Notwithstanding the chorus of Madonna that blasts upon show start, there is hardly any mise-en-scène in Get On Your Knees, the new Off-Broadway project by Jacqueline Novak. Without the suggested effects of intricate set design or experimental lighting, the production, which mixes the comedian’s long-tradition of bare bottom confessional stand-up with the format of a one-woman act, feels less of a dramatic play and more like a frenzied conversation with your friend. Only she’s your smartest, most funny friend in the world. And she’s yelling.
Pacing in front of a thearte-raw brick facade, Novak, dressed in a casual long-sleeve shirt and high-waisted jeans, orates on the vulnerabilities of life itself through a metaphor so ballsy it somehow works: the blow job. She begins with the etymology of the appendages themselves (“there is no dignity in the word ‘penis,'” she rattles from the stage”) and oscillates through a series of life-spanning vignettes with gut-busting contemplation that reveals no matter how far we go there are somethings we’ll never be able to shake. But rather than crude moments for shock sake, the act—in actuality and the various intellectual and emotional meanings behind it—frames Novak’s comically bizarre musings on adolescence, sex, and womanhood.
In fact, Novak, whose TV credits span everything from James Corden’s The Late Late Show to Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City, has been pondering about what she calls “the cock as an idea” for some time now, particularly as a symbol of the male ego. After threading elements of her own life into the narrative, she teamed up with long-time friend and fellow comedian John Early, who is most known for his role on TBS hit Search Party as well as the Wet Hot American Summer reboots.
“The whole thing has been a very natural extension of me being Jacqueline’s biggest fan and watching all this material come together over the years that I’ve known her,” says Early, who originally started as the production’s opening act and eventually became its director. Though the comedians had previously co-hosted a weekly show together at Lower East Side’s Cakeshop, Early says Get On Your Knees was a different experience; it gave a direct and unencumbered path into Novak’s stream of consciousness. “A ten minute set at a bar, a five minute set on late night TV; these things haven’t really allowed Jacqueline to show her multitudes,” he explains. “She works best when you get to listen to her talk for an hour and a half, and she just gives it to you straight. There’s something to be said about the clarity and Jacqueline not apologizing for her high-brow material. The quality of her notions really sets in and shocks you.”
The two workshopped the set for nearly a year before serendipitously performing it in LA for actress Natasha Lyonne, who, after being taken by the Novak’s raw wit, felt compelled to get involved. “Coming from a woman—and her, someone that I could not respect more—it was very validating and comforting and all the things you want to hear,” remembers Novak, noting that Lyonne allowed her to keep the grit of the original piece without pushing any Broadway filler. “It was a ‘Suddenly Seymour moment’ (from Little Shop of Horrors), you know. She wiped off my makeup, so to speak, and told me I was good enough.”
Presented by Lyonne at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre, the just-opened show is 75 minutes of candid and controlled chaos. It’s the kind of material that would seem mortifying to observe with a parent yet somehow transcends the embarrassment—likely due to the comedian’s talent for dissecting her own unease. “I’m much more comfortable divulging than I am wearing a mask,” says Novak, who begins Get On Your Knees by deconstructing her own entrance to the stage. “Because my greater fear is that the mask would crumble. And then it would be visible that the mask was there all along.”
Get On Your Knees is playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York from now until August 18, 2019.END
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