Monday, July 22, 2019

46 (2019-2020): Review: JACQUELINE NOVAK: GET ON YOUR KNEES (seen July 18, 2019)

“Thar She Blows!”

No, despite its heading, this review isn’t about a show based on Moby Dick. Then again, much of it is about dicks, both mopey and alert. Its star is a rising, young, standup comic named Jacqueline Novak who doesn’t shy from the title “Blowjob Queen.” Even the name of her one-woman show, Jacqueline Novak: Get on Your Knees, let’s us know where she stands (or kneels).

Jacquelin Novak. All photos: Monique Carboni
Novak’s show is a 90-minute comedy routine performed in classic standup style on the Cherry Lane Theatre’s stage, stripped down to nothing but its de rigueur, comedy-club, bare-brick walls. Her only prop is a hand-held mic, her costume a simple, gray t-shirt and dark jeans, her blondish hair (unlike the color on the program cover portrait) pulled back in a pony tail. 

Novak's personality is sneakily unassuming, her lines delivered in a natural, conversational way, broken now and then by a mild smile at something she’s said that got a notable audience reaction. She’s also very physical, using her body to express much of what she’s talking about, which, since what she’s talking about, mostly, is blowjobs and hand jobs, needs very little for us to catch what it is she’s doing. 

Remember that song, “Sodomy,” in Hair? The one that begins, "Sodomy, Fellatio, Cunnilingus, Pederasty"" It was pretty risqué back in 1968 but Novak’s play doesn’t bother with such formal vocabulary for what she’s talking about, the word “fellatio” not being mentioned once. It’s kind of unusual to see a female comic do an extended riff on her experiences giving blowjobs but, if the orgasmic laughter climaxing at the Cherry Lane is any indication, it’s also kind of refreshing. 
Novak’s routine may be dealing with crass material but she brings a spirited, lighthearted honesty to her work that elevates even her often hilarious discussion of words like “penis” to a higher level. She’s a brilliant raconteur of linguistic niceties, finding fun not only in vocabulary—her bit about why “cock” so nicely encapsulates what it represents is terrific—but in phraseology, the euphemistic idioms (like “laying a pipe,” “baby arm,” or “rock hard”) we use to describe things sexual. Seeking to dignify sexual activity, she prefers atypical ways of describing them, such as calling “doggy style” “the hound’s way.”

Structurally, the piece rambles, loses comic intensity, then picks up with some huge zinger or two, sometimes deliberately thrown away in an offhand manner. Novak’s zany meditations, some of them concerned with concepts like ghosts, are mainly erogenous, as she recalls learning the basics of fellating a fellow high school student, and eventually mastering the art. She similarly deconstructs the nature, aptitudes, and appearances of penises and vulva (her own included), with jocularly erudite disquisitions on the balls. 

Much time is also occupied with the relative toothiness of blowjobs, with its side issue of biting off a member, and the nonexistence of bones in organs capable of being called boners. One of her cleverest bits involves having two mouths while servicing her boyfriend, but I’ll let you discover for yourself why she’d find that helpful. 
Most of the audience packing the Cherry Lane looked like Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Zs, and their laughter was both frequent and loud. My baby boomer plus-one laughed a lot, too, but my own rictus capacity was not quite as active, I’m afraid. I appreciated Novak’s mental, verbal, and physical agility, and was with her all the way, but I was never rocked by the kind of tear-provoking, pee-inducing laughter I've experienced with great sets by comedians like Richard Prior, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, et al.  Humor is in the bladder of the beholder.

Jacqueline Novak is a poetess of the penis, a vindicator of the vulva, a booster of the blowjob. The latter act may require a subject on which to practice but I think most of us would prefer to see this smart and talented comic just as she is, solo. Like what she spends so much time ruminating about, she is, after all, in the standup business.

Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce St., NYC
Through August 18