Three’s Company on The Bowery

By Lawrence Ferber

Mike Albo, Nora Burns, and Mike Ilku are three unique comedy talents. Together they are downright dangerously funny.

Albo scribed the coming-of-age novel “Hornito” and regularly prances with the clothing-optional Dazzle Dancers. Burns is a former fourth leg of comedy sketch troupe The Nellie Olsens. And Ilku is one-half of The Dueling Bankheads—a two-headed drag(gy) take on drunk Hollywood legend Tallulah. When together, the talented trio is one bitingly funny monster called Unitard.

Satirical, smart, and just a little bit queer (in the new and old-fashioned sense of the word), Unitard have a hysterical—and topical—new night, “Showdown,” that’s been touring but will settle down in May at The Marquee. In “Showdown,” Unitard skewer all things holy and unholy, from the President to the war to Richard Simmons to self-righteous mothers. Unlike many comedy troupes, however,

Unitard’s members generally perform their sketches solo, with minimal interaction onstage. To discuss Showdown, interaction, and sleeping with Michael Jackson, I spoke with the self-proclaimed ‘tarded trio.

What’s different this time around?

David Ilku: I think we’re just becoming more tuned into what it is we’re doing—as wine or cheese gets better with age! We create our own spice rack… I’m using a lot of metaphors today. We always try to throw a couple of new pieces in and of course with the new world situation—war, the Catholic priest scandal—we tap into what’s going on in the headlines and try to work it in. Even if it’s just how it affects a particular character.

Mike Albo: The new stuff is a little bit ‘Bush’y. There are a lot of references to how messy and horrible the world is right now and it was a challenge for me to find humor in it. Either things are too obvious, like freedom fries, and you can’t even make fun of it, or things are too evil and horrible.

What characters return?

Nora Burns: I’m bringing back a couple of old pieces. Like the obnoxious pregnant ‘I’m having a baby and I’m better than you’ woman, and my Artists Anonymous.

MA: The ‘Underminer’ is back, that passive-aggressive friend who makes you feel like committing suicide every time you see him. The ‘Sorry Guy,’ who’s really sorry about everything. He taped over your favorite VHS movie, or accidentally leaned into a microphone at Roxy and told everyone you have anal warts.

DI: I do this aging theater actor who still thinks he’s ‘got it,’ he’s hot to trot. He has a headshot hanging at Midtown Chinese Noodle Palace, and thinks that’s worthy of recognition—‘maybe you’ve seen my 8x10 hanging.’ Delusions of grandeur. I also do this lounge lizard kind of a guy. Everything else is pretty new for me.

What sorts of new characters will we see?

NB: I have a Tina Brown piece, a new fag hag piece, and a Julianne Moore piece. Moore does her talk show, called “The Hour”: she’s constantly breaking down and crying. But I’m not doing any brilliant imitation, so don’t go expecting one. Then if you think it is, all the better.

MA: There’s Tony Testa, the personal assistant to J-Lo. There’s a guy who’s presenting Europe as ‘Bush Gardens’ European Experience’ - like after we’ve taken over Europe [Bush turns it into a] big theme park.

DI: I do this one character, Mr. Je Ne Sais Quoi, he’s like a nightclub emcee. A bon vivant who’s signed himself to his own record label, an entrepreneur. It’s sort of based on a real nightclub personality who’s out there. It’s inspired and a celebration. Everything I do is a celebration.

You seem to like doing nightclub-oriented characters, David.

DI: I think it’s just such a wealth of material. People who are drawn to New York City and then end up in the nightclub scene are some of the biggest characters, with the biggest hearts, but feel very awkward in daily societal life. They’re a rare delicate flower that only blooms at night.

Ever been parodied yourself?

MA: Yeah. I think I have. My friends do pretty mean impersonations of me all the time. Act like they’re really sorry about everything. I have a very fear-based personality.

DI: Yes, but it’s always been on a bit of a darker side. I was in an acting class once and I think I had received a little too much praise from the teacher one day, so a student was phoning other people in class and pretended to be me. I don’t know exactly what he was saying to them, but it was clearly disturbing because the next week in class nobody would talk to me. It was very psycho.

Mike’s a sometimes-nude Dazzle Dancer—is that finding its way into the show?

DI: He’s got a very fine-tuned sort of patriotic dance number that would make any American proud, I’m sure. (laughs) Maybe not in the south, it’s a little too fruity, but... it’s a crowd pleaser and a show stopper.

MA: I bring back a chair dance thing. I kind of strip in it. I’m trying to figure out a new way to be nude.

Have you thought about sending Mike to France?

DI: He was supposed to do a can-can outside the Post office.

MA: My activist friends wanted to organize a French fete outside the NY Post, to sort of talk about how preposterous the Post has been about anti-French crap. But also it’s funny as shit, such a funny thing to do.

Is there more interaction between Unitard members this time?

DI: Yeah, uh huh. I do Richard Simmons Deaf Poetry jam. He’s confused it’s supposed to ‘deaf’—they sign while I do exercise and poetry slam.

NB: There’s still actually no interaction between us but we’re still on stage together three times.


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