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In 'Bootleg,' Kilgariff Sets Her Comic Commentary To Music


Again, thanks for listening. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Comedian Karen Kilgariff has gone through a number of transformations, over the years. She was a mainstay on the California stand-up scene before she became a cast member on the revolutionary sketch program "Mr. Show With Bob And David." She was the long-time head writer for Ellen DeGeneres. Now she has emerged as a singer-songwriter, a pretty twisted one. Her new album is called "Live At The Bootleg."


KAREN KILGARIFF: I want to win. I just want to win. I want to crush you 'til your windpipe caves in. And I want to be the prettiest person at her cafe. And I hate Tina Fey. I know that's taboo. So if you don't like it, you can (bleep) you. 'Cause I want her money, her glory, her baby, her dog and her job.

RATH: Karen Kilgariff came by our studios, here in Culver City with her guitar and explained her latest transformation.

KILGARIFF: Originally, it was like the late '90s. And Mary Lynn Rajskub and I started a group called Girls Guitar Club together.

RATH: She's an actress who was also on "Mr. Show." She's back on "24" right now.

KILGARIFF: Back on "24," that's right. And she and I did comedy at Largo together and knew each other from the comedy scene. And we both liked playing guitar. But we were both equally bad at it. So we started the Girls Guitar Club, which was - essentially, we would do shows and talk about how we couldn't really play the guitar. But we wanted to do it anyway. And then we would just try to cover songs. And we started making up our own songs. And then we kind of got a little bit better, as we - the more we did it, the better we got at it.

RATH: So let's get to the music. Let's hear a song.


RATH: And you said, you could start off with a "Look At Your Phone."

KILGARIFF: Yes, sure.

RATH: One of my favorites.


RATH: Thank you.


KILGARIFF: (Singing) If there's a moment of silence, look at your phone. And if you don't know what to say, you can look at your phone. There's no point looking around. Everyone's looking down, just look at your phone, look at your phone, look at your phone. What you going to do when the grid goes down? Do you ever plan for yourself for when the grid goes down? Will you be all alone just staring at that cold, dead phone, in an apartment, in West Covina? Oh, you have to check it. You could have some messages from someone far away, someone with something to say. If there's a moment of silence, look at your phone.

RATH: That's comedian Karen Kilgariff with "Look At Your Phone," that appears on her new album, "Live At The Bootleg." I wanted to take a picture of you with my phone, while you were doing that. But I don't have it here.

KILGARIFF: 'Cause then you know that actually happened.

RATH: Yeah.

KILGARIFF: That's the only way you can prove it.

RATH: Otherwise, it's not really real.

KILGARIFF: That's right.

RATH: That's the song I think that connects a lot of people.

KILGARIFF: Yes, I'm - for sure. People laugh very knowingly when they hear it. Then they go back to looking at their phones.

RATH: So I got familiar with you, first, through "Mr. Show With Bob And David." Please tell me, you're proud of that work.

KILGARIFF: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I'm as much of a fan as any fan that tells me they love the show. I mean, I just - I'll never forget seeing that first taping, sitting the audience and watching the live sketches and watching them roll in. Those sketches like the Founding Fathers that - it's one of the first sketches they did. And just sitting there going, this is like mind-blowingly intelligent and hilarious and like edgy. You could tell something special was happening, when you were watching it.

RATH: You've done a lot of behind-the-scenes work. You've been a writer - head writer with "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," more recently, with Pete Holmes. Do these songs give you a chance to kind of be out there yourself and express something that you wouldn't be able to, ordinarily?

KILGARIFF: Yeah, I mean, I did regular stand-up for a long time. And I did - I stopped doing stand-up when I worked on Ellen, which was for five years. So when I went back to it, I found that, like, regular stand-up didn't really do it for me anymore. It almost felt insincere, like I wasn't saying anything I actually really wanted to say. But in writing songs, I can kind of say things that might be either too sincere for a comedy stage or too direct or something. And I feel like I can kind of get away with it.

RATH: Well, you open yourself up in these songs. I mean, they're funny songs. But, you know, you reveal parts of yourself in, you know, dangerous ways, which people usually do in comedy.

KILGARIFF: Yes, exactly. That and I can't play that well, so it always feels like it's kind of there's - there's a lot at risk. It's like walking a high-wire, a little bit, where it's just like this whole thing could fall apart. I did a show the other night. And right at the end of the song, when I was like, oh, we're like in the home stretch, the pick broke. It like snapped in half, like I was in Yngwie Malmsteen. I was just like, how did that happen? And I just had the kind of plunk to the rest of it. So it's still very exciting.

RATH: What a rock and roll moment.

KILGARIFF: I know. I mean, I should've been wearing a scarf around my head. It was intense.

RATH: Well, you know, they're not novelty songs, like they're - I don't know quite how to describe these.

KILGARIFF: Yeah. I'm kind of am not joking in them. I think that's the key. That's how you can be the funniest, I think, is you have to actually - you basically find something that you really mean, that your kind of scared to say. And then you pretend like you're being sarcastic about it.

RATH: So do you really hate Tina Fey?

KILGARIFF: Not in the least, no. Not at all. I'm just a deeply jealous person. And I want blame everybody else for what I don't have. And, you know, that was like the best way to do it. That also like - there's no better way to get people to pay attention to you, to what you're saying, then to say something like -- that's like saying I hate Jesus, really, saying you hate Tina Fey. It's very edgy.

RATH: I'm going to let that settle in with me for a minute.



RATH: Tina Fey is like Jesus.

KILGARIFF: Yeah. It is. Think about it, think through all the things she's done for us, very similar. She's walked his path.

RATH: Karen, great speaking with you.

KILGARIFF: So nice to meet you. Yeah, it was so fun.

RATH: And what do you're going to take us out with?

KILGARIFF: I think - I think I'll leave it on an up note.



KILGARIFF: (Singing) Oh, I wish I was as pretty as that porn star, you're in love with. But I will never wear tube tops, pumps or super skinny matchstick jeans, 'cause I was born with calves bigger than your average discus throwers forearms. So for now, I'll just hang back and wait and see and hope that one day you'll be scarred by acid or by love. If there's a God above, let him fix the score. 'Cause right now you're a solid nine and I'm a four. But I couldn't love you more. If only life was like a sitcom, if only I could play the husband, then I could just be fat and funny. And you'd be hot and shut your mouth. But we all know our roles. It's impossible. It never will be otherwise. Men fall in love first, through their eyes and second, through their eyes. So I hope one day you'll go blind from a macular disease because there's no one else but me who loves you more. Now open up or I'll kick down your door. Because (unintelligible). (Whistling).

RATH: Oh, it's so hard to keep quiet through that, especially the whistling. And I think, by acid or by love, is one of my favorite lines in any song ever.

KILGARIFF: Oh, thank you, thank you. That means a lot.

RATH: That's special.

KILGARIFF: Yeah, there's two ways to go - acid or love. That's what I've discovered in this life.

RATH: That was awesome.


RATH: Thank you.

KILGARIFF: Thank you.

RATH: Karen Kilgariff's new album is called "Live At The Bootleg." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.