What do you get when an esteemed novelist, an iconic face of the feminist movement and a political commentator walk into a theater in the East Village to ruminate on their careers? Juggling, tap dancing and a puddle of Applejack on the floor, basically.
Last night at the UCBeast, Catie Lazarus mounted the holiday party edition of Employee of the Month, the comedienne’s hilarious podcast talk show that explores the ins and outs of various industries via the working experiences of its illustrious (and often infamous) guests. Amy Sedaris, Morgan Spurlock, Kevin Clash and Jodi Kantor have all previously joined Lazarus to reminisce about their lives before and after the landing of their respective dream jobs, and Employee of the Month brought forth a banger of a lineup with Rachel Maddow, Gloria Steinem and Hari Kunzru to close out a solid year of night shift woes and odd-job horror stories.
Though the consistently superlative string of filmmaking, comedic, musical and journalistic hotshots have provided Lazarus with plenty of fodder for Employee of the Month’s episodes, last night’s program may have been her most ambitious to date given the company present. Navigating a controversial talking point while successfully topping it off with a punch line is a difficult feat, but Lazarus seamlessly achieved this in each of her conversations, which covered everything from Kunzru’s fleeing India for reading a passage from The Satanic Verses in front of an audience to Steinem getting tested for STDs in order to work at the Playboy Club to Maddow’s professional leap from activism to joining the media. Peppered throughout the knowledge bombs were a few WTF/giggle-worthy anecdotes, including immigration advice from Kunzru (“If you don’t want to go to the little room at customs, say you write about UFOs”), Steinem’s criteria for liking a job (“You never know what time it is and if you do the job anyway without getting paid—that’s when you love your work”) and Maddow’s take on her own work ethic (“I do not believe in the romance of struggle! I believe in the joy of winning!”).
The highlights of the evening—and the endearing, eccentric edge that sets Employee of the Month apart from other digi-talk shows—occurred when Lazarus would seize the moment to mess with her guests, and this is where the Applejack comes into play. After grabbing an audience member’s glass of sangria to quench Kunzuru’s thirst during their interview, Lazarus proceeded to hand him three balls and asked him to juggle, referring to a time when the writer was in between jobs and trying to make a quid juggling in bars while hyping energy drinks. When Steinem referred to securing investors for creation and publication of New York Magazine as “tap dancing for rich people,” she later wound up shuffling offstage while doing a soft-shoe. Maddow, fresh off the set of The Rachel Maddow Show, was handed an armful of bottles (and an “I’d Rather Be Reading Jane Austen” apron) in order to mix a drink of her choosing, and when Lazarus was handed a glass without an introduction, the hostess wound up spitting the straight applejack out, much to the audience’s (and Maddow’s) delight.
It’s a delicate balance between real talk and real funny, and Lazarus was able to engage with these great minds in such an approachable way that they laughed along with her jokes—and not for the sake of the packed room or rolling cameras before them. Anyone who can talk politics with Rachel Maddow after unsuccessfully swilling Applejack—and conversely, who can somehow get Gloria Steinem to tap dance onstage—is okay in my book, so Lazarus, keep the shop talk coming.