A Parade of Personalities

Photo: Naria Caamaño

Everywhere I go, no matter what country I’m in or who I’m talking to, the response to Anti-Karaoke is always the same: “What an awesome, hilarious, fun show!” Followed by: “There are karaokes everywhere, but there’s nothing like Anti-Karaoke.”

So what’s the secret?

I think it’s very simple: Anti-Karaoke gives you permission to be yourself. “Yourself” being a very loosely defined term. Maybe a better way to put it is: Anti-Karaoke gives you permission to be what you want to be. That could be another aspect of yourself; maybe a ballsier, freakier, outrageous part of yourself; but the key is, it’s still your self. If you have it within you, it’s part of you. Yourself.

Add lights, loud music, an adoring crowd, and voilá: you’ve got Anti-Karaoke. But it’s nothing without all the fascinating personalities that inhabit the stage night after night.

I’ve never thought of Anti-Karaoke as just a karaoke. In fact, I’ve never thought of it as a karaoke at all. There are plenty of karaokes in the world, and we’ve all seen how they are. They serve their purpose. So why add one more of the same?

I’ve always thought of Anti-Karaoke more as an open mic, where people have the freedom to do what they want to do and shine how they see fit. As an up-and-coming comedian, I’ve been to hundreds of open mikes all over the U.S. as a matter of course. But my favorite open mics were those in New York City, hosted by over-the-top characters like Reverend Jen, whose ranks were made up of a diversity of people I’d never seen before: comedians, actors, punk rockers, homeless people, sex workers, not to mention the obviously mentally ill. Each night was never the same as the last, and in the end, we ended up becoming something of a family.

This is the spirit that’s profoundly influenced me and everything I do, and I hope that includes the Anti-Karaoke. I created the Anti-Karaoke as an immigrant in a new land, before I found friends and a creative community to collaborate with. It was just another idea among many, a shot in the dark, but it took hold and, nearly 10 years later, is still going strong, several generations later.

What makes the Anti-Karaoke special, different from any karaoke, is the way it makes people feel safe to express who they are, as big and as loud and they’d like to. It’s not a competition, not a talent show; there are no judges determining who wins and who loses. It’s simply a space for everyone to honestly express who they are, or who they want to be, for a few minutes. Anti-Karaoke is an unintentional, unscripted reality show. It’s a parade of personalities. And that is more interesting than most things you can see at a regular karaoke or even in many live concerts.

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