Talk Hole: Goodbye Bernie, Zoom Birthdays, and Essential Boyfriends

By and
Photography Julia Burlingham

Published April 9, 2020

Talk Hole is the bi-weekly spoken column of New York’s alt-comedy darlings Eric Schwartau and Steven Phillips-Horst, offering their oracular powers of cultural analysis on all corners of the zeitgeist (high, low, top, bottom). From a Zoom call in New York, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is still chic, even in isolation. This time around, Talk Hole discusses social life in the quar, the presidential campaign suspension of Bernie Sanders, and the end of art that Steven doesn’t like. 

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STEVEN P-H: Two weeks is such a COVID amount of time.

ERIC SCHWARTAU: A lot has changed and nothing has changed since our last column.

P-H: Two weeks ago, it was ‘donate your masks to a local Chinese restaurant’, and now it’s ‘if you leave without a mask you’re a monster.’ No matter what, the guilt industrial complex will find a way to rear its head. 

SCHWARTAU: I bought three N95 masks in February, before they were a thing. I was an early adopter of panic.

P-H: COVID is very ‘do what’s right for you’ because like no one actually knows what’s happening. If you’re able to wear a mask and sanitize your dick, do so. But if you’re not able to, just do what’s right for you! 

SCHWARTAU: We’re supposed to support the local Thai restaurant by ordering food, but we’re also supposed to not go, and make Thai food from scratch. But then you’re also running out to like five different stores looking for fresh lemongrass for your curry paste.

P-H: I will say, quarantine feels wildly normal now.

SCHWARTAU: Except that we all just got laid off from our full-time positions as Bernie Bros.

P-H: The only thing I was good at! 

SCHWARTAU: At least now Bernie has time to see Parasite—he’s gonna love.

P-H: Okay, here’s my theory. He lost because he was a cuck. I love the guy, but he didn’t go hard enough. He was like “Revolution now!!! But if that fails, support the status quo!!!”

SCHWARTAU: I like cucks.

P-H: Bernie’s problem was trying too hard to placate the handwringing liberal set, the MSNBC wine moms, the CNN zombies. He never expanded into the 50 percent of people who don’t even vote in this country, and spent way too much time trying to cajole the 5 percent of annoyingly overeducated process-obsessed prudes. And we were guilty, too. We wanted that institutional approval, having been denied legitimacy by the mainstream media for so long. We craved it. Like a kid and candy.

SCHWARTAU: Like a Ridgewood couple craves sourdough. He had a dank starter but didn’t use enough. Is that how that works?

P-H: I want to pivot to art for a second.

SCHWARTAU: Art during a pandemic. Oh god.

P-H: All the Berlin slash New York performance artists whose art is just about being gay and doing a nude handstand in a museum and being on PrEP—their art is now wildly irrelevant. Because of social distancing, nobody can come to your fisting as the self performance piece. Here’s my question to you: Is COVID remapping the art world for the better, weeding out a lot of these really self-indulgent artistic practices that are masquerading as cutting edge?

SCHWARTAU: I’m not so sure why you’re so obsessed with cutting queer communities out of the art world, besides your ex. 

P-H: Anyone who is someone’s ex should not make art, period. But I do think that this sort of over-academicized art is struggling to find its place right now.

SCHWARTAU: So you’d rather see, like, Live Laugh Love art?

P-H: Yes. Populist art will be successful right now. Art that is legitimately counterculture or punk will be effective. But all of the art that exists in this very grant-funded, performance space, obscure quarterly-journal-reviewed world feels off.

SCHWARTAU: People want comfort right now. The bleeding edginess of New York has worn off. Now I’m just enjoying nature and making food. Maybe Live Laugh Love was right all along. 

P-H: So much of the art world is built on this elitism and this gatekeeping, on needing the ins. But now, all that stuff is accessible to everyone via Zoom. 

SCHWARTAU: The art world is also based on flying all over the world for literally no reason.

P-H: It’s based on spreading Corona for no reason.

SCHWARTAU: Maybe now there’s hope for more localized communities of artists as an antidote to the art market as a global, elitist vanity project.

P-H: Well, art exists whether or not it’s called art by the art world.

SCHWARTAU: Obviously. I actually started drawing on my iPad. I’m gonna put one of my works in the column.

P-H: Well, you’re not the photo editor of Interview. I want to talk about a tweet I just retweeted, which is about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry dipping from the U.K. right before Corona. And now, Boris Johnson is sick and the Queen’s giving her first public address in decades. People are looking to the Crown for comfort at a time when celebrities traveling the world and donating to charity just feels so out to lunch. 

SCHWARTAU: She was like, “I’m moving to LA to TikTok from my fancy house.” Which is now literally the most hated thing that you can possibly do.

P-H: So Parasite of her.

SCHWARTAU: They also tried to move to Canada, and Canada was like, “We don’t want you—”

P-H: LA is where you go when Canada says no. It’s like going to the New School when you get rejected from NYU. I’m hearing there’s a business pivot for fancy restaurants in L.A. now that are doing takeaway care packages. You get a bag of two bottles of natural wine, one chicken, like three potatoes, and half a loaf of bread, and it’s only $165. And they’re surviving! And I think that’s really brave.

SCHWARTAU: What else is happening in LA?

P-H: As you’ve said before, L.A. has been in quar forever. It’s just people being dumb on their phone.

SCHWARTAU: I feel like I live in L.A. now. I am on the phone all day, then go for a run, and then make a salad.

P-H: And everything is now a Zoom meeting. This column? A Zoom. Going to work? Zoom. Comedy shows? Zoom. Birthday parties? Going away drinks? Sex? Zoom.

SCHWARTAU: I like watching TV with people over Zoom because I feel more alert. I can’t be like, on my phone not paying attention.

P-H: You’re an anomaly. Zoom is a deadening experience for most people. I’ve been to so many Zoom birthday parties and cocktail hours recently, and they were all haunted.

SCHWARTAU: Speaking of not paying attention, how was your reading?

P-H: Well, there’s no crowd and there’s no reaction or applause. For comedians whose sole reason for doing comedy is like, to get the adoration of a crowd, it’s insanely unsatisfying. You don’t hear any laughter. It’s terrifying. 

SCHWARTAU: There are live comments on some platforms, but it’s more like being heckled. When I did my one Instagram Live and then never did it again, I had no way of gauging how people felt and it made me feel insecure. I guess we don’t feel each other’s humanity through screens as much. Everyone’s a TV show.

P-H: Maybe we only ever laughed in IRL settings because we were so nervous about the performer feeling bad.

SCHWARTAU: On that note, I feel like I should have this upwelling of empathy right now. Everyone’s asking me to—

P-H: Who’s asking you to be empathetic?

SCHWARTAU: Society. She’s texting me. But I don’t feel a sense of duty or sympathy—I actually feel very disconnected from other people’s feelings and emotions right now. 

P-H: So our actions only come from a sense of social contract and feeling guilty. It’s like, “Who watches the Watchmen?” Not me, I haven’t seen that movie.

SCHWARTAU: I watched an ep of Watchmen and I felt like I was supposed to be more into it.

P-H: Okay, trend forecast: the new FOMO is GONA—Guilt of Not Answering. People FaceTime you, and they know you’re not busy, so there’s no excuse.

SCHWARTAU: Yeah, I’ve missed two calls during this call. I feel awful.

P-H: You can’t say “I didn’t have time.” My lover is still enrolled at Hunter via Zoom, and one class the teacher was asking for everyone’s assignment and this girl was like “Sorry, this week has just been really busy.” And the teacher just burst out laughing.

SCHWARTAU: Well, it’s actually easy to get away with saying you can’t do stuff because of emotional distress.

P-H: Yeah, busy is over. Emotional distress is in.

SCHWARTAU: I’ve started going on these long runs, and I’m back to this primitive hunter-gatherer state where I’m avoiding other people because I don’t know what tribe they’re part of. I’m just running, running, running—

P-H: Imagine a caveman being like, “I’m going to go for a run.”

SCHWARTAU: That’s literally a New Yorker caption.

P-H: New Yorker captions are coming back!

SCHWARTAU: Isn’t that elitist art? That disproves your previous point.

P-H: No, New Yorker cartoons still have an elitist tone, but it’s populist in like, vibe.

SCHWARTAU: They’re candy.

P-H: Exactly. That’s the only reason people read The New Yorker anyway.

SCHWARTAU: A caption is populist. A caption is a little explainer of an image for a layperson, but with art, there’s no captions. You’re supposed to, like, get it.

P-H: This girl I went to high school with just had her birthday and posted a pic of Naomi Campbell blowing out candles, and the caption was like, ‘Sorry, I know it’s a less celebratory mood, but it’s still a vibe! Here’s to 31!” Very populist.

SCHWARTAU: Well, as someone whose birthday is coming up in 12 days—

P-H: Going to go out on a limb here, but I’m guessing you might post a selfie.

SCHWARTAU: I want to have a party.

P-H: Remember the Zoom birthday party we went to the other day that was 40 people? It was insanity.

SCHWARTAU: I don’t know 40 people.

P-H: Anything Zoom over 10 people is non-functional.

SCHWARTAU: I think you need to have very clear parameters—a dress code—and you have to get people engaged and prompt them.

P-H: A dress code is good. A very, very specific group of people is good, because it’s not a party. I can’t go over to the bar cart and talk to a random girl about her PhD. Everyone is just having one conversation. So you need to really, really set the tone and mark the borders, otherwise it’s going to be stretches of silence with 15 people looking into their screens. 

SCHWARTAU: I want to be very socially manipulative and get 15 friends in a Zoom call and assign them randomly to breakout rooms where they have to talk uncomfortably for five minutes. You can just assign two people together. 

P-H: Like seven minutes in heaven. Seven minutes in breakout.

SCHWARTAU: And we’re back to Love is Blind! Okay, I’m doing that, and it’s going to be so sexy. Everyone’s going to be like, “Wait, tell me how you did your birthday.”

P-H: Can you not invite more than 15 people, please?

SCHWARTAU: I can only think of five people total.

P-H: Highly economical. Which brings us to our next topic—solving the economy.

SCHWARTAU: I just read this Bloomberg op-ed about how we don’t need all these services we thought we did. We actually enjoy making dinner and spending time with our family, or in my case, my couch. It’s going to shrink the economy, basically.

P-H: I’m a big proponent of de-croissance, or “degrowth,” which is a concept that rogue sexy French economists have been jailed and labeled heretics by the global neoliberal community for proposing. But essentially—ok, now you’re doing that face you make when you’re sort of bored by my economic theories—

SCHWARTAU: I’m not bored—this is just something someone who doesn’t have to worry about putting food on the table would say. This is an idea from some French philosopher who smokes cigarettes at a café all day.

P-H: Well, people with working class jobs shouldn’t have to worry about putting food on the table, either. The essential needs of our society should be satisfied by the state, whether it’s housing or food or health care. The problem is capitalism is only justified by this idea of constant growth at all times, which is completely unnecessary. It’s like, do we need to open more McDonald’s next year than we opened this year? No. 

SCHWARTAU: I agree with what you’re saying. I just think sustainable growth is maybe more the idea. Degrowth sounds like a romantic notion. 

P-H: But why is growth good ad hominem? What does ad hominem mean?

SCHWARTAU: Well, why do you keep buying clothes on Grailed? 

P-H: But I’m not buying more pants this year than I bought last year. It’s a steady rate of pants. That’s not growth.

SCHWARTAU: You want new things. If you take everything away from me, I’m just going to be in my apartment going on runs and cooking food. So with the de-growth mindset, you have to limit your dreams, and be happy with where you are, which is hard if you aren’t. You know, the root of growth is based on population growth. I’m more into the idea of de-growth at that fundamental level.

P-H: Homosexuality was invented by god for that reason.

SCHWARTAU: Right, so we’re fighting the good fight. I mean, not right now though. I stopped taking my PrEP.

P-H: A lesbian friend of mine in Chicago literally broke shelter-in-place to go get sperm at a sperm bank. So not all homosexuals are really holding up their end of the bargain. The purpose of homosexuality is to not have kids.

SCHWARTAU: I don’t know. It seems cute.

P-H: You don’t want a kid. If you have a kid, then you’re going to have to expand your apartment by at least 50 percent.

SCHWARTAU: I just won’t feed the kid a lot, so it’ll be kind of small.

P-H: It’ll be a bonsai.

SCHWARTAU: Clip off its arms and legs a little bit each week.

P-H: Speaking of small apartments, why is no one talking about rent suspension like a serious thing? There was one bill proposed in New York, but like, wow, no major political leaders are coming out and talking about this?

SCHWARTAU: Americans don’t realize how much we actually live under an oligarchy. We just feel so thankful and proud to get our measly little salaries to use to pay our land masters.

P-H: We’re a nation of cucks.

SCHWARTAU: In Europe, there are squatters’ rights!

P-H: In France, if some little old lady leaves her 14th-century maison for 48 hours, you can go in, sit down, and that’s your maison. You get to live there. And she’s like, “I went to get une baguette in la village!!” it’s like, well, you took too long, bitch. It’s insane that we don’t have that.

SCHWARTAU: I hope it was a good baguette.

P-H: I haven’t read Marx, but I’ve heard of him, and there’s this whole thing called passive income. That’s what landlording is. You’re just sort of sitting there.

SCHWARTAU: Live, Laugh, Landlord.

P-H: I was just FaceTiming with my friends in France and they were like “We’re not allowed to leave the house.” They need to have a signed piece of paper that says they’re allowed to leave. And if you are more than one kilometer away from your house you get arrested, unless you’re going to a grocery store.

SCHWARTAU: I mean, you can’t hold Americans down. We have six cup holders and a bladder to fill—time to hop in the F-150 and head to Starbucks for a Trenta.

P-H: They also usually live in this cramped, two-bedroom apartment in Paris with their two children, but now they’re at his mom’s suburban five-bedroom house and they have a trampoline for the kids. 

SCHWARTAU: Yeah, it’s chill to raise your kids in a nice environment.

P-H: I’m agreeing with your shrinking point. People are seeing the benefit of this less glamorous, urban, cramped, dirty lifestyle and now they want to be in this sanitized, big kitchen island world where you work from home and nothing ever happens.

SCHWARTAU: We’re now an archipelago of remote-working castaways. Kitchens are the new boardrooms. The Kardashians invented all of this.

P-H: The Kardash-islands are so big, they’re literally a boardroom. 

SCHWARTAU: I just got an email notification that CB2 is dropping some new collection right now, and I’m like, is this the time?

P-H: It absolutely is the time. Hello?! Everyone’s home. If you’d invested in some sort of mutual fund that was home improvement, interior decor, and like, reno companies, you’d be doing very well right now. 

SCHWARTAU: I bought a new plant—does that count? Oh wow, they dropped the outdoor look book. Okay. It’s cute. There’s some millennial vibes. Some travertine.

P-H: I’m over gold, I’m over marble. I’m over anything shiny. Shiny is so over, especially now, because shininess equals sick. It means you’re feverish and sweaty.

SCHWARTAU: But shininess is also clean. If it’s smudged, then it’s not clean. I think shiny is very in. You know that a floor has just been mopped if it’s shiny. Things are actually going to get shinier.

P-H: Sort of like the Kristin Cavallari trend? Nashville, Moscow mule copper cups—that’s all gonna get bigger?

SCHWARTAU: Yeah. It’s connected to this Airbnb aesthetic, which was all about making things look really clean.

P-H: As if no one had been there besides you.

SCHWARTAU: Sheets so white, you’ll know if they have stains on them.

P-H: I just got new sheets in the mail, and I’m going to wash them before I even put them on my bed. I’ve been doing my own laundry, which is sort of de-growth.

SCHWARTAU: And by doing it yourself, you mean you have your boyfriend do it.

P-H: Boyfriends are essential workers.

SCHWARTAU: Boyfriends are on the front lines of this virus. Every night at 7pm, I go outside my window and I start clapping for the boyfriends.

P-H: I’m gonna go clap. 

LAST WEEK: ZOOMING THROUGH THE QUARANTINE WITH JEREMY O. HARRIS