The Personal, Experimental World of Performer Erin Markey | Not Dead Yet
Just when you thought alternative comedy couldn’t get more interesting...
Erin Markey, Rolls Royce, Photo by Amos Mac, Courtesy the artist
Not Dead Yet is a column dedicated to finding the most exciting, experimental, funny, and out-of-this-world work, so that you won’t have to worry about missing out. With interviews and features like these, you’ll totally forget that death is at your door.
With years under her belt in nightlife and theater, alt-cabaret-performance artist and comedian Erin Markey has carved out a special place for herself in New York. Described by the New York Times as an "alt-cabaret star with swaggering confidence and off-kilter sense of humor" Markey woos crowds with a refined fusion of comedy, musical theater, and art, all fueled by personal experiences and stories. She’s shown her work at The New Museum, PS 122, Under The Radar Festival, UCBEast, Bard Spiegeltent, Tasmania’s Festival of Voices, San Francisco Film Society, Joe’s Pub, and is part of the Obie award winning ensemble, Half Straddle. Having just finished her epic musical, A Ride On The Irish Cream, at the Abrons Art Center, Markey now presents her newest summer series, ERIN MARKEY: Humping a Gatorade Bottle at The Duplex June 29th - August 31st. The Creators Project had the pleasure of interviewing her about her current and upcoming works.
The Creators Project: There are so many elements about your personal life in your work, what's your process like?
Erin Markey: I do like to use memories as a starting point for making work. My mom is a really nostalgic person, obsessed with documenting memories—she is nonstop forcing people to pose for pictures and saves every scrap from every special moment, so it's a natural way in for me for that reason. And my Dad is a very storytelling oriented social performer. I'm into reimagining the conventions of storytelling and remembering things because they can be very predictable in a way that has scary political implications. Whose story is getting told? All that.
Tell us about your beginnings in New York and how you came to incorporate cabaret, performance art, and comedy.
Well, I was already doing it in school. Holly Hughes was all about teaching us how to showcase what we were already good at and obsessed with. She taught us we were already interesting enough to make performance. That you become a better performer by investing in your own idiosyncrasies. I liked to perform as a giant baby, as animals, in drag and to sing my face off. So when I got to New York, I just continued to work the way I was working, and I also grew a ton by being a performer in a lot of other people's work: Slurp and Bingo with Linda Simpson, Half Straddle, Our Hit Parade, Bridget Everett's Sideshow at the Ritz, Jeffery and Cole Casserole. I grew a lot because I was working in an array of different kinds of venues/styles with really different audiences—you have to hold people's attentions in different ways for each venue, and you have to access different parts of your performance self to do it.
You've just finished two musicals back in January and February of this year, what's next for you?
This summer, I have a series of shows at the Duplex that are all about diving into solo sketch comedy but retaining that kind of "relentless emotional continuity" that i'm into. The summer series is called ERIN MARKEY: Humping A Gatorade Bottle and it's me gearing up for shooting my version of a "TV special." There will be a lot of new stuff, and some polishing and exploding of some old stuff. It's titled after some extremely desperate and hopeless attempts at trying to have an orgasm for the first time as a teen.
Delving into television seems like a natural next step for you, are you excited to jump into that world?
I feel excited to figure it out. I think I'm good on camera, and I love building a universe with it's own internal logic. I'm excited to surprise myself in formally new ways.
Are there any performers that really stand out and inspire you lately?
Ana Fabrega is herself and only herself all day long. She's hilarious and fearless. I love watching her shit online and live. I have been inspired by my bud Cole Escola since meeting him in '09. His integrity and sense of self-editing is a slice of pie.
If you were to die right now, what would you hope your work leaves behind or inspires?
I think a lot of women and queers and POC and disabled people, etc, doubt their own experience of the world around them. We are in a constant state of self-denial so, it's huge to consciously acknowledge what you see and turn that into the work instead of aping forms that don't have anything to do with you. EVEN THOUGH IT'S MUCH HARDER TO FEEL BRAVE ABOUT DOING THIS, I would want to inspire folk to bring that level of self-awareness to their work and to trust it and to know that we are all so desperate for each other to be that strong and brave and hilarious.
In the wake of what happened at Pulse in Orlando, I feel much more into shamelessly and actively supporting other artists at this level. We need each other. All of us in this world have a victim inside of us and we all have a murderer inside of us, too. We have to nurture each other to be compassionate and strong because feeling like a self-actualized human being is actual such a mysterious and difficult thing.