Pop Quiz: ‘SNL’ Guitarist Jared Scharff

You may recognize him from his shoulder-length blonde hair when standing front and center in the Saturday Night Live house band every weekend. Jared Scharff is currently the youngest guitarist among the old pros at SNL. In a city filled with posers and talentless, wannabe rock stars, Scharff has taken the music scene by storm with his electrifying sound and sheer ability to tear up his instrument. Guitar hero Scharff was kind enough to put down his axe long enough to answer our Pop Quiz.

When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up? Oddly enough, a musician and a hockey player.

Do you have any tattoos? One of the only musicians I know without any.

Are you superstitious? Depends on the moment.

First album you bought? First actual CD I purchased was Extreme’s 3 sides to Every Story.

If you could have any super power, what would you choose? Flying. It would cut out my flight expenses from New York to Los Angeles all the time.

What restaurant would you eat at every day if you could? SEA.

Have you ever been arrested? Was VERY close. But no.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Candy.

Where do you go out in New York City? East Village or Lower East Side pretty much. Have had a birthday party at 2A for seven years in a row!

How many times a day on average do you think about sex? I don’t ever NOT think about sex.

Ever been star struck? Recently, when I spoke to Chris Martin at SNL.

When you get good news, who’s the first person you tell it to? Trying to figure that out. Would typically be a girlfriend, but I am single now.

What do you always watch if it’s on TV? Point Break, Good Will Hunting, and Rounders.

What do you normally sleep in? Just boxer briefs. Where’s the craziest place you’ve had sex? Shit-hole East Village bathrooms.

What’s on your computer wallpaper? The default picture.

If you could be any literary character, who would you be? Harry Potter.

Where do you really want to be right now? Thailand, on a sunny beach, about to order pad Thai.

What’s the first job you ever had? Technically, SNL.

Favorite Muppets/Sesame Street character? Muppets: Animal. Sesame Street: Snuffleupaggus (just for the name alone).

What’s the best advice you ever got? From Chris Martin, “I think about what the people want, and they want confidence. It doesn’t matter how I feel about it. Got to give them what THEY want.”

Does being the new guitarist for SNL get you laid a lot? Starting to.

Industry Insiders: Johnny T, Cabin Fever

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in New York, you’ve walked into one of Johnny T’s East Village hangs. A staple in the NYC music and nightlife scenes, Johnny recently opened Cabin Down Below, an insta-speakeasy sensation. We sat down for an afternoon cocktail in the basement of his bar Niagara, source of many rock n’ roll memories.

What bars do you claim as your own these days? Black & White, Niagara, Bowery Electric, Cabin Down Below, and Pizza Shop.

How’d you become the East Village guru? I started hanging in the East Village when I was 16, working for artist Mark Kastabi. My first bartending job was at Ludlow Street Café, an after-hours café. I went to work at 2 a.m. and left by 8 in the morning. It was my first introduction to bartending and New York nightlife. I had my first bar upstairs at 2A, a local hangout on 2nd Street and Avenue A. By this time, I knew I wanted to start up another bar too. Along with Michael Sweer, who owns Bowery Presents, and Laura Fluto, we found a tiny place called Walley’s, which eventually became Niagara & Tikki Bar. I also became involved in the Motherfucker events, another collaborative party project that I participated in for years, throwing massive downtown events with Michael T, Justine Delaney, the booker at Le Poisson Rouge, and George Seville, a partner at the Delancey. I opened up Black & White in 2000 with my brother Chris Yerington. After that, Bowery Electric in 2008 with Jesse Malin and Mike Studo. My newest projects are Pizza Shop located next to Niagara and Cabin Down Below, which is my new underground speakeasy-style bar, opened in January with Matt Romano.

You’ve been a staple of this neighborhood forever — what’s your secret? My secret is perseverance and the people that are always around me. Whether they are the employees or the people that hang in my bars, I always try to focus on a great crowd. I want people that wanna have fun and come together for a good time. I found a way to do what I love and make a living. I’ve been playing drums since I was 15 and bartending since I was 18. Having a bar where bands can play, and where local and touring musicians can come and hang was the dream. Being a touring musician for many years too, I met all these people all over the world. I wanted to set up a real rock n’ roll bar. My secret weapon is the music. Rock n’ roll DJs and music are at all my places seven days a week. It’s all about the rock n’ roll lifestyle: making music, getting messy, and getting laid.

Any side hustles? I’ve been a drummer forever. I used to play in a band called Clowns of Progress … we all lived in the “Big Clown House” on Avenue B. I also played with Ryan Adams for a couple years, recording and touring with him. Now I’m in a band called Pop Girls Etc., one of the best projects I’ve been involved in. We’re all music geeks trying to cram a lot of influences into one. We‘re in the studio now and about to release a single in the UK, which Jesse Malin is producing.

What are your favorite hangs? It’s very rare that I’m not in one of my own bars. The drinks are free.

Anyone in the industry that you look up to? I have a great deal of respect for anyone that takes on this industry. I mean it’s fun, but it’s hard work to make something last. Anyone with a enough money and a publicist can have a bunch of celebrities parade around and open a venue for a year or two, but it will always be a flash in the pan. It’s the exact opposite of what I’ve done: start from the ground up, grassroots style. Know your neighborhood and the locals. I have a lot respect for my peers, but I pretty much just jumped into this … so to be standing here now, I feel grateful to still be carrying the torch.

What people have come into your bars? Of course I’ve had a lot of great people in my bars, but I hate to drop names. The reason I still have high-profile patrons is because we have a no rope policy, no bottle service, and we don’t tell magazines what celebrities have come through our doors.

What’s on the agenda for 2009? We’ve renovated Tikki Room downstairs at Niagara, and the gallery upstairs. We’ve also expanded Bowery Electric and opened the downstairs there.

What’s your favorite destination? Hawaii.

What are you doing tonight? Going to Bowery Electric.

Guiltiest pleasure? Late-night food runs to Blue Ribbon. What’s your dream spot for a project? I kinda have my dream spots already … this was an accidental occupation. I never wanted to open bars; it was a means to an end. It was so I could go out and drink, play drums, and make money.

David Cross Doesn’t Like You

imageEvery comic hears his biological career-clock ticking, and while comedian David Cross is only in his early 40s, he tells me that he’s past his prime for “these types of interviews.” Really, his prospects are only improving — devoted fans will surely line up for his first book, I Drink for a Reason, on shelves in August. And let’s not forget his upcoming role in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squekuel, which Cross is apparently less than enthusiastic about. “There is nothing in my contract that says I can’t show up to work stinking drunk every day though, so I’ll have the last laugh”, he told Gothamist. Fellow comic Artie Lange once said, “David Cross plays a gay guy and it just doesn’t work. And his stand-up is self-indulgent, awful, boring and he treats an audience like shit. … There’s moments of brilliance. Don’t get me wrong. … He comes off like an uptight prick.”

When I ask Lange about Cross now, he says, “I’m sorry you had to deal with that guy. He is a pretentious and boring guy, that’s all he’s got — his self-indulgent act, and expects everyone to pity him, but it’s ridiculous — he is making money! He’s a fucking loser, fag, and a fake intellectual. Bob Odenkirk was funny, never Cross, on Mr. Show.”

Before Cross was offered his rebound stint in the Chipmunk series, he had been unemployed for nearly six months, and this recent, reliable “chunk” reportedly went towards a down payment on a house he purchased in upstate New York. I first met Cross three years ago at a barbecue hosted by former Vice magazine editor Gavin McInnes . At the time, Cross was writing a column for the magazine titled “My America” (which I loved), while also still doing stand-up comedy. He had a following, and thus was not fazed when my aspiring-actress friend, who I invited to the party, had (gasp) no idea who he was. She had just moved to New York from a small hillbilly town in Tennessee, hoping that by moving to the big city, she’d get her big break. She visibly lit up when one of the attendees leaned in and said of Cross, “He’s a well-known actor.” With her southern belle charm, she introduced herself to Cross and used the line, “Have I seen you at an audition before?”

She was referring to an audition for a hair product commercial, her first “real” gig, the week prior to the party. Since at the time Cross wouldn’t stoop to wait in line for a commercial — or the chance to join the Chipmunk legacy — he walked away, immediately. My friend couldn’t bear to stay at the party; she later got depressed, became an alcoholic stripper, and finally gave up on her acting career and moved back to Tennessee a few months later.

Cross has emerged from indie fame, and he should be proud. Kiddie movie aside, he’ll soon be a published author — no small feat, these days. He started writing I Drink for a Reason three years ago, originally as a collection of short fiction. But after about a year of struggling, Cross “scrapped all but two pieces and re-approached it to make it more ‘essayish.’” His lenient publisher gave him an extension, and he was able to finish the manuscript in a year’s time. Cross says he relates to one of his characters’ penchant for being dismissive and sarcastic — in other words, “Never giving a straight answer.” Cross’ publisher wisely didn’t push for his book to become a memoir.

Writing a book is a lot different for Cross than writing stand-up, though. “I don’t write any of my stand-up. I’ll think of an idea and then talk about it on stage riffing as I go (at first). Then I’ll tape the set and pick out the parts that are funny, or at least not redundant, and then try to hone it over several sets, then voila — I’ve got a new ‘chunk’.” Given the book’s title, what are the author’s drinking habits like? Are comedians really as prone to ending up as drunks and/or junkies as the popular conception seems to indicate? “That’s kind of an old stereotype. Unless, wait, are you talking about Garrison Keillor? Otherwise it’s all an act. The last bar I visited in New York was 2A (one of the only dive bars left), and for the record, here’s the Cross cocktail recipe: one part shot of tequila, two parts pint of beer.”

Though Cross still lives in New York, he advises young comedians to avoid the city until disaster strikes. “Don’t move to New York until at least three months after 9/11. You’ll get a much better deal on rent then.” If you happen to catch him on stage, he’s got a fair policy for audience members offended by his politics. “I usually thank them and give them five bucks. It’s the least I can do, since I’ve earned way more money than I should have due to the huge tax cut someone in my bracket gets now at the expense of their much smaller tax cut that was the reason they voted for (if they disagree with my views) Republicans in the first place. It’s my way of saying, ‘thanks, idiot.'” What’s funny about Barack Obama? “He’s black!” How about recession jokes? “Only if they [comedians] are rich Jews. Otherwise it appears unseemly.” Cross isn’t offering any refunds for moviegoers disappointed with the Chipmunks sequel, but you might have better luck if his book fails to live up to expectations. Here’s hoping.
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