Photo by Alex M. Smith
New York’s favorite (and naughtiest) ukulele-playing comedic songstress, Jessica Delfino, has organized the city’s First Annual Funny Songs Festival. Over 50 musical comedians will perform this weekend in venues throughout the Lower East Side starting June 7. I chatted with her via email as she was preparing for the big event.
Did you dream of being a funny songstress when you were young?
No. I dreamed of being Madonna, mostly, but when I got a little older I really started to appreciate comedy, and by the time I got to college I knew it was what I'd be doing.
What made you move to NYC?
I moved here to do stand up comedy, cause I heard this is where dreams come true. I got a graphic designer job out of college on W. 38th St., and it was kinda perfect, because the job allowed me to eat and pay rent AND do comedy. It was a triple win.
When did you start playing the ukulele?
I picked up the uke about seven years ago while I was doing a show in Scotland at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest. I kept walking by this music store on my way to my venue, carrying my heavy guitar on my back. There was a lovely pink flying V ukulele in the window, beckoning to me, saying, "Buy me, Jessica. Learn to play me." You don't argue with a talking ukulele, so I bought the thing and taught myself how to play it in about a day.
Have you ever done stand up without singing or playing an instrument?
I began as a stand up. I started doing stand up in Philly while I was in art school after I met a guy in the park who did stand up who said that ‘girls can't do comedy because they aren't funny.’ I started incorporating my guitar into my set (which I'd been playing since I was 15) a few years into stand up, at the behest of some and the fist shaking discouragement of others.
What inspired the rape whistle song?
The rape whistle song was inspired by a friend who had a rape whistle kicking around his apartment. One day I asked, "Why do you have a rape whistle?" He told me it had been part of his college admissions gift bag and told me to take it if I wanted it. I said, "I don't want this stupid thing, rape whistles don't stop rape..." and before I was finished with the sentence, I realized that a little jam about how rape whistles don't work – played on a rape whistle – would make a funny idea for a song.
What are your most popular songs?
"I Wanna Be Famous" is probably my most famous song because it went viral on YouTube. "My Pussy Is Magic" is probably my next most popular song. "The Rape Whistle Song" is also one that my supporters like a lot, "The Catholic League Song", a song I wrote about being denounced by the Catholic League, "Sudden Change", a song reminding men to chill when a lady gets a visit from old Aunt Flo, my "Lullaby" song, a song that is written for a child telling them about everything that can go wrong in life in the form of a sweet lullaby. When ever I try to write friendly, clean songs, my fans are like, 'What the hell is this?'
What's been your toughest crowd?
My toughest crowd is usually lesbians, believe it or not. They seem to hate my songs, many of which are about vaginas. I know my audience – it's cute, bookish nerds and pseudo-hipster-y types, old people, my mom's friends and the gays.
Your favorite venue?
My favorite venue that I ever played at was maybe The Bell House or CBGB's Gallery, or Soho Theatre in London. I also loved playing at Irving Plaza. I hope to play at the Beacon Theater someday, to a packed house, of course.
What inspired Funny Songs Fest?
Boredom and masochistic tendencies, probably. But also, the NY Funny Songs Fest was inspired by my desire to develop the local NYC comedy music community of people who are "almost famous," build more opportunities for my friends and myself, and to confirm and remind that there is money to be made in the comedy music business. It also falls on my birthday and I usually celebrate my birthday for four days anyway, so I decided why not make a big, ridiculous thing of it.
Why did you decide on the LES as the place to hold NYC’s first event like this?
I wanted a lot of people screaming "wooooooo" in the audience, of course! Also, this part of town represents and embodies a lot of things, most importantly to me, that dreams can come true and what can happen if everything fails. I love it here. The Lower East Side is my home, and since I'm focusing on developing the comedy music community, I wanted those developments to enhance and benefit my neighbors and local community, as well. Plus, it's just a few blocks away from my apartment, so I can party hard and stumble home with ease.
How does it feel to have been written up in The Old Grey Lady?
I've been in the NY Times before, but I've never had a half page article. I was thrilled, of course. It was a “Miller Time moment.”
Who are your favorite musical comedians?
I love all the people who are in the NY Funny Songs festival, every single one of them for different reasons. I love Red Peters, there's just something so adorable and old school about him. I love Rob Paravonian, he's clever and just loveable. Though they couldn't be in the festival this year, I love Lonely Island and Flight of the Concords and Tenacious D. I loved Sarah Silverman's comedy songs and I think Garfunkel and Oates are onto something. I love Reggie Watts, and I love what Dr. Demento does for the comedy music community. I even have a special place in my heart for Weird Al Yankovich, though in general, I avoid parodies. I love the medium as a whole and I appreciate anyone who is willing to take a stab at it.
What's next for you after the festival?
After the festival, I'm going to take a very long, dreamless nap. Then I've got some more shows coming up. I'm doing Jena Friedman's Entertaining The Bartender show at Ace Hotel on June 11, the Alannis Tribute show at Joe's Pub on June 15th, I'm in the Stripped Stories show in Philly on June 19th. I'll probably have hundreds of offers for TV shows and book deals and stuff after the festival, so I'll have to deal with all of that, pick faves and let others down gently. Then I'm going to write some more songs and work on the next thing and keep doing what I do.