Transcription by Colette Arrand. Hire her if you need things transcribed!
Mary Phillips-Sandy: I was expecting you to have more of a beard, because I’ve seen pictures where you have a—I’m going to use the word majestic beard.
Shane O’Neill: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Mary: And I would say you’re like, if I had the capacity to grow a beard, I would grow a beard like the beard that you have grown.
Shane: I mean, I’m a beard supremacist for men, but it’s like permanent contouring.
Mary: I don’t know how to contour.
Shane: You don’t need to, because you’re all angles. You’ve got it already.
Shane: You have the face the women are trying to paint on their own faces.
Mary: Wow, well, you know what, I would cover it all in fur in a second.
Shane: I mean, it’s great. I love having my beard.
Mary: Yeah. Well, we are of course not here to talk about my apparently fabulous face, which I didn’t realize, or your slightly hairy face. We are here to talk about something else.
Shane: Mm-hmm. Is it—is it cats?
Mary: [Gasps.] Shane O’Neill—lets talk about cats!
[UPBEAT, SLIGHTLY FRANTIC ELECTRONIC MUSIC: Let’s talk about cats! Let’s talk about cats!]
Mary: It’s another episode of Let’s Talk About Cats. I’m noted cat lady Mary Phillips-Sandy. My cat is Grendel, and I am here with Shane O’Neill, AKA Shane Shane.
Mary: It was funny, looking up your bio. So many words used to describe you. Here are some of those words. You are a performer, a writer, a comedian, a musician, a video maker. You host a monthly comedy variety show called Tonight’s Special with Shane Shane. And most importantly, you have a cat named Wanda.
Shane: I have the most beautiful cat you’ve ever seen in the world. Her name is Wanda.
Mary: Everyone who sits here says that. Everyone who sits—but you know what?
Mary: Everyone who sits here is correct.
Shane: Metaphysically that’s true, but I mean, I’m talking—she’s pretty gorgeous.
Mary: I have seen pictures, and she is.
Shane: P gorgeous.
Mary: So we always like to get started by getting to know our guest’s cat.
Mary: We don’t want to put too much pressure on you, although I know you have an improv background. Tell us about Wanda. Give us her five word memoir. Wanda in five words.
Shane: I mean, first of all, I would just say saying “improv background,” I know you didn’t mean it this way, but that’s shade. You know that’s a rude thing to say to someone. I’m not proud of that!
Mary: You’re on the UCB website!
Shane: How dare you! Yeah—that’s true. I have no—
Shane: Five words for Wanda. Katrina rescue. Gorgeous, perfect companion.
Mary: Wow, okay, so there’s going to be a lot to talk about later in the show when we get into Wanda’s story. That is a teaser if I have ever heard one.
[UPTEMPO, GUITAR DRIVEN ROCK MUSIC WITH FEMALE VOCALS]
Mary: It is time for our Cat Quiz. Today, how much do you know about parties, clubs, and creatures of the night, by which I mean cats? They are nocturnal. Shane?
Mary: You know the deal. There’s no time limit, you’ve just got to answer.
Shane: I’m ready.
[CAT QUIZ MUSIC: FAST DRUMS AND RUMBLING PURR SOUNDS.]
Mary: Question one: before he was a Studio 54 regular, which artist lived with his mom and 25 cats, all of them named Sam?
Shane: Andy Warhol lived with his mother for a long time.
Mary: So the answer is?
Shane: Andy Warhol? Oh my goodness!
Mary: It was Andy Warhol! Okay, number two. This Jamaican-American glamourpuss was a fixture of the disco era party scene, and she once said, “I’ve always thought maybe I was a cat. They’d say your nose doesn’t match your eyes, your eyes don’t match your lips—where the hell do you come from? What are you? So I figured, I must have been some kind of cat.” Who said it?
Shane: That is Grace Jones, obviously.
Mary: That is Grace Jones!
Shane: By the way, sidenote: Grace Jones did a Times Talk, the interviewer was like, what do you chalk up to you being androgynous? And Grace Jones just said, “my enormous clitoris.”
Mary: Oh my God, I love her. Number three: the infamous Kit-Kat Club—or maybe it’s Kit-Kat Clüb—in Berlin, which offers pounding music and actual pounding, if you know what I mean—
Shane: Mm-hmm. Yes, ma’am.
Mary: Takes its name from which American musical?
Mary: Oh, this was too easy for you. Alright, alright.
Shane: The bartenders at the Kit-Kat Club, the last time I was in Berlin, they were all not wearing pants.
Mary: Shirts, no pants. That’s—
Shane: Porky Pigging.
Mary: It feels like that would be very breezy. Okay, number four. This one is a journey, come along with me.
Shane: Mm-hmm. I’m coming.
Mary: The venue at 76th E. 13th Street here in New York City has had many lives. During the 70s and 80s it was the Cat Club, a destination for punk, new wave, and metal types. By 2000 it was Spa, complete with bouncers, bottle service, and big name DJs, thank you Rudy Guiliani, and then it became Plaid, with more of the same plus Mark Ronson. Now the location is Project Farmhouse, operated by what organization that also runs the nearby Union Square Green Market?
Shane: Oh girl, you’ve stumped me. I have no idea. Um, the Bloomberg Foundation for Sustainability in New York City?
Mary: No, it’s called Grow NYC.
Shane: Grow NYC.
Mary: They run the Greenmarket, and you know what, farming is kind of punk rock if you think about it.
Shane: Oh yeah, very much so.
Mary: Final question.
Shane: Oh God.
Mary: In 2015, the world’s first cat nightclub opened, featuring music at a cat friendly volume, and 120 resident cats.
Shane: [Laughter.] 120?!
Mary: Yes. According to a manager, this is a quote, “we’ll also be matching cats to music. The sleek, detailed Siamese goes perfectly with techno, though wouldn’t necessarily work with vocal house.” I mean, duh.
Shane: Yeah, of course.
Mary: In which Asian city can you find this heaven on earth?
Shane: My first impulse is to say Tokyo, but maybe you’re throwing me a curveball, so I’m just going to say Singapore.
[Cat Quiz music stops.]
Mary: Well, you should have gone with your first impulse, it was Tokyo!
Mary: And in fact, the name of the club is Neko, which is the Japanese word for cat, which is why I couldn’t say the name of the club. It would have been a giveaway.
Shane: G-D it. G-D it! Malcom Gladwell was right.
Shane: First impulse, best impulse.
Mary: First impulse always, but you still got three right.
Mary: So you win the prize for today.
Shane: What is it, what is it, what is it?
Mary: Here, well, you’re going to do a bit of acting for me Shane, right now.
Shane: No, girl.
Mary: We’re going to pretend that this is not a photocopy.
Shane: This is really great. This is—
Mary: The real thing is on its way, and I will get it to you.
Shane: A vintage flyer for the Cat Club, the club that we mentioned that has now become Green Space—it’s a vintage flyer for it. This is just a reproduction of it, with a beautiful—what do you call that? Elongated fonts. And a woman who bears not a passing resemblance to Kate Bush wailing on a saxophone.
Shane: It’s a beautiful flyer.
Mary: Tell me this: Is that a club you would go to?
Shane: Of course!
Mary: Yes! Of course it is! A cat club!
Shane: Just the name alone, young lady. Please. Oh, please.
Mary: Of course.
[FAST ROCKING AWESOME GUITAR MUSIC]
Mary: Alright. So it’s time for a new segment that we’ve been trying out on the show.
Shane: So exciting.
Mary: And this is something that I’ve been thinking about, because you know, there are a lot of people out there that I want to talk about on the show and then I realize gosh, they don’t have a cat. So I have this list of people who I am just—there’s a word for the feeling that I have when they’re someone who I think they should have a cat, but I realize that they don’t, and I’m sure there’s a German–maybe the folks at the Kit-Kat Clüb in Berlin know the German word for this.
Mary: But so the segment is called, Hey, You Need a Cat!
Shane: Hey! You need a cat.
Mary: Yeah. Today, we’re going to be talking to Sandra Bernhard, who I’m sure listens to this show.
Shane: I can’t imagine she doesn’t.
Mary: Sandra has, in fact, a dog named George. She does not have any cats. But I want to give you the strongest piece of evidence that I have found for Sandra being someone who should have a cat. This was a recent interview that she gave in December. It was, what was the first time someone thought you were funny? She gave this amazing answer. “Well, I just thought I was funny. I didn’t really need anyone to tell me.” Now if that doesn’t sound like a cat person, I don’t know what does. So Shane, do you agree with me that Sandra Bernhard should have a cat?
Shane: Well, I agree with you insofar as the only restriction I see on having a cat is your ability to take care of it or your allergies. So I guess I don’t know her allergy background.
Mary: Right. True.
Shane: Apart from that, the woman is capable of taking care of a cat.
Shane: And therefore, get a cat.
Shane: As far as her personality goes, I mean, she is clearly feline. Are you familiar with comedian Julie Klausner? Obviously.
Mary: Am I ever!
Shane: You know, on her last podcast, she went through everyone on SNL and said whether they were a cat or a dog.
Shane: Great. I mean, Sandra Bernhard, could she be anything besides a cat? Even if we opened up the species to all—I mean, she’s a cat. She’s a feline creature.
Shane: She got her start in claws. She got her start as a manicurist in Los Angeles. You know? She prowls the stage. She’s kittenish and lithe and feminine and can destroy you. Like, what else is there? And like, don’t get me wrong—I think the cat/dog thing is in some ways a false binary. I just happen to think cats are better.
Shane: But like, come on. Get a cat, Sandra. Get a cat.
Mary: And I will say this: her dog George, who she puts pictures of on Instagram—George is very cute.
Mary: But I think George would be even cuter with a cat next to him!
Shane: I mean, a cat on top, a cat tormenting him.
Mary: Think about the opportunities for Instagram engagement, Sandra.
Shane: That’s a great set of practical advice. You know what? I don’t mean to get too personal, but she’s not exactly a new empty-nester, but her daughter hasn’t been out of the house for that long. You know, that can be kind of a hard thing. Don’t you want someone who is going to be hanging around your house, just someone to fill the void a little bit? You know what? This really rings a bell, because I remember—I had a boss at the diner that I worked at when I lived in Wisconsin who, right after I got my cat, she just said, they really fill the hole, don’t they? And I was like, yeah, that’s exactly what cats do. Sandra, we all have holes in our heart.
Mary: Yes. Yes.
Shane: I know that she’s torn apart by the current political situation. Fill the hole.
Mary: Yes. Yes. Yes, yes.
Shane: Fill the hole.
Mary: And I think she’s always been very upfront about her emotional state.
Mary: And a cat is someone—is something—someone, something—who could respond to that in real time. And a cat is a great audience, also. She could try out material on a cat. And this is another thing about Sandra—Sandra, if you’re listening, I love this about you—she’s never confined herself to just one thing, right? She’s worked across so many different genres and forms. And again, cats I think really relate to that. They’re not going to box themselves in. She goes where she wants to go, she does what she wants to do. I respect that so much.
Shane: Absolutely. And demanding affection, not asking for it.
Mary: Right. Yes, yes. Sandra, I don’t know—I really hope you’re taking notes right now. So without divulging anything that you shouldn’t, I know you have some insider information regarding Sandra’s dogwalker?
Shane: Here’s the situation.
Mary: Please tell me.
Shane: My roommate is a lovely gentleman.
Shane: Their name is Paris, and they’re a dogwalker. I purchased Sandra Bernhard’s first album.
Shane: But he had been listening to it over and over again as a voice memo, and one day while he was walking a dog—professionally, he’s a dogwalker—he saw Sandra Bernhard walking her own dog while he was listening to it, and he was just like, oh my God, this is kismet, this is such a sign. So, because then they knew what Sandra’s dog looked like, then they would start to see Sandra’s dogwalker in the same neighborhood. And so, Paris has struck up a friendship with George’s dogwalker who, you know, Paris tells me is a really lovely person. That said, I’m not going to lie—my friend Paris is hoping for the worst. He’s hoping that this dogwalker quits or loses their job so that Paris can horn in and become that dogwalker. Let’s be honest.
Mary: Right. Well, I understand—I mean, dogwalking can be a cutthroat business here in New York.
Shane: But you know what, I’ve got to say—once again, we’re talking about false binaries, cats/dogs. I’m sorry, I know it’s fun, and obviously I’m on the cat side if there were such a binary, but one of the things I love about Sandra Bernhard, that woman still refuses to categorize her sexuality. She refuses to call herself a lesbian, bisexual, straight, pansexual—that was one of my favorite things on the Marc Maron interview. He said how do you define your sexuality? And she just said, I don’t.
Mary: Yes, she has no responsibility to anyone else to do so.
Shane: And so with that in mind, don’t lean on the, oh, I already have a dog, I’m a dog person. You don’t have to be anything to anyone. Get a cat, too.
Mary: I like this. Binaries in general tend to bother me, and I think you are on the right track with that. So Sandra, listen. You have led an amazing, inspiring life, and you could continue to do that but with a cat, and be even more inspiring.
Shane: [Inaudible 11:48]
[TRIUMPHANT GUITAR FLOURISH]
Mary: So it is now time for the best part of the show—
Mary: They’re all the best parts of the show.
Mary: Let’s talk about your cat. How did you and Wanda meet?
Shane: I grew up with a dog. My sister is allergic to cats. And we had this cat named Booger when I was 21. I was living in this apartment that wasn’t quite a squat, because we were paying rent on it, but it was—
Mary: I love that. It wasn’t quite a squat.
Shane: I mean, it was dark. So you know, we were paying rent and we had a lease, but the landlords were very negligent. I think I was paying like $150 in rent because there were like 12 people living—it was one of those situations where things were falling apart, including our back door, which could not close. Someone who’d moved into the apartment, who had brought a cat named Booger, who was this poor cat, was an unneutered female cat named Booger, which I have never had any experience with cats period, or unneutered cats. But I mean, like, an experiential process where I was like, you monster, you have to neuter your cats. This is cruel.
Mary: Did kittens ensue?
Shane: No! Miraculously, no kittens ensued, but she would go into heat every month.
Mary: Oh no.
Shane: And it was just like, I mean, she would be in just like utter pain. The other part that was such a bummer was that Mr. Moto was another cat who had moved in, who was fixed, and Moto was a sweet cat, but she would go into heat and he would like, try to hump her perpendicularly, and he would just try his best, and she was—anyway. Booger was the first cat that I truly fell in love with. But then she kept getting out because our back door wouldn’t close, couldn’t close. The last time we saw her, she showed up and her fur had been dyed pink in part of it, and she just came and ate and then just like immediately ran out of the house. And I was like, we have a crustpunk runaway kitten. Booger. But anyway, that was what awoken me to how wonderful it was to have a cat. So when I moved out of that place, the next apartment I got, me and my roommate were like, we’re going to get some cats. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, we just went on Craigslist and saw an ad of a woman in—I was living in Madison, Wisconsin. She lived on a farm somewhere in Wisconsin, and she said, I have—I can’t remember—a dozen rescued kittens from Hurricane Katrina that just came up on a bus—free—
Mary: By themselves. I just imagine them strapped with their little satchels over their shoulders like from New Orleans.
Shane: Yeah, their bindles and their—they’d all been spanging the whole way up. They were in this, you know, Tin Pan Alley street musician situation. So like a dozen of them. And also I remember when I read the ad I was like, you know, that’s great, and I love Wanda and I love kittens, but I was like, would have been cool if there’d been some people on that bus, too. Probably also needed to get out of New Orleans. Anyway, that’s beside the point. They were Katrina rescues. So we drove out, and there were a dozen kittens, and the woman just said hang out with them, see which one speaks to you, and I locked eyes with Wanda, this tiny little furball kitty and I said out loud, that is the most beautiful kitten I have ever seen in my life. And another cat, who ended up being named Gus, ran up to my roommate Grace and crawled up her leg, this little kitten just crawled directly up her pant leg, and she was like, well this one is obviously mine. I said this one is obviously mine, and that’s how I got Wanda.
Mary: Wow. And the name. Where did the name Wanda come from?
Shane: Wanda Jackson.
Mary: Wanda Jackson.
Shane: Yeah, the rockabilly singer.
Mary: Yeah, of course. So it’s the three of you in your house?
Shane: It’s Wanda, my roommate Paris, and my boyfriend Dusty.
Mary: Oh, your boyfriend Dusty, right. Okay, that’s right. Now I wanted to ask you about this, because I have heard, sources tell me, that you and Dusty have a really beautiful love story.
Shane: Oh yeah.
Mary: Did Wanda play a role in that? Did Dusty love you for you or for your cat?
Shane: Definitely not for my cat. That is for sure.
Shane: I had just decided to move to New York. Like I just had this sort of like, epiphany moment where I was like oh, if all the problems I was saying to myself, if someone else were saying them to me, I would tell this person to move to New York City, because I was like, I’ve always wanted to live in New York. And I’m really happy but I don’t know, maybe I should try living in New York, and I feel like I’m getting older. And like, if someone else had said that to me I’d be like, well, just give it a try. I blew myself away. I was like, oh my God. Maybe I should do that. So I’d already decided to move to New York, and then, very conveniently, I was camping in Tennessee with this gathering of queer people in rural Tennessee, and Dusty and I met by the campfire and we just hit it off very immediately, and then he was from New York and I was like, I think I’m moving to New York, maybe I could stay with you for a couple weeks. And sure enough, I moved in with him four months later, almost to the day.
Mary: And you’ve been together ever since?
Shane: Yes ma’am.
Shane: I said I will stay with you for three weeks until I find my own place, and I never left.
Shane: But the way Wanda figured into this, I had left Wanda in Wisconsin when I came over to New York, because Dusty didn’t like cats. And it sounds like a scam at this point, but like, I really wasn’t planning on staying there. I was planning on just getting my own place. So I had left Wanda in the care of my roommate Jule, a wonderful woman. Hi Jule, if you’re listening, thank you for taking care of Wanda for me. So I left her there until I found a place, but I maybe stayed—I can’t remember how long I ended up staying there, maybe a month. But I’d gone out of town, and when I came back, Dusty had moved a lot of stuff around and left a note that was like, if you wanted to move in, you could just move in. and I was like, I want to move in. Which was very reckless, but ended up being a great decision. But anyway, it was a big deal because Dusty didn’t like cats, never cared for cats, never lived with cats. And agreed to give Wanda a chance. And I will never forget the first time that I heard—he didn’t hear me come in, he didn’t know that I was home, and I heard him talking to Wanda for the first time in like a nice way. [Laughter.] And it was a real moment for our relationship.
Mary: So she won him over for you.
Shane: Oh yeah, very much so. I don’t know, you know, I don’t know how much she’s won him over in terms of cats in general. But she like, she did the—I don’t know what are those movies, like Life with Mikey, or A Christmas Story where it’s like the man with the cold heart, the one little orphan really won him over in the end. You know? I don’t know if Dusty’s really a cat lover, but he’s really come around on Wanda. And it’s like, I’ve got to say, it’s been one of my favorite things about our relationship is watching him get more tender towards her.
Mary: So they have a good relationship now?
Shane: They have a great relationship.
Mary: That’s wonderful. And so how long have you two been together?
Shane: Dusty and I have been together for seven and a half years, and Wanda and I have been together for 13 years.
Mary: Wow. If that doesn’t tell you that love is real, I don’t know what does.
Shane: Girl, I’m telling you.
Mary: That is amazing.
Shane: I’m telling you.
[ROCK GUITAR FLOURISH]
Mary: Now is Wanda herself a performer? If she had a one cat show, what would it be like?
Shane: Oh, that is such a good question. Wanda is—I mean, Wanda is a performer, but you know what I think it would be? You know the performance artist Vaginal Davis?
Mary: Of course.
Shane: So Vaginal Davis, her last show that she did in San Francisco, was just like one-on-one, where you just had to go in one person at a time.
Mary: Right, one at a time, yes.
Shane: And I think she made everyone take off their clothes, too.
Mary: Yeah, I think it was naked.
Shane: So I don’t think Wanda would care whether you’re naked or not, but I think Wanda would be like a one at a time type of thing. She gives so much love to people, and she loves people, but crowds kind of freak her out. So I don’t think she would, you know, it wouldn’t be like a night at Joe’s Pub with Wanda, it would be like a closet at the New Museum, and one by one people would come in and have really intense one on one experiences with her.
Mary: Very conceptual. I think that would actually get rave reviews, probably.
Shane: Oh, I’m sure it would. I’m sure it would.
Mary: Speaking of Joe’s Pub, you wrote a musical in which you play a character named Jane Johnson.
Shane: Mm-hmm, yes ma’am.
Mary: It’s the—what is it?
Shane: Stay At Home Shopper Network.
Mary: Stay At Home Shopper Network, right.
Shane: Competitor of the Home Shopping Network and QVC.
Mary: Correct. And coming up in April, am I correct in saying that there’s a Jane Johnson convention at Joe’s Pub?
Shane: You are absolutely correct. April 10th at Joe’s Pub is the first ever Jane Johnson convention.
Mary: My question to you—does Jane sell cat products?
Shane: Of course Jane sells cat products. Jane is a cat lady.
Shane: The thing about Jane, woman from Michipanaquaniq, Wisconsin, you talk about someone with a big heart, I mean, there’s just not much that she dislikes, if it’s cute and adorable. I mean, cats I think are more up to her speed in terms of devotion and athleticism, but you know, she likes dogs too.
Mary: If Wanda were to guest, what would she sell on the network?
Shane: So one of the things that Jane Johnson sells with her best friend, Pam Weldon, played by my partner Jill Pangallo—shout out to Jill—is a charm facelet. Which is the concept of a charm bracelet, but adapted for your face.
Mary: Wow, I love it!
Shane: It’s a great—I’ve got to say, Jane Johnson knocked it out of the park with this one. So it’s like an elastic headband with interchangeable charms that you put on and off.
Mary: You know, people would actually buy that.
Shane: Well, we’ve had some offers. There will be merch for sale at the Jane Johnson convention on April 10, 2019.
Mary: I could see that actually taking off.
Shane: But the other thing—I learned this organically—is that if you’re wearing a charm facelet in your house, your cat will absolutely go for it and probably scratch your face off.
Mary: Right. With a little refinement, it could double as an interactive cat toy.
Shane: Absolutely. But you really probably shouldn’t wear it around your cat. I mean like this was a literal like, I put one on and Wanda almost took out my eye.
Mary: I have a small child, which isn’t a euphemism for my cat—I have an actual human small child as well, and for Halloween, he was a thing called Owlette, which is a thing from some thing that the children watch these days.
Mary: But anyway, the costume came with a mask—a head covering. My cat was so freaked out.
Shane: Oh no. [Laughter.]
Mary: Because you know, she’s obsessed with him, she loves him, and so he puts on this thing and there’s a cape and then he covers his head and he’s running around the apartment. And she comes out and she—you know, it’s like what is this, who is this creature? And she had no idea. She couldn’t recognize him. And then of course he felt guilty because he’s a good kid, and he takes off the mask, because he doesn’t want to scare Grendel. So yeah, you do have to be careful what you put on your face, whether it’s because the cat will attack it, or because it might scare the cat. I think that is a good thing to remember. I know that performing, whether you’re doing comedy, whether you’re doing music, whatever kind of performance you are doing, sometimes you have a good night, sometimes you have a bad night. Here’s the scene—you come home, it’s late, but you had a great show. You’re riding high, you just feel great about yourself, Wanda is there for your when you get home. How does she greet you?
Shane: Oh, I mean, I’m sorry, it would be the exact same thing as if she greeted me after a terrible night.
Mary: Oh really, so there’s no difference.
Shane: That girl needs to be fed as soon as I come home.
Mary: Right, okay. Okay.
Shane: As soon as I come home.
Mary: So if you’re upset, if you’re feeling down, if you’re feeling like what is all of this for, she doesn’t care.
Shane: She will care once she eats that food. And you know what, who am I to—you know, it’s her biology. I’m not going to lie. There’s a part of it when I come home and I’m just like, you don’t—I’m just a vending machine to you. On a dark day, that’s what I think. But on a good day I’m just really happy that she’s getting the calories she needs, and then she’s so grateful and happy and sweet, and she gets right back to cuddling.
Mary: People who are performers and creative people often will say, I like attention.
Shane: Oh yeah. Me much so.
Mary: Yes. Cats also like attention. Is that something you and Wanda have in common?
Shane: Oh, a lot. I mean, also in terms of just sometimes at—and this is like a double-edged sword. My mother always says our greatest assets are our worst deficits as well. And you know, I think that Wanda and I both can kind of be aggressive people pleasers, and Wanda is sort of a physical embodiment of that where she will touch noses with you and just demand attention, demand love. And I think we share that. I think we share that impulse. She’s just maybe externalized it more than I have.
Mary: Perhaps she learned it from watching you.
Shane: Oh God, that’s a real chiller to think about.
[AGGRESSIVE, HARD-DRIVING ROCK MUSIC]
Mary: Okay, so one last thing that I want to talk about. You know, we were talking about Grace Jones in the Cat Quiz, and I loved that quote where she was like, you know, people thought I was kind of different, so I just assumed that I was a cat. I loved that that was where her mind went, right? So, as a queer person who does art and comedy and theater, you have some experience being an outsider, shall we say?
Mary: And often I think people identify cats as outsiders because they are individualistic. Do you think that that is fair when cats are the ultimate insiders, given that they live literally inside our homes?
Shane: Well, not all cats, young lady.
Shane: I mean, Wanda herself was an indoor/outdoor cat.
Mary: She was an indoor/outdoor cat?
Shane: Yeah, probably shouldn’t have. She was vicious. She killed a lot of things. [Laughter.]
Mary: But you came here from the Midwest. I know that’s a journey that a lot of artists take, like they come from somewhere else, you come to New York because you have a creative path that you want to follow, you want to be successful at it, you want to have more opportunities, and maybe you’re feeling like it’s just not working where you are in some way, but also sometimes being a creative person can make you feel like you’re just different in some way. There is sometimes a sense of hmm, where do I fit in here? Maybe I’m just a cat. Do you ever feel that way?
Shane: Yeah, that’s—wow, that’s a really astute question. First of all, you are real good at doing your research. I didn’t even know that this much information about me was available to the public.
Mary: Oh it is, some of it isn’t.
Shane: You’ve really done your homework.
Mary: I’ve been outside your apartment for weeks. [Laughter.]
Shane: I mean, clearly. I appreciate that you included in the reasoning for coming to New York City is the question of success. Because it’s something that I think a lot of artsy types don’t like to acknowledge. I have a massively supportive and small community of people who understood, accepted me, loved me, and were excited about any creative pursuits I was doing in Madison, Wisconsin. That was like a total given. For that matter, I also had a life where I was making enough money that I could take long stretches off to travel, to tour, to do projects, and I had lots of time and space. So in terms of creative opportunities, when I came to New York I would meet people when I would say I moved here from Wisconsin where they’d be like, oh, you just must be so grateful to get out of that cultural wasteland.
Shane: And it’s like, no, I was challenged, and I was meeting weird, wonderful people doing weird, wonderful things all the time.
Mary: Well, don’t you know, there are no creative people outside of New York.
Shane: Girl, for a place that prides itself on being cosmopolitan, I found New York very provincial.
Mary: It’s the most provincial place ever, of course it is.
Shane: It’s crazy—I mean, people literally don’t think that things are happening outside of New York City.
Shane: Which I find just depressing. It’s just like, I’m sorry for you that you don’t know how much there is to experience outside of New York City or Los Angeles, and so many people here don’t. In terms of just feeling like a cat, yeah. I mean, I think that there is something sort of fundamentally lonely about the human condition in general, and also I would say about being queer. And then I think the other side of the coin of that is that there’s fucking cat people everywhere and you have to find the people who love you. They’re out there. It’s an ongoing process to decide that you’re worthy of being loved and finding community. You have to put in work to do it.
Mary: I love subcultures, right?
Mary: Whether it’s the DIY art world, the queer dance party world, the indie rock world of 2004-2005, which, that was a fun one.
Shane: I love that one.
Mary: That was a fun one.
Shane: Yes, ma’am.
Mary: You know, or cat people. And it’s about the thing that you love, but it’s also about the community that is around it, and that is, I mean, that’s why I’m doing the show. Honestly, I think everybody knows that. But that’s very exciting, and it’s very invigorating, and it makes you feel like you can make a world that’s better than the one that you live in. And isn’t that what we all want?
Shane: I mean, I think so. Have you found that that’s translated for yourself from doing this podcast, or-
Mary: Oh, absolutely. No, absolutely. I mean, I was feeling like shit for a long time, and I will be straight-up honest. Doing this show has made me feel so much better in so many ways, because really, truly, just sitting down with people who like to talk about cats—it’s a good reminder that there is this thing that we have in common. I’ve talked to people who are very different from me, way more successful than me, come from different backgrounds, have different experiences, but there is this thing that we have in common that we can talk about—I think that’s really great. It changes the way you feel when you wake up in the morning. It’s like oh yeah, I have this purpose. There’s this thing. It’s so stupid. It is literally a podcast about cats.
Shane: I think there’s a gratitude element to it, too, because I have to say, just spending this time thinking about my cat, like who I love so much, it’s like, I just feel really grateful. I feel grateful to have had her in my life for 13 years, you know? Like you’re encouraging people to take the time to be grateful for something that they love, even if it’s as silly as cats.
Mary: Right, but it’s like, how is that any sillier than anything else that you love? And that’s the thing I keep coming back to when I start saying—I make this joke all the time, like yeah, I do a cat podcast. But you know what, there are people out there doing podcasts about dating and love and relationships. That’s silly too if you think about it. If you want to get real existentialist about it, it’s all silly and we’re all going to die, so let’s talk about cats.
Shane: Right, but I feel like part of the problem with that is the concept of personal branding is that there’s such a message that the way you sell your personal brand is the reality of who you are or what the sum of your contribution to the world is. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Mary: Yeah, I don’t know that I have a personal brand. I would like my personal brand to just be, you know, lady who seems okay most of the time.
Shane: Wouldn’t we all, girl?
Mary: That seems pretty good. Okay—
Shane: You know what? You seem better than okay to me, Mary.
Mary: I will take that!
Shane: Better than okay!
Mary: Wow! This show has been great for my ego. First I find out I have great cheekbones and don’t need to contour, whatever the heck that is, and then I find out that I am better than okay. Wow.
Shane: Yes, ma’am.
[AGGRESSIVE, HARD-DRIVING ROCK MUSIC]
Shane: Look, girl, I’m not trying to turn this into like a name-drop-a-thon. However, I happen to be friends with Lil Bub’s owner.
Mary: Oh, okay!
Shane: From before he had Lil Bub.
Mary: You knew—what?!
Shane: This is wild, actually. So I used to play in this band in Wisconsin called—it was a terrible band name—it was a band called Screaming Into the Ponds. Very proud of the work I did with them. Some of my best friends. Terrible band name. But we had sort of struck up this friendship with a band called Memory Map out of Bloomington, Indiana. And this guy named Mike had a recording studio there called Russian Recording. So we had sort of become these DIY band, like, band sisters sort of.
Mary: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Shane: Where like they would come to Madison and we’d set them up with a show, we’d go there and he’d set up—so we just became friends with him. And he always was a cat lady. He owned this entire building and like there was a basement that had like nine cats at a time. So yeah, I’d known him for years. Like right when I moved to New York, he was visiting New York City, so we had a drink together, and he’s got a really dry sense of humor. He’s a really funny guy and he was like—I was like so what’s up with you? And he’s like, well, I got this new cat, her name is Lil Bub, and I don’t know, she’s pretty great. I think I might quit my job and just promote Lil Bub. I literally just thought he was joking. I was like, well that’s absolutely hilarious. But like, cool. Okay, great, you’ve got a famous cat. And then sure enough, like two weeks later I was logging into my Yahoo email account and it was like, World’s Cutest Cat, Lil Bub. And then it just—it just took off.
Mary: He laughed all the way to the bank.
Shane: And I almost killed Lil Bub once by accident.
Mary: No, what did you do?
Shane: I was stepping out of a shower, and Lil Bub—she is a darling, sweet cat, but she doesn’t move very quickly and she doesn’t make a lot of noise, and she’s teeny-tiny. And I stepped down and almost stepped on her.
Mary: Oh my God. Wow.
Shane: And it would have been a terrible day for just everyone if I had put the full force of my weight down.
Mary: You know what, if you had actually murdered Lil Bub, I don’t think I would have been able to have you on this show.
Shane: I don’t think I would have survived that to be honest. I don’t mean to be dark, but I don’t think you come back from that. [Laughter.]
Mary: I don’t think you do. [Laughter.]
[UPBEAT, SLIGHTLY FRANTIC ELECTRONIC MUSIC: Let’s talk about cats! Let’s talk about cats!]
Mary: Alright Shane, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to come talk about cats with us. If the people would like to find you on the Internet, how can they find you?
Shane: On Twitter or on Instagram, my handles for both are @shaneisland. The second Monday of every month, I’ll be at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater East Village, 10:30pm, doing my one man variety show, Tonight’s Special.
Mary: And of course, Joe’s Pub in April.
Shane: April 10th.
Mary: With the Jane Johnson Convention. I know we will link all of this in the show notes at letstalkaboutcats.com. Thank you all for listening. You can find us of course on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and everywhere else that podcasts go and live and are found. And while you are there, please take a second to rate and review us. It only helps. You can also sign up for our newsletter at letstalkaboutcats.com. The newsletter is called Let’s Talk More About Cats. That’s it. I’m Mary. Our producer is the genre-defying Lizzie Jacobs. Our theme song is by Poingly with additional music by the English Muffins, and our show logo was created by Julia Emiliani. Thank you for listening. We’ll talk to you next week… about cats.