the late now

‘The Late Now’ hits the web

Leo Daedalus's Dada variety show, Andrei Codrescu lap dance included, is about to go global. Will its antic spirit electrify the small screen?

By BRIAN KEARNEY

It’s December, and I’m sitting in a Portland wine bar, waiting for a show to start. I’ve never seen The Late Now, but the website says it’s “Portland’s latenight whipsmart show,” so I’m bracing myself for something like Conan O’Brien with learned asides.

The corner of the bar has been turned into an improvised stage. There’s a band up there, and when it comes time, they strike up James Brown’s Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something. A man in preacher’s robes is ushered into the room in a huddle of transgender magi. He’s still preaching about this special time of year as he takes the pulpit. Then his robes part to reveal the headless, naked baby doll he’s smuggled in, its hands tied to his by puppeteer’s strings. The baby dances with him in creepy off-time, and the stage is thronged with shepherds, virgins, and a woman dressed as a goat swigging from a bottle of Old Crow, all singing James Brown’s music with words of their own. And I think to myself, whatever this is, Conan it is not.

Host Leo Daedalus dances up to Andrei Codrescu at the first night of the revamped "The Late Now." Photo by Erica J Mitchell

Host Leo Daedalus dances up to Andrei Codrescu at the first night of the revamped “The Late Now.” Photo: Erica J Mitchell

The preacher is Leo Daedalus, and The Late Now, the show he’s been running at Portland venues for the past four years, is not an easy thing to pin down. It collides elements from talk and game shows, cabaret, improv, monologue and sketch comedy. You could call it a variety show, in the sense that a bewildering variety of things could happen at any moment.

The show added another hat a week ago, on February 5, when the season premiere was recorded live in its new home, Tony Starlight Showroom, ahead of an upcoming debut as a web series. This show, along with the other three in the season, will be available to view on The Late Now‘s website later in the spring. February 5 also marked the centenary of the founding of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, a seminal event in the Dada art movement, and February 5’s The Late Now was a Dada special in honor of the cabaret, one of its guiding lights. National Public Radio regular and Dada expert Andrei Codrescu was there as star guest.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: February roars

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

The Fertile Ground festival of new works is tucked safely in bed for another year, and the city’s still tuning up for the Portland Jazz Festival, coming February 18-28 (Charles Lloyd! Dianne Reeves! Sonny Fortune! Brian Blade!). That doesn’t mean you get to relax. We’re heading into an extraordinarily busy week, from theater openings to First Thursday in the galleries to a revamped Late Now to the Oregon Symphony’s visit to The Planets, with a side trip to some piano parables by Paul Schoenfeld.

Enough with the intro. Let’s dive right in, starting with theater:

Dael Orlandersmith. Photo: Mikey Mann

Dael Orlandersmith. Photo: Mikey Mann

Forever at Portland Center Stage. The newest from writer/performer Dael Orlandersmith, in the intimate Ellyn Bye Studio. Marcel Proust, Richard Wright, Jim Morrison, and the legacies of family, biological and chosen. In previews; opens Friday.

What Every Girl Should Know at Triangle. It’s 1914 in a Catholic reformatory. The new girl shows up, bringing an attitude and some contraband: pamphlets on birth control distributed by Margaret Sanger. Opens Thursday.

You for Me for You at Portland Playhouse. Gretchen Corbett directs Mia Chung’s provocative drama about two sisters attempting to flee North Korea. Opens Friday.

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The Late Now: Portland’s avant-variety-talk-show

Leo Daedalus's "experiment in controlled anarchism."

By CLAIRE SYKES

Freestyle rap and cookie frosting, clown drag and criminal piano. All this and more charge into the latest episode of The Late Now, “the thinking mammal’s avant-variety-talk-show.”

Titled “The Dream Argument,” the 25th in a series of Late Now shows since 2012—hatched and hosted by polyartist and uber-emcee Leo Daedalus—punches through the fourth wall this Saturday, November 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Vie de Bohème in Portland.

Leo Daedalus (r) hosts The Late Now.

Leo Daedalus (r) hosts The Late Now. Photo: Kerry Davis.

From his home in a converted Portland church, Daedalus talked with OAW’s Claire Sykes about curiosity and conundrum, parallel universes and shrinking time—and why risk is its own reward. And not just for him.

“The Late Now broadcasts from a parallel universe where Dada won the war.”

Claire Sykes: What was the impetus for The Late Now?

Leo Daedalus: The show I wanted to see didn’t exist. At dinner with friends a couple of years ago, I was telling them I wanted to ply my trade, and needed to find the right venue but didn’t know what that would be. The poet Maryrose Larkin said, “You need to make your own venue.” That planted the seed, and I started developing the show concept.

The Late Now was a name that popped into my head fully formed. It just felt right. Obviously, it’s a play on The Late Show and that tradition of Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien. Those talk shows were never the deepest, to say the least, but they’re now unabashedly one-dimensional commercials for the next movie or recording. When I see the state of culture, particularly mass culture, I’m so dismayed by how dull it is, and moribund. All we ask of it is some frivolous entertainment, and it can’t even be bothered to do that! So I wanted to mine the opposite end of the spectrum, the margins and the eddies of culture. And that’s why I say on the website: The Late Now broadcasts from a parallel universe where Dada won the war. I saw the show as a way to open up a different space, off the axis of mainstream culture, high, low and otherwise.

There are other kinds of resonances in the name, too, but I like to let people find those for themselves. For me, it’s partly about the micro-duration that the current media world operates in, with its instantaneity and micro-attention. We live in this bizarre, perpetually shrinking “now.” It’s not the big Now of presence in that Buddhist sense. It’s this constant jitter of hyper-immediacy. In part, The Late Now is an experiment in reconciling that accelerating immediacy with deeper, expansive time. There’s also the idea of late capitalism, late modernism and post-everything. All of that was flying around in my head.

CS: You bill The Late Now as the “thinking mammal’s avant-variety-talk-show.” What’s that all about?

LD: One of the original impetuses was that I was peripheral to a lot of the experimental circles here in Portland—Spare Room poetry reading series, Performance Works Northwest, Linda Austin Dance—vital experiments at the margins of culture. Many people wouldn’t think they’re interested in them, but might actually enjoy some if they were presented out of context, subversively. They might not go to a Spare Room reading, but would love hearing some of that work in a different context. But even if there’s no such content on a given show, the way we’re putting it together is experimental in the true sense, not of what the results might look like, but of the way we’re trying things, the outcome of which we really don’t know. It’s a high risk/reward strategy.

And the “thinking mammal” is partly my jab at the enduring legacy of Cartesian dualism, that mind-body separation that sees the human being as a kind of mind-on-a-stick. I want to engage as much of myself and the people I’m working with, and certainly the audience, with the whole spectrum—goofy physical comedy, serious conversations, constant joking about things rarified and quotidian. The “thinking mammal” is my way of encapsulating the full-spectrum experience; it’s not dumb and thoughtless, but also not stifled and dry.

Put it this way: I’ve seen brilliant poets who can’t perform and brilliant performers who can’t think. Both have their place, but on the show we’re always shooting for the intersection.

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