As I strolled down 50th Street in Hell’s Kitchen, on a bright, warm mid-September day, I approached the crosswalk and there was a man standing in front of me, already waiting for the light to change.
I knew this was Pat Shortt. I just knew it.
He was the right height, about 5’7”, and the right build, with slim legs and a broad torso. Even though he was wearing entirely different clothing from his onstage garb: dark blue denim shirt, navy stove-pipe jeans, sneakers and bright blue eyeglasses, there was something about the shape of his head, his hair and the back of his neck.
It was him.
So when he turned towards 51st, I followed him. We both stopped for the light to cross 10th Avenue, along with some other people. When we reached the other side, he was kind enough to let a few women go in front of him, me among them.
I reached the Irish Arts Center about one minute before he did. I stepped into the empty, refreshingly cool foyer and looked around.
And in walked Pat.
I said, “I knew it was you. I knew it was you from the back of your neck.”
Then I introduced myself. He laughed, shook my hand and said, ‘I’m glad the back of my neck is so distinctive.”
He asked if I would like a coffee, and I followed him to the bar while he poured.
“Looks like someone made a fresh pot. If not, I’ll make more. Try it. See if it’s all right.”
The coffee was good. He asked, “Have you seen the show yet?”
That would be “Selfie” his sold-out one-man show at IAC, and part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival.
I said, “You don’t read your reviews? You wait until the run is over?”
He laughed and said, ‘No, no, I’ve read one or two.”
I said, “Well, I forwarded your PR person, who I thought was also your minder, the review. The show was wonderful. You’re an incredible performer.”
He said, “That’s a relief; I’m glad to hear it.”
We both sat down, and I took out my pen and notebook.
I had had several back and forths with Pat’s PR person, who seemed to regard me as some sort of female journalistic assassin. So I wanted to put Pat’s mind at ease, and in fact, referred to his PR person throughout the interview as his “minder.” And every time I did that, Pat laughed.
I told him I wrote reviews for “One” because I loved theater but I was not a reviewer per se; I was also a playwright, essayist and taught writing at NYU. I also told him that I was intensely curious from a writing perspective and also, forgive the pun (or not), believe that he should be exposing himself to a wider audience.
Pat visibly relaxed.
I asked him about the genre term “sketch comedy,” which is typically performed by a group and little to nothing is written down.
I said, “When I requested a script, your minder told me there was no script. But in the program it says ‘Written and Performed’ by you, and clearly directed by you as well. So if there is no script, and I came to see ‘Selfie’ on another night, would I see a different show?”
Pat said, “Of course there’s a script, of course there is. Otherwise, the lighting director would miss the cues, he’d never know where to…well, you know, you’ve done it.
I’m very please with the reception here, because you don’t know if the show will work until you perform it. There is no rehearsal. And the first night is excruciating, because it hangs on moving people around. The audience for me is more of a foil [rather than audience participation]. I don’t want them to talk back.”
I said, “Have they ever? I have to tell you, if you had chosen me, I would have hidden under my seat.”
Pat laughed and said, while tapping his index finger on the table, “It’s only ever happened here, in Manhattan.”
“Of course!” I said, laughing. “What happened?”
“Well, I tried to move a woman up to one of the funeral mourners, and she said, ‘I own this seat. I paid for this seat. This is my seat.’”
“Only in Manhattan! And thing is, I focus on them for the rest of the night. I don’t leave’em alone. I went back to the woman – she must have had her varicose veins done, didn’t want to move – I said, ‘Would you like a cuppa tea, dear?’ She said, ‘No, I don’t want a cup of tea.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll get you a nice cuppa tea.” I came back later and said, “Would you like a nice sandwich, dear?’ She said, ‘No, I don’t want a sandwich.’ I said, ‘You will later, I’ll just get you one.”
I wasn’t writing anything down at that point because I was laughing too hard.
I asked, “You work in sketch comedy as a writer, as a creator, as a performer. How do you create those characters?
Pat said, “It’s very clinical, really. I wanted to do something about a photographer, because you see them, the press photographers, they always go into a crowd and snap a picture and they want to do it fast and then fuck off somewhere else. So I wanted a character that went into the crowd, and uses, I use, every day language. I was using the wig but it was too much of…it stood out too much, you know? My costumer, who’s been with me from the beginning, suggested the hat.”
I said, “The hat is…so naff. It’s great!”
Pat said, “It is great, isn’t it? And do you know, people said to me, they knew a photographer who looked just like that; they said, yeah, we know that stock photographer who wore that hat all the time, in the rain like, and never took the filthy thing off!”
I said, “I think it’s wonderful you transformed audience members into pallbearers. I said to Mary, my editor, ‘That is the best end of act one I have ever seen. Ever.’”
Pat laughed and said, “You know, I have an office in the BBC studio in Limerick, where I write, and there was a coffin up on a wall – must have been used for something – and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…?’ And I kept thinking it. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could…?’”
And he nodded. Laughing.
I said, “What about the singing funeral director?”
Pat said, “Ah, the singing…I was thinking about funeral directors, and someone unlikely plugging their own first album. And the song “Margaret” to be honest with you, that was written specifically because I wanted to get to the stage where I’m balling and crying at the end of a comedy show.”
I said, “You said you played saxophone, so did you also play guitar as well?”
Pat said, “Well no, I just picked up the guitar a few years ago for a character and…”
I said, “Oh, you’re one of those irritating people who can just pick up an instrument and play it, right?”
Pat just laughed.
I said, “I’m going to out that in the piece, you know. ‘Irritating people who can…’ because I can’t contain my jealousy.”
He said, “Yes, I’ve been playing it since then. Just a few years.”
I said, “What I like best about your comedy is that it’s not bitter. And it’s not self-reverential. For example, and I know it’s sacrilege to say anything negative about him, but…Ricky Gervais. And Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I’ve had enough of it, I think. And stand up… most of it is about what is going on in the world, and I already know what is going on in the world. And I am completely thrilled that off stage you look nothing like the characters you play onstage. I can see Louis CK at The Beacon and see him offstage and he’s the same, pretty much. Same persona. Observational comedy.”
Pat sat up, pointed at me and said, “I get exactly what you’re saying. I come from a theater background. I tell people, I do silly. I do funny. And the physical …a tradition of clowning. It’s proper theater, and it’s escapism.”
I said, “Exactly.”
Pat said, “Most of the stand up I see, 85% of it is angry. I don’t want to be shouted at.”
I said, “If I wanted to be shouted at, I’d get on the subway.”
Pat said,”If I wanted to be shouted at, I go down the pub.”
I said, “And I really think, with everything going on in the world, we need escapism, the kind that makes you laugh.”
Pat said, “Yeah, takes you away for a theatrical experience for a time.”
I said, “So what’s next?”
Now, that is a long list: he remains in NYC for a week after the show ends on 9/27; then goes on to Boston where the shows have already sold out; then he tours Ireland and northern Ireland; then Australia…
I said, “That’s too far away. Are you looking to expand to audiences here, in the US? It’s television, right now, that would give you that broad reach.”
Pat said, “Yes, right now, I’m writing a sitcom with two friends for the BBC, and it’s in-house for the BBC, which is very good. It’s in development and they seem to be pleased so far; I’m pleased. The BBC says it’s first on their list of projects.”
I said, “That’s fantastic. The key is getting it to translate to here without it losing something; because we’re really good at fucking British series up. But some we can do well, like the American version of ‘The Office.’”
Pat said, “‘The Office’ was better here. Good example.”
I said, “It was funnier.”
Pat agreed, “It was.”
After 40 minutes, the interview ended, but not before I took his photo (not a selfie). He brought our coffee cups to the sink and washed them out, and I said, “Aren’t you glad I didn’t photograph you doing dishes?”
He laughed. “Yes!”
When he was finished, I shook his hand and thanked him profusely. I wished him luck on the rest of his run.
Turning to leave, I said, “And tell your minder I did not assassinate you; I was a good girl.”
Pat just laughed and laughed.