Text and Interview: Monica Uszerowicz
Photos: Abigail Starr
In addition to being one of our on-staff writers, Alec Coiro is a performer. His self-written plays, as painfully, wisely self-aware as they are wonderfully absurd, have been shown independently or with the support of the Dactyl Foundation, the ISA, and the Bleecker Street Theater; Caitlin Rider, with whom he co-created Alec and Caitlin Present, has been a performer and writer since 1996. Alec and Caitlin Present a series of variety shows, needled the often ludicrous exigencies and signifiers of the zeitgeist—especially life in New York City. Consider a scene in which Toms—the shoe—brings home his Keds-shoe girlfriend to meet his family. Her lack of awareness regarding “the gift of shoes” brings Toms’ sister to tears; “I don’t even know what one-for-one is,” Keds says, unassumingly, referencing the Toms guarantee. “It’s not a big deal,” her boyfriend comforts her, prompting a shout by Father Toms, played by Coiro: “One-for-one is your heritage!” Some of their work together, though, is just silly, and that’s refreshing, too: check out the German eighth graders to understand what we mean.
His upcoming one-act musical, “Insecurities 2: What Should We Do,” is, in Coiro’s own words: “about being pathetic in New York City and owning a cat who doesn’t care about you.” “Insecurities Securities 2,” of course, won’t be so dark, as the musical is an extension of his variety show with Rider (and of “Insecurities: The Musical,” part one). Featuring Abigal Chapin and Brooke Bloom, the show opens at ISA in Williamsburg on November 18. Ahead of the opening, we asked Coiro some questions about his work and the inspiration for “Insecurities.” (Important: “There will also be a new set by my fake noise band, Noyz ii Men.”)
When did you start acting, and how did you veer into the realm of comedy?
I do the acting in the shows because I’d rather just do it myself than direct someone. I feel awkward as a director, probably because I don’t have one of those chairs. I think that I nail my own stuff, but outside of that, I don’t pursue acting. I went to one audition in my whole life. I was up for the part of “The Boyfriend,” but the casting director thought I scowled too much. They had me acting into a video camera. It was mad whack. I like acting for an audience and being really broad like I was doing melodrama in some theater on the Bowery in the lost New York City of old.
When did you and Caitlin meet and start working together? I also want to about how you came into contact with your most frequent collaborators?
Caitlin and I have a bunch of mutual friends, notably the amazing author Alex Butler, who I’ve worked with a bunch in the past. I remember one day after knowing Alex for a decade we were at a party and Alex was like, “Meet my best friend Caitlin.” And I was like, “Alex, how dare you wait a decade to introduce me to your best friend Caitlin.” Then we all ate a pile of ayahuasca the size of a grapefruit and started giggling until the shaman had to shush us. Then Alex had a vision that Caitlin should join us for a piece of dinner theater I wrote called “The 3 Stages of Murgatroyd,” which was about the makings of a 19th-century pervert. Caitlin played my dad (I was the pervert). She wore a puffy red beard and threatened to hit me with an almanac. That was my first show at ISA, and afterward one thing led to another and Caitlin and I started doing our variety show there. Our process was spending two months gossiping about everyone we knew and then pulling the show together the day before it started.
Brooke Bloom is an amazing actor and great friend. We did a scene together in the Alec and Caitlin Present days where we both dressed up as ballerinas and were outrageously mean to each other. She acted circles around me, but I had a better turnout. I was completely honored when she said she’d play Dimples the Cat in the new show. I think it was the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid. Abigail and I became friends at Winnie Wong’s legendary Game of Thrones parties. We’re both accomplished knitters and generally crafty people. Abigail and her sister play together as The Chapin Sisters. When Abigail agreed to do the show that was also one of the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid.
How’d you get involved with ISA, and what has it been like working with this space?
We got involved with ISA back when Johnny Misheff used to work with them, and we were looking for a place to put up “Murgatroyd.” David Landgraf at ISA has now become my favorite person of all time. It’s such a great, beautiful place to have a show and so much more of a fun environment for the audience than any other venue anywhere. Chef Ginger Pierce also makes some of the best pizza in Brooklyn.
How much of the variety show was improv and how much was scripted?
The Variety Show was scripted up to the point when we forgot our lines. I always wanted to wear Google Glass glasses on stage, so I could read the lines off of them, but Google rejected my Pioneer application on the grounds that I should stop being so lazy.
I actually have a huge problem with improv comedy; why someone would want to sit through team building exercises for nerds is beyond me.
“Insecurities 2: What Should We Do” is about the aspects of living in New York that make it a bummer, but also really funny. Is it cathartic to poke fun at having to deal in this current economy?
Originally I wanted “Insecurities 2: What Should We Do” to be exclusively songs about people’s trendy urban career schemes, which is where the “What Should We Do” part comes from. There was going to be a “T-Shirt Line” song, a “Children’s Book” song, an “App” song, a “Ceramics” song. Ultimately, those all got cut so I could craft more of a story. However, my favorite two “trendy urban career” songs still remain, but you have to come to the show to find out what they are.
It’s true. I did say the new show was about “half-assing it in the new economy” because the show is very contemporary, but I think that people have been using artistic-ness as an excuse for not getting a real job since the dawn of capitalism.
Can you tell me a little about the development of a show, in terms of your ideas? Do you get an idea about a particularly funny situation/joke and then expand on that? How does it all get workshopped into something bigger?
I really can’t say where the ideas come from. But I wish I could because once you have the idea, writing the songs just becomes a process of not settling for the lame, easy rhymes. I hate listening to songs with words you’ve heard rhymed together a million times. Like, they just used the first rhyme they came up with. It’s like late-era Woody Allen movies where he just shoots the first draft of whatever crap he wrote over the weekend. I think this strong feeling about rhymes comes from listening to a lot of top-notch rap music in the ’90s. There’s a Taylor Swift song I hear all the time where she goes, “Say you’ll remember me/Standing in a nice dress.” They couldn’t come up with a better adjective than fucking “nice.” It’s pathetic. And that’s not even the rhyming part!
It feels like a nice break from the general stressors of living [in NYC] to make fun of them…
Thanks! Originally I did shows based around kids’ books like The Baby-Sitters Club. Then I did shows set in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now I’ve settled into these ultra-contemporary comedies of manners, which I think is largely due to Caitlin’s influence. Caitlin, who just had her first baby, and I have plans to write a “new parents”-themed “Insecurities” soon. Abigail is doing the current show while pregnant just like Caitlin did in the last show, so this seems like a pretty apt theme for this crew.
Please tell me about your fake noise band, Noyz ii Men.
Noyz ii Men is a noise band. They also consider themselves a drone band. Their catchphrase is “Now We’re Dronin’.” They get into different adventures at each new show they play. I came up with the idea while watching a two-man noise band that was playing a show with my friend Joe Denardo (Ornament), and wondering what they were thinking while they played; I figured they were probably thinking how cool the noises they were making sounded. James Pham, my old bandmate from 3.5 Megabytes, is the one who came up with the name. When he texted me the name, it was like when Robert Oppenheimer first propagated a fast neutron chain reaction: I knew it was gonna be the bomb. To my great delight, Joe Denardo went on to become a member of Noyz ii Men. A lot of the people closest to me have been involved in Noyz ii Men. I love everything about Noyz ii Men; thanks for asking about it.