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This year's Joe's Pub: In Concert at the 2023 Under the Radar Festival chat with Matré Grant about their longstanding relationships with Joe's Pub and what it means to be "under the radar."

Community. Identity. Making mistakes. These are just some of the themes that Migguel Anggelo, Eszter Balint, Salty Brine, Negin Farsad, and Julian Fleisher’s works have in common. These artists will be featured as part of the Joe’s Pub: In Concert series during The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in January 2023. This exciting series highlights the multidisciplinary music/theater/comedy hybrids emerging from this renowned venue’s programming. These artists are exploring the intersection of music, comedy, and theater to bring their unique stories to the stage.

For Migguel Anggelo (LATINXOXO), Joe’s Pub is not only a “second home,” but also a “beautiful, big canvas in which artists come with their own colors and brush their music, acting, their dance, or whatever they do over the stage.” Growing up in Venezuela, Anggelo is no stranger to feeling under the radar. However, for him, it’s a powerful concept that he has reclaimed throughout the course of his career. He thinks of it as a fancy submarine submerged deep under the water: it can be something spectacular, and the moment you find it, you discover how amazing something that’s been there all along truly is. LATINXOXO, then, is brimming with this same message.

Anggelo’s show tells the story of queer identity, and under the surface, Anggelo draws on experiences from his relationship with his late father, who Anggelo recalls as a homophobic man brimming with machismo. However, the performance is also a testament to the strength of Anggelo’s mother who accepted his identity and encouraged his passions to become an artist. Through the eyes of Virgin Mary and using characters from Bizet’s Carmen, LATINXOXO combines the dark and the comedic to deliver a moving message. Anggelo speaks to his father through these characters, and both he and his father come to terms with the fact that they must accept one another’s existence. 

The past is a throughline running through Eszter Balint’s I HATE MEMORY as well. She describes Joe’s Pub as “a little bit glamorous, but still homey.” Not only has she hosted two of her record release shows at Joe’s Pub, but she is a long-standing audience member as well. I HATE MEMORY Director, Lucy Sexton agrees that Joe’s Pub's “rare” community is one of its most defining characteristics. In fact, most of her experiences have been in the crowd. The venue has a sort of “vitality” and “responsiveness” to it, she says, and the advantage of having a shorter lead up to the production gives it a unique energy that is different from what one expects when they make traditional theater.

Balint craves this sort of energy because it's the sort of energy she was surrounded by as a child growing up in the Squat Theatre company, which she feels was the physical embodiment of the term "under the radar." In I HATE MEMORY, Balint showcases these themes of found family. Balint, who is a singer-songwriter, has especially enjoyed adapting her piece for the stage in a way that resonates with who she describes as her “theater collaborators.” The cast features performers who span different ages from 14 to 70, and even the band has speaking lines in the piece. The hybridity and interdisciplinary is something Balint and Sexton enjoy most about creating and performing this work. “It's not just dance, or just music or just theater,” says Sexton. “Here [are] some interesting artists that deserve to be seen.”

Salty Brine (BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN: THE SMITHS SHOW) has first-hand experience with feeling seen, and for him, Joe’s Pub is one of the places where he’s experienced that emotion the most. One of Salty Brine’s favorite memories at the venue is sound-checking “Stairway to Heaven” for his Led Zeppelin show. He recalls a chef taking the time to stop his prepwork in the kitchen and give him “the best compliment of his life.” This, Salty Brine feels, is “the true New York experience you cannot get anywhere else in the world.” And what better home than Joe's Pub to keep adding more performances to his life’s work, The Living Record Collection, which has twenty full-length shows and counting.

Salty Brine’s latest addition to his collection, BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN: THE SMITHS SHOW, is in line with his mission to “bring albums to life, make them feel alive, and make them feel three-dimensional.” With music from The Smiths’ album, The Queen is Dead, Salty Brine dramatizes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The show combines monologue, stand-up comedy, musical theater, drama, and dance. This “deeply moving, empathetic, and sad” album, says Salty Brine, is “about loneliness and is also completely irreverent and goofy and silly.” In his work, Salty Brine reminds us that the monster in Frankenstein “is not the creature, but [Doctor] Frankenstein himself.”

No stranger to the morbidity and reality of humor, stand-up comedian Negin Farsad (THE CASE FOR AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM BY A LADY MUZ) understands bridging the boundaries between the grotesque and the real. For Farsad, Joe’s Pub adds a sort of elevated elegance compared to the grittiness of the comedy clubs she frequents. But like the other Joe’s Pub: In Concert artists, some of her favorite experiences have been as an audience member. Farsad jokes that Joe’s Pub is “an unexpected time. You sort of walk in and you’re like, ‘let’s see what happens.’” This, in a sense, is the epitome of New York, which Farsad reminds us is “brimming with excellent and yet still somehow under the radar performers.” 

As a first-generation Iranian-American and a Muslim, Farsad draws from reality to create what she calls “social justice comedy.” Current events such as the protests in Iran and the Muslim ban run through her comedy and commentary. But Farsad is not just inspired by real life. “My entire life,” she states, “is the socio-political climate.” It's inseparable from her status as “a gal who’s trying to be a really good American” in a way that’s more optimistic than what she’s used to seeing from other comedians. “Not everything is dark and horrible,” she says. “I believe in this country. I believe in our wonderful potential. I believe in some of the incredible things that we've done so far. I'm judgmental of the bad things that we have also done, but I have such incredible hope.” She refuses to perpetuate and sink into a cycle of rage and sees it as a “personal challenge” to defy the odds.

Julian Fleisher (JULIAN FLEISHER: UNDER THE RADAR) has a sense of optimism about his work as well. Fleisher has enjoyed performing at Joe’s Pub from the very beginning, over 20 years now, and has personally seen the place transform from the type of joint “with sofas, and band cats, and weirdness” to an “artists’ home.” But even with decades under his belt, Fleisher resonates with the concept of “under the radar” so much, it’s what he decided to name his show. He’s maintained what some call “cult status,” which frequently resonates specifically with a downtown New York audience. 

Full of “charm and humor,” Fleisher’s show will lean heavily on his training as a jazz musician. The American popular music he will be performing in the show is still a thematic enigma to him. He feels the genre is “one of America's three or four great gifts to the world.” It has a sort of clarity to it as well, “and our ability to synthesize the most sublime and the most deeply painful experiences into 32 bars,” Fleisher adds, “is something that American songwriters have really perfected in the last 100 years.” His devotion to the “craftsmanship of songwriting” is something he feels deeply invested in. Though the song arrangements are “tight,” aspects of the show will be more improvisatory, leaving room for the kind of unexpected bumpiness he enjoys about live performances in particular. Fleisher states that he started off his career as “an obsessive perfectionist,” and when performing with a 10-piece band, it’s difficult for everything to go smoothly each and every time. After 25 years in the business, Fleisher has learned to lean into these unknowns, and experiencing them at the same time as the audience “often yields the most exciting results.”


For tickets and additional information, please see more here: https://publictheater.org/programs/under-the-radar/under-the-radar-2023/ .

Matré Grant, she/her (@LadyMatre), is a contemporary musical theater scholar and culture critic. She is a Ph.D. student in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a member of the 2022 BIPOC Critics Lab supported by Kennedy Center Theater Education and developed and led by cultural critic Jose Solís. She really likes cats.

This piece was developed with the BIPOC Critics Lab, a new program founded by Jose Solís training the next generation of BIPOC journalists. Follow on Twitter: @BIPOCCriticsLab.