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.

“The cast and I brainstorm, get drunk, talk about what we’re reading and crack each other up. In the morning, we see what holds up.”

CS: You’re an actor, writer, producer, filmmaker, singer, musician, comedian and emcee. You’ve managed to gather up your eclecticism into The Late Now.

LD: It’s the first major project I’ve undertaken where I understand what I’m here for! All my life I’ve done a very wide variety of things, creative and otherwise. I’d get involved in something new, find I had a talent for it, and then reach a point where I saw that this, too, wasn’t what I was looking for, and switch gears. I always saw that as a character flaw. Certainly, our culture encourages specialization, and I envied people who can do that. But I realized, eventually, that this relentless curiosity, getting to a certain depth with one thing, and then pulling back and having this synthesized vision, is what I do.

With The Late Now, I’m not interested in choosing between writing and improvising, comedy and music, experiment and convention, frivolity and seriousness. I’m interested in seeing what happens when I bring it all together. The juxtaposition can excite associations and connections that couldn’t otherwise happen. I want to indulge my curiosity, and others’. I love when people leave the show saying they’re curious about something they’ve never been exposed to before, and wanting to check it out. That to me is immensely gratifying.

CS: How do you come up with ideas for a Late Now show?

LD: I do a ridiculous amount of research, enough for a 20-hour show. The show is an excuse for me, on one level, to pursue all these different interests I have, with more focus than I would have just reading about them for no particular purpose, because I’m trying to distill them and think about how to bring them into the show.

Collaboration is a big part of all this. I’ve been a part of many of collaborations, and many have been unpleasant and difficult; passions and tensions can run really high. I’ve become interested in how to collaborate in ways that are enjoyable, stimulating and convivial, where the process, itself, is rewarding. And productive. It’s sort of an experiment in controlled anarchism that goes into working on the show, which is a very social thing for me, and that’s really important. So the cast and I brainstorm, get drunk, talk about what we’re reading and crack each other up. In the morning, we see what holds up in the cold light of day.

late now leo

Photo: Kerry Davis.

 

We make choices based on what will be fulfilling for all concerned. The show is a volunteer-driven labor of love. After expenses, the door gets split among the house band and crew, who get a fraction of what they deserve. So everything performers and crew do I take as a personal gift, and I want them to have the time of their lives.

The Dream Argument

CS: You’ve come up with some unusual themes for The Late Now, with titles like “Reptiles of the Mind,” “Proof/rock” and “Classical Kama Sutra.” How did you arrive at “The Dream Argument?”

LD: During our “Cannibals & Cannonballs” show, in July [2014], we asked the audience for ideas. A couple of people focused on Carl Jung. I didn’t know much about him, so I started reading and watching documentaries. Dream analysis and interpretation was his big thing. What are dreams and what do they mean? Also, I’ve been interested in the philosophical conundrum known as the dream argument, which occurs throughout Eastern and Western philosophy, as to how we can know whether we’re living in a dream or in “real life.” So how do you do a late-night show on philosophical arguments about the nature of reality on one hand, and the meaning of dreams on the other?

CS: I guess we’ll find out Saturday night. Can you talk about the artists that’ll be on that show?

LD: What we won’t have, and what we typically do, is the 20-minute interview with a thinker or writer. I tried to get a Jungian analyst, but got no takers. They were uncertain about the format, even though I did my best to assure them.

Our house band since September of last year, Three for Silver, is amazing. Talk about the intersection of intelligence and performance. They’re a brilliant acoustic delivery vehicle for richly woven rants, seductions and drunken ballads redolent of three-masted schooners shipwrecked on classic rock.

Another anchor will be soliciting dreams from the audience, interpreted by the artists throughout the show. Thomas Dietzel will be freestyle rapping. Lisa Marsicek, a.k.a. Miz Kitty, of the vaudeville novelty show, Miz Kitty’s Parlour, will do it with cookie decoration, frosting your dreams. Anna Leander, my girlfriend, will play key tar dream interpretations as improvised, one-minute pop songs. Dora Gaskill and her experimental dance troupe, PITCH, will dance. Jenny Breed is going to do giant Rorschachs as responses to the dreams. The poet James Yeary will provide a final, poetical interpretation of the whole show.

The big guest star will be Anthony Hudson, a.k.a. Carla Rossi, drag clown trickster, with gangster pianist Maria Choban. And there’ll be a noirish radio play starring Plato and Descartes. Jason Squamata, a terrific writer-performer, will play Freud to my Jung and deliver metadreams from his forthcoming novel.

“It’s all about connecting with people… as a host, that’s what I live for.”

CS: What’s something we might not realize is happening onstage?

LD: The wheels are always about to come off! We’re always gleefully overambitious and never have time to polish out the burrs. There’s a lot of improvisation. We’re still making stuff up when “the curtain rises.” But that’s not a downside. On the contrary, it’s essential. The electricity is palpable, everybody is alive and awake; and the audience feels that.

CS: What’s the deeper experience for you in your role as The Late Now host?

LD: It’s all about connecting with people: audience, cast, and crew alike. For me, the primary impulse is toward radical connection and conviviality. The fourth wall has its applications, but I have no use for it. For a while, we talked about a larger space with a raised stage, but I don’t like being six feet up, 20 feet from the audience. It really matters to me to be connected to the room. Just being there, not for, but with the audience: as a host, that’s what I live for.

CS: There’s really nothing else quite like The Late Now in Portland, is there?

LD: There isn’t. That’s the single most common refrain I hear from people. And they also tell me, “I have no idea what just happened tonight. But I had a blast.”

The Late Now’s “The Dream Argument” happens Saturday, November 8, at Portland’s Vie de Boheme. Tickets available online.

Claire Sykes is a freelance writer in Portland. © 2014 by Claire Sykes. All rights reserved. 

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