Twenty-five years ago, writer-comedian Beth Lapides launched UnCabaret in Los Angeles, an inventive outing for comics near and far. But something profound happened along the way.
Over time, as the likes of Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Alec Mapa, Roseanne Barr, Sandra Bernhard, Carrie Fisher and Bill Maher, to note a few, hit the stage, the endeavor managed to reclaim comedy as an art form and give birth to a rare evening of storytelling that illuminated the vulnerability and depth of its performers. The show has since been heralded and seen on Comedy Central, Amazon.com, and heard on NPR.
And Lapides? As the show’s host, she’s been dubbed “the High Priestess of alternative comedy.”
The former Palm Springs resident brings UnCabaret back to Ace Hotel & Swim Club June 24 — her November show sold out — with the comic nuances of Greg Behrendt, Baron Vaughn, and Julie Goldman. Lapides chats with Palm Springs Life about the show’s evolution and her own comedic journey.
PSL: When you hear that you’ve been dubbed the ‘High Priestess of alternative comedy,’ what comes to mind?
Beth Lapides: [Laughs] I’ll take it. I can go on, but is this a 20-word story or …?
PSL: It is. Yes. Only 20 words.
BL: Well in that case, we’re done. Tell people: ‘She had a great laugh.’
PSL: They can witness that first-hand. Let’s talk about your evolution into this.
BL: I started in the New York-performance art-downtown world. I actually began as a visual artist, doing small and giant books that I would stand in front of, telling the story. And I thought: ‘The best thing that can happen to these was that rich people can buy them.’ And I found that very unsettling as a young artist, so I made the books big, thinking that I can perform in front of them and millions of people can see these stories. And then I started touring and I thought, why not do this in the comedy context. But I got a rude awakening what the comedy context actually meant.
PSL: How so?
BL: I was very shocked at how old-fashioned it still was. I made my way to L.A. and was at the Comedy Store. Andrew Dice Clay was doing his usual misogyny and I thought: ‘I can’t do this. Where’s the joy of the comedy?’ I knew something had to change.
PSL: UnCabaret came from that.
BL: I was doing a show at the Womens Building and they were laughing a little too hard. And I said to them: ‘When was the last time you really laughed? It’s not quite as funny as you think it is.’ And they said: ‘Oh, we don’t laugh. We’re women. We’re artists. And we’re lesbians. If we go to comedy clubs, they make fun of us.’ I said: ‘I’m going to make a show that is going to be unhomophobic, unmisogynist, unxenophobic. It’ll be the UnCabaret.’ And it was really born from that audience in a lot of ways.
PSL: Are you surprised by its longevity?
BL: When Bill Clinton got into office in ’92, there was a subtle shift of: ‘Okay, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We are ‘them’ and we’re going to be much more intuitive, self-reflective, and we’re going to have to take a closer look at things.’ Personal story-telling became very important. It wasn’t a ‘comedy showcase.’ We, as artists, were telling stories in an ongoing way and we weren’t repeating material.
PSL: The word ‘conversational’ is often used when referring to the show.
BL: And intimate.
PSL: What has been most rewarding doing this?
BL: The most visceral reward is that people come, make friends, and feel connected. There’s a shift in energy. For me, that’s a good ‘gets me off’ reward.
Beth Lapides hosts UnCabaret at 8 p.m. (doors open; showtime 8:30 p.m.) June 24, Ace Hotel & Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Visit acehotel.com/uncabaret for tickets ($25) or more information.
Inset photos courtesy of UnCabaret