Neal Medlyn has been channeling pop stars in New York galleries and theaters since the early aughts, and has built a repertoire of performances that run heavy on exhibitionism and intellectualism. His most recent show, Wicked Clown Love, which premiered at The Kitchen in February, is based on a trip to the Gathering of the Juggalos, the annual hardcore rap festival organized by the group Insane Clown Posse. Medlyn and I met at a bar in Chelsea, where he told me about how he made Kanye West cry, among other juicy tales.
Liz Filardi: Insane Clown Posse became popular with a broader public in 2010 because of the ironic caricature that emerged after the video for “Miracles” came out. Is irony a muse for you?
Neal Medlyn: I have a complicated relationship with that idea, because I don’t want to make a parody. Part of the reason I wanted to use pop as material is that it’s very culturally important, and it was very personally important to me growing up. When I was kid, I didn’t have access to weird art things, so I had to imagine them based on what I was hearing on the radio. Because it was before the internet, I imagined it being much crazier. There was this Salt-n-Pepa song, “Push It,” and I thought they said, “Pick up those dicks” instead of “Pick up on this.” I was like, “Wow, what does that even mean? It’s so crazy.”
There’s some obvious irony to my work. I do a Hannah Montana show, and I’m a man in my 30s — there’s a literal irony there. But irony means so many things now. It’s almost freighted with more than it deserves. There are inherit ironies, but I’m trying to meld those with what’s happening. The thing that I reject about irony is how it gets used as a distancing technique. I don’t want to be distanced from the audience. I spend a lot of time trying to be as immediate and “in the room” as I can be with the people and the material.