A Guy Named Joe | W42ST

Introducing Joe Iconis, his wife Lauren, cat Diane Kitten... and extended, quasi punk-rock family.

What's your Hell's Kitchen story?

I'm from Long Island originally, but my parents were from Brooklyn (mom) and Queens (dad) so the city was a huge part of my life. The theater district and Hell's Kitchen were always my favorite areas. My grandpa used to take me to (the dearly departed) Munson Diner back in the day when the area felt like the wild west, and I would think: "Man, I wanna live here one day." I love the history and the energy of the area. Even as I see it gentrifying, it still manages to maintain its character in a way other NYC neighborhoods sadly have not.

We want to hear all about your wedding reception in the neighborhood. Go!

I have a long history with the West Bank Cafe. Steve Olsen (the owner) and Kenny Bell (the booker) are like family. They took such care of Lauren and I and all of the ten million friends who came out to support us. The most remarkable thing about the party was that our friends put on a surprise concert for us in The Beechman - a fully rehearsed, hour-long show of our favorite songs sung by the people we love most in the world. Lauren also wrote me a surprise song called Next To You. We danced our first dance on the Beechman stage; we recreated the twist contest scene from Pulp Fiction. Music and friends and family and nothing but love - that was how we celebrated our marriage. Also, Booze. Lots of booze.

Swoon! OK, over to you, Lauren - what are you up to?

I've got a few things going on. As an actor, I've just finished a workshop musical about Hunter S. Thompson (that happens to be written by a guy named Joe Iconis as well as another guy named Greg Moss). As a writer, most huge and most this-is-happening-right-now for me is the release of my debut EP, Never Really Done With You. It's a collection of six songs - kind of throwbacky, fun pop with a touch of country. Think Linda Rondstadt, Nancy Sinatra. I just played a big release show at Joe's Pub and you can get the EP online.

Is it easier or harder to have a partner who's also in the business?

I can't imagine being with someone who isn't in the business. Our lives are both so unpredictable and intense that a civilian just wouldn't be able to handle it. Of course, the downside if that neither of us has a steady income and we frequently find ourselves working like dogs and making no money. You can't pay your Hell's Kitchen rent in songs. And when we're both in rehearsal process for a show at the same time, our poor cat, Diane Kitten, always knows: "Uh oh. These are times when everyone is yelling or crying and my feeding schedule becomes irregular."

Diane Kitten. Great name. Let's hear from you next...

You know, my first year of life was quite dramatic. I used to live in a dumpster in the back of a convalescence home in Queens. Since relocating to Hell's Kitchen, the drama comes in the form of humans who come over and bang on funny contraptions that make noise and bark and meow, loudly. I don't love it, but I tolerate it. The only noisy human I ever really loved was Betty Buckley. She came over to rehearse a song with Father Master and I approved of her. She's the most respected actor in the Cat universe.

OK, Joe, what about the rest of the "family."

The family is a collection of artists who I frequently collaborate with. We're a sparkly group of misfits who share similar thoughts about how to create and perform musical theater. The only thing we don't tolerate is people who are "over it." No eye-rollers allowed, ever. We love to honor the grand traditions of musical theater with a modern, quasi punk-rock spirit. When I describe us, it sounds like I'm running a cult. We're like the Manson Family, but with show tunes.

What's the best thing about living in HK?

JOE: 54 Below, flea market, Dylan Baker.
LAUREN: Domus (I'm in love with Luisa and Nicki, who run the store) and the strong neighborhood vibe.
DIANE: The pigeons. Great pigeons here.

And the worst?

JOE: The rent.
LAUREN: The rent.
DIANE: Uh oh.

Tell us a neighborhood secret?

I am fairly obsessed with the history of the neighborhood, especially all the spots that used to be porn theaters along the Minnesota Strip (aka 8th Avenue, between 42nd and 48th Street.) A lot of those buildings have been torn down and replaced with Duane Reades, but some have been repurposed in a fun way. The rehearsal space 777 Studios used to be a porn theater, and I love that you can rehearse a musical in the exact same spot where sexual deviancy once prevailed. That mix of seediness and glitz really defines the neighborhood for me.