The cultural attache dug in with UnCabaret host, producer and muse Beth Lapides for a conversation about life after the big 25th Anniversary show. They talked comedy business, how the comedy world is changing, comedy during the Trump era, loneliness, twitter and more.
Last fall at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, an institution of comedy celebrated its 25th anniversary: UnCabaret. For the big event Beth Lapides assembled an all-star team of people who have appeared at her weekly comedy show. The question after that performance was over was, “now what?” Lapides answered that question by turning a weekly-show into a monthly show and finding a new home at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz.
This Sunday, on Mother’s Day, UnCabaret launches their regular second Sunday of the month slot at Rockwell. UnCabaret is a home for humor that, as Lapides has previously described, is “unhomophobic, unxenophobic and unmisogynist.” What started out as an edgy, even angrier show, has mellowed a little bit with time.
It begs the question, what is life like after 25 for UnCabaret?
It’s great. There was a lot of energy from the 25th and it really helped us focus on what the show is and celebrate it. It feels reinvigorated.
Does reaching a quarter century make you think about what to do differently for the next 25 years?
Well it does and that’s a process we’re still looking at. It’s almost like a renewal of vows. What is our mission? How is our mission different, if it is. In many ways it’s exactly the same and in many ways, because the world has shifted, it’s a little bit different.
You’ve been through times where you opened and closed and opened and closed UnCabaret several times. What is it about this show that made it impossible for you personally to not let it close for good?
It’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s a good question. Partly it’s my passion about the mission of what comedy can be that it isn’t. Creating this space that is more open to women and LGBTQ voices; that is warmer and more story-based. I love doing it and I love watching it. It’s my favorite comedy to watch.
Are there weeks when the idea of putting on a show becomes overwhelming?
There might be a week where I think, “Oh God, what do I have to say.” That’s why we’re moving to a monthly program for the first time in 25 years. I do really love the weekly format, but I couldn’t be producing a weekly show and get anything else done.
You mission statement about all the things you didn’t want the performances to be was radical in 25 plus years ago when UnCabaret started. Does it bother you that it is still radical and necessary today?
Yes. [And with that she lets out an enormous laugh.] It does bother me. Before we came back I was thinking, “Who needs UnCabaret?” I started going to shows to see if we’re still needed. I saw the opposite. We are still needed. Even if the lineup is inclusive in clubs, the vibe isn’t.
How have you and, by extension, UnCabaret changed over the years?
One big shift is when it started it was radical and it came from a spark of anger and rebelliousness. Now one thing that’s changed is I’ve softened. Whatever the spiritual and emotional journey is, I’m softer and warmer. Come for the comedy, stay for the hugs. It’s a softer, gentler environment than it was when we were younger. That’s also because the world is harsher. I really produce the show to have a feeling of uplift more than I did in the beginning. The exciting thing is to shape every night that people leave with optimism and hope and an excited feeling about embracing Monday. Only through that feeling will we get through this very tricky period of history and will we get better.
What has the Trump era done for the comedy at UnCabaret?
It’s really interesting. It such a Twitter reality that people tend to stay away in UnCabaretbecause it’s so day-to-day and ephemeral. I think people are trying to get in deeper at a divided world; at the human and American things that are coming to light. Rather than taking Trump as a topic, the can of worms is the topic.
We live in a cacophonous society where talking over people is more common than talking with people. What can comedy teach us about listening to each other?
If you actually watch great comedy a great comedian is listening to the audience. That’s one of the differences. A comedian will listen and let the audience be part of the conversation and you feel that. The comedian will go deeper, explore more, respond to your laughter and give more to your laughter. I won’t say tailor what they are saying, but open up to you in a deeper way as an audience.
The other point would be finding yourself laughing at someone you don’t agree with or isn’t your type or you might not necessarily hang with and they are letting you laugh. That opens your mind to more different kinds of people. It’s a sharing of life experience. No agreement is necessary.
Social media, our devices, a divided country and more have detrimental impacts on us. What do you think UnCabaret brings to the world as it enters its second quarter century?
I like to say “less will be revealed.” I’m letting UnCabaret reveal itself to me. I think loneliness is an epidemic. This idea that you are supposed to feel more connected, but you are not. The more I celebrate life that combats that loneliness, that’s where my happiness comes from. UnCabaret is a place where people can feel less lonely. We’re all trying to shepherd earth to a better future and not to its end.
For tickets go here.
The announced line-up (subject to change) for Sunday is Tim Bagley, Lauren Weedman, Alex Edelman, Brittany Ross, Jamie Bridgers, Tina Baker with Mitch Kaplan as Musical Director.