"Elf Girl" Rev. Jen brings her Lower East Side glamour to Hollywood
Reverend Jen arrived in Los Angeles to promote the release of her memoir on Simon & Schuster, Elf Girl, and I soon realized that this legendary art star from New York's Lower East Side was somewhat out of her element in L.A. For one, she did not know what a Prius was.
As one might gather from her tales of debauchery, outrageous performances, and much wandering, Rev. Jen is a creature of New York, pedestrian and poor but outlasting the thriving gentrification which has seen her neighborhood evolve from immigrant marketplace to artist haven to college town. It was there, in that last century, she launched her own open mike to support oddball performers and alternative comics. Her hapless theatrical endeavors and self-deprecating humor won her a cult following among lovers of ironic and quirky comedy, including Janeane Garofolo, Moby, Jonathan Ames, and Amy Poehler. Above all, her stories of perseverance through bizarre part time jobs and continually disappointing relationships won her attention for their realness, disarmingly delivered in a chirpy voice by a girl wearing elf ears and dressed like a go-go dancer.
I had the pleasure and joy to work with Reverend Jen on my TV show Toolz of the New School on New York cable access from 1996-2001. A number of our escapades are detailed in her book, such as her wandering around the city dressed as a washed up Teletubby, or staging the reunion of an 80's Christian Glam Metal band. Revisiting that time in pre-9/11 Manhattan when you could run amok with a video camera and costumes carefree, all I can say is: this happened. Vivid without sensationalizing, Reverend Jen's style of writing is like Hemmingway detailing the exploits of a misfit looking for love and laughs on the Lower East Side.
A true writer invents language to express that which has no other description. Reverend Jen coined a term for which there is no other word in our vocabulary: Hal. When something is pathetically half-assed, yet sincere and somewhat beautiful, that would be Hal. Easily misconstrued with irony, particularly in a hipster vein, Hal is more than liking something that is so un-cool, it's cool. Inherent in that term is a sincere effort, and sincere failure, with beauty and sardonic self-acceptance nonetheless. Having grown up an outcast picked on for being the weird kid, Reverend Jen has made it her mission to preach the principle that being different is cool.
In the spirit of Hal, we arranged a poolside photo shoot and interview with Reverend Jen lounging at the luxurious Days Inn on Sunset Blvd., next to In-N-Out Burger, for the morning after Rev. Jen's book reading in Redondo Beach.
ME: Hey, who were those two guys leaving your hotel room just now?
RJ: One was Tommy Bigfinger, an art star who, years ago, engaged in some notorious misadventures with me that appear in the pages Elf Girl. The other was his friend, Dillon. We did karaoke last night across the street at Happy Ending bar and afterward, came back here. I'd like to claim there was some kind of wild trashing of the hotel room or rock star mud-shark incident but we- all innocently passed out fully clothed. However, this morning we convinced Bigfinger to go into the hall buck-naked and ask for more lotion. When he did, we sadistically locked him out.
ME: How did your reading go last night? What did you read?
RJ: It was swell. Mysterious Galaxy was full of sci-fi books and the crowd was mostly female. During the Q&A, I came out of the closet as a Twilight fan and was not shunned. I read a few chapters including one about when I used to dress as "Doo-Doo" the "Pete Best of the Teletubbies." Doo-Doo appeared on Toolz of the New School (an old cable access show) doing things like getting tossed from toy stores, snorting lines and stage-diving. I also read an essay about when Bigfinger and I went to Church of the Subgenius's X-Day, took acid and waited for aliens to abduct us.
ME: How have you enjoyed your visit to Los Angeles?
RJ: It's been glamorous: lounging by the luxurious Days Inn pool, meeting West Coast Art Stars in Venice Beach, talking at length to a delightful Hare Krishna and helping a friend put up street art, which was relatively easy given all the cops were busy at Occupy LA.
ME: Can I have some of your truffle fries?
RJ: Those are from In-N-Out Burger next door. I'm not sure how they got here. What are truffle fries?
ME: Never mind. How has the rest of your book tour gone so far?
RJ: There have only been three stops: Atomic Books in Baltimore, Powell's in Portland and LA. Baltimore is always tremendous, as it is an almost entirely hipster-free zone. It's cheap, haunted and wrecked just like me. I'd never been to Portland, but I had a blast there too, going to seedy strip clubs and cheap bars and sleeping on the floor of a residential hotel -- one of the comfiest floors I've ever encountered. There was, however, an incident on "More Good Morning Oregon" where I passed out in the green room and was deemed unfit to appear on the show. In the future, I will avoid appearing on anything with "morning" in the title unless of course, it's "Good Morning America." I could probably wake up for that.
ME: What is your book about?
RJ: It's my memoir. There are tales of awkward adolescence, art school madness, bohemian extremism, disastrous love affairs, open mike hosting, cable access shenanigans and visionary underachievement. La Bohème meets Freaks and Geeks with plenty of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
ME: Why did you write it?
RJ: Because I really only have two skills - writing and painting. I try use this very limited skill set to rock the world.
ME: What did it take to get this book published?
RJ: My last book, Live Nude Elf did well. It was not Da Vinci Code popular or anything, but a few thousand copies sold so that an agent was willing to take Elf Girl on. I met her through Jonathan Ames who'd been Live Nude Elf's agent (but had to quit being my agent after his TV show got hugely successful.) At first, there were a few rejections, but I've come to accept rejection as no big deal. It's just someone deeming worthless everything you've poured your heart and soul into. Luckily Simon and Schuster recognized it as a remarkable work of genius or at least, great toilet reading.
ME: What have you learned from the process?
RJ: Don't stay out all night before you have to appear on a morning show and always carry a sharpie in case someone wants you to autograph her breasts. Oh yeah, and work your ass off.
ME: Weren't you supposed to leave for the airport?
RJ: Oops. Forgot.
Reverend Jen's Hollywood Poolside Photo Spread
Here is the online premiere of "Doo Doo: Exile in Teletubbyland," the award-winning short film starring Rev. Jen as the fifth Teletubby who was kicked out of the group before they hit it big.
This short was produced for the television series Toolz of the New School, which aired from 1996-2001 on Manhattan Neighborhood Networks public access television in New York City.
John Wellington Ennis's current project PAY 2 PLAY: Democracy's High Stakes is a continuation of his work in documenting hilarity and chaos with pathos.