Cole Escola Provides the Perfect Comedy for Quarantine

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: When I’m performing a scene that I am playing all the parts and I sort of feel it and hear it like a song, like I know the emotional hour.

S3: It’s like being so familiar with the melody that I can hear it in my head when I’m harmonizing.

S4: Welcome back to Working. I’m your host. June Thomas. And I’m your other host, Ramona Lum Reman. I am very excited to hear your conversation with writer performer Cole Escola.

S1: But first, in any other year, I would be wishing you a happy pride right now. But this is such a weird and tumultuous year that it feels weird to wish anyone a happy anything. How are things in your household right now?

S5: June I think it’s an act of defiance to seize joy. So I will accept your happy pride and say right back at you. I think these are such times of turmoil, as you say. And I’ve been trying to find silver linings without feeling like I’m being a delusional optimist, you know? So I’ll tell you this. Last weekend, my husband and I took our sons to a Black Lives Matter march for families, and I found it deeply moving and really encouraging. So that was kind of a spot of joy amid all of the chaos and sort of uncertainty of this moment.

S1: Yeah. I have not gone to any protests. My partner is in a high risk recovered. So I’ve kind of avoided the crowds. But we found ourselves by accident on the edge of one of those family protests last Sunday. And it filled me with hope, too. It was I was really impressed with the homemade signs, but I also just like it was a great vibe and a great crowd, and it was quite positive.

S6: I think we’ve all been missing community in our own ways. And I think being in the community, again, feels kind of bracing, especially when it’s a bunch of nine year olds. Angry signs, you know?

S1: Yeah, absolutely. Now, for our listeners who are not familiar with Kolas.

S6: Who is he speaking of wresting joy from the universe? Call is COLA is an actor, a performer, a comedian. He is someone who’s been in shows like Difficult People. And he is currently on a show called At Home with Amy Sedaris, which is really funny and totally bonkers. I follow Cole on Twitter and on Instagram. And so I had seen there on social media that call this call that had released a special called Help I’m Stuck. And it’s kind of a gift to his fans to bring some laugh to this unfunny period of quarantine. And I watched it one evening and I laughed because you cannot help but laugh. Cole is just a really funny guy. I fell into this hole of watching all of Cole’s YouTube videos and just laughing until I was an absolute mess. And you know what? It really felt so good.

S1: I believe it now. His Twitter account was recently suspended when he tweeted as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The tweets were pitched at the perfect de Blasio and level of cluelessness and obliviousness. But his obvious political satire was deemed to be against Twitter’s rules. So you can’t read Cole A on Twitter right now. But fortunately, you can still hear him on Slate. So let’s listen.

S5: I know your work from the Internet. You know, you’ve been sharing videos online for, it looks like for 12 years. Yeah, yeah. So I was wondering how it is you came to that form of sort of the Internet video and what it was that sort of first landed you there?

S7: Well, I. I had always been doing movies. And so then I decided, you know what this is this is too much money. No, I am. I started making videos with my friend Jeffrey Self. I was working at a bakery. I thought maybe I wanted to be a pastry chef. I didn’t really think that. I just I liked Barefoot Contessa. And I was like, maybe that’s what I want to do. And speaking of working, that’s when I was doing sex work as well. So performing was like for fun. I guess so.

S5: Not for work, really. Just something you were doing creatively. Yeah. Yeah.

S7: You know, I’ve always wanted to perform, but I when I got here it was sort of like, oh, I think I’m just a gay guy who loves attention. And I don’t know that that’s enough to qualify for, like, talent, because sort of like the only paths that I saw when I moved here was like theater actor paths. And I was like, oh, my God, I don’t want to do shit. Are like, that’s not. So I guess I’m not an actor. But when I was a kid, I, I, my grandmother had a video camera and I, I would take it from her and I made movies constantly.

S5: So when you arrived to New York and you were in your 20s, I guess. Yeah. And you and Jeffrey Self, who’s also an actor and performer, you guys would get together. That was really just an extension of that same kind of play that you would have been doing when you were a teen at home.

S2: Yeah, we were. We made some videos that went like somewhat viral at least, and like, you know, gay blog circles. And we actually we called ourselves Viggiano Gay Boys on youth, which is all. So I was like, yeah, that was a Craigslist term for the men men seeking men’s section. Like, that was to get more viewers like that using like do you think it actually worked?

S5: Advertising yourself as female gay boys. Yeah.

S7: Yeah. But this what it’s so weird how fast everything has moved because when we started it was like 2006, 2007 and like YouTube videos now look so polished and well that but at the time it was just like the little fish islands of our MacBook. Right.

S6: Was that your interest was never in kind of replicating the production value of like a polished production value. I mean, those early videos you see, like some one of you has drawn the titles on, like a piece of yellow paper and it’s holding it to the camera.

S7: And that wasn’t like it wasn’t intentional. There is an aspect to it even still where I feel like I forget that it’s lo fi until people comment on it. Like in my mind, I’m still like in my imagination, like, oh yes, this is a multi-million dollar budgeted movie. And I, you know, and this wig and this costume are incredible. Right. And then people comment like L’Etoile, that busted wig. And I’m like, oh, I guess. Yeah, it is sort of busted.

S5: But lo fi or not, those early videos did get you an audience with Jagow Television. Yeah.

S8: They came to see one of our live shows at Joe’s Pub and they offered us a a deal to do like logs for their Web site, like half hour weekly of logs.

S2: But we turned in what ended up being our sketch show because we thought, well, this will be boring if it’s just us talking to camera for half an hour. We turned in like our version of a sketch show and they were like, we love it. We’re gonna put it on the air. So it wasn’t even intended to go on television, but then they put it on Fridays at midnight.

S5: Yeah. And so that show was called Jeffrey and Cold Casserole, so. Yes. Yeah. And it is a sketch show. I mean, it’s exactly as you described it. It’s a sketch show with the sort of like very low fi built, very high level subtitles and things like that. Yeah. Were you and Jeffrey. I mean, when you’re collaborating, that’s obviously like two points of view. Two is that at points of view. But who were you? Were you thinking about things that you had loved in your youth? Were you thinking about like the kids in the hall or Saturday Night Live or Money Python or were you thinking about some? Other cultural touchstone altogether.

S2: It was it’s one of those relationships where it’s like where we’re just like in our own world. We are both on the same page and it’s a page that every body else is not on.

S7: Like, I feel that a similar way when I’m around John early in Cape Berland, I’m like, oh, they have a language to themselves. And like, it’s just amazing to watch that. We more connected over, like, growing up on sitcoms and things like that.

S5: Is the goal then to kind of make yourselves laugh?

S2: Yeah. Yeah. That was all we did was when we made Jeffrey and called casserole. It was just like making each other laugh.

S5: It’s funny because it reminds me of my two little boys and they like we’re such like fussy yuppie parents and we really control all of their media intake and somehow they understand the language of like podcast. And so a lot of times when they play, they’re kind of reenacting podcasts like mine. They’ll be like, Hey, it’s Simon. And I’m here with my favorite Lego toy. And it’s so weird cause it’s like, who are you talking to and what are you. Yeah. Warming. And why is that interesting to you? But it’s like it’s because it’s a thing that they love, even though they don’t really know what it is. And it seems like that’s kind of what you were doing on on Jeffrey and casserole. But it also seems like that’s what you do in a lot of your videos. Yeah. Yeah. So I’m curious because, you know, I just ask you if, like, the point was to make yourselves laugh and and that is the point. And it is funny, like what you do is very funny. But like sometimes I think the humor or the the audience experience of the humor can obscure the labor behind it. And when we first started talking, you describe yourselves as a yourself as a writer or performer. And I guess like sometimes the writing is not visible because the audience is only experiencing the performance. You know, when you take when you begin with the germ of an idea. How do you turn that into a sketch? I mean, there’s no, like, real formula.

S2: Like, I have a few like one tool that I use a lot is music. Like, if I have sort of like a kernel of an idea or like it can be something as small as a gesture or a funny way to pronounce one word.

S7: And it’s like, oh, that’s sort of Tennessee Williams ish. And then to sort of bring out more ideas in that same vein, I’ll listen to music that’s sort of evocative.

S2: Like a lot of the music that I listen to for fun is like music that could possibly underscore a play or a movie that I guess is the most consistently used tool. I’ll write things down in like a a g mail draft. So like all of my drafts, there’s like hundreds of of emails that I can’t even decipher anymore that are like.

S5: That are like what cow shit. So and I’m like, wait, what was that idea? Are you concerned about, like, performing specific words and getting the language exactly right? Or are you more of a performer who likes to improvise towards an idea?

S2: I’m actually pretty word focused.

S5: Like like sometimes you do capture this feeling that you’re only improvising because of the performance can feel very fresh and it feels like you’re just sort of like. And also because it’s so absurd that sometimes the language or the logic shifts and it’s like, oh, he must have just made that up because it doesn’t make any sense.

S2: Yeah, there have been times when I’ve been frustrated, like in like trying to get other writing jobs and people being like, but can he write like. And I’m like, what do you think?

S5: I mean, where do you think these words come from? Well, I mean, I think that that’s like a particular challenge with. The kind of video work that you’ve done or that your days of your career began because so in the years since you in Jefferys launched the show, you have gone on to pretty conventional acting success. You were on difficult people. You are on at home with Amy Sedaris right now. But you still do this very intimate and like live performance and video performance. And it’s so much about you as a physical being. It’s about you and your face and your body. And you’re like a very specific aesthetic point of view that I can see how that would obscure the labor that goes into it, you know?

S2: Yeah. Yeah. People don’t realize that I can write for other people as well. You know, which I don’t like. I don’t resent that. Like, a lot of performers are really great at writing for themselves. But when it comes to like writing a script for a spec script for Modern Family, it’s like what? I think that I’m actually I’m good at that sort of thing.

S5: You recently released this special called Help. I’m Stuck and Help. I’m Stuck is along a pretty long piece. It’s almost you know, it’s a collection of sketches. I’m assuming that it’s something that you created and filmed during quarantine. Yes. Yes. So how. I mean, I know we’re all stuck at home, and I know you, like most of us, don’t really have anything to do, but. Yeah. How long did it take you to do that?

S9: Maybe. Maybe like two and a half weeks. I mean, almost everything from that special is stuff that I’ve worked on very at various points over the past couple years. Like a lot of my friends have been like, oh my God, I you’re so productive. But the writing of all of it had already been done and like, changed and edited and sort of fine tuned. Yeah.

S5: But it’s still a kind of incredible leap to do all of that work solo. And I think so. Right. I think you should be proud of yourself. I mean, I know you’re asked him to like this sort of experimenting and playing right with the camera and sort of fooling around in friends homes and things like that. But like to do all of that, work yourself to perfect to film yourself and to dress yourself and to like my makeup and sets and costumes and wigs like I had to learn how to do it all.

S10: We’ll be back with more of Remands conversation with writer performer Paul Escola.

S1: One of the things we’d love to do with this show is help solve your creative problems, whether it’s a specific challenge about your work or a big question about inspiration and discipline. Send them to us at working at Slate dot com. If and when we can, we’ll put those questions to our esteemed guests. Welcome back to working. I’m John Thomas. Now back to Remands conversation with Cole Escola.

S5: One of the things that really, I think is the most sort of technically accomplished in help I’m Stuck is the way that you perform against yourself. Oh, one of the sketches is a kind of pastiche parody of noir film. And you are playing a character and then you’re also playing that character’s assistant. And we get to hear you performing against yourself. It was raining.

S11: It’s always raining. My assistant was early, which meant he was on time, which meant late. I know and I’m sorry. Jennifer. Jennifer. That’s this kind of vegetables to you. I’m sorry, Miss Convertibles. It’s just my mom is in a car accident this morning and they don’t think she’s. I’m sorry.

S2: I’ve got too much on my mind to laugh about that right now is how to do that when I’m performing a scene that I am playing all the parts and I sort of feel it and hear it like a song, like I know the emotional hour, especially because I’ve been doing the material like for so long.

S8: Like I know the journey of of the pieces so I can do them sort of piecemeal.

S5: It’s so impressive because I think a lot of times, like, you know, you’ll see just to go back to like the great sitcom performances, you’ll see like a character on the phone getting terrible news. Yeah. And, you know, sometimes, like, heard director or someone else’s on that line saying, like giving her something to work against. Right. Yeah. Yeah. When you’re shooting in your apartment by yourself, you don’t even have the ability to do that. It’s like you’re describing singing a harmony but only look just but not being able to hear anyone else’s part or something.

S8: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like being self familiar with the melody that I’m. I can hear it in my head when I’m, you know, harmonizing, if that makes sense.

S5: I wonder how you would describe your son. Gay ality, gay. Absurd. So who are the godparents of your. Sensibility.

S8: I mean, I think it really is. Sitcoms like that.

S5: But it’s funny that you would describe that sensibility as gay when the sitcom is such a tool of like a convention of nuclear family convention.

S8: I think that’s why the the gay comes into it, is that it’s like my gay I picked up that something was off about what I was seeing. And so and then, like, performing it, the way that I see it then reflects. I don’t know the absurdity of of the sitcom that I’m referencing.

S5: Do you think it’s fair to say or do you feel a kinship to John Waters?

S8: Absolutely. Yeah. He’s someone that I didn’t come to until like later when I was in high school and stuff. But I’m certainly the self motivated aspects of of his work and stuff.

S5: I guess when you describe the aesthetic or the sensibility as gay. I’m curious to hear what that means to you or would you how you might explain that, especially someone who is not gay. Like, how do you account for that? Who’s not gay anymore? I hear there are some out there. Yeah. Yeah.

S8: Well, I, I. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot in terms of like queer content versus content with the queer sensibility. Like I don’t want to like this. It’s so obvious to like throw something like Love Simon under the bus and be like you. But I don’t have any strong feelings for love, Simon, either way. But Justin is as an example, like, that’s a. Gay story for a straight audience like it’s very much through a straight lens, like trying to explain, like this is what the gay experience is versus like. I think what I’m interested in is like the queer shorthand that’s already established somehow through, like shared experience of growing up queer and at, like, outside. Does that make sense?

S5: I think it does, because I think it’s sort of again, I think John Waters is kind of representative because I don’t think I don’t think that John Waters would even say that he was. I mean, he may have been the first to kind of get that stuff on film and presented cinematically. But I think it’s still a point of view or a way of thinking about the world that is older than John Waters is. Yeah. It’s just a sort of it’s sort of a slanted perspective on the world where everything is a little twisted. Because that is how gay people have to navigate a world that they didn’t design or I’m not really sure why.

S7: One theory that I have is that it’s like growing up like a fag, not just gay, but a fag.

S2: I think I. We look for conventions so that we can adhere to them. You know, like, oh, wait. What are the rules of how to behave and like what’s OK for, like a boy to do and what’s not OK for a boy to do. And so that hyper awareness, you amass this whole catalog of conventions. And so it’s easier to make fun of them because you’ve have this whole Rolodex in your head of, like, conventions.

S5: I wonder if straight people don’t think that’s funny. I wonder if they just think that’s how the world is. Maybe. How so? We’ll never know. Yes. You often in your performances play women. And I was trying to think about this last night. I wondered whether you consider that drag in the way that we typically understand that, because in a weird way, I don’t. Because I think of drag or sort of like the tenets of drag as being that it’s sort of outsized or camp or deliberately really broad. And I feel like your performance is often really straightforward, like in you have a great a great little video called Mom Commercial. And it’s so funny. I just want to take a second to listen to, you know, the mom boys breakfast.

S11: That means my kids come first. Katie, don’t forget your lunch. But sometimes between packing lunches and rides to soccer practice, things slip through the cracks. Important things like nutrition, for instance. Did you know that one glass of the leading brand of orange juice contains twice the amount of sugar? Your kids should be getting in a day when I found that out. I am.

S12: I fucking lost it. I mean, I had been giving my kids leading brand orange juice their whole lives. I thought, my God, I’m capable of that. What else? My capable up.

S5: So I panicked. It’s obviously hilarious, but it’s also this performance of gender that’s not your phone. That’s really respectful or really naturalistic. And so, yeah, it’s you’re a man playing a woman. But the joke is not that you’re a man playing a woman.

S7: Yeah, I am. I don’t really think about it. And I don’t consider what I do drag just because I feel like that’s insulting to real drag performers that study like just I mean, makeup alone.

S8: You know, let alone like the wigs and the the performance of it. Like, I love Drag. I’m I’m a big drag fan, but I feel more like an actress.

S5: I guess one of the few of your sketches that felt like I could show that to my children is the goblin commuter of Hoboken. And you are playing exactly what that sounds like, a goblin who commutes in Hoboken and your faces painted green and you’re wearing like a skirt set, like a skirt suit, and you’re playing a goblin and not a one, but it’s also a woman. And yeah, so we were watching it. My husband and the kids were watching it and we were like dying, laughing. And my husband said, he’s so funny. And my older son said, oh, wait, that’s a that’s a man. Mm hmm. And I was like, oh, he’s pretending to be both a woman and a girl. Like, that’s sort of like what’s sort of remarkable about the performance. And I know that why that gave him pause, because it’s like it’s so naturalistically is what that is. And it’s so different from when even when you see Divine onscreen in those John Waters movies, you know, that like she is aware of how funny it is that she’s just pretending to be a housewife.

S9: Yeah, yeah. I guess then it becomes a question about like me and how I identify and how I feel and see my gender, which is. I well, when I was a kid, I had two friends, and we we called ourselves the it’s like we weren’t boys and we weren’t girls. And so I feel like it’s I mean, that was before I even knew what non binary was. And yeah, I guess I just don’t even I don’t even think about it like I don’t think. OK. Now I’m like now I’m playing a woman.

S7: I’m drawn to female characters because I identify more with females than I do with males. And also there are more conventions put on females that are fun to play and play up than there are males. If that makes sense, it doesn’t make sense.

S5: But you’re also I would point out, I guess, that you’re also adept at kind of skewering more conventional modes of masculine performance, like there’s a new video where you play a kind of piece of trade forming for like a lascivious camera person. Yeah. And it feels like you’re about to perform a sex acts. Yeah. And then you start singing a show tune. Yeah. Yeah. So you’re still you’re also capable of doing this sort of like masculine performance that feels. I mean, that’s a good one. Like, I basically have one straight guy impression. And and that’s just like. Yeah, that’s it. Yeah. Yeah. And then like maybe like varying degrees of that one. No, but that’s about it. Yeah. I think men are so boring. That’s fair. Yeah, that’s fair. I wonder why or I wonder if you have an answer for why you often perform undressed for a couple reasons.

S7: One is I think I started doing it because I needed it was like an immediate laugh.

S9: It was an easy laugh. And it like, okay, I walk out of my underwear and people are already paying attention and thinking it’s funny. And then also so that I can change quick, like in my live shows, I do a lot of costume changes and like.

S5: Yeah. So it’s like a logistical thing. Yeah. But it also seems like thiers beyond the life and beyond the logistics of being able to slip into a complicated dress. It feels like a very specific kind of provocation.

S6: And I wonder if it goes back to what you were saying before about your own identity and your own sense of gender and your own sense of like the distinction between cold the human being who’s sitting at home trying to think of something funny and cold, the person who shows up on stage or on camera and does something to make everybody laugh.

S5: You know, showing up in your underwear in those contexts is the inverse of showing up with fake boobs and a dress and a wig and makeup. But there’s nowhere to hide. And is that important to you as a performer to get to that place of just like here I am? No, no, no. Because I don’t see it that way.

S9: Like, when I walk out onstage in my underwear, in my head, I am, you know, Meryl Streep at her F.I. awards ceremony. Like, I don’t I don’t feel naked.

S8: I feel it’s it’s actually more of an armor, like a distraction. Like if I come out in my underwear. People aren’t really seeing me. They’re seeing this person in their underwear.

S5: It’s funny that because it’s sort of you’re so physically laid bare, but in a weird way, hearing you talk about it, you you still possess all of the power in that equation because you don’t seem to give a shit.

S9: Right. Yeah, I guess. I guess so. But again, I feel like it is more of like nudity as a mask. That’s my that’s gonna be my college course.

S5: My doctor, Dr. Haskell, as well as on nudity. Mm hmm. The other thing that made me think of John Waters is there’s a lot of you seem to like this kind of really vulgar, really sort of absurd or like poop joke, kind of ascetic. And in help I’m stuck. You appear to camera kind of introducing the segments and throughout the. He’s when you show up to camera, you have some brown stuff smeared all over your face. It’s chocolate. It’s chocolate. Yeah, well, but I know it’s chocolate, but in the performance, you don’t say that it’s chocolate. No. That’s it. And I’m wondering, like, why what what is funny to you about that kind of like toilet humor and whether or not that lets you actually get to a place that’s more disarming or more unsettling?

S9: Well, it’s sort of. Two fold. Like I said, well, three fold. There it’s it’s funny because it’s just I think the stupidest, the stupider, the more stupid, the funnier it is. Like, I just like stupid. And then the second part of it is. Comedy is inherently like. Embarrassing. And so it’s like, well, if I’m going to do a quote unquote bit or if I’m gonna do a quote unquote joke, I might as well lean all the way into it and go full, stupid and disgusting. And then the third part was I. I was having such a hard time figuring out what to do in between the sketches and like setting them up. And like I knew that I wanted to speak as myself to have transitions from sketch to sketch.

S2: But I find speaking to camera as myself to be so degrading that I was like like, oh, well, then smearing look, making it look like I have shit smeared on my face like that just amplifies this feeling that I’m already feeling and makes it a choice rather than something I’m trying to hide.

S8: So doing that was really leaning into like that, like humiliation of speaking to camera. It’s interesting, as you know in my sketches, when I’m just performing by myself, I at least know that I’m going to edit it. And it’s a scripted piece that is like I’m a character talking to another character. But when I’m talking when I’m myself talking to camera, that feels so stupid. It feels so humiliating.

S5: So it’s not a problem to be a baby in a diaper, in a bathtub. Talk right camera. But somehow just showing up as cold as cold. And talking to cameras like two for her. Yeah, it’s. Yeah. Really uncomfortable. So it seemed to me like help I’m stuck. Came out of our conditions of quarantine and we’re we’re still living under those conditions. And I’m wondering if you feel an impetus to create if you feel inspired or now or if it’s difficult for you as a performer to be without the immediate feedback of a live audience?

S2: Well, that’s where, like my performing history comes in handy because I I’ve been making videos alone in my bedroom since I was eleven. And then, like, even professionally, Geoffrey and cold casserole and. And then even my life shows it’s just me onstage with wigs and costumes. But, um, before the quarantine started, I really wanted to do a special that The Help I’m Stuck is basically this live show that I’ve been doing for the past year and a half. But no one really wanted it. And also, I was having artistically I was having trouble figuring out how I would even do it with a budget because.

S9: You, because it just when I do the show live, it’s me onstage, naked, putting on wigs and costumes by myself talking to someone who is reading into a microphone off stage like it’s very low fi. And that’s part of. That really sets the stakes for like what the and sets the tone for what the show is. And with a budget like if there was like an HBO special and I was like in a theater with a budget, it would just sort of. Change the tone completely. So I guess I’m a pandemic profiteer. I saw this and I. I thought, you know what? Actually, this is the perfect scenario for my special.

S5: But you’re still waiting for that call from HBO?

S7: No, I’m actually like I am so happy with how the special turned out. And I’m really it’s the most proud I’ve ever been of anything that I’ve done. What are you going to do next? I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t really feel creative right now. So we’ll see. You know, these are fucked up times. They kind of are. Yeah.

S5: That’s why. That’s why I help. I’m stuck. Is that’s why I watched it. Because these are fun times and it’s so funny. And it’s just like kind of a pleasure to parachute out of this absurd reality into your absurd. Her reality.

S7: Thanks. I mean, that was God. Like, I’m not one of those artists who’s who’s, like art is so important. Like, we need like we need to laugh now more than ever. But it’s like one of the only skills I have. So, like, it’s the least I can do.

S2: And on top of doing, you know, the other things that we all have to do and should be doing. But it’s what you did during the war. It’s what I did during the war. I entertain the troops. The USO.

S5: Cole, this was so great. I’m really, really happy that you were able to join us. Thank you so much for coming on today.

S7: Thank you for asking me. And yeah, I just loved it.

S1: Reman, I loved many, many things about this interview called Escola, is clearly a stone cold genius, but one thing that stood out to me was just how gay that conversation was. I was very taken with his expression of gay sensibility is stemming, at least in part from growing up having to be hyper aware of social conventions. That’s useful when it comes to writing sketches where you have to nail a mood or a situation with the vaguest flicker of an eyelid or a slightly askew wig.

S5: There’s no reason or no accounting for why some of his sketches are so funny. Like in. There are many where he’s not even performing a joke and simply mimicking the conventions of something like a sitcom or a commercial. And it’s just so effective. And what you’re talking about, the ways in which that’s a gay sensibility, is something that I’ve heard many thinkers point out, like the idea that the black writer is the ultimate authority on whiteness by virtue of a life lived inside of a context of difference. And I think it’s really apt and a genuine consequence of growing up gay for coal. It’s he’s just so funny. But there’s a real bite to a lot of what he’s talking about and a lot of what he’s satirizing.

S1: Yeah. Another thing that really resonated with me was his description of how his early comedic projects were really all about play, something he and his friends did just for fun. It wasn’t work. This was fun. And that’s a great well to tap. And it can be very generative. Like, I just want to do something completely different. I want to have fun. And, you know, you can really create something amazing out of that. But it’s hard to hold onto that when the thing that you used to do for fun becomes the thing that you do to pay the rent. Did you go through anything like that when novelist became the first adjective in your bio?

S5: I think what you’re getting at is that there are ways in which art can be a job, but also something else. And I think we usually reach for a word like calling. But but I’m not sure that exactly gets out. When I was a little kid, I wrote mystery novels when I was eight years old, you know, and Cole put on sketches and videotaped them. We both ended up doing pretty much the same thing with our adulthood. But of course, there are plenty of kids who paint or do ballet or, you know, live and die for soccer, but don’t carry that passion into adulthood. But sometimes you do. But, of course, you know, it’s not just fooling around. I mean, Cole talked about spending weeks shooting the special in isolation in his apartment in Brooklyn. Mm hmm. That’s a real commitment of time and effort. And I know its quarantine and we don’t have anything better to do. But, you know, he could have just been eating bonbons and watching television.

S1: Yeah. I mean, it’s there’s a lot of hard work and there’s also a talent. Maybe that’s what makes a difference between, you know, putting on sketches like a lot of kids do or writing mystery levels like a lot of kids do and doing it for real. Is that actually there’s just a true talent that, you know, is again, that just that weirdness that makes you look at it instead of look away. Even when if you described it to me, you described a guy, a very attractive guy, who shows up with stuff smeared on his face. And it’s kind of touching himself in strange ways, like I would think you don’t want to see that. But when there is this incredibly charismatic, incredibly talented person doing it, like, please let me look at that smear.

S5: I mentioned this in my conversation with Colbert, one of the most if like a person, I took a weird, very specific, weird personal bugaboo. But I’m very disturbed by adults just as babies and whole. It’s a really funny skit where he’s dressed as a baby and sort of talking like a Tennessee Williams heroine. And it’s so discomforting to me because I just think, like hosts, just as babies are very specifically unsettling to me. But somehow I would watch him do even that because he’s just a good. He does it with conviction.

S1: Exactly. I bet New Year’s must be such a traumatic evening for you. Yes. Right. Another thing that I really admire about his work is the fearlessness that seems to really be central to his persona. That comes out in a lot of ways, his willingness to play really out there characters like Matthew on difficult people, which is a role that I’m sure a lot of actors would have shied away from. But he, again, really went into it, are just really making art for people who are operating on his wavelength. I mean, that’s a really ballsy artistic choice. And it’s not necessarily the obvious path to riches.

S5: It’s true. He I think coal is a very modest person, a very modest professional. I think that his fearlessness is something that he doesn’t want to talk about because it’s not the primary intention of the work. And I think that artists, the artist, should be granted that they don’t need to say this is the main idea. The audience can look at it and say, OK, what am I learning here? Yeah. Paul’s also a great singer and there’s really great performance of him singing the immortal Cher classic Gypsies, Tramps and Joe’s Pub, which he performs in his underwear. And, you know, Cole, he’s very skinny and sort of he’s very sort of petite. And there’s something really disarming about seeing a young guy with this kind of gawky adolescent sort of physique, singing this very weird song by Cher and singing it in his underwear with absolute heartfelt conviction.

S13: We picked up this boy just now. Well, we gave him a ride home with a hot meal. He was 21. With us to Mark. To heard it from people now a call.

S5: The fact of his being in his underwear is absolutely an aspect of the performance, even though I do believe that he might have just needed to make a costume change. The fact of his almost nudity really informs that performance in a pretty startling way.

S13: I mean, it is Smooth’s.

S1: Well, Kosko will found a way to be productive during the quarantine. That’s as we learned in the interview where he recorded Help. I’m Stuck. Have you been writing? Have you been productive during these weird times?

S5: My work is so much easier than. I don’t have to wield a camera or put on a wig or put on makeup or, you know, figure out what the backroad is going to look like. And at any rate, I have mostly embraced a whole new medium, which is laundry. My husband, I have two kids, but I have a feeling that they’re secretly a family of six living in the basement and sort of like parasite style. And somehow they have convinced me to do their wash for them because that’s basically all I’ve done for the past six or seven weeks.

S4: Well, if we’re lucky, you’ll solve that mystery in a novel someday. So then we’ll all benefit listeners if you enjoy this show. Please consider signing up for Slate plus Slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero odds on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. And you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working and elsewhere at the magazine. It’s only thirty five dollars for the first year and you can get a free two week trial. No. At Slate dot com slash working plus.

S6: Thank you so much to Cole Escola for being our guest this week. An enormous thanks as always to our producer, Cameron Drewes.

S4: We’ll be back next week for a conversation between Isaac Butler and writer Mira Jacob. Until then, get back to work.