“I wonder if she can tell that I’m hard right now,” says comedian Eliot Glazer in opening his YouTube rendition of Next’s 1997 hit “Too Close,” the piano playing soft and slow behind him, pink and blue lights hitting him and partner Jenna Rubenstein as they begin their poppy, soulful duet. “Baby when we’re grinding/I get so excited,” he sings. The line “Oh we’re dancing real close/Dancing real slow” has them harmonizing before the climax. Mid-song, Glazer posits a question about the lyrics’ true meaning.
“In Next’s ‘Too Close,’?” he says, “the boner is actually a metaphor for the inner child. Should I lose my innocence? No. My boner has popped.” And the harmonies continue.
This is Haunting Renditions, Glazer’s six-part comedy Web series covering songs of the Nineties and early Aughts with a full backing band of piano and strings, plus colorful lighting and fog. Throughout the songs and with all the seriousness of an arrogant musicologist, Glazer inserts deep, thoughtful commentary about their true meaning: Of Destiny’s Child’s “Bug a Boo,” for instance, he says, “They talk about technology as a form of suffocation. When can you leave me alone? You have to say goodbye to love if it’s nothing but ping-pong, ding-dongs, and ting-tongs.” On “Sk8er Boi”: “Avril Lavigne Kroeger asks, why can’t we be together if you’re of another ilk and I’m of another ilk and we’re in another ilk? It’s Shakespearean. It’s tragic. It’s Greek.” And, finally, about Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” he asks the question we’ve surely all been pondering: “Daisy dukes, bikinis on top…Well, where are the bottoms? Where are all of our bikini bottoms?!”
Since its airing in early 2014, Haunting Renditions has turned into an oft sold-out show of the same premise, Glazer and his backing band doing “lush orchestrations,” he says, of cheesy pop and r&b from the last two decades, interspersed with his own tongue-in-cheek take on their relevance and reverence. The show includes making-of-the-songs videos and brings in special guests, past collaborators including his sister, Broad City’s Ilana Glazer, and her cohort, Abbi Jacobson, who reprised the role of the show’s jazzy-drunk singer “Val” in March. Having started its run at Union Hall in Brooklyn, the show graduated, first, to Littlefield, and now to its home at the cavernous Bell House.
“Our intent is to make the music as strong and top-quality as possible,” says producer Seth Keim. “There’s no joke in the music. It’s in the way we choose and approach the songs, and in the commentary in and around the music. So if you attend a show you’ll be treated to a truly stirring rendition of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ that is hopefully an improvement on the original but also highlights how ridiculous the song — and that time period in general — really is.”
“I want the whole thing to be challenging but also stupid-funny,” says Glazer of the show and concept. “I love that high/low thing where the humor is intelligent but on its surface is just super dumb.”
Glazer has always had a penchant for mixing comedy and music. Attending New York University on a vocal scholarship, he’d infuse humor into even his a cappella shows (“it was almost like I was trying to create a stand-up routine within the walls of my a cappella group,” he says) and do internships at Late Night With Conan O’Brien and Saturday Night Live. Having discovered the world of alternative comedy in New York, he’d attend classes at one of its stomping grounds, the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), with Ilana, ultimately hosting their own show, “High School Talent Show,” for three years and experimenting with storytelling, improv, and stand-up throughout the city.
Slowly finding his niche in TV (he now writes for Younger and writes for and appears in Broad City), Glazer conceived of Haunting Renditions realizing that it was the perfect combination of his love for singing and comedy.
“I just feel like I found exactly what I like to do,” he says of the series and live performances. With regard to conceiving the show, he explains that “the preciousness with which people treat their music can be really unnerving. I wanted to attempt to approach really silly songs with the same sort of gravitas.” Pulling in producer Keim and musical arranger Michael Fram, the three filmed the six-part series in downtown theater Dixon Place and, with its popularity, realized the next step would be to offer it up live. Glazer will be taking the show to L.A. in August and bringing it back to its monthly incarnation in New York come September.
What can you expect from this round of Haunting Renditions? An old-school Nickelodeon medley featuring The Adventures of Pete & Pete star Danny Tamberelli, a “The Boy Is Mine” duet with SNL’s Sasheer Zamata, and likely a couple more surprises.
“It’s bold and vulnerable, and I don’t often love referential comedy — even though we do it constantly on Broad City — but I love Eliot’s take on pop culture,” says Jacobson of the show.
“It’s also undeniable that people would happily pay just to hear Eliot sing,” says Fram about Glazer’s musical prowess. “The comedy aspect is just a bonus.”
Haunting Renditions takes over the Bell House on June 29. For tickets and show information, click here.