No, Nadya Ginsburg is not the one with the clown-car vagina. She's even funnier! Albeit on purpose and with fewer appeals for free diapers.
For the past couple of years, Ginsburg—"Gay Pimp" Jonny McGovern's roomie, making it the coolest housing situation since Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore shacked up at college—has made a name for herself doing a Web show called The Worm, her stand-out offering being an alarmingly note-perfect impersonation of Madonna. She's also starred in lots of other skits with the likes of Jackie Beat and Roseanne, many of which she uses to flesh out live shows—so she's not just an overnight YouTube sensation who got lucky, this bitch has been working at it.
Her hard work was on full display in the New York City debut of her act, Madonnalogues, on April 7, 2011, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. In just over an hour, Ginsburg gave me what was the least regretted $15 I've ever spent on entertainment, and that includes hotel porn.
First things first: The main attraction is undeniably Ginsburg's Madge. Sure, she also does Cher, but who doesn't? I would be willing to bet that Ginsburg's Madonna could probably fool Ingrid Casares over the phone. Or maybe even in person, depending on how closely Casares was paying attention. (In truth, the Madonna drag is perfunctory, completely carried by the brilliance of the vocals.)
After, promoter Chip Duckett kindly let my buddy Jason and me get a pic with Ginsburg. In person, she's like your best friend if your best friend were as cute and talented as she thinks she is. She remembered me from the front row and thanked me for smiling before insisting that the photo must be of her left side. Girl, you need to work on a Mariah Care impression stat!
Madonna-bashers love to hate on Madonna's "British accent," but it takes a true Madonnaphile like Ginsburg to hear through that superficial assessment; you don't just get a bunch of London-calling long As with her, you get this tremulous, high-pitched bleat, you get those hard Rs that Madonna's been rocking at least since "a boy loves a gurl" and you get the superstar's nervous tics, like punctuating well-received statements with "yah." I have never heard another Madonna impersonator come close to truly sounding like Madonna, and in Ginsburg's hands, this skill has the potential to be lethal.
But it's not.
A month or so ago, a friend asked me if I were going to the show, or if I would skip it as "too mean." I wasn't sure then, but I'm glad I gave Ginsburg a shot. While she certainly does not shy away from mocking Madonna's narcissism and other excesses, it was clear throughout—and made clearer by an end-of-show speech—that Ginsburg has a love/hate/love relationship with the woman whose turn in Desperately Seeking Susan made her aspire to be "this wild, free, broke, slutty artist."
The show opened with Ginsburg's Madonna in full "Give It 2 Me" drag. What makes the whole package sizzle is Ginsburg's apparently encyclopedic knowledge of Madonna's many unintentionally hilarious (and simultaneously sincere and affecting) speeches—hearing bits of her Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame acceptance monologue and her 1990 Pope-smacking tirade defending Blond Ambition made the show extra delightful for the sold-out audience of Madonna fanatics without confusing the few passive fans or even non-fans there.
Ginsburg's Madge decided to try stand-up comedy. Madonna's occasional humorlessness and awkwardness relating to the masses (her fahns) made the conceit hysterical.
I didn't mean to blow off her Cher, which was also a sonic gob-smacker. Her showgirl headdress was suitably divine, even if the overall effect wasn't helped by the slightly "off" beaded dress that was meant to approximate Mackie marvelousness. To paraphrase Madonna, it didn't look like something Cher would wear. (As my companion Jason offered, can't a nice designer like Chris March pitch in for free here?)
Next up was an Italian "widower" attempting a video for an online dating service. This cracked me up hard. Jewtalian Ginsburg must have felt especially comfy with this character from her New York upbringing, because she nailed it down as perfectly as some egghead's prized bug collection.
Her third and final celebrity avatar was Winona Ryder, who again was mimicked to within an inch of her life. There were easy jokes about shoplifting that would not have been half as ha-ha-inducing without Ginsburg's expert timing and word choices. When Ryder asked us if we wanted to "swap" her for something in her bag, it didn't matter that the arrest happened over 10 years ago. The poor thing is probably wondering when she'll stop being known for that, but nothing in this life is free, Winona. (Hedy Lamarr's 1965 and 1991 shop-lifting charges appeared in most of her obits 12 years ago, FYI.)
Popular YouTube character Babka—bikini waxer to the stars by day, "professional entertainer" by night—was the final character to pop out, her funniest bit being a nervous tendency to profusely thank the crowd for even the smallest outburst of laughter and applause. "I leally appreciate it," she cooed sweetly in a Russian accent as thick as Teri Hatcher's pubic fuzz.
Fake Madonna was back to close the show with a song about Vaselining the lens that made merciless fun of Real Madonna's recent songwriting laziness (what intelligent Madonna fans haven't made fun of this in private already?), to withstand some withering criticism from God ("God?" she once asked in "Like a Prayer"—he was finally getting back to her) and to all but make love to a stack of carbs.
My criticisms are few. Nitpick-wise, I would say I thought she sounded nothing like Madonna when laughing, when shouting "basta!" (which was still funny) or when singing her Vaseline parody song. (However, she sounded exactly like Madonna later on, when doing a bit of "Give It 2 Me.") Also, her Winona Ryder veered into Cher-ritory when spazzing out.
Something that's not so much a criticism as a suggestion is the fact that while Ginsburg ties each character into Madonna in minor ways, I actually think this show could be on to something even bigger and better. Already her best humor is that which picks at deeper topics than just the sound of Madonna's voice—narcissism, the expectations put on women in entertainment, sexuality, fame. Wouldn't it be even more exciting if she worked on this already flat-out funny show and crafted it into something with more resonance, using Madonna (and what she's come to mean to the various characters) as the connective tissue? It's the difference between being a gifted comic with a damn funny show and pulling off a Whoopi Goldberg/Sandra Bernhard/John Leguizamo tour-de-force.
When it was all over, Ginsburg emerged as herself—she's got to be in her thirties based on her pop-cultural vocabulary but has the body of a 16-year-old gymnast and is completely girlish and sweet—to thank the crowd and to explain the affection she has for Madonna, as well as to point out the fact that Madonna has disappointed her over the years. Out of all the things she could have picked, she recalled Madonna lamely rejecting the term "feminist" during an MTV appearance in asserting she was a "humanist," and this is still probably in my own personal Top 10 of "oh, mother!" Madonna moments.
Still, Ginsburg expressed her admiration for "Vadge" and pledged to continue making money off of her for a long time to come. Whether you idolize or demonize Madonna, you shouldn't feel bad about helping her in that endeavor—she's fuckin' funny.