I’ve always liked Janet Varney, who I knew almost exclusively from her work with Thrilling Adventure Hour, but once someone made the connection for me that she was one of the co-founders of SF Sketchfest, my admiration for her ratcheted up quite a few notches. So, she’s super funny, and likeable, and charming, and kind of a badass producer too? So cool! So this year, when I was perusing the schedule, and saw that she was doing a live podcast (The JV Club, it’s called) with Matt Nathanson, Rachel Dratch, and Jon Hamm? Hell yeah! I’d been trying to get to a Rachel Dratch appearance at Sketchfest for at least a year or two, and Jon Hamm is so fun when he’s in comedy mode (which I’d not yet seen live, either). I immediately put in my request and hoped I’d get to cover the show. Next thing I knew, there I was, at Brava Theater Center, last Saturday afternoon, with a great seat, just in time for the house lights to go down.
At the top of the show, Matt Nathanson and Janet Varney took the stage alone. I admit, I had forgotten that Nathanson was scheduled to be there as well, so I was happy. (Seeing Nathanson at a Sketchfest event I’m covering for Spinning Platters takes me full circle: it was a one-two punch of Nathanson and Greg Behrendt that brought me to a Sketchfest event, six years ago, where I met Gordon, my first editor-in-chief. He would bring me on not long after.) Anyway, Varney made mention of Nathanson’s being the evening’s…musical director? Boss of music? “No, that’s Springsteen. Anyway, it feels fun!” When asked what he’d been up to lately, Nathanson initially said, “not a whole lot,” before going on to divulge that he’s been “starting to trim my body hair,” and that he “overdid it,” and now was “just kinda dealing with the fall-out.” On that note, it was time for Varney to introduce her special guests for the day. Nathanson played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” as she introduced the pair. The three immediately settled down to a table, and chairs, on the center of the stage, with Nathanson, and his guitar, at a nearby mic stand. The conversation was very casual, as it would remain for most of the afternoon.
The topics of conversation for the day ranged from hometowns, high schools, and extracurricular activities, to instruments they had played (violin, cello, and guitar, but you have to download the podcast to find out who’s who). I don’t want to write my typical play-by-play style that I often do with concerts- because this is a podcast, you can download, and hear it for yourself. I’ll just give you a few quick highlights.
I think I have two favorite moments from this afternoon. The first came when Nathanson was asked when he began playing the guitar, to which he answered around fifth grade. (“Me too!” Varney said excitedly.) He then explained that, in the same year, he’d been “sent away to boarding school,” which he only very recently had discovered (“via Google”) was only twenty minutes from his home. This created some good-natured ridicule, and teasing from the others: “Did they drive you around the long way so you wouldn’t notice? Did they blindfold you?”) No, Nathanson joked, “back then we had to do it on horseback.” His mom used to visit every Wednesday, he added, which perhaps should have been an indicator that he was closer to home than he realized. What he did sadly admit to having realized, was, that his parents “loved themselves more than they loved us.” He began playing metal songs from bands like Def Leppard, and Judas Priest, after which he would feel compelled to “punch myself in the penis.” “Was that message received from the metal music?” Actually, Nathanson joked, “if you listen to ‘Bark at the Moon’ backwards, it says ‘punch your tiny penis!'” Hamm was immediate with the quip, “actually, I think that was the original definition of Michael Jackson’s ‘P.Y.T.'” Nathanson said, the only thing he ever knew was that he wanted to play music, calling himself very “self-focused,” which he said was “much to the chagrin of everyone else.” He also described his boarding school as a place where wealthy parents would ship their kids off, likening it to Lord of the Flies, before revealing that even as early as seventh, and eighth grade, some of the students were into cocaine. “Now punching yourself in the penis makes sense!” Hamm stated that, because of stories like Nathanson’s, he would never send his kid to a boarding school, calling it a “terrible idea to let kids self-govern,” adding that he would “have to procure a kid, too.”
My other favorite part of this show took place near the end. Varney has a tradition where she creates a M.A.S.H. game to play with her guests. “Match game, or mash game?” Hamm wanted to know. “Mobile army surgical hospital?” Varney began to ask for some suggestions of categories she could use. When someone mentioned “cabinet nominees,” Varney shook her head, saying, “let’s not give them air here. We come here to laugh!” Dramatically, in true funny form, Dratch wailed, “WE COME HERE TO FORGET!”
Categories for the game included: a sort of mentor (living or dead), movies you’d like to jump into, battles you’d like to re-enact, celebrity roommates, food you could O.D. on, without it harming you, and a crush, or, “alternate universe companion”. While Varney tallied their results, Nathanson offered a song. There was some joking about Lisa Loeb’s “Stay,” about which Varney said that “I don’t listen hard” was “as bad of a lyric as ‘rolling like thunder under the covers!'” Hamm joked, “I guess that’s why they call it the blues!” Nathanson’s song, he said, was “about farting,” and about “how beautiful it feels,” but thankfully, he wasn’t serious. He played his own song “Giants,” after which Varney was ready to delight us with her results, which I won’t spoil for you.
The end. (It went by so quickly! Boo.) There was another show, in the same theater, immediately following, so there wasn’t much time for fanfare to close the show. All in all, though, it was a pretty great time, particularly because it was such a fun, funny, group of witty people, who didn’t take themselves too seriously. I would definitely go to another JV Club next time!