This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


Who: Eric Idle, Victoria Clark, William Ferguson, Marc Kudisch, Lauren Worsham, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s conducted by Ted Sperling, the New York Metro Pipe Band, and the Collegiate Chorale
What: Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), by Eric Idle and John Du Prez
Where: Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
When: Monday, December 15, and Tuesday, December 16, $15-$145, 8:00
Why: Outrageous musical evening by the creators of Spamalot, based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “Baroque-N-Roll” featuring such songs as “Hail to the Shoe,” “We Love Sheep,” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”


The Cutting Room
44 East 32nd St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Friday, December 5, and Monday, December 8, GA $40, VIP $75 (plus $20 food/drink minimum), 8:00

Spinal Tap star and multiple Simpsons voice Harry Shearer and his wife, musician and songwriter Judith Owen, will be celebrating the season as only they can December 5 and 8 at the Cutting Room with their unique touring variety show, “Christmas without Tears (Does This Make Me Look Fat?).” A fifteen-year tradition previously known as “Judith Owen and Harry Shearer’s Holiday Sing-a-Long,” the evening is broken into two segments, the first consisting of holiday classics (“Winter Wonderland,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) and originals (“F&*k Christmas,” “Jesus Was a Dreidel Spinner”) performed by Shearer, Owen, and surprise guests, which in the past have included such celebrities as Weird Al Yankovic, Richard Thompson, Catherine O’Hara, Christopher Guest, and Donald Fagen. (The 2014 guest list features Evan Christopher, Davell Crawford, Tom McDermott, Teddy Thompson, David Torkanowsky, Mario Cantone, the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Amy Engelhardt, the Gregory Brothers, Artie Lange, Amy Miles, and Alice Ripley appearing at stops either in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Evanston.) For the second act, the audience receives specially designed songbooks and is invited to sing along to a collection of carols until mayhem ensues. Every year, Owen and Shearer release a seasonal song; this year’s treat is their jazzy version of Spinal Tap’s “Christmas with the Devil.” Proceeds from the first show, which will have a decidedly more Creole feel, will benefit the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic & Assistance Foundation, while the December 8 show benefits the Actors Fund.


After taking a break the past two holiday seasons, Aimee Mann is back with her annual noël celebration. “The Return of the Aimee Mann Christmas Show” comes to New York City on December 13 at the Town Hall, with Aimee joined by Ted Leo, her partner in the new band the Both. Special guests for the evening, which will feature a mix of original music, holiday classics, video, sketches, and more, include Bangles leader Susanna Hoffs, singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, and comedian Fred Armisen. In preparation for the tour, which will make stops in Tarrytown on December 10 and Westbury on December 12, the Both has released “Nothing Left to Do (Let’s Make This Christmas Blue).”


Bob Odenkirk will be at McNally Jackson for a reading and signing, followed by a New York Comedy Festival performance at the Gramercy

Bob Odenkirk will be at McNally Jackson for a reading and signing on Sunday, followed by a New York Comedy Festival performance at the Gramercy

McNally Jackson Books
52 Prince St. between Lafayette & Mulberry Sts.
Sunday, November 9, free, 1:00

“How does one begin a book?” Bob Odenkirk asks at the start of his new tome, A Load of Hooey (McSweeney’s, October 2014, $20), which is part of the Odenkirk Memorial Library. “A letter, a word, soon a sentence, then another, and suddenly, a paragraph is begotten — a two-sentence paragraph. Dickens, Melville, Odenkirk, all have faced the same question, and only one has failed. Melville. ‘Call me Ishmael.’ Talk about giving up.” The Illinois-born, Emmy-winning, very-much-alive Odenkirk, who partnered with David Cross on the TV cult classic Mr. Show and played legal eagle Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad — a role he is reprising in the upcoming spinoff Better Call Saul — will be at McNally Jackson on November 9 at 1:00, reading from and signing copies of Hooey, which includes such “new short humor fiction” as “One Should Never Read a Book on the Toilet,” “My Education, or, the Education of a Me, or, I Not Dumb,” “Hitler Dinner Party: A Play,” and “Martin Luther King Jr.’s Worst Speech Ever.” Later on, Odenkirk will be heading over to the Gramercy Theatre for a book release show that is part of the New York Comedy Festival; tickets for the 7:00 performance are $40 and include a copy of the book, the cover of which boasts, “Inside is funny things.”


jim gaffigan

Barnes & Noble Union Square
33 East 17th St. between Broadway & Park Ave. S.
Monday, October 20, free, 7:00

“What are my qualifications to write this book? None, really,” comedian Jim Gaffigan writes at the beginning of Food: A Love Story (Crown Archetype, October 21, $26), the follow-up to his 2013 bestseller, Dad Is Fat. “So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. Okay, to some I might not be considered that fat, but the point is, I’m not thin. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating, I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book. . . . First of all, how do you know they really feel passionately about food? Well, obviously, they are not passionate enough to overdo it. That’s not very passionate. Anyway, I’m overweight.” The stand-up comic and married father of five, who has appeared in such films as The Love Guru and on Broadway in That Championship Season and has publicly shared his desire for Hot Pockets and bacon, among other edibles, will be at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on October 20 at 7:00 to read from and discuss his new book, which features such chapters as “Not Slim Jim,” “The Buffet Rule,” “Cup of Gravy,” “Salad Days,” “Kobe Beef: The Decadent Meat,” “French Fries: My Fair Potato,” and “Hot Pockets: A Blessing and a Curse.” Seating will begin at 5:00 on the fourth floor, with priority given to those who have purchased a copy of the book; the event will conclude with a signing.


(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Dennis (Kieran Culkin) and Warren (Michael Cera) have some fast thinking to do in THIS IS OUR YOUTH (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Cort Theatre
138 West 48th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Thursday - Tuesday through January 4, $35 - $135

After seeing the Broadway debut of Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 black comedy, This Is Our Youth, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, thankful that this was not my youth — although it could have been, since I’m the same age as two of the three characters and grew up in New York as well at the exact same time. It’s a lot funnier watching the antics onstage than having actually lived that life. It’s March 1982, and nineteen-year-old Warren Straub (Michael Cera) has arrived at the Upper West Side pad of his friend and drug dealer, twenty-one-year-old Dennis Ziegler (Kieran Culkin), with a suitcase stuffed with valuable collectible toys and records and fifteen grand in cash he stole from his abusive father. Dennis and Warren have an intense love-hate relationship, as the supposedly cool and calm dealer constantly insults his always nervous, twitchy buddy, who appears to suffer from ADHD and often thrusts his hands into his pockets to keep them from doing something strange as he tramps around the stage. “What kind of life do you lead?” Dennis says early on. “You live with your father — a psycho. . . . Nobody can stand to have you around because you’re such an annoying loudmouthed little creep, and now you’re like some kind of fugitive from justice? What is gonna happen to you, man?” Warren, who has a unique philosophical view of the world, replies, “What’s gonna happen to anybody? Who cares?” Dennis’s never-seen girlfriend, Valerie, and her friend, the fashionable Jessica Goldman (current It Girl Tavi Gevinson), are on their way over, so Dennis and Warren come up with a plan to lavish some of the stolen money — which Dennis insists Warren return to his father — on the two women, then make it back by reselling some coke. But nothing seems to go quite right for these two luckless losers.

Tavi Gevinson has style to boot in Broadway debut (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Tavi Gevinson has style to boot in Broadway debut (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Originally produced by the New Group in 1996 with Josh Hamilton as Dennis, Mark Ruffalo as Warren, and Missy Yager as Jessica (later versions have featured such young stars as Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hayden Christensen, Freddie Prinze Jr., Anna Paquin, Summer Phoenix, Heather Burns, and Alison Lohman), This Is Our Youth is a searing comic portrait of three college-age kids trying to find their place in a not-so-warm-and-cozy world. Culkin (subUrbia, Lonergan’s The Starry Messenger) plays the sleazy but lovable Dennis with broad strokes, channeling Robert Downey Jr. from Less Than Zero; in fact, This Is Our Youth is sort of an extremely stripped-down, more low rent East Coast version of the 1987 film based on Bret Easton Ellis’s bestselling novel, with smart, razor-sharp, free-wheeling dialogue from Lonergan (The Waverly Gallery, You Can Count on Me). Gevinson, the teen powerhouse behind Rookie magazine, starts off a bit mannered before settling into her character, an FIT student who is (wisely) suspicious of Warren and is the only one of the three who actually cares about her family. But Cera steals the show in a bravura performance as the unpredictable Warren, imbuing him with a fidgety apprehension and a tense, jittery anxiety that is mesmerizing. He’s so wound up, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to have a conversation with him. “So how you doing, Jessica?” he asks when she shows up at Dennis’s apartment. “You’re looking very automated tonight,” to which Jessica replies, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Anna D. Shapiro (Domesticated, August: Osage County) directs this Steppenwolf production with a controlled recklessness where anything can happen on Todd Rosenthal’s (Of Mice and Men, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) spectacular set, a walk-up studio surrounded by an apartment complex so realistic you’ll wonder why you’ve never noticed it in the Theater District before. Letting out another sigh of relief, I can again confirm that I am intensely glad to have experienced This Is Our Youth as an onstage drama instead of ever having to live this crazy kind of life myself.


dave chappelle block party

BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Saturday, September 20, $14, 9:45
Series runs September 19-20

In September 2004, comedian Dave Chappelle put on a surprise block party in Bedford-Stuyvesant, sort of a mini-Brooklyn version of Wattstax, Mel Stuart’s seminal L.A. concert film in which Richard Pryor teamed up with a host of black musicians, including Isaac Hayes, Albert King, the Staples Singers and Carla and Rufus Thomas. Directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) and photographed by Ellen Kuras (Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Blow) Block Party is Chappelle’s Wattstax for the twenty-first century. Gondry and Chappelle take viewers on a very funny trip as the comedian wanders around his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, handing out golden tickets like a black Willy Wonka, offering everyone free transportation to Brooklyn, loading buses up with a fascinating mix of people of all races. When he bumps into a college marching band, he invites them to play at the party, joining such big names as Kanye West, the reunited Fugees, Big Daddy Kane, Common, John Legend, the Roots, and Dead Prez. Gondry cuts between the preparation for the block party and the actual festivities, an infectious blend of music and comedy that makes you feel like you’re right in the middle of it all. Musical highlights include West performing “Jesus Walks” with Legend and Common, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu backing the Roots on “You Got Me,” and Talib Kweli, Common, and Fred Hampton Jr. rapping with Mos Def on “Umi Says.”

Dave Chappelle invites everyone to his Bed-Stuy block party

Dave Chappelle invites everyone to his Bed-Stuy block party

Unfortunately, the songs are not seen in their entirety, one of the film’s only drawbacks. Behind the scenes, Chappelle tickles the ivories to “Misty” and “Round Midnight,” hangs out with the bizarre white couple who live in the Broken Angel house across the street, and jokes around with Mos Def. The film avoids any overt political messages, although some of the songs deal with controversial topics. One of the sweetest moments is when Wyclef Jean plays “President” for the marching band, letting the members know they can be anything they want to be. Block Party is a shining, defining moment for Chappelle, who shortly after walked away from a $50 million Comedy Central contract, succumbing to the pressure of fame and expectation. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is screening September 20 at 9:15 as part of BAMcinématek’s “The Source360” series, honoring the twenty-fifth anniversary of the influential magazine. The two-day festival also includes George Tillman Jr.’s Notorious, a biopic about Biggie Smalls; One9’s Time Is Illmatic, a documentary about Nas; The Man with the Iron Fists, followed by a Q&A with director and star RZA; and Peter Spirer’s Rhyme & Reason, which follows the history of rap music. In addition, Pass the Mic: Ladies First — A Night of Women Emcees, with Nitty Scott, Rajé Shwari, Roxanne Shanté, and Sweet Tee, takes place in the BAMcafé on September 19 and International Hip-Hop Night, with Amkoullel, Gokh Bi System, Rebel Diaz, Shokanti, AYoinmotion, and Bocafloja, hosted by Toni Blackman, is scheduled for September 20.