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May 2, 2017
Interview: Unitard on What They Love, Bonding Through Mutual Hatred, and the Nuclear Apocalypse
Credit: Aaron Cobbett

The world is full of many things that make life worth living for, but there are things like artisanal cheese, gypsy pants and anything kale that make one wonder if we are in fact an intelligent species. Lucky for us among the worthy things there’s Unitard, the comedy group formed by Mike Albo, Nora Burns and David Ilku, who help us deal with all things annoying. Through their irreverent, no holds barred sketches, Unitard have become specialists in snappy tongue-lashings. The trio is gearing up for a summer long residency at Joe’s Pub where they will present Unitard: Tard Core - There Are No Safe Words, a new show which will see them discuss America after the election, kleptocracy and much more. I spoke to the delightful trio about how they put their show together, what has changed the most about their work dynamic, and the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse.

How do you reach a consensus on what your shows will be about?

David Ilku: We reach a consensus through mutual hatred.

Mike Albo: We took a break for a few years, so in that time we’ve built up enough annoyances so that when we got together we were like “doesn’t this kind of person bug you?” or “doesn’t this annoy you?”

Nora Burns: Even though we had this show booked we wisely decided to begin writing till after the election, cause things could be very different. I’m glad that we waited because it colored everything and made it interesting to write. We all have similar sensibilities too.

David Ilku: NYC itself is also its own microcosms of hyperreality, it’s a different way of life in a condensed, highly populated city.

Mike Albo: NYC is also so hyper promotional, if something is being promoted across America it’s going up people’s butts in NYC. The way things are promoted here is the peak of disgusting.

So what can people expect from this show then?

Nora Burns: It’s 100% new material for starters. How about hemorrhoids on Trump’s butt?

Thank you for that visual.

Mike Albo: Just wait!

The election also made things super scary.

Nora Burns: Yes, we’re still going to talk about pop-up shops and stuff like that, but we also need to find a way to make something funny about Russian hackers...

Mike Albo: ...Ann Coulter

Nora Burns: ...protests, any sketch will be colored by what’s going on.

David Ilku: All the late night show people are putting their own brand of comedy into what’s going on, so our task is to make it our own.

Nora Burns: We’re not gonna be talking about Kellyanne Conway having her feet on the couch because that’s gonna be over in a week, we need to find about what’s going on in a larger way.

Have things like craft beer, macrame clothes, juicing, and the other assortment of things you’d usually find annoying, given you any solace after the election?

Mike Albo: We definitely wanted to wait after the election to address things and since the bottom was taken from under our feet we didn’t know what we would do as comedians for about a month or so, but now we’re surprised to realize there are still the same obnoxious, shitheads out there for us to be annoyed at. Life still goes on and there’s still plenty to comment on. We’re doing a sketch about a narcissist and this person existed before November 2016, it’s surprising to realize what’s universal still.

You have a very strong following, do you worry about having to surprise people every single time?

Nora Burns: They want new material, but they expect our sensibility and that’s what we’re giving them.

Speaking about your sensibility, I didn’t expect pieces like David’s Friend and Spermhood from Nora and Mike, I didn’t know you guys could also be so moving.

Mike Albo: Thank you, that’s very nice to hear.

Nora Burns: We’re bratty and confrontational onstage, but we have to be coming from a place where people have to like us.

David Ilku: You have to show some humanity.

Nora Burns: We’re making fun of you but we’re on your side.

Mike Albo: What the three of us do outside of Unitard is different, it’s when we get together that our Super Twin powers activate.

Credit: Aaron Cobbett

David, your Tina Turner parody where you make fun about the MTA is also very socially conscious. Do you surprise yourselves by discovering something you thought would only be funny, is also political and coming from a place of love for the city and others?

David Ilku: There’s a lot to be upset about and a lot of injustice. We see it on the streets, in NYC it’s right on your face, whether it’s a runaway kid on the side of the street, or someone who’s been thrown out of their apartment...

Mike Albo: ...or an unbelievably expensive tower going up.

David Ilku: ...right, that dichotomy. Tina to me is a superhero with a voice, she’s empowering. When I did the Tina bit in San Francisco, which is the PC capital of the world, this guy was offended because he thought I was making fun of homeless people. Are you fucking kidding me? Tina is empowered! She’s calling out the mayor. I have a big problem with real lefty liberals.

Nora Burns: It’s not lefty liberals.

David Ilku: Sometimes it is!

Nora Burns: People should know we’re on their side.

David Ilku: We’re on the side of the enlightened and knowledgeable.

Are there any trends in comedy that you wish you found funny but don’t get at all?

Nora Burns: I’ve found that if people aren’t addressing what’s going on currently I’m not interested. It’s not that every single joke has to be about Donald Trump, but if you’re acting like nothing is happening I can’t relate to that. I tune into Stephen Colbert every morning to watch the previous night’s monologue because I know he’ll talk about something I’m feeling, but someone like Jimmy Fallon...that’s not edgy enough for me. Hopefully we’re silly and fun, but also making you satisfied.

Mike Albo: This isn’t the same, but I still can’t believe there’s not a healthy LGBTQ presence in comedy. The three of us are still the only ones doing this, sketch comedy with a queer sensibility, so it riles me to see how much mileage straight comics get from gay material, someone like Chapelle making jokes about trans people in a show. It shocks me that’s still happening. We’ve been doing this since 1999 and we’re still doing edgy stuff.

David Ilku: There was that Logo sketch comedy show.

Nora Burns: It was terrible! It had the fat guy and all the stereotypes. It’s gotta be more than that.

What has changed the most about the way you work together?

Nora Burns: We write a lot together, before we used to write separately and then put things together, but on this one we really collaborated. There are many more group pieces.

David Ilku: It’s flipped, we write in a more collective mind set now. Group pieces come to the forefront now.

There’s gonna be a month long break in between the shows you’ll be doing over the summer, what will happen to the material during these breaks? Do you expect many changes?

Nora Burns: Hopefully Trump won’t bomb North Korea in between and we’ll all still be here. We don’t know if we’ll even be alive.

Mike Albo: We realized we had more pieces and ideas that we could fit into one show, so we’ll probably shift things around a little bit.

Nora, in your apocalyptic scenario, who will be the audience for the last show if nuclear war has happened?

Nora Burns: Probably just some cockroaches and rats.

David Ilku: They’re gonna be there for every show anyway.

Nora Burns: At the beginning of our career, one of our first shows was after 9/11 so we’re used to dealing with disaster.

Even if you’re making fun of things that people might like, at the end of the day you’re making them laugh, which honestly is all I want nowadays.

Nora Burns: Sometimes we’ll be like “we need something really silly here”, so thank god we can do that! Thank you, David!

David Ilku: I’m the Benny Hill of the group.

Nora Burns: He’ll come out and pull down his pants.

David Ilku: No one will know who Benny Hill is.

For more information on Unitard’s residency at Joe’s Pub click here.

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Written by: Jose Solis
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