Comics of ‘The Mosquito’ Fly in the Face of Convention

L to R: Cynthia Kaplan, Michael Huston, Nancy Giles and Susan Burns had an impromptu discussion about sexual harassment allegations. “House band” musician Carmen Borgia stands to the side. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Finally, there is a mosquito you will not want to squash, but rather attend.

“The Mosquito,” a variety show hosted by Nancy Giles at Dixon Place, is the antidote to Monday doldrums with its offering of laugh-out-loud-worthy comedic songs and stories.

Where else can one find takes on Nazis, erasers and stink bugs, a meditation on buying moisturizer at Sephora, and a “come to Jesus moment,” as Giles put it, about the flood of sexual harassment allegations? The show this reporter went to was the same day that the story broke regarding Charlie Rose.

Giles, an actress, commentator, and longtime contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning, gathered the other performers for the evening — Michael Huston, Cynthia Kaplan and Susan Burns — to discuss the accusations against Louis C.K., Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, and Rose.

“I was obviously reading the article [about Rose]… another guy walking around in a robe,” Kaplan said, who then said her husband should never wear a hotel robe.

Giles chimed in that the “Grand Poobah is a predator,” referring to our current president. “We’re living in troubled times,” Giles said, adding, “Bill Clinton, you are not off the hook.”

Then, at the end, she quipped, “Clearly I was grasping at a monologue.”

The show takes place monthly, Monday nights, in the lounge at Dixon Place — an intimate space whose smattering of tables and chairs were filled that Nov. 20 night, with a few people also seated at the bar.

Giles started off by introducing the show’s “house band” and the “nicest musician I’ve ever met,” Carmen Borgia. Borgia played the ukulele, and Giles snapped along to his song about his baby writing him a letter, “a letter not an email, not a tweet, [an expletive] letter.” Some in the audience clapped along and hit their knees to the rhythm.

First up was Huston, who is also half of the sketch comedy duo Babes in the Woods. “This just happened. This was fun,” she began.

Who knew there could be such trials and tribulations to get a specific moisturizer? Step by step, Huston takes the audience along with her as she attempts, twice, to buy something at Sephora that will not wash her out, with a saleswoman who, she says, “drags me over like a seeing eye dog” to the mirror. Finally, she achieves success at a CVS that has the product she has been searching for.

“What a hellish couple of weeks,” she deadpans, ending the story.

Before the next performer, Giles talked about being on the TV show “China Beach” in the late 1980s. The show, set during the Vietnam War, had the makeup artists spritz the actors before filming.

While the white actors looked good, she said, giving them a bit of color, Giles and another black actor looked like runaway slaves. Giles said some would say that bit is racist or bigoted. “But I lived it,” she noted, “so screw you.”

There is an ongoing debate about whether there are topics that are taboo for comics — subjects that aren’t, or can’t, be funny. Kaplan, an essayist, musician, and comedian, belies that idea.

Getting onstage, Kaplan introduced herself and her band, The Cynthia Kaplan Ordeal. (She was the only one onstage.) Her first song was “You’re the Nazi,” telling the audience, “…and, Jesus, I hope you like it.” Kaplan noted that if she hit a wrong chord, she was being ironic.

The song listed good things that Nazis, such as Heinrich Himmler, did. Himmler, for instance, planted daisies.

“There are some fine Nazis,” she sang. “Back the [expletive] off Nazis, okay?”

And the chorus: “If you hate every Nazi, you’re the Nazi.”

In her YouTube video of the song, before the music begins, there is President Donald Trump’s quote after violent clashes between white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past summer: “But you also had people who were very fine on both sides.”

After the admonition to “stop persecuting Nazis” and finishing the ditty, Kaplan said she was “very proud” of it.

Her next tune, “When God Was a Student at Notre Dame,” had the chorus “Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? God” and encouraged the audience to sing along, which they did.

Nancy Giles, host of “The Mosquito” at Dixon Place. Photo via facebook.com/nancygilesofficial.

Before Burns took the stage, Giles asked the audience if they wanted a story about death or her period. Unsurprisingly, death won.

Giles then performed a short piece where she envisions what her funeral would be like. “I would want tears — lots of them,” she stated, along with sobs and fake cries.

The scene: a packed house at a megachurch, where The Roots would be playing, Dave Chappelle would be the MC, the paparazzi would jostle for position, and ex-boyfriends are a “mess” with “loud honks” of noses blowing.

Burns, a member of the Actors Studio, began her set by talking about the allegations against Rose, and how she “used to worship Woody Allen.” She then read an excerpt from a book review in The New York Times about Ivana Trump’s book, “Raising Trump,” in an accent, pausing to say, “I don’t know if this is the right accent.”

Apparently, Trump’s father, Fred, pushed Ivana to have a steak but, “Ivana alone breaks ranks and orders fish,” according to the new book. Burns was able to swerve from the steak-fish tragedy to Charles Manson to how, the night after Trump’s election, a neighbor called the police on her. Frustration with the election flowed into frustration over not being able to watch “Jeopardy!” that turned into yelling. The police came to her door, but, no, Burns was not arrested.

Burns, Kaplan and Huston have all known Giles for decades, they told this reporter after the show. All, including Borgia, had high praise for Dixon Place and its founder Ellie Covan — Kaplan calling her “a great champion of Downtown theater,” with Huston saying she feels she can “try anything” artistically at the theater, which is “really innovative and cool.”

Giles said, “I met Ellie for the first time, golly Moses, I think it was 31 years ago, so like 1986. She had a little apartment on First Ave. and First Street. And she did like this salon-type thing and invited people to perform.”

But the venue didn’t have the right type of permit or licensing so, “If it looked like the cops were coming or there was going to be any trouble, the show that was going on would stop, and everyone would start singing, ‘Happy Birthday To You,’ to pretend it was a party, which I loved,” Giles recalled.

Dixon Place moved to a spot on the Bowery before making its home at 161A Chrystie St. toward the end of 2008. “Just having Nancy involved with Dixon Place is really important to me,” Covan said by phone. “She can read the phone book if she wants to.”

Giles said having the monthly variety show in the lounge “mirrors more how Ellie’s apartment was.”

It is important, she said, for the show to feature female performers in their 40s, 50s, and older.

“What we have to say is incredibly valuable,” Giles explained. “We’ve all lived. At this point in my friends’ lives, we’ve all suffered losses, illness, all kinds of wrinkles. Our lives just make us, I think, even better artists and funnier and we bring even more to the table. I want us to have a chance to just like get our voices heard.”

So where does the name of the show come from? “The joke of why I call this show ‘The Mosquito’ is a little resentment at ‘The Moth.’ I think I hosted some Moth event… and told a story, and they were like, ‘Oh, we would love to have you back,’ and then nothing ever happened,” Giles said.

“Well, [expletive] this, I’ll do my own show and I can name a show after an insect as well,” she said. “And ‘The Mosquito’ was born.”

The next installment is Mon., Dec. 18, 7:30pm in the front lounge space at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie St., btw. Rivington & Delancey Sts.). The show is free, but donations are welcome. Visit dixonplace.org. Nancy Giles on Twitter: @nancygilesnyc. On Facebook: facebook.com/nancygilesofficial.

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