The Slipper Room has become a de rigueur hangout for anyone with a shtick and a burning need to mount a Victorian stage on Orchard Street and show it off to a crowd that might even pay attention. The joint—an unpretentious boîte lined with formica tables, red booths, and khaki shorts—plays host to all kinds of talent, from absolutely awful to awfully awe-inspiring, all worshiping at the throne of schlock culture with a healthy mixture of devotion and contempt. The shows are proudly ramshackle, but what you can always count on is that, this being the Bargain District, they’re completely free!
On Tuesday nights you get The Murray & Penny Show, a goofball revue starring drag king Murray Hill and biological woman Penelope Tuesdae, who take their little shebang so seriously that they’re already planning fall extravaganzas like a tribute to the ’80s and a “full Broadway remake of Grease!” A couple of weeks ago, it was Amateur Night, MC’d by Murray (Penny, a fag hag, was on Fire Island), who dresses like a used-car salesman, sings flustered, off-key versions of Neil Diamond songs, and aggressively harasses the crowd. An equal-opportunity offender, Murray dragged up an audience member to verbally spar with and told him, “Don’t touch me. I’m not a fag,” but he also seemed put upon by straights, picking on them as “schmucks that paid $100 for a drink at this gentrified pit.” Murray’s an excitable shlub with a heart of gold lurking somewhere underneath the polyester layers, and the woman who plays him—she refuses to cough up the name—has become so entwined with the role that her own mother addresses e-mails to Murray!
Last week at the pit, Penny was back and the twosome staged a Salute to Atlantic City—not all that different from Amateur Night, actually—”because we know the entertainment there in New Jersey is so fine!” A lanky Jenna Elfman look-alike with feathered hair and a legit voice, Penny belted showstoppers courtesy of ABBA and Cabaret, backed by three Murrayettes—the show’s resident vixens, who sulk and pose in fishnets through smoldering half-smiles. Between tunes, Penny tossed off deadpan comments about Prozac, breasts, and lesbianism that were funny mainly because they weren’t at all straining to be. Her ad-libbing brought out a sweetness in Murray, and the two of them bantered all the way from the Laverne & Shirley opening through the faux beauty-pageant finale, things only getting dangerous when they pulled up two Vassar girls for some academic roasting. (Penny called them sluts, while fully admitting she’s one too.) But even Murray shut up when one of them revealed that she works with retarded kids. “Shit!” he said. “I can’t touch that one. Can I make fun of your awful pants at least?”
Moving on to a salute to Brooklyn and Long Island, don’t make fun of Victoria Gotti‘s awful pants—or her parents. Victoria, the daughter of the immortally scary John, is tough, charismatic, and totally immune to criticism. Her father, brother, and husband are all serving time in jail, but the woman still denies any family connections to the mob! Even more brazenly, she has a contract, but it’s not one on your life—it’s to write best-selling books. What’s more, she’s achieved such a level of celebrity in doing so that she now has the same publicist as Martha Stewart! (I’m sure Martha’s thrilled.)
The flacks threw a party for Victoria’s new murder mystery, Superstar, at Baldoria, where she patiently did press interviews as a lounge singer crooned “Misty” and overly coiffed guests dove on an offer of puff pastries they couldn’t refuse. It was like the Venetian hour at an Italian wedding—the kind that could turn into a funeral if tempers flared up by the prosciutto table.
With her flowing blond tresses and vavoomy gown, Victoria looked like a vivacious cross between Donatella Versace and Cathy Moriarty, but told me, “Growing up, I was such an introvert. I wrote a journal and found I could express myself through my writing. I’m still introverted, but we all like to play dress-up.” (I know, dear, I know.) Mostly, though, she’d rather stay home with the kids and is clinging to the hope that hubby will soon rejoin her because “they’re still appealing the bail decision.” She’s appealing all right. At the risk of irking Victoria, I asked her if she writes her books with a mob or does them alone. She said that she creates them totally solo, “and I do everything longhand.” I guess the Gotti family message is that it’s better to use a pen than get thrown into one.
Long hands, short hands, any kind of hands were the ruling motif at Kimora Lee Simmons‘s Baby Phat lingerie show, where the male models high-fived the front row as they paraded down the runway, though the female models didn’t; they needed every imaginable extremity to keep their microscopic outfits up. The show was a bodacious blur of platform shoes, blindingly shiny jewelry, and peekaboo body parts, and halfway through it, Kimora’s spouse, mogul Russell Simmons, used his hand to urgently point at me from the row across. I thought he was saying hello, but he was actually instructing me to pick up a large jeweled earring that had fallen off one of the models in her sashay. I stubbornly sat there and let someone else do it. As Kimora herself says, “You ain’t gotta like me!”
But hey, you’re gonna love this: Two recent celebrity sightings were less than glamorama. Patrons of the Market Diner were stunned when a messy-looking Whitney Houston walked in accompanied by a police escort and promptly went downstairs to use the bathroom for god knows what bodily function. Even less pretty was my spotting of Quentin Tarantino, who was stumbling alone down lower Broadway one night, looking rather blowsy and unapologetically conducting a heated debate with himself! Does this kind of behavior verge on the disturbing? Well, I’ve been known to do it quite often—so yeah.
Finally, at the party for The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack on the roof of one of those gigunda Times Square cineplexes, I talked myself into getting up the nerve to meet the hotties from Making the Band—a perverse choice considering that the place was crawling with real folk legends. As I panted in an extremely age-inappropriate manner, the Band guys told me they’re on the verge of naming the pop group they’re forming, and the top choices include Union, Atlas, Vision, and Symmetry. My suggestion? Kitsch ‘N Sync. “You look like the dentist from Waiting for Guffman,” one of the guys interjected at this point, as my hard-on wilted and I crawled away in horror. He later had me summoned over to say he hoped I wasn’t offended (he loves Waiting for Guffman), and I proceeded to snap my fingers—longhand.