By Dean Stattmann
The scene at SoHo’s Housing Works Bookstore Café was enough to make the stereotypical librarian cringe Tuesday night, as the venue hosted its weekly “Punch up Your Life” comedy show.
The show, free to the public, hosts popular comedians on a weekly basis to generate support for Housing Works Inc., the organization that runs the store. “It’s amazing what they do here,” said Raina Clark, one of several volunteers that helps out at the Housing Works Bookstore Café at 126 Crosby St.. “They function so holistically, helping these people along every step of the way.”
Founded in 1990, Housing Works Inc. is the largest community-based AIDS service organization in the United States, working to eliminate both AIDS and homelessness in New York, through services like housing, health care and job training.
According to Chaya Thanhauser, Housing Works’ Event Coordinator, volunteers play an integral role in the way the organization functions, and the bookstore is just one facet of a much larger initiative.
Walking into the bookstore, it appeared to be business as usual – shelves, books, tables, books, ladders, books – at least until the bar came into view. “What can I get you?,” asked the bookstore barkeep, leaning over a selection of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Brooklyn Lager and Stella Artois, arranged neatly on a small table. It was like being offered McDonalds at a health spa. “I’ll take a Stella.”
The luxury of choice did not extend to the back of the store, however, where late arrivals prowled the room for free seats amidst a sea of cardigan-wearing, leg-crossing bookstore folk, who collectively resembled a primary color patchwork quilt. The stage – a cozy 8×10 platform – stood modestly against a bare wall, dwarfed by lofty bookshelves offering knowledge on popular music and classical opera.
The show began a little before 9pm, with “Punch Up Your Life” host and Comedy Central’s Jesse Klein taking the stage following some minor audio complications. “It’s always been my dream to be introduced by two people competing to apologize,” she joked as two volunteer workers left the stage unsuccessful in stopping the annoying buzz ringing from the two elevated speakers. But a decibel malfunction wasn’t enough to stop renowned comedian Eugene Mirman, clearly the evening’s headliner, from unleashing his sidesplitting, yet seemingly unintentional brand of comedy.
Currently at the tail end of a book tour, promoting his fake self-help book, “The Will to Whatevs,” Mirman delivered a plethora of fresh material to the eager crowd, including a story of having fire “thrown in his hair” by the high school bully, as well as insight into his theory that God is in fact a 12-year-old boy. “When you look at it, it makes sense,” He exclaimed. “His rules are stupid, sex is still gross and homosexuality is just beyond him!”
After the show, Mirman, a Boston native currently residing in New York, reflected briefly on the event over a cigarette and the sound of cabs honking in the distance. “I’ve been going all over the place because of the book tour,” he said. “But this is a great venue and I enjoyed the show.”
Housing Works Bookstore Café hosts “Punch Up Your Life” every Tuesday at 8:30pm. Next week’s special guests include Chelsea Peretti Christian Finnigan and Hannibal Burress.
Photos courtesy of PetroleumJelliffe and Jina J under flickr’s Creative Commons license