“IS IT A MAN OR A WOMAN? The answer is no!” zinged Murray Hill, downtown’s favorite Drag King of Comedy—heir unapparent to the likes of Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield. The occasion for Hill’s hot buttering of cold one-liners (and totally Catskilling it) was Trans/Art/Family: The Vivification of NYC, a night at Joe’s Pub in celebration of the singularly brilliant performer Justin Vivian Bond. Downtown being downtown, the event was also a fundraiser for two essential cultural institutions: Participant Inc., the nonprofit art space led by superhero Lia Gangitano, and The Gender and Family Project, which provides space and services for the families and loved ones of gender-talented children. Although home is a precarious concept in New York City—and that day marked the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11—the audience that night came together like family for Mx Bond for a show that could have been called This Is Your Fabulous Life.
“You are gorgeous people!” the gorgeous Sandra Bernhard shouted as she took the stage, and the crowd applauded wildly in agreement. Bernhard told the room that she’d written no memorial Tweets that day, no posts “riding on other people’s tragedies”; she publicly shared no memories of 9/11. Why? “I didn’t see anything,” she snapped. “We were living in Chelsea—facing the other way.” In other words: She would respect the real victims by not playing one tonight—or, really, ever. Then, in the spirit of sanity and all the joy that follows, she belted Laura Nyro’s “Save the Country,” and brought the house down (as it were). #ImWithHer
Kiki and Herb: Seeking Asylum!
The downtown cabaret duo reunites at Joe's Pub following a nine-year hiatus.
Sometimes new and surprising things come in old packages. That is certainly the case with Kiki and Herb, the Catskill-style cabaret duo currently performing at Joe's Pub. A pre-show announcement warns, "These performers are in their eighties and are doing their best." Their best turns out to be the very best in New York City cabaret. Kiki and Herb offer an intoxicating mix of comedy, commentary, and powerhouse vocalization in a style few can replicate.
Of course, the two performers aren't really in their 80s (if the exaggerated lines painted on their faces are any indication). Kiki and Herb are the alter egos of Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman. Bond and Mellman ruled the downtown cabaret scene as the salty chanteuse and her slightly demented gay accompanist throughout the '90s and early 2000s, culminating in a 2006 Broadway show, Kiki and Herb: Alive on Broadway! Kiki and Herb: Seeking Asylum! represents their first public reunion since a 2007 Carnegie Hall concert. They blame their absence on the Obama presidency, noting, "No one wants to see Kiki and Herb when they have hope." Certainly, the present national situation feels like a good time for a comeback.
The Return of Kiki & Herb
The cabaret darlings are back with a new sold-out show at Joe's Pub, Seeking Asylum!
When tickets were released last fall for Seeking Asylum!, Kiki and Herb’s upcoming reunion in New York City, fans went nuts, buying seats like groceries the day before a hurricane. Performances sold out in minutes, and by the time an extension of the show was announced, Joe’s Pub, the venue hosting it, had posted signs at the box office that read, “No individual buyer can purchase more than eight tickets!”
Consisting of a drunk, delirious septuagenarian lounge singer (played by Justin Vivian Bond) and her long-suffering gay piano player (Kenny Mellman), Kiki and Herb reinvented downtown cabaret and thrust a hot, angry knife through the stiff dogma of the Bush era. But in 2007, at the height of their popularity, they hung up their hats. Now the legendary duo is back.
On a recent February afternoon at a Lower East Side bar, Bond and Mellman admit they haven’t even begun rehearsing for the impending engagement (which runs April 21 through May 22). Bond, dressed in black, sits across from Mellman, who sports a sweatshirt emblazoned with a moon face, along with biblically long hair and a beard. He’ll have to shave to reprise his role, and Bond, who also goes by the nickname V, will have to look less lovely to portray the haunted, manic Kiki.
The Endless Adolescence of Mx Justin Vivian Bond
Last Saturday at Joe’s Pub, at the 9 p.m. performance of Mx America, Justin Vivian Bond stood onstage silently “modeling” for two minutes. In a glittery pink dress, Mx Bond shifted between poses — coquettish, demure, self-conscious — amid the gleeful laughter of the audience. Playing the part of Mx America, a girlish but knowing former beauty queen with a slight Southern drawl, Vivian told the crowd, “I’m an aspirational white woman of elegance.”
The joke, of course, is Mx America’s delusion: An older woman is asking the audience to assess and reassess her; the room laughs — an aging trans woman is convinced she is beautiful. The many personas of v (Vivian’s long-preferred gender pronoun, though lately v also uses “they” and “she”) — including Mx America and Kiki DuRane, an alcoholic, aging burlesque singer — are equal parts self-aggrandizing and self-loathing, glamorous and heartbreaking. As Mx America told the crowd later that night, bathed in pink light, “My friend Billy’s father once said you could measure the depth of a person’s tragedy by the amount of distance between how they see themselves and how they’re seen by others.” She paused to take a sip of her white wine on the rocks. “As an American and as a trans person, I find this hypothesis to be really interesting.”
Meet The 81-Year-Old Voice Coach Who Gives Debbie Harry And Mx Justin Vivian Bond Their Sound
Barbara Maier Gustern's vocal students comprise a who's who of the NYC avant garde scene -- a virtual calendar come to life of everyone who's ever graced Joe's Pub with creativity and grace. Among them are Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, Tammy Faye Starlite, Taylor Mac, Penny Arcade, John Kelly, Lady Rizo, Carol Lipnik, Murray Hill, Heather Litteer, Miss Guy, Amber Ray, Julie Atlas Muz, Michael Cavadias, Rob Roth, Eric Schmalenberger, Our Lady J, Machine Dazzle, and Earl Dax. That's a "We Are The World" of Downtown greatness, plus she coaches Grammy-nominated jazz singer Roseanna Vitro and rock legend Debbie Harry.The petite and lively 81-year-old welcomes these people into the home she shares with her husband (a retired singer/actor who was in Phantom of the Opera for years), where, for reasonable rates, she infuses them with her long-acquired vocal wisdoms. Fascinated to meet her on the town recently, I wanted to know what led Barbara to this wonderful place.
Hello, Barbara, Coming from Boonville, Indiana, you probably knew nothing about downtown bohemia.
Of course not. I knew nothing about downtown until I started working with these people. I love it. I went one night with Eric to see Lady Rizo at Joe's Pub. My husband had been in the hospital and I was taking care of him and teaching, and I was burning the candle at both ends. The whole table dared me to get up and dance on the table and I did!
Kiki and Herb Are Alive and Well — and Full of Rage
n the early 1990s, Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman started performing together as the characters Kiki and Herb. Kiki is a drunk, brazen, over-the-hill lounge singer. And Herb is her long-suffering piano player.
On the surface the duo, full of irreverence and rage, might seem a little over-the-top. But their act was deceptively sophisticated and bewitching. Though they made their start in small clubs, Kiki and Herb eventually ended up on Broadway. They even played Carnegie Hall.
At the height of their success, they announced they were ending the act and splitting up. But, after a break of almost a decade, Kiki and Herb are reuniting for a set of shows this spring.
Molly Ringwald: Coming back to these characters that you dreamed up in your 20s now that you’re almost 50, is it different?
Kenny Mellman: The rage you have in your 20s, during the AIDS crisis, is different than the rage I have at 47.
Justin Vivian Bond: I created that character so I could say all the things that I wanted to say as a 20-year-old with a certain amount of gravitas that I didn’t have at that age. I didn’t want to sound strident or over-earnest and I had this character to let me do it, because she was this wizened, experienced older person. She’s still more wizened and more experienced, but in a certain way I can own it a little bit more.
Modern Feminists, in Their Own Words
Justin Vivian Bond, a singer and performance artist, has said, “I’ve always been a feminist, since I was a kid. I’m proudly feminist, if not arrogantly so. You can never have too many arrogant feminists. I was watching this great interview on YouTube yesterday with Joni Mitchell, and she was like “I’m not a feminist, I don’t hate men.” I can proudly say I do!”
Kiki and Herb: Kitsch, With a Whisky Chaser
At first glance, a Kiki and Herb cabaret show could come off as a bizarre and politically incorrect, yet addictive, mess. Kiki, with the faded glamour of Norma Desmond, sings deranged takes on Top 40 hits and slurs through tactless banter about current events. Herb, with sprayed-on gray hair and a kitschy suit, hammers a keyboard and sips Canadian Club. A medley might start with “Frosty the Snowman” and end with Patti Smith.
From 1993 until 2008, Kiki and Herb, known offstage as Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman, performed under the guise of failed, septuagenarian lounge singers, earning a devoted audience that included luminaries from the pop, film and fashion worlds. What started small in San Francisco evolved into a Broadway show and ended with a sold-out farewell at Carnegie Hall. And now, after eight years, Kiki and Herb are reuniting for a monthlong engagement beginning Thursday, April 21, at Joe’s Pub, as part of the commissioning program New York Voices. The show, “Seeking Asylum!,” sold out within minutes.
Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman chat about Kiki and Herb coming out of retirement following their Tony-nominated run in 2007.
Downtown legends and Tony Award nominees Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman are back at it with the long-awaited return of their beloved and bizarre neo-retro lounge act Kiki and Herb. Their brand-new show, Seeking Asylum!, will open April 21 at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, and tickets sold out in record time. Playbill caught up with the pair to discuss their reign as the once and future queens of cabaret.
Your show sold out very quickly. Do you think you might add more?
Justin Vivian Bond: Nooo.
Kenny Mellman: We’re old.
Will that affect how you relate to the audience?
JVB: Well, Kiki and Herb were always of their time, in the moment and in the place where they were performing, and they have pretty much the same world view that they always had. They’ll be responding to what they’re seeing go on in the world now.
KM: And, luckily, a lot is going on.
JVB: It’s helpful that Kiki and Herb have known several of the current presidential candidates personally. And have personal, ah, anecdotes about them.
Kiki And Herb Make America Great Again
“Herb and I are quite delighted that we are finally able to perform for the millennials,” the ancient cabaret diva Kiki DuRane declared from the stage of Joe’s Pub the other night. “I know that so many of you young people have tuned in to our sound. Quite frankly, between the aids and the Alzheimer’s, we haven’t got a fan over forty.” It was still early in the evening, but Kiki, wearing a salmon-colored flapper dress, a bedazzled pink-and-black head bow, and garish drawn-on wrinkles, already seemed tipsy. Herb, her devoted sidekick and accompanist, was at the piano, his gray hair in a ponytail and the rest of him in a Vegas-style silver suit. The audience was ecstatic—they hadn’t seen this pair since 2008, the year Obama was elected. That, Kiki claimed, was the reason for their hiatus. “I was watching the election results come in and said, ‘Herb, our goose is cooked! Nobody wants to see Kiki and Herb when they have hope.’ ”
Now that hope is passé, the cabaret duo has made its boozy, triumphant return, and not a moment too soon. For a certain segment of the downtown audience, their reunion—“Kiki and Herb: Seeking Asylum!”—has been more highly anticipated than the “Game of Thrones” première. The day tickets went on sale, the Joe’s Pub Web site crashed. More dates were added, and quickly sold out. (Ten free standing-room tickets are dispensed nightly.)
My 10 Favorite Books: Justin Vivian Bond
My Bookshelf, Myself
For his bookshop and website One Grand Books, the editor Aaron Hicklin asked people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were marooned on a desert island. The next in the series is the artist and performer Justin Vivian Bond, who stars in “Kiki and Herb: Seeking Asylum!” at the Public Theater this month. (Through May 22, One Grand is also hosting a pop-up shop at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn; a selection of One Grand curators will be reading from their selections on Sat., May 7 at 5 p.m.)
“Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century,” Greil Marcus
“Lipstick Traces” gives a profound and well-documented introduction to countercultural history and is a wonderfully enlightening window into the intellectual underpinnings of rock ’n’ roll.
“The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon,” Tom Spanbauer
A spiritual manifesto as well as a heartbreakingly beautiful read, this book explores themes of gender, the oppression of women and queers in the old West and is an intense portrayal of the power of the human spirit.
“Play It as It Lays,” Joan Didion
Turned me onto the poetry of nihilism at a very tender age. Spare and strong, “I know what ‘nothing’ means, and keep on playing.”
Did You Miss Us? The Immortal Kiki and Herb Conquer New York Again
On Wednesday, Kiki and Herb: Seeking Asylum! will wrap up its triumphant return at Joe’s Pub here in New York City. These intensely beloved characters, the cabaret noms de plume of Mx. Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman, have played all over the world at various points in the past two decades, but for longtime fans like myself, the show is forever tied to a mostly bygone era of downtown New York.
The first time I actually saw Kiki and Herb was at some foggy point in the year 2000. I had just moved to the big city from Kansas and had quickly become disabused of any notion that I might actually know what I was doing here. Like approximately fifty-gazillion other queer Midwestern kids raised on a steady diet of movies and aspirational magazine stories, I was wrapped in a warm shroud of fantasy and cluelessness. I had little money and a terrible futureless job and I had never been happier in my life.
I’d been in the city for less than a month before someone took me to Fez, a club on Lafayette Street with an underground performance space where you could see an amazing show and eat an overpriced burger at the same time. Bond played Kiki DuRane—a boozed up and apparently ancient lounge singer—and Mellman played Herb, her equally aged gay pianist, and they so completely embodied their roles that you actually forgot that what you were seeing a very polished show (which, at this point, they’d been perfecting for nearly a decade) and not some truly rough-around-the-edges, apocalyptic, geriatric cabaret meltdown happening right in front of your eyes.
Before capping off a yearlong celebration of Bond's 25th anniversary of being a performer with a VIVification benefit, v's---Bond's preferred pronoun---GOLDEN AGEwas a fever dream, full of charming anecdotes about shared psychoanalysts, spirit guides, and Blythe Danner.
On the second evening of the show's four-night run earlier this month, Bond's control over the melodic rasp of v's voice was impeccable. More importantly, v displayed an unmatched talent for controlling the space v's in, owning the entire stage with little more than a gentle sway and the tap of a heel, making Bond's all-out performance look effortless.
Bond brought a wonderfully witchy energy to the proceedings, aided by Thomas Bartlett's often-eerie musical direction and talk of a prophetic dream about dead cosmetics coupled with a cover of a Stevie Nicks deep cut ("Planets of the Universe").
New York ‘alt-cabaret’ Joe’s Pub comes to Seattle
Joe’s Pub is a performance-art nerve center in New York City — an intimate, “alt-cabaret” space attached to the Public Theater that has presented and incubated both experimental artists and household names.
Amy Winehouse and Adele made their U.S. headliner debuts at Joe’s, which has also hosted art-minded musicians like David Byrne and Laurie Anderson, avant-garde drag “fool” Taylor Mac, hard-to-define clown singer Puddles Pity Party, actor Alan Cumming, songwriter Neko Case, powerhouse transgender performer Justin Vivian Bond (of Kiki and Herb fame) and many others.
Now Joe’s Pub, on a pilot basis, is exporting some of its favorite artists to Houston and Seattle, including three dates in late 2016 at Teatro ZinZanni’s Spiegeltent.
“We only have 184 seats in Joe’s Pub and we sell out almost all our shows, and that’s great,” said Joe’s director Shanta Thake. “But we know there’s an audience outside of those walls.” Seattle, she said, seemed like a natural fit, “another like-minded city in terms of transgressive narrative, fringe stories … let’s see if the Joe’s Pub name can carry all those positive associations beyond New York.”
High Maintenance's Season Finale Brings With It the End of a Relationship
Sometimes we don't realize how much we depend on others—and when it's time to say goodbye.
It's hard to love people. For one thing, people make it difficult to love them, by being selfish, bad at communicating, moody, destructive, overeager, needy, unkind, careless, and/or evasive. That's basically true of anyone at some point, even the ones who are "easy to love." But also every love, even when it's easy, comes with loss or some other kind of sacrifice that hurts, and adjustment to someone leaving (or worse) is a horrible process that every human being has to go through at least a few times. As we mourn, we fall into patterns, and we fall hard. Obsessions can be comforts and also a form of sickness. Attachment can be very hard to moderate.
If all of that as the underlying subject of the last episode of High Maintenance's first season sounds heavy, well—it is. But it's also, as usual, to the creators' credit that the intense events at the episode's core (death, grief, dealing with exes, being robbed) are dealt with humorously and generously, with room for weirdness, judgment, and ambiguity that keeps things from being too one-sided. Everybody hurts, more or less. Just be thankful you're okay.
Object Of Desire
The Apparatus origin story is rather unusual in the world of lighting design: In the midst of renovating their apartment, and unsatisfied with their options, the studio’s founders, Jeremy Anderson, 41, and Gabriel Hendifar, 35, decided to take matters into their own hands. Though neither came from a lighting background—Anderson worked in public relations and Hendifar designed clothes—the couple started toying with salvaged materials and crafting them into one-of-a-kind fixtures. Soon people began asking about the striking designs, and—as these stories often go—Apparatus turned into a fully formed entity. Nearly five years in, it has grown into one of the country’s most talked-about design studios, with a staff of 35, a new showroom in New York, and work installed in swank hotels and restaurants around the world.
What Anderson and Hendifar may have lacked in experience they make up for with their eye for material, texture, and the unexpected. Their pieces are at once retro leaning and forward thinking, whimsical and utilitarian, altogether uncommonly chic. The Cloud light, one of their best known, features dangling orbs bunched together in a modernist puff. Others utilize chains made of materials like porcelain and horsehair.
Justin Vivian Bond: The Biploar Express
The downtown cabaret icon returns to Joe's Pub for an annual holiday concert.
"I don't like things unless they look like they're falling apart," Justin Vivian Bond says during The Bipolar Express, Bond's 2016 edition of what has become an annual holiday concert at Joe's Pub. V (Bond's chosen pronoun) is talking about a trip to Rome with guitarist NathAnn Carrera, during which they discovered they were "ruins queens," but the statement could easily apply to this show. Like the Basilica of Maxentius or the Colosseum, The Bipolar Express feels structurally unsound but is still completely unmissable.
We learn right off the bat that an entirely different program of old favorites had been planned, but was changed up after the November election. "I didn't feel like the other songs were saying what I wanted to say," V explains. Instead, the show now features 11 songs V has never before performed onstage. It's a risky choice that occasionally pays off in big ways.
New York’s Most Subversive Christmas Show: Review of ‘Justin Vivian Bond: The Bipolar Express’
The latest installment of Justin Vivian Bond’s two-decades-plus cabaret act, currently at Joe’s Pub in New York City, is true to the spirit of its mischievous title.
A cult figure with crossover appeal, Bond is a Tony-nominated performer who rose to acclaim as Kiki of the Kiki and Herb cabaret duo, which ran from the ‘90s up until 2007 and enjoyed a revival series of shows earlier this year.
Screen roles such as in the film Shortbus and the HBO web-turned-television series High Maintenance have followed. Bond has also been a vocal and visible transgender activist. But the intimate stage is where Bond returns with regularity for expression and entertainment, as with the current run of The Bipolar Express.
A tale of two halves, the show begins as a sly and rollicking celebration of dysfunction and coping skills, and wraps up as a cleverly heartwarming Christmas pageant of sorts. Through it all, Bond’s engaging personality and quirky-yet-dignified stage presence infuse an eclectic set list of covers, holiday standards and original compositions with signature charm.