets are $6 for students, $8 for seniors and $10 for adults. They can be purchased at www.lawrenceartscenter.org or 843-2787.
A thoroughly English production is slated to arrive in the Heartland this weekend — hopefully with a bang, if Ric Averill has anything to do with it.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” the hit musical loosely based on the Ian Fleming novel (yes, he of “James Bond” fame) and, perhaps more closely, the 1968 film of the same name, opens Friday at the Lawrence Arts Center, complete with dastardly villains, oddball humor and its family-friendly mix of “sweetness and vulgarity.”
“This is the American version,” Averill, the Arts Center’s longtime artistic director of performing arts, says of the “tongue-in-cheek” production, which tells the story of a widowed, down-and-out inventor who builds a flying car to amuse his two young children.
Of course, excursions ensue, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (that’s the car's name) leads the family through a series of fantastical — and at times, harrowing — adventures.
Fans of the movie will recognize the familiar score by Academy Award-winning “Mary Poppins” composers Richard and Robert Sherman, performed in the Arts Center’s production by musical director Patricia Ahern and the Free State Liberation Orchestra.
The special effects are similarly “old school.” While the flying car doesn’t actually fly — “except in our imaginations,” Averill points out — the Arts Center crew uses green-screen technology to project images of moving landscapes behind the vehicle that create the illusion of movement.
The set, designed and built by Kansas City artist Juniper Tangpuz, is completely made out of cardboard — from the titular car to the haircutting machine to the telephone booth.
In the Lawrence Arts Center’s production, as in the movie and Fleming novel, “everything’s larger than life,” Averill says.
Those who watched the movie adaptation (co-written by Roald Dahl, which makes perfect sense when you think about it) may recall with horror the thoroughly creepy, long-nosed Child Catcher, who captures and detains children in an underground dungeon below the streets of Vulgaria. He’s still around in the musical version.
In “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” the stakes are high — and very real — for the Potts kids, not unlike a “James Bond” novel or the child protagonists of Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach” and “Matilda.”
“With Fleming and Dahl, nothing has to be particularly appropriate or whitewashed” for children, Averill says. “It’s downright dusty and gritty and fun and serious and zany, all at the same time,” he says of the musical.
The antagonists in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” are, in many ways, just as vile as any of the great “Bond” villains — albeit a tad more bumbling and humorous. As Averill puts it, “they’re on a family level of ‘Dr. No.’”
Unlike Fleming’s “James Bond” tales, this story does end happily ever after. For Caractacus Potts, the hapless inventor who finds new love after loss, and for his non-traditional family, which includes a zany grandfather, played by Averill, and a lovable dog.
In other words, “family is what you make of it,” Averill says. “The family that sings together and dances together and gets silly together, stays together.”
If you go:
- What: "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"
- Where: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.
- When: The show opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and runs until the Feb. 28. Check www.lawrenceartscenter.org for showtimes.
- Cost: Tickets cost $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for children/students. They can be purchased at www.lawrenceartscenter.org, in person or by calling 843-2787.