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  • Writer's pictureStand-Up Comedy Historian

KATE Audience Interview: Jessica Friedman (me!)

Updated: Apr 30

Today (9/3/23) is the one-year anniversary of when I first saw Kate Berlant's phenomenal play directed by Bo Burnham, and I've decided to record all of my thoughts (and slightly embarrassing photos lol) for posterity purposes.


Similar to my Rothaniel interview from last year, I will be answering my own questions to provide more context about my personal experiences attending KATE thrice and how many motifs of Bo and his works that I had picked up on in the off-Broadway masterpiece (answer: a LOT).


Me in my KATE merch holding up my personalized program


Here is my interview with Jessica, which has been edited and condensed for clarity purposes.


Stand-Up Comedy Historian: Hi, Jess! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me about Kate Berlant's one-woman show.


Jessica Friedman: No problem!


SUCH: Wonderful!


So first thing's first. Can you please provide some background information about yourself?


JF: I am a 41-year-old former copy editor and mom of two who currently lives outside of Philadelphia (but I'm likely going to be moving in the next year or so).


I am the Stand-Up Comedy Historian as well as the former Bo Burnham Historian, and I run this website! ;)



SUCH: Great!


So which show(s) did you get tickets for? Previews or full show (Previews=8/20-9/6; Opened 9/7-10/8)? Or did you attend a Winter Encore performance (12/19-2/10)?


JF: I have attended three shows in total: September 3rd, October 4th, and February 10th—all 7 p.m. performances.


September 2022


October 2022


February 2023


I tried to choose dates that worked with my schedule AND had the highest likelihood of Bo being in attendance.


And he was—ALL three times (!).


SUCH: Awesome!


So are you from New York, or did you have to travel to attend?


JF: I actually live outside of Philly, so I took the Amtrak train from here to Penn Station for each performance I went to. I also stayed in a nearby Holiday Inn Express with Jen for the October show (usually I just crash at Nicole's apartment if I see something with her).


SUCH: That's cool that you know someone who lives in NYC. So where were you seated? And did Kate walk through your section?


JF: I was seated in the third row for the first performance (Row C, Seat 12). I was seated in the same place but one over for the second show (Row C, Seat 13), and I was in the front row (and got some glitter swept on me!) in the final show (Row A, Seat 5).


First show: Kinja, me, and Nicole; Second show: me and Jen; Third show: me and Kinja


Yes! While I didn't interact with Kate during the original run, she did walk through my row. It was CRAZY how close she was...I remember being like "I have to move my purse so she doesn't trip on it!" Haha


Here are my original notes:

The most amazing part was when she entered the theater and “explored” the empty room. First Kate got off the stage and walked into my row (third from the front-C) and literally sat down on a random person’s lap. At that point, I thought she would exit from that same side, but NO. She walked through our entire aisle…I had to put my giant purse on my lap to make room haha

Kate in the audience of the second show I saw


Absolutely insane how close she was…I still can’t believe it!


SUCH: That's amazing that you were so close to Kate.


Did you see/meet Bo or Kate in any other instances or shows? Did you see Bo in the audience/lobby? Please explain in detail (and provide any pictures if you have them!).


JF: I saw Bo a few times in the lobby, but I never spoke to him because—aside from my being painfully shy and awkward—the entire venue was a PART of the show. Like, it felt like performance art since Kate was also sitting under a spotlight with her "IGNORE ME" sign.


Bo sat next to Kate on the bench for a few early shows


Let me just say that as soon as you opened the heavy black curtain to walk into the Connelly Theater, you were immediately TRANSPORTED to the world of Kate.


And it felt terribly wrong to bother Bo during that!


The heavy curtain—see the two Kates on the door?


I had determined beforehand that I would try to chat with Bo after the show, but every time he would race off as soon as the play ended. However, I did have some positive "interactions" of sorts heh.


In September, while I was examining the walls and taking pics (photography was encouraged in the lobby), whom did I see out of the corner of my eye? Bo, of course!



He was standing in the Audience B section and looking bored. He had his hair hanging in his face, and he was wearing a t-shirt and pants (tan, I think). Very bland clothes so that Kate was the obvious star (I'm guessing that after the opening night fiasco when a scalper had him sign six separate items, he'd decided to be more low-key). He basically milled around the lobby and then went over to the Audience A exhibit.


A shot I took afterward of where Bo was standing (near the little exhibit sign with the light)


I had confirmed with Nicole that we’d both seen Bo (yep!), and then we walked in the sand set up with the sounds of waves crashing.


The gorgeous photorealistic moon light did not come out well in photos...you had to be there!


Kinja joined us at the sand (she had gone to the concession stand to get a drink) and, while we were walking around the lobby afterward, Bo walked past us again.


I froze EVERY single time I saw him (ugh), but I did manage to handwave my fingers at him (almost like the Producer in The Dump bit but my left hand only), so, you know, baby steps.



In October, before the countdown and during the onscreen images that precede the show, Jen elbowed me while we were sitting in our seats and pointed to my right. In the aisle was a tall blonde man fiddling with a black-covered piece of equipment (for lighting purposes? I'm not sure). He bent down to adjust whatever it was, and then he walked over to the staff at the entrance to the theater (after the sand). It was BO!


We didn't think he'd be attending since he was rumored to be in LA at a Mumford & Sons concert that weekend, but there he was wearing his GREEN fleece jacket from the Outtakes, a light-colored t-shirt, and a pair of tan pants.


The green jacket (looks comfy!)


I as always took too long to register it was him (my curse), so by the time I had my phone out, he had disappeared.


He really can be as difficult to capture on film as Sasquatch sometimes! Haha


Bo Burnham or Bigfoot? You decide.


Then we spotted him sitting up in the balcony. He had taken off his blue surgical mask and I FINALLY was able to see his nose and mouth in person (he was masked up at Rothaniel and in September)!


His hair was above his shoulders, but Jen swore she could see his distinctive curl pattern, so that pretty much confirmed he was in attendance for the last week of the first run! He looked exactly like he did in Shit (short beard, longish blonde hair).



He sat to the left of an enormous spotlight so that he was obscured in the shadows (clever boy!).


I quickly realized I had to shoot my shot since he was likely going to bolt, so I tried to take a pic (got admonished immediately by the staff who said no pictures were allowed. I said "oh, I'm so sorry" and put my phone in my tan purse). As you can see, you can just barely make out Bo's face in the pic. But it's him!


Bo's seat in the balcony, with and without him


It was SO hard to pay attention to the play since Bo was literally in the audience with us. I kept craning my neck to see his reactions, but it was hard to get a glimpse of him (he chose the perfect place to hide as usual). And once Kate took her bows and got a standing ovation, I looked back and all you could see was one long leg heading out the exit door. Damn, Bo is fast! Lol


My only other interaction with him was at the Winter Encore, when I was finally able to capture him properly on film (he'd been so elusive, as you can tell).


This time he was wearing a tan hat, black mask, and black-and-gray jacket while talking to a white-haired man (likely Sam Levy) about something near the stage.


I was just thrilled to see him again in person! Lol

Bo talking to Director of Photography Sam Levy (I believe) near the stage and then staring at his phone


Sam Levy with Greta Gerwig on the set of Lady Bird, filming a movie, chatting outside with Bo before Rothaniel, and outside of Kate after Bo had split (he's very tall as well)


Bo's jacket (it looks like the same one)


By the way, I have absolutely NO chill when I see Bo, so it's always like two minutes of me staring at him (as I told Stucks, Bo exudes no celebrity energy and comes across as just some tall dude in person). Once I do recognize him, my brain falls out and I feel like a teen with a massive unrequited crush. Oy!


YouTube captions is drunk again...should be "I've seen him direct four times"


In terms of Kate, I saw her sitting on the KATE bench twice (took photos of both instances since she was missing in October), and I was lucky enough to chat with her in person after her final show.



She was incredibly kind and generously signed my program despite my Sharpie dying halfway through.



I was hella nervous, but I did get the courage to tell her she was incredible tonight and I loved her on A League of Their Own and her John Early Peacock show (it was recently nominated for an Emmy!). However, I completely forgot the title of that and Don't Worry Darling.


Confetti that fell onto my lap during the final show


My Kate collage, complete with programs, a sticker, my confetti, and 3 gold forks—plus Jesus Bo from the NYT photoshoot


Here are my original notes:

Kate was so nice, chatted with me and Kinja about the sand and moon; later got her autograph (damn pen was dying ugh) after another fan did and told Kate that I loved her Peacock show, A League of Their Own, and that she was the best part of "Darling" (couldn't remember the title, but Kate reminded me ha). She was super kind to all the fans who waited after the show 🥰

SUCH: That is so awesome that you kinda interacted with both Kate and Bo. Cool photos too!


Did you walk in the sand (barefoot or not) as part of Audience B? Or sit in the armchair as part of Audience A? If you went to the Winter Encore, did you see the snow Kate?


JF: I walked in the sand with my shoes on (I hate grains of sand being between my toes, so that was not happening haha).



Yes, I saw all of the various setups as a part of Audience B (the moon and sand for the first run) and the armchair and TV set (plus a dreidel) for Audience A after the show had ended.



The following immersive environment is a theatrical abstraction of Kate's place of birth: Santa Monica, California. Featured is a 3D-printed replica of the moon in the exact lunar phase that occurred on July 16, 1989, the evening Kate was born.
The sand, which was transported to the Connelly Theater directly from beneath the Santa Monica Pier, is meant to be experienced on a somatic level. Please walk through it if you are so moved. Shoes optional.

Forks were everywhere after the show haha


I also got to see the snow sculptures in the Winter Encore, including a naked woman and snow Kate with her sign!



Finally, I wanted to note that there was soothing music playing throughout the venue (sort of New Age-y in the lobby, while the bathroom had tropical sounds). Definitely helped set the tone and created an otherworldly ambiance!


Nicole and me in September—you can see the device playing music behind us


SUCH: Speaking of the Winter Encore, did you buy any Kate merch (shirt, sticker, etc.)? It was only available at those shows.


JF: Yes! I bought a t-shirt that says KATE, and I got a Kate sticker with it.


"KATE" is on the front AND back of my shirt


The Kate sticker that came with my merch


SUCH: Excellent—love the designs!


Did you read everything in the lobby? What was your favorite element?


JF: Yes, I read as much as I could and took as many photos as I could. I wanted to fully absorb the entire experience!


I was particularly entranced by the giant paragraph next to the door (a diatribe on the audience/performer relationship? How Bo AND Kate, seriously!).


STATEMENT FROM THE ARTIST


If there is anything the last few years have taught us, it's that we breathe the same air. There is an inherent eroticism to this: our bodies colliding in the same space. This collision is the immutable reality of contemporary life. It is also the essence of theatre. The theatre requires a sacred corporal exchange—a sense-based modality of transference that demands physical presence. Several questions guided my process while creating this piece: What might be the aesthetic of that transmission? Where do our stories come from? Do we create ourselves in spite of ourselves, or are we created despite ourselves to spite ourselves?
It is because of this intimacy—this churning proximity that can only be created by these bodies colliding in this space—that my body is able to find my space, a space beyond the neutered choreography of everyday life. It is from within this newly found personal space that I will reveal parts of myself that I have, until this moment, concealed for my own survival. As I enter this space, I am destroyed and transformed, made consumable only as I become consumed by my own narrative. As you enter this space, I invite you to destroy yourself, to relinquish the burden of your own performance, and to become something greater than yourself: the audience.
Welcome to KATE.

I also loved how she had a mannequin dressed up in the same outfit that she had on and her notes were displayed in plexiglass—really clever and self-referential!



SUCH: Excellent! Now for some specific questions about the play itself.


Did you shake hands with a stranger when prompted? 


JF: The first show I was hesitant to shake the hand of my neighbor since we were still in masks and...y'know, COVID. Speaking of which, Kate had the FUNNIEST sign at the entrance of the theater.



ADVISORY
THIS PRODUCTION CONTAINS STROBE LIGHTS AND HAZE
MASK WEARING IS MANDATORY FOR THE SAFETY OF KATE

I about died laughing when I read the sign and realized masks are for protecting Kate's health ONLY...so self-absorbed and perfect for the themes of the show!


Anyway, since I knew we would be pushed to shake hands, I always did at the first prompt for the other two performances I had attended. In October, for example, I shook hands with Casey, a man with a tattoo sleeve who was sitting where Nicole was the month before.


SUCH: Did you spot all the Kate images adorning the venue? Any favorites?


JF: Oh, there were SO many! Lol


I loved all the Kate images, particularly the tiny Kate stickers that were all over the place. I made it my mission to snap a pic of every sticker I came across. [Ed. note: You can see ALL of my Kate photos here.]



My favorite was probably Kate flipping us off in the bathroom because I was able to connect it with her joke in Cinnamon in the Wind (which I had watched AFTER the first show, but then put the pieces together subsequently).



SUCH: Who was your bartender? Do you remember where they were from?


JF: For the September show, my bartender was Noah (Kate improvised a great joke about his Ark). I don't recall his job or where he was from.


For the October show, my bartender was JR from New York City.


For the final NYC performance, I don't have that written down and I can't recall who it was. So sorry!


SUCH: No problem! As Meatloaf said, "Two out of three ain't bad."


What was the neutral word that made Kate cry at the end?


JF: For the September show, the neutral word was "caterpillar."


For the October show, the neutral word was "potato."


For the February show, the neutral word was "butter" (and was suggested by a blonde woman sitting near me).


SUCH: Did you go to the decorated bathroom? What did you think of it?


JF: Yes I did, and I LOVED how they even festooned the bathroom appropriately! As I had said previously, the ambiance was that of a tropical rainforest, the image of Kate on the mirror was brilliant, and there were even tiny Kates in the toilet stalls!



SUCH: If you went to more than one performance, please explain any differences between the shows. Did you prefer one over the other? Why?


JF: All of my performances were incredible, but I think my favorite was the last one. Kate gave her all for the final show, and it was phenomenally funny.


There were also a bunch of running gags (e.g., the forks, her father, the janitor) that hit harder when you've seen it before. I definitely recommend seeing the show again if you are able to do so—you can really appreciate all the craftsmanship and details that Kate and Bo included in the play.


There were some specific differences between the previews and the show itself. Firstly, Kate was definitely doing improv at points. I was having some difficulty discerning which parts were authentic and which were performed initially (similar to the dichotomy that arises when watching Inside for the first time), so seeing it again confirmed for me that some sections are entirely improvised—the bartender, the neutral word, etc.


The sequence before the show differed too. For the Previews, we only saw images of Kate on the big screen, mainly standing still or miming things like pulling a rope or walking humorously. However, the intro for the show in October was entirely different.



Instead of an image of Kate moving around (we had thought it was a giant photo at first and not a video!), we were treated to a really cool image of the letters "K," "A," "T," and "E" joining together slowly to form "KATE" in the center of the screen.


The KATE letters...it was hard to tell at times if they were actually moving



Most of the play's structure remained the same, but the second show had a few different images (the new almost nude one from her recent photoshoot at the time, for example).



Kate still had the Irish mother, but the Camera being destroyed was much more dramatic lighting than I'd remembered (and might have been tweaked).


The nightclub and apartment were the same with "New York, New York" playing when she moved (such a cliché) and "Sandstorm" playing at the nightclub.



I still haven't figured out the R&B music playing on the record player in the apartment scene, so if anyone does know, I'd love to have that mystery solved!


Another difference was how she explored the Connelly Theater. Kate went through the second row, not the third like she did in September, so we could see her in front of us. Kate also stood RIGHT next to me during her walk around the Connelly (insane!).


Running themes included the following:

  • forks (her mom says she can't find any at the beginning while making an omelet)

  • iron deficiency secret (taking naps in the afternoon, falling asleep in the car, etc.)

  • Steve from Disney+

  • Glitter at beginning AND end of the show

  • Missed sound cues (breaking glass for cracking eggs)

  • Huge flashing screens


SUCH: Speaking of the esteemed director, what elements were specifically Bo-like? Did you find any similarities to Inside or Bo's other works?


JF: Absolutely! There were SO many times I leaned over to my friends and said "this is very Bo." And it was!


Here are the elements that I really noticed were similar to Bo's works:


  • Glitter/confetti

Glitter/confetti in his act, starting with Words Words Words and appearing in what. and Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous. Nice to see the sparkly prop return, and perhaps that final image helped inspire the janitor bit? Haha



Conclusion: Bo LOVES throwing glitter and/or confetti and likely suggested its use in the play.


  • Shattered glass


Kate has a fake glass-breaking sound throughout the show (typically when her mom is cracking eggs). However, there is a later sequence when she drinks her glass of water to calm herself about not crying on cue and she smashes the cup on the ground in frustration—which totally reminded me of the Figure Skater’s Father bit from "One-Man Shows" in Words Words Words at 2:25 into this clip.

That glass will be no more very soon


There's also a hint of the Inside Studios mug description in there!


Can be smashed at the feet of your father!


  • Colors (RBG)

As you may recall from my article about the colors of Inside Deluxe, Bo is somewhat obsessed with Red, Blue, and Green, and he incorporates these three colors throughout his works.


Bo uses all colors of the rainbow in Inside, but he's particularly interested in RBG


In the case of Kate, we see her illuminated in blue for sad, green for happy, and red for angry when the producer wants to film her in the apartment scene.


  • Everything involving MASK and MASCULINITY (black and white with large block text)


This scene SCREAMED Bo to me. The flashing text, puns, and eventually finding gold forks under our seats felt like something only he would write.


  • Fog



From his comedy specials and Zach Stone to Rothaniel and the Outtakes, Bo has shown a deep appreciation for the smoky and hazy texture provided by fog machines. And Kate was no exception (although he did tone it down in subsequent performances, the fog was on full BLAST at the September show).



  • Performance and Authenticity


You can read more about this particular topic in my comedy heroes post about Bo and Kate, but both comics enjoy playing with and subverting audience expectations.


  • Manipulated audio and sound cues


As I had mentioned before, the audio cues—particularly the VERY low voice of the producer in the apartment who sounds a lot like Bo in All Eyes on Me but pitched even deeper like in the Nursery Rhyme rap and the miming while making a PB sandwich bit in Make Happy—would be familiar to anyone who's watched or heard Bo's works before.


Netflix's preview for Bo's special is a TRIP lol


Bo told Vox something similar in this 2018 interview about incorporating pre-recorded music and voices to give him something to react to onstage:


Then I’d be like ... What I really missed in theater was dialogue, listening. I don’t get to ... One day I was like, “I don’t get to listen onstage anymore, I just talk all the time,” so then I thought of backing vocals, so I’ll have voices speak to me onstage so I can listen, or lights and props and music cues and all that stuff.

He's really big on interacting with outside voices (see We Think We Know You).


SUCH: Definitely.


So I can likely guess the answer, but what did you think of Bo's direction? 


JF: I loved it. I believe Bo excels at helping other creatives and comedians get the most out of their shows. He is able to incorporate his personal motifs (heavy fog, cool lighting, glitter, close-ups) but still keep the core of the show uniquely about the comic on the stage. It never comes across as pushy but instead helps them reach the heights of their creativity.


I also like how Bo's direction is not showy or over-the-top AND he always keeps the spirit of the comedian in the work. While Chris Rock appears like a minister preaching to his congregation until he brings up his divorce, Jerrod Carmichael has intense audience participation (via Q&As) and shots of snow (albeit CGIed at times lol).


For Kate's play, Bo provided a safe space for her to play to her strengths (overemoting, performance, improv) while bringing structure to her often crazy sets. There was an excellent interview with Jason Zinoman from the New York Times where Kate explains how the whole project started with Bo asking her if she wanted to do more with her act:


Burnham attended the show and afterward administered some tough love. “He said, ‘This is great and you could do that forever, but what if you actually tried to make something?” she said he told her.

While some people online took immediate offense to the quote (Bo did not participate in the interview as usual), I saw it as Bo aiming to help out other creatives with his knowledge of writing and directing:


Her director, the comic Bo Burnham, had been emphasizing the same point: clarity, structure, clarity, structure.

Fun fact: Had I been able to talk to Bo in person at any point (sigh), I had prepared a short speech that would help me tell him how meaningful his directing is to me personally.


Here are the two drafts (like I said before, I had NO idea he would be at the October show!). I had also written out one for Kate that I promptly forgot about in February ugh.


Hi, Bo! I'm Jessica Friedman, and I've been a fan of yours since seeing Eighth Grade. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your directing. Also, Inside changed my life and it's how I met all of my friends. Anyway, thanks for everything you do, and I'll keep buying all your shit forever! Haha
Question: I am a copy editor, so I'm used to proofreading everything. Did you MEAN to keep in the two typos in the Outtakes ("what we have we done to our children?" and "in order or appearance")?
Hi, Kate! I'm Jessica Friedman, and I just wanted to tell you how incredible this show was. I also really love Shirley in A League of Their Own and your collaborations with John Early (hot caramel was HYSTERICAL in Would It Kill You To Laugh?). Anyway, thanks for everything you do, and congrats on this amazing show!

And my second draft for February:

My name is Jessica, but I'm also known as the Bo Burnham Historian (hahaha...I know, quite a lofty title).
Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I love your directing. I was at Rothaniel a year ago, and you did a phenomenal job (as did Jerrod obviously). This is my third time seeing Kate, and it's been spectacular every time (Kate Berlant is also brilliant). So I just wanted to say thank you for making your stuff. I really appreciate it. Thanks!

SUCH: What was your favorite part of the show? Most memorable? Funniest?


JF: My favorite part would have to be Kate having the house lights on and her walking around the entire theater. For one, this was the brightest part of the show so I knew I could capture Bo potentially when he was sitting in the balcony. Secondly, this was the closest Kate was to me, so that was super thrilling!


Every section was incredible, but I believe the most memorable moment for me was Bo's voice with Kate's during the introduction when he asks her what she's planning to do (before she says "Just watch"). So cool to hear him again since Rothaniel!


For funniest, I think there are two absolutely HYSTERICAL moments. The first is early on. The screen says "If this show moves you, please reach out." It seems like a genuine message to her fans, imploring them to contact her directly. Then we get the wonderful misdirection of the phone number not being hers, but that of her agents! Haha


The scrolling IMDB page had me in stitches as well. So damn clever! Also the running gag of a "universe" that she could become a part of if Steve from Disney+ attends the show (she checks to make sure he is there and is devastated to learn he never showed up).


Finally, I had mentioned this before, but my favorite funniest moment was Kate breaking down when the show falls apart. After she had proclaimed that the father part wouldn't make sense now, we see black-and-white text on the screen that quickly flashes words and puns about masks—


FATHER

MASK

MY FATHER'S MASK

MASKULINITY


Like, it was phenomenally funny and witty. I was dying!


Basically everything after Kate's meltdown was top-notch. I particularly loved how she was symbolically coming apart at the seams and was a complete mess in the janitor's costume at the very end, her bun falling out and she was struggling with the suspenders while you could clearly see her black tank top and jeans through her unbuttoned shirt. She really looked unprofessional, so it was perfect lol.


SUCH: Great choices!


Were there other celebrities in attendance?


JF: I didn't see any celebs in attendance at my shows, but I know Kristen Schaal, Brie Larson, Matty Healy, Nick Kroll, Marc Maron, Jack Antonoff, Ilana Glazer, and Abbi Jacobson all went at some point during the run. Mike Birbiglia called opening night a "murderers row of every comedian ever" in his interview with Kate and said that half of the SNL cast were there, including Bowen Yang behind him.


Matty even scored a KATE hat (which was NOT for sale by the way)!



And, of course, Bo went public with Phoebe Bridgers at the opening of the Winter Encore.


SUCH: Fantastic. Well, thanks again for participating. It seems like you had a wonderful time despite not being able to talk to Bo (again).


JF: No problem, and it definitely was! Kate is a force to be reckoned with, and you should try to see her show if you haven't yet (it's playing in London from 8/31 to 9/30 this year and will be back in LA in January 2024)!



For the complete list of Kate posts, including all of the audience interviews, please click here.

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