This interview contains adult concepts. Please visit other pages of this blog if you don’t like hearing or reading about sexually explicit comedy.
Does Humour Belong In Music?
“It all started with ‘The F*ck You Song’.” Nikky assures me. “I didn’t know that I was a comedian. I had to have several friends and loved ones – including my grandfather – tell me, before I decided to start singing my songs in comedy clubs. Although my grandfather would lose it if he heard the content of the current songs…”
Nikki Lynn Katt is a gorgeous American woman who sings songs that are rude, clever and – best of all – funny, in the sweetest voice you can imagine. Indeed, that is part of how and why her humour works, at least to begin with: the ‘Sarah Silverman’ effect, if you will. The disjunction of those words coming out of that face (and, if I’m to be honest, on top of that body…) with that voice.
But, as she explains, Nikki didn’t start her career as a singer of ribald songs. That’s a destination you can only arrive at, really, via an interesting detour, having set out for somewhere else entirely. Music was always her first love, of course, and that’s why Nikki attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she set out to be “a regular songwriter”. But the ‘regular’ songs she wrote proved to be “super-sad”.
“If they’re not dirty, silly, funny songs about sex, they’re all songs that would make you want to slit your wrists. Nobody wants to hear sad songs, so they’re just for me. I used to record and perform the sad songs but now I stick to making people laugh.”
Sad songs and funny songs have a similar origin – it’s just a matter of how the songwriter choses to document the inspirational event. Consider, again, ‘The F*ck You Song’, written when Nikki was still a singer/songwriter rather than a comedian. The lyrics are something like,
This is my big f*cking ‘f*ck you’ song to you
You f*cking bastard, and your little slut, too.
“It was sung really sweet and pretty,” Nikki says. A hate song done up as a love song is the perfect source of comedy and proved to be everyone’s favourite whenever she included it in her set. “People started to tell me to write more stuff like that because that’s what people like to hear. That’s how it started.”
Rest assured, Nikki’s path to comedy was “a
little awkward” to begin with. Doing ‘The F*ck You Song’ as part of her set at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles – “probably the premiere
place for a singer/songwriter to perform” – wouldn’t always prove popular.
“Sometimes people was it as a breath of fresh air in an environment
where you’d just hear sad songs all the time. But some people thought it was
totally out of place. They’re the ones who directed me to comedy clubs.”
The humourless singer/songwriting milieu’s loss is comedy’s gain, clearly. Although the comedy songwriter has to work harder.
“When you hear a great song you say, ‘that song was so great, I want to hear that again’. When someone tells a great joke, you don’t say, ‘I want to hear that joke again’. To write a great song, you have to repeat something memorable, but in order to tell a great joke, you can’t repeat that thing because they already know it. I’ve learned over the years that anything you can do to repeat a hook in a song with some kind of variation that makes it new, is the way to keep it going.”
This is true of two songs that immediately
come to mind: ‘When I’m With You’, and ‘Don’t Forget About The Balls’, both available on Hello, My Name Is Nikki Lynn Katt, Nikki’s recently released EP (for
sale at gigs, on Nikki’s website and via iTunes). The former song is a
not-quite-able-to-break-up ballad, the latter, a song of instruction aimed to
better educate young people about sexual health.
Well, that’s not quite how
Nikki introduces ‘Don’t Forget About The Balls’ on stage. She says she wrote it as a form
of sexual health instruction for a school audience, but she wasn’t allowed to
perform it in front of said audience. It’s clear why: ‘Don’t Forget The Balls’ gives kids more information than they’d really need or want – which makes it all the funnier. But that’s not the only time Nikki’s provided perhaps more information than the audience requires. Straddling music and
comedy as she does, Nikki can still occasionally find herself placed, if not on
the ‘wrong’ bill, certainly a ‘bad’ one. Like the time she opened for a Christian artist.
“I didn’t know,” Nikki insists. “I opened with a song called ‘Jewish Girls Don’t Do Anal’. I was experimenting with survey-taking. I passed out an anal sex survey, and all of these Christian people who had come to see the Christian artist were horrified.”
How could anyone stuff up by booking Nikki and a god-botherer on the same bill?
“LA is different in the sense that club promoters don’t actually promote shows. They find musicians who will play a show for free and invite all of their friends. The promoter of that show just put a random bunch of artists on the same bill with no thought how those artists would mesh.”
“People definitely were upset and they left.” Pause. “The anal sex survey didn’t go very well, either.”
Although ‘Jewish Girls Don’t Do Anal’ isn’t on the Hello, My Name Is Nikki Lynn Katt EP, the other songs are as full-on in lyrical content. Nikki describes the collection as “a bunch of recordings done over the years” and though it’s mostly voice-and-guitar recordings made in friends’ bedrooms and living rooms, it sounds much more cohesive and professional. Probably because some of the numbers, like ‘The Sock Song’, were recorded in a “proper studio” with a full band and “proper production”. It also has a video clip that’s had 10,000 hits on YouTube.
“Everything in ‘The Sock Song’ is factual,” Nikki says. “My neighbour who was my very good friend slept with my boyfriend and I had to live next door to her for four-and-a-half years and share a parking space with her and share a laundry with her, and I totally just hated her but I had to be nice to her or else it would have sucked to live next to her.
“One day we were both doing laundry and her sock ended up with my clothes. The song literally came out of me thinking what horrible things I could do to her sock to repay her.” Rest assured, Nikki didn’t actually have her friends pleasure themselves into the sock. But if she had, that wouldn’t constitute nearly as good revenge as the song does. Nikki agrees.
“What I would really like to happen is a friend tell her, ‘Dude, did you see this song by Nikki Lynn Katt?’ and for her to say, ‘Oh, that girl’s my ex-neighbour’, and look at it, and see what it’s about.”
We can only hope.
While ‘Heartbroken Vagina’ is about “losing your mojo after a break-up” and “not being interested in the things you used to be interested in”, ‘This Halloween’ is another band recording. Essentially, it’s about how Halloween is the night to dress sluttily despite the discomfort, or risk being ignored.
“I hate being uncomfortable for any reason whatsoever,” Nikki explains, “and Halloween is one of those nights: it’s the last day of October so it’s really, really cold and you’re kind of required to wear these skimpy outfits…”. In the video, Nikki is dressed in “a dorky pumpkin piñada” which is warmer and hardly slutty at all, but comes with consequences, as Nikki explains: “If you go as that girl, you’re just gonna be the girl in the corner on your own the whole night because the rest of the party is a parade of cleavage and upper thigh… So that song was basically about embracing the fact that you’re gonna be uncomfortable but when it comes down to it you have one night to let your inner whore come out. It’s a night that gives you a free pass.”
The clip of the song has proven popular, even Downunder. “I was very surprised when I got notes from people who had heard the song or seen the video in Australia,” Nikki says, “because my understanding was that it wasn’t a very big holiday in Australia. It’s interesting to know that it’s growing.”
It is growing – few people went ‘trick-or-treating’ when I was a kid. Lots of kids do it now. I’m in favour of it, I tell Nikki, not just because it is the universal ‘night of the casual whore’, but also because it was Frank Zappa’s favourite holiday.
“Good call,” she approves.
One track that does stand out on the EP is ‘Elements Of The Ridiculous’, a ‘throw-back’ to Nikki’s earlier work as a singer/songwriter of beautiful sad songs. “I guess I just wanted to show that I have more than one face,” Nikki initially says of the song’s inclusion. “No, that’s not what I wanted to show…”
I think it is exactly what Nikki wanted to show – that she’s not just some one-trick pony. Although the trick – clearly not her only one – is pretty impressive, I suspect a part of her still wants to be known for the serious stuff as well as the funny stuff.
“That’s exactly what it was,” Nikki agrees. “I’m trying to show that I’m not a one-trick pony. In my fantasy land, I get to play all the different kinds of songs that I play in one place.” She toys with the idea of making a record that embraces both styles, the happy and the sad, which she’d call Bipolar. She quickly points out she’s not seeking to ridicule or annoy people who suffer from bipolar affective disorder. Although it would appear on the surface that the sad songs and the comedy songs are poles apart, the fact is they are two sides of the same coin. The ‘sad clown’ is a universal archetype. “I hadn’t thought about it like that,” Nikki says. “Yeah, I am the sad clown.”
This isn’t Nikki’s first visit to Australia. She visited a year ago, she tells us, while MCing an open mic night at the Laugh Garage. The process that brought her here then, and has led to her return, began late one night in Los Angeles, as she lay in bed watching Jimmy Fallon.
“Andy Samberg came on and he was talking about his song ‘Jizz in my Pants’ and said that it was a number one hit in Australia…”
Indeed it was – despite being banned from radio play by most stations, it was, for a time, the number one download on iTunes.
“My ears perked up and I did a little bit of research and found out that comedy records are the biggest selling records of all time in Australia.”
Again, indeed they are. I can’t be bothered working out which, but the top spot must be heavily contested by the likes of Austen Tayshus’s ‘Australiana’, Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap You Face’ and Chris Franklin’s ‘Bloke’. Point is, as far as Nikki Lynn Katt is concerned, her ambition is to make a “proper comedy record” with a “proper label” and “proper marketing”. So, she says, she decided to take the risk and come to Australia on her own and try to make some connections.
“I came out, played some open mic rooms, met Julie Lawless…” – manager of the Darren Sanders-owned Laugh Garage – “…who is now a lifelong friend and booked my whole tour for me. I also came out to take a meeting with a record label. That label and I are still in talks, but it’s maybe not the right fit, so I’m still looking for someone to help me put out my record.”
Does Humour in Musical Sex Education?
While a comedy record is a goal, Nikki Lynn Katt’s greater project is ‘musical sex education’. “I do songs about STDs and safe sex practices,” she explains. “I’d really like to do a college tour where I combine songs about herpes and urinary tract infections and songs like ‘Don’t Forget About The Balls’ – sex-related health education.”
I can’t help
myself. The question has to be asked. “Where does this burning desire…”
“‘Burning’ is obviously the wrong word…”
What I ask is, what happened during Nikki’s formative years that made her decide to essentially write a musical about sexual health? Is she from a background where all of this stuff was taboo?
According to Nikki, at age 25 she found herself “doing a little soul-searching”, thinking about all the world’s problems, trying to determine what the biggest ones were and how they might be solved. “It seemed to me that the root issue is that there are too many unwanted children. The world would be a much better place if people only had children when it was on purpose – that they came together and went, ‘I want to bring another human being into the world and raise it’.” Her solution to how to ensure there are less unwanted children is to talk to kids, acknowledge that they’re “going to do what they’re going to do” in terms of their behaviour, “and if they’re going to do those things, help them figure out how be safe and responsible about it.”
To that end, Nikki applied to become a high school outreach speaker through a US public health organisation, and after completing the training courses, was sent out to high schools “to talk to kids about safe sex and birth control and STDs and the whole nine yards”. This instilled within her a desire to communicate to people the message of being safe and responsible. Her favourite slogan that sums it all up is: “Love carefully”.
And here I was thinking the introduction sto ‘Don’t Forget The Balls’ – that it was written for a school audience, in order to educate them about sexual health, but that she was no allowed to perform it to school kids – was a joke. “No,” Nikki assures me, “it’s true”. And now it’s even funnier!
A noble undertaking, educating kids to take responsibility for their actions. Using comedy for a purpose other than merely being funny begs the inevitable question: can comedy change anything?
“Comedy can change a lot of things,” Nikki says. “People laugh at something when they relate to it. So if you can get someone to laugh about something, you’ve gotten them to understand it.” And it's as true on a personal level for Nikki Lynn Katt, as she cites her “boring day job at a law firm”. Asked to explain why she worked so much overtime, Nikki “drew up an outline called ‘The Top 7 Reasons It Takes Nikki Longer Than Everyone Else To Her Job’” and included jokes. By the end of reading the outline, she’d managed to communicate to them in a non-confrontational and fun way the issues that have an effect on her work. “That’s just a small way that comedy can make differences in every-day life,” Nikki says. “And when comedians are sent to entertain troops overseas, that’s a way in which comedy’s making a big difference.”