Famous/Knott Crosses Club With Salon
“Are you Famous?”
“No; I’m Knott.”
This variation of the old “Who’s on First?” routine is repeated at least once every Friday and Saturday night as singer/comedian Shari Famous and lawyer/poet/musician and “Gong Show” winner Doug Knott conduct their weekly “performance/conversation salon.” They describe it as “Disneyland for the bohemian at heart.”
Nestled in the cozy, campy rooms above Catherine, a champagne bistro, Famous/Knott has operated for the last nine months as an eclectic alternative nightspot, a cross between a club and a cocktail party, presenting a wildly varied assortment of artists to an equally varied audience, in a setting unlike any other club on the scene.
The room itself is a kind of post-modern sight gag, dim and smoky, with dark green walls, gilt moldings, huge mirrors in gold frames, wall sconces draped with strands of faux pearls. Setting is provided by striped chintz sofas, banquettes, half a dozen or so small tables and odd chairs pressed close together. Incense wafts through the room, candles provide a dim, flattering light, and every table features a large bowl of M & Ms.
It’s an environment calculated to inspire mingling and easy conversation between tables. Hors d’oeuvres are served, and there is a full bar. Between sets, patrons sip champagne and chat, or visit the Tarot card reader who has set up a table in the hall.
The audience is part of the show. There is no typical customer; there is no dress code. The leather and lace of the blase clubsters is no more and no less appropriate than the business suits of the Century City attorneys seated next to them. Some get into the spirit of their surroundings and come in elaborate prom clothes, others drift in in Levi’s.
“It’s very stimulating,” Famous says. “We get a lot of people who are not typical club-goers.”
“Yes, we get the haut monde, the demimonde, the beau monde and the Hugh Beaumont,” the deadpan Knott teased.
The idea is to bring together a genial, diverse group of people to share an experience, and to experience one another. Famous and Knott discovered the club rooms when their friend and former partner, Gavin Gillard, had a poetry reading there. They were impressed by the warmth and intimacy of the setting.
“Most clubs are so cold and dark,” Famous complains. “Not oriented towards relating to each other at all. This place makes it easy for people to meet and talk.”
Their booking policy, like the atmosphere, is designed to provoke conversation. There is music for every taste; rock, jazz, blues and country all have a place at Famous/Knott. Acts as varied as the bizarre musical stylings of the Del Rubio Triplets, belly-dancer Europa, identical female impersonators known as the Monroe Twins, and political satirist Paul Krassner, as well as acclaimed pianist/performance artist Sandra Tsing Loh and writers Wanda Coleman and Laurel Ann Bogan. Two to five acts appear each evening.
“We like to mix genres,” Famous explains. “It’s interesting to throw together things that are unrelated on the surface and see how they work. It provides a real creative surge.”
Acts such as Chuck E. Weiss have been big favorites, as has the multi-talented David Zasloff, who plays his own brand of “Zazz jazz” on any of 15 different instruments, interspersed with comedic monologues.
“I’ve played here six or seven times,” says Zasloff. “It’s been great for me.”
Knott likes to broaden audiences’ perceptions of what constitutes a performance by exploring the theatrical possibilities of painting or poetry, and the poetry in rock lyrics; Famous seems more concerned with the personal aspects of running the salon. “I am devoted in my heart of hearts to creative expression and making human connections.”
To facilitate the process of making human connections, Knott and Famous work hard at creating and maintaining a relaxed, spontaneous atmosphere. They thrive on the unpredictable. They might decide to sing their responses to every question, or Knott may select a random partner and begin dancing in the hallway. Famous likes to let out a scream every now and then to test the mellowness of the crowd.
“See,” she grins. “No one even turned around.”
Range of Talent
Famous and Knott have each been on the music and performance scene in Los Angeles for years, and the experience has helped them assemble the range of talent they present. They go out every night to keep on top of the music and art scene, and now that their club is established and they are known as producers, performers increasingly approach them for auditions. They occasionally perform themselves: Famous sings and does stand-up comedy; Knott sings, plays guitar or recites poetry. They both perform regularly at other clubs, such as Twenty-20 and Lingerie.
A recent evening featured guitarist Tony Gilkyson of X and Lone Justice, country singer Katy Moffat and Dave Alvin, formerly of the Blasters, who told tales about Juice Newton’s baby pictures and going out in Hollywood, and recited his streetwise poetry between songs.
Claudia Kim of West Hollywood had attended a birthday party in the restaurant downstairs. She and her friends heard that Dave Alvin would be playing and decided to pay Famous/Knott a visit. She was favorably impressed: “It’s kind of trash and class together,” she said. “It’s comfortable, like being in someone’s living room.”
Recently transplanted from New York, Martina Dinale was also paying her first visit to Famous/Knott. “A friend of mine brought me. She was very enthusiastic about it and piqued my curiosity. It’s a lot of fun--very energetic and relaxed at the same time.”
All three performers returned to the stage for a rousing, raucous finale. The crowd clapped and stamped, caught up in the mood and the music, reluctant to end the evening even at 2 a.m. Knott stepped up to the mike and assured them: “We’ll be soaring back into space tomorrow night with more weird folks.”
Famous/Knott, a conversation/performance salon, upstairs at Catherine, a champagne bistro, 143 N. La Brea Ave. Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. Admission is $10; no set reservation policy at this time. Calling first is recommended. For information, or to get on the mailing list, call (213) 658-6902.