How it’s New York: Persisticon, created by local artists and activists, took place at The Bell House in Brooklyn
How it’s Irish: A number of the artists, including Kendra Cunningham and Janeane Garofalo, are of Irish descent
Two weeks ago, comedy fans and those with their eyes on the midterms came out to the Bell House for Persisticon, a showcase of female comics, music from Lunachicks, an appearance by candidate Catalina Cruz, emcee and New York legend Murray Hill, the linchpin of the evening, and much more. Persisticon was created by Diana Kane, Theo Kogan, Lynn Harris and Leslie King. The event on October 21st was a benefit for Emily’s List (Emily’s List is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” and was created in 1985 to help put pro-choice Democratic women into office).
Hill took the stage and jumped right in, having some teasing Jeff, a guy in the front row as he pretended to imagine his thoughts about Hill’s gender: “Is it a man or a woman?” Hill replied, “The answer Jeff is No. ‘Why is the guy from Orange Is The New Black here?’ It’s not me!” Getting down to business Hill declared, “We thought it was bad before. We have to get every one out! If I have to become a woman to run for office, I’ll do it!” He then invited audience members to say hello to someone new and touch them with consent. He congratulated us on “touching another white person.”
The event featured a wide range of comedians: single, mothers, women of colour and even a comic from Boston. Jo Firestone opened, comparing blow jobs to offering to go to Coney Island for the day: “It takes a very long time and you’re immediately sticky.” She was followed by Negin Farsad, who remarking on her pregnancy, mentioned reading a study about babies born to heroin-addicted mothers. “Ninety-nine percent turned out fine. All this time I’ve been avoiding Camembert and haven’t done heroin once!”
Hill returned and spotting one of the tech guys fixing a microphone, cracked “it’s the first time a man has been on his knees in front of me in a while.” He also encouraged some of the women without seats to fill in the vacant front row in the “lesbian VIP row.”
New mom Abbie Crutchfield, who explained that her husband is white and she’s biracial, wondered when she was pregnant if she would have to wear a shirt that said, “Not the nanny.’ Cut to today and I thought, ‘they don’t pay me enough!’”
The night was also about the ability of words and music to provide some relief from the madness going on around us. Part of the festivities was a celebration of the new book “Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce, Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl”. We were treated to excerpts about Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Aretha Franklin, Patsy Cline and Mahalia Jackson.
Then Lunachicks lead singer Theo Kogan, who contributed pieces on Debbie Harry and Patti Labelle, spoke plainly but fiercely of the dark times we’re living in and how music offers some escape. “I’m angry as fuck but wanted to take us out.” She performed a fantastic interpretation of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”.
Kogan then resurrected “Nico” from the dead, and she wasted no time tossing off withering contempt for the audience. “I know you’re dying for me to read what I wrote but I’m not going to please you that way.” As hilariously inhabited by artist Tammy Faye, Nico sang “Heroes”, “a song about the future and the future is death.”
The penultimate comic was Boston-bred Kendra Cunningham, who shared her concerns that she was turning into her mother. “She’s overdressed for everything. She looks like she’s captaining a ship. Everyone at TJ Maxx thinks she’s from corporate. I think that’s one of the few things my parents had in common. My father sat around in a three-piece suit looking like he was waiting to see if a pall bearer dropped out.”
For me, the non-comedy highlight was seeing the very dynamic Catalina Cruz, the Dreamer turned citizen who is looking to take the vacant assembly seat in the 39th district. Notably, the 39th is the President’s old district in Queens. Cruz came to the US from Colombia when she was 9 and after getting her citizenship, became an attorney. She wore a shirt that read “Let All The Dreamers Wake The Nation” and it was easy to imagine her handily winning on November 6th. If she’s victorious, she’ll be the first Dreamer to take office in New York State.
Last, but certainly not least was the legendary Janeane Garofalo. She vented her fury at the “vocal fry” that is the word like. She was incensed after stopping into the Union Square Barnes & Noble and hearing the “dum dum speak” between an author and his interviewer, in which she asked the writer “Do you have, like, a favourite pen?” He responded with, “Nah…like, no.” Ever the stream of consciousness comic, Garafalo said, “I shouldn’t have wasted your time with that. I want to be liked. I’m a terrible comic but I’d do a great filibuster.”
The general election is This Tuesday. You can still volunteer and donate. Don’t forget to vote!