I don’t know how many of you are fans of the incredible Katie’s Corner, a series of instructional YouTube videos performed in the style of a whacked-out Katharine Hepburn by the marvelous and unbelievably talented Alexandra Billings. Starting about two years ago with “How To Go To A Hollywood Party,” this mishmash of celebrity impersonation, personal advice, physical comedy, and wildly inaccurate references to every Hollywood player you can imagine now consists of fourteen episodes which combined have received nearly 40,000 views. It’s hard to describe what makes Katie’s Corner so damn funny if you’ve never seen it, so if you aren’t familiar with this brilliant mess, here, have some “Pumpkin Pancakes.” It’s my favorite episode, and no matter how many times I watch it it still reduces me to a writhing ball of giggles every time. I’m officially not allowed to bake ever again now that I’ve seen this, because all I do is stand there and shout, “AN EGG????” and never get anything done.
My darling friend Lara introduced me to Katie’s Corner, and was also the one who gave me the news that there would be a one-time live performance of the show here in Los Angeles, or more specifically West Hollywood, at the Celebration Theatre the night of November 7. I’m unemployed right now and low on cash, but the minute I heard about this miraculous opportunity to breathe the same air as the incomparable (and incorrigible) Katie, I knew there was no way I could miss it. I’d introduced my best LA friends to Katie’s genius already, and they all wanted to go with me, so we immediately snatched up advance tickets. We were tickled to get front-row seats, but in reality it wasn’t that hard, as the show was to be performed in the round in the intimate, 64-seat theater. Sadly, it turned out that Lara, who lives in San Francisco, could not attend the performance, but she was there in spirit, and we definitely laughed loud and hard enough to make up for her unfortunate absence.
Our seats could not have been better. It was easily the smallest theater I’d ever been in, one of those where the tall people in the front row couldn’t help but put their feet up on the stage due to the tight quarters. After being seated for a few minutes, we were accosted by Katie’s lovely assistant Heather Hopkins – also known as Pleather, or Shaniqua – asking us to write down any questions for Katie on index cards to be read out during the 75-minute, completely-improvised show. She gathered all the cards into a fishbowl, and then the director announced that it was time for the show to begin. We welcomed the legendary Katie with an uproarious round of applause. The entire audience was in stitches before she even hit the stage – because she got lost on the way and could be heard careening wildly through the lobby, screaming and falling over chairs.
When she finally found her way to the theater, the first thing Katie did was steal Lillian’s glasses right off her face and put them on her own. She then introduced Heather (“Shaniqua”) and her director Sean Abley, which Katie insisted was pronounced “Seen.” She proceeded to spend the show running, rolling, falling, squatting, and cart-wheeling around the stage – that is, when she wasn’t climbing the support poles and ascending precariously toward the ceiling. The show had several loose segments which were obviously planned but in no way premeditated – that is, they knew the basic premise of the segments they wanted to do, but the actual material and comedy were, for the most part, completely improvised. Segments included a reading of a scene from Mommie Dearest featuring volunteer members of the audience (with Katie playing Joan Crawford, of course); vocal exercises with warm-up coach Matt Valle; an improvisation workshop by Eric Hunicutt, showcasing more volunteer audience members; a conversation with the legendary Judy Garland (portrayed by Matt Valle), culminating in a musical duet between the two divas; and finally, a confused political discussion which devolved into an on-stage tea party where the entire company revealed what they were most thankful for. But the most uproarious part of the whole thing was just Katie being Katie, and waiting with bated breath to hear the next ludicrous thing that might come out of Alexandra Billings’ brilliant mouth. I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to comedy, and I’ve been to a fair number of shows; but I can honestly say this was the single funniest comedy show I have ever been to in my entire life. This was not only wiping-my-eyes-because-I’m-laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying kind of funny – this was oh-my-god-she-has-to-stop-because-there-is-a-serious-concern-I-might-wet-my-pants funny. (Don’t worry, it was a false alarm.) I didn’t want it to end, but when that sad moment finally came, we cheered Alex and her fantastic company with a unanimous standing ovation.
Although there is a profound difference between improvising a five-minute YouTube video at home with a friend and improvising a 75-minute, live theatrical performance to an audience full of strangers, Billings obviously didn’t suffer from a lack of material, as is evidenced by the fact that Heather only ever got through two of the audience question cards – even with the show running over fifteen extra minutes. After the show we were lucky enough to talk with Heather, who was tickled pink when we asked for her autograph – it was the first time she’d ever been asked, and she even had her boyfriend take photos of the momentous occasion (aw!). We also spoke with Matt Valle, and told him how much Lara, a huge Judy fan, would’ve loved his impersonation and particularly his jokes at the expense of Joey Luft. Finally, after shyly hovering in her general vicinity for a good half an hour, we were able to speak with Ms. Billings herself and express to her our tremendous gratitude for allowing us to be a part of this remarkable night. Though she was clearly exhausted from performing (and the end of Daylight Savings Time), she was completely gracious, kind, and unprepossessing, the complete opposite of her larger-than-life character. She was sweet enough to sign my program before continuing down the line to receive an endless parade of friends and well-wishers, who heaped her with praise and seemed genuinely in awe of her overwhelming talent. Playing to a sold-out audience of people who I can only imagine were as pleased as I was with her luminous performance, it can only be a question of time and money that would put a run of Katie’s Corner live shows in jeopardy. It is without a hint of doubt in my mind that Alexandra Billings has the talent and the physical presence to make Katharine Hepburn a star all over again.