Courtesy Reanimation Library
Kings County is, first and foremost, a variety show: comedy, music, storytelling, artisanal mayonnaise… basically everything that’s good about Brooklyn, on stage, to enjoy (or on your radio dial!). Brought to you by the patron saint of Intelligent New York Media, Kurt Andersen, and the ringmaster of smart (and funny) news, Daily Show Executive Producer Steve Bodow, Kings County will showcase the best of the borough in three live-to-air shows this summer, starting on June 10, at Galapagos Art Space. We asked the aforementioned cultural impresarios just what the hell they were thinking…
The L: So, you guys seem like you’re already pretty busy. Why’d you decide to do a live variety show, of all things? Why Brooklyn? Why now?
Kurt Andersen: A lot of reasons. We’ve done a bunch of live versions of my radio show, Studio 360, here in New York as well as in LA and Aspen and Seattle, and I discovered I really liked live audiences. Studio 360 is all about deep conversations with and stories about artists and performers, and I hankered to be a ringleader of a show that’s all about artists and performers *performing.* As for Brooklyn, it means I don’t have to leave the borough. And finally, I’m in awe of Steve Bodow, and the opportunity to make something with him was irresistible.
Steve Bodow: Oh, Kurt. You say the least plausible things...
For me it was, firstly, a chance to work with Kurt, whose legend of course blah blah blah... except for real. He knows culture broadly and deeply and he knows funny. And when we first started talking about this it seemed our instincts—what we’d like to do with a radio variety show, and just as crucially, what we hated about radio variety shows—were completely in sync. Why Brooklyn? Kind of obvious—it’s where the cultural action is. Not always literally, but you know. Why now? Because with Portlandia already having thoroughly ridiculed everything we’re talking about, the timing seemed right.
KA: Also, the paydays in public radio are huge.
I’ve heard this described as “A Prairie Home Companion for Brooklyn.” Does that fit? And if so, what’s your version of The News from Lake Wobegon?
KA: You could say that. Although just as Prairie Home is about a notional place that exists in hearts and minds all over America, so too do we want Kings County to conjure a version or vision of Brooklyn that exists in cities everywhere. But I probably won’t sing. And our version of The News From Lake Wobegon might be somewhat less weather-centric.
SB: Wait, this is one of those “some people say...” things Fox News does, isn’t it. “Some people say the President swore a goat’s blood oath to secretly destroy the US banking system. Why won’t the White House comment on this developing scandal?”
Anyway, I’ve never heard of Prairie Home Companion or Lake Wobegon or Garrison Keillor and certainly didn’t grow up listening to it like everyone else in America.
Indie rock takes itself pretty seriously; so-called indie comedy does not. How do you account for the easy symbiosis of the two in Brooklyn over the last decade? It’s obviously something you’re excited by, given the make-up of the show…
KA: Good question! That symbiosis is the whole point, right? Of life as well as The Brooklyn Sensibility. Also, I was at an Andrew Bird show at Bell House recently where the audience laughed a lot—and the original Brooklyn indie rockers, They Might Be Giants, are very funny.
SB: The best stuff in either (or any) genre squares the circle, right? Takes itself seriously except when it doesn’t? Respects the craft and hard work and retains a sense of play and looseness anyway? And as far as Brooklyn being a center of that mix—which I totally agree is the whole point—I’ll call Kurt’s TMBG reference and raise him the Beasties, who almost always did it all.
“Brooklyn” has become shorthand for an approach to urban life that prioritizes creativity, curation, and the twin virtues of the Local and the DIY. What is it about this place—and these ideas—that are so compelling to people?
SB: First, our show isn’t about literal Brooklyn, it’s about the thing that that shorthand refers to. People who like the culture coming out of all the Brooklyns like it because it’s (a) good and/or (b) fresh, which isn’t itself as good as “good,” but is still something. People who like the notion of such a place existing like it—this is totally my own bullshit take, by the way—because it’s fun to believe in the myth (the often true myth!) of cultural renewal happening fresh in places where young and/or non-rich people can afford to be. It’s an underdog story.
KA: You got your era of unstoppable globalization and Über-mass-production, you’re bound to get your upsurge of DIY and localism as antidotes, thank God. It’s about the possibility of invention rather than It Is What It Is (the worst single aphorism of the 21st century) and received wisdom and a certain kind of rancid glam.
On the other hand, you mention fancy mayonnaise in the Kings County promo blurb, an artisanal condiment I frankly find ridiculous. Do you sometimes worry that “Brooklyn” is approaching self-parody? (I do, all the time.)
SB: I don’t worry about this because it has already happened. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of great stuff happening as well. Just that you have to be a careful shopper.
KA: I think Brooklyn and “Brooklyn” have at least another decade before the fun-to-self-parody ratio tips too far in the wrong direction.
Are there any acts in particular we might not be familiar with that you’re excited to share with the rest of the world?
SB: I’m not sure we’re breaking anything super-new, in these initial episodes anyway. Some good bits, though.
KA: It’s not so much the particular acts—every one of which, needless to say, is super-mega-fantastic!—as it is the whole mixture and context, I think, that has a chance to become something cool.
What are your favorite spots in Brooklyn right now to:
SB: Roberta’s. Love it in general, and then I was lucky enough to try the tasting menu once. Holy. Shit.
KA: What he said. Also: La Vara and The Good Fork.
SB: I’ll say Sheep Station because I just had a nice drink there a few nights ago. But nothing beats the Bohemian Beer Hall in Queens. Which is where I live. There, I said it. DO YOU HEAR ME, L MAGAZINE?
KA: I tend to drink at home. When I don’t, I go with old favorites a short walk from where I live, real dives (like Montero’s) and faux dives (like Brooklyn Social).
SB: Dekalb Market on Flatbush. Close second: Coney Island boardwalk.
KA: Brighton Beach. And Joralemon Street between Clinton and Court, in order to see if it’s visually discernable, as I read last week in the New York Times, that 70 percent (!) of the incoming freshman class at Packer Collegiate Institute, where my kids went to school, are now Manhattanites.
D) Read a book
KA: Green-Wood Cemetery.
SB: What a what?
The first installment of Kings County will feature comedian Franchesca Ramsey co-hosting with Kurt Andersen, along with comedian Kurt Braunohler and musical guests Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, aka The Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger. Galapagos Art Space, 7pm, June 10, 16 Main St, DUMBO. Doors open at 6pm, $10.