I saw Tom Harker, of Circleville, Ohio, playing his ukulele on the stoop of Murray’s Space Shoe, site of the New Year’s Eve Ukulele Drop, last Friday night, and stopped to listen and get directions to Julius, on West Tenth Street, where the Ukulele Rejects were playing. It was the Second Annual New York Uke Fest, and the local crowd—the ones who turn up monthly for the ukulele cabaret, hosted by Sonic Uke (a.k.a. Jason and Ted)—were feeling excluded. Across town, there was a three-hundred-ukulele circus going on. Still, the regulars had something the Uke Fest did not: Scotty the Blue Bunny was hosting.
The Bunny wears a sheer blue bodysuit with a hood, extra-high Lucite heels, and super-tall bunny ears. He says he suffers from “obsessive-compulsive performance disorder.” The Bunny used to be zaftig, but then he lost weight and discovered Pilates and now he is a svelte, ripped bunny, and looks taller than ever. With his heels and ears on, he is over seven feet tall.
The Ukulele Rejects were backstage in a black room with a black picket fence and sticky black tables with a couple of ancient French fries stuck to them. It was hot—the radiator was on full blast—and smelled of a recent visit by the exterminator. There was a refrigerator with a padlock on it. A painting of a cuke and two tomatoes suggested the old cock and balls. According to the Bunny, Julius is the oldest gay bar in the Village and its name means “the happiest place on earth.”
A skinny guy named Andrew was revved to go on, but he had to wait his turn. Scotty introduced D’yan Forest. His notes for her read “Incorrect lesbian sings about senior sex.” I had seen her act before, and while it is astonishing when you’re hearing it for the first time, she could use some fresh material. Towards the end, she introduced some obscene finger puppets, as well as a prop for “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (a fluorescent dildo). As she left the stage, the Bunny ad-libbed, “Does Ben Gay make good lube?”
“I can’t believe there’s sports on in a gay bar,” the Bunny said. He introduced his friend Mary Martin, a.k.a. the Uke Diva, who sang “Ukulele Gypsy,” about her need to find a place to stay when she comes to New York (sorry, I’m still recovering from the Italian-Argentine house guest), and did a cover of “Ring of Fire.” She also played two songs she had just written during a stay in a dune shack in Provincetown.
“Don’t you just hate when there’s someone playing the ukulele between you and the bar?” Scotty said as he waited backstage.
Andrew thought his turn had come, but for some reason the program order changed and he had to sit through a set by a guy who had come with his own entourage, all of whom gradually joined him onstage. When he announced that they were doing two more, Andrew groaned—"Two more!?"— and stretched out on a bench.
Scotty said the bartender had asked him, “How long is this going to go on?”
Finally, Andrew took the stage, but he had already peaked, and he knew it. One of his lyrics was “Hard sweet and sticky, she’s tired of my dickie.” He put on a headband featuring the cock and balls (to blend in?) and smashed a toy ukulele at the end of his act.
“That’s it,” Scotty says. “One more introduction and I’m outta here.”
Tom Harker and Uke Diva were gossiping backstage. Evidently there is a schism in the uke world. Tom finished his set with an ode to Pee-wee Herman: “Pee-wee, where did you go?” (This one stuck with me and I was still humming it the next day.) Meanwhile, Gio, the heavy-metal uke player, was putting chains on, adjusting elbow guards. I’m not sure what he was supposed to be: a roller derby star?
The Bunny peeled off his costume and changed into his street clothes. He stuffed his high-high heels in a duffel bag. Then he held up what looked like a black portfolio. “Ear protectors,” he said. And he bounded off into the night.