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 an outdoor table at Roberta’s in Brooklyn, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is chic and drop references to hot trends, hotter temperatures, and scalding political debates.
[EXT. Roberta’s— STEVEN, 33, lithe with a slight spare tire due to quarantine/relationship-induced weight gain, a bike tire, really; and ERIC, 33, slightly beefier and covered in a soft layer of hair like a body-positive Neanderthal—sit in an outdoor covered-tent area in the courtyard of a Brooklyn powerhouse pizza restaurant, on the eve of indoor dining being reintroduced to NYC. It is windy. A sexy, chipper, and very busy WAITRESS, 24, approaches.]
WAITRESS: Have you boys decided?
ERIC SCHWARTAU: Do you have a Negroni?
WAITRESS: We only have frozen cocktails.
SCHWARTAU: Oh, okay. It’s a little cold for that.
STEVEN P-H: I think we just need a moment. [Waitress leaves]. [To Eric:] Wow, we’re really rusty.
SCHWARTAU: Let’s let not leave our readers in suspense any longer—we’re celebrating the return of indoor dining by dining outdoors under a tent in a windstorm in a courtyard at Roberta’s. It’s a very 2012 restaurant, famous as the site of Hillary and Bill Clinton’s first trip to Bushwick.
P-H: The iconic Roberta’s, inventor of the indie mega-restaurant.
SCHWARTAU: They really just kept expanding and took over the junkyard next door. [Dance music blasts from nearby PA]. Ugh, I missed yelling over the sound of throbbing EDM at a restaurant.
P-H: That’s when the droplets really get airborne.
SCHWARTAU: That’s certainly how Trump gave it to Melania.
P-H: They were at the club? Or they were at Roberta’s?
SCHWARTAU: No, by yelling.
P-H: Right, because he definitely didn’t give it to her sexually. I’m not convinced she actually has it. But if she does, it was definitely retribution for her hating Christmas.
SCHWARTAU: Well, as Donald said, COVID is a plague, and those tend to be pretty retributive. I’ve never related to her more than when she said she hated putting up decorations.
P-H: You love decorations. You still have ephemera from your housewarming party up and you’ve lived there for two years.
SCHWARTAU: But that was my housewarming. Not someone else’s birthday.
P-H: True. Jesus is such a narcissist. You know, if Trump doesn’t die—which I really think he should because it would show a true commitment to the bit—then he’ll have proven his original point, which is that COVID isn’t a big deal. He really said “‘Don’t let it dominate your life.” Live free of fear! Maybe he read Marianne [Williamson] in the hospital.
SCHWARTAU: He wrote a letter to his COVID like Marianne had AIDS patients do, and that’s why he survived. He loved his virus and that’s what cured him.
P-H: I think all it proves is that he thinks his experiences are universal. He’s like, “You too can be old, fat, and riddled with COVID, but a military hospital will pump you full of adrenochrome and send you on your way!”
SCHWARTAU: I love that he’s just like, “I’m learning so much about it—really interesting stuff.”
P-H: Gorgeous disease. Now I’ve got crystal clear bronchi. I give it 4 out of 5 ventilators.
SCHWARTAU: Getting COVID right at the end of the year, literally weeks before the election is—can I say it?
SCHWARTAU: We’re always late!
P-H: His timeline is extremely gay. Bolsinaro and Boris Johnson got to the party early. Trump is showing up at 1AM—with no alcohol, mind you—after denying there even was a rager, and being like, “Hey, do you have somewhere I can charge my phone?”
SCHWARTAU: Well, Biden didn’t even come to the party.
P-H: And Kamala’s calling the cops.
SCHWARTAU: This party sounds fun. Anyways, we’re here to do some investigative journalism on the state of indoor dining.
P-H: Well, indoor-outdoor dining.
SCHWARTAU: Roberta’s is cutting edge in that way.
P-H: They knew the future was about the miraculous in-between space. The third spaces, the blurry areas. The blur tool of cuisine, if you will.
SCHWARTAU: I guess I can take off my mask. What are you getting?
P-H: A glass of red wine.
SCHWARTAU: Oh, they have JuneShine. I’m not sure I want to buy the hard kombucha here for $8 when I got it for $2.50 from the bodega last night. I’m not like you—I don’t think you need to break the bank every time you go out just to have a good time.
P-H: “Break up the banks!” is actually something I’ve heard you say. But yes, I’m pro-spending. I don’t want a wealth tax—I want a wealth cap. You shouldn’t be able to have more than X amount of money. Everything over that gets deleted at the end of the year.
SCHWARTAU: That could be a UBI solution. You get 15k per year, but you have to spend it all.
P-H: I do think the UBI is probably going to happen soon. Our government wants us to be poor, but not as much as they want the Global South to be poor. They’d rather give Americans enough cash so we can keep buying $3 t-shirts manufactured in Myanmar that say “I don’t need a boyfriend, I need to be SPOILED,” thus maintaining our position at the top of the t-shirt chain.
SCHWARTAU: I don’t think UBI is going to happen if Trump gets re-elected… unless he gets to sign all the checks.
P-H: I was thinking more in the next 20 years.
SCHWARTAU: My mental health problem is impatience.
P-H: We don’t talk about your mental health enough in this column.
SCHWARTAU: I don’t like waiting, which can make dining at trendy establishments challenging. I understand how sometimes you have to work to get into something, but I don’t like it.
P-H: Like how you worked hard to get into Vassar.
SCHWARTAU: I had to write a sassy column to get in. This reminds me of the Paris Hilton documentary we watched—how her getting emotionally abused in military school actually motivated her to achieve success.
P-H: I think a lot of people who have traumatic experiences are motivated to achieve success.
SCHWARTAU: But not every person who is born into money becomes Paris Hilton. There are thousands and thousands of spoiled kids who don’t achieve what she achieved.
SCHWARTAU: I think the key to success is micro-dosing trauma and macro-dosing being hot.
P-H: I’d like to macro-dose some wood-fired pizza.
SCHWARTAU: That would be traumatizing to being hot.
P-H: My COVID waistline is already deeply traumatized; it can take a little more abuse. Okay, so the topic of the week is the presidential debate, which was 6 years ago. Here’s my take: It should have been edited like a Real Housewives fight.
SCHWARTAU: That reminds me of that tweet like, “Joe Biden now knows what it’s like to be a woman in a meeting,” because he kept getting interrupted.
P-H: I do think that it’s weird that ever since Hillary Clinton lost, we’ve projected these male aggressor traits on Donald Trump—the mansplainer, the manterrupter, the manspreader.
SCHWARTAU: The COVID-spreader.
P-H: He’s just not that masc. He only talks about aesthetics. He’s the pettiest person alive. His vibe is like, bitchy faggot.
SCHWARTAU: I also don’t think that Trump’s “interrupting” is the personality trait we should be focused on here. That’s not what makes a fascist. New Yorkers interrupt people. Biden, on the other hand, is from Delaware. Not a lot to interrupt in Delaware.
SCHWARTAU: I was interested in both Chris Wallace and Biden looking into the camera for help, the camera as this saving grace that—
WAITRESS: What can I get for you guys?
P-H: I’ll have a glass of red and the Bee Sting pizza. And can we get the romaine salad?
SCHWARTAU: Okay, I’m going to get the Normcore pizza.
WAITRESS: Great choice.
P-H: The Normcore. 2012 is like Trump—it refuses to die!
SCHWARTAU: An FYI to our readers: We can share the salad safely because we’re already spitting in each other’s faces. So anyways, when you look into the camera, it’s a way of actually connecting, empathizing with the audience. My point was that made me think there should have been confessionals edited in.
P-H: They needed more dramatic zooms on everyone’s faces—I’m thinking the astoundingly edited fight sequence in the Cartagena restaurant between Bethenny/Carole and Dorinda/Luann. Chris Wallace is the Tinsley, just sort of there in the middle.
SCHWARTAU: A sparsely-populated restaurant setting would have really driven home the COVID factor. Biden slurping down ceviche.
P-H: Here’s the deal, man—this shrimp is a knockout! The biggest tension for me was Trump acting like he had no control over the election process and like, him being president. He’s like, “Girl, it’s such a mess!” I’m like, “Aren’t you in charge, babe?”
SCHWARTAU: He knows that this whole casting doubt on the election thing is a great way to get attention. He’s crafting a plotline. And now every Op-Ed is like, “The End of America.”
P-H: It’s easy to get the libs frothing. And he needs the media more than ever because he is the establishment now. In order to still seem like a rogue, he needs an enemy even more established than the presidency itself. [Waitress brings wine.] Thank you so much. Cheers!
SCHWARTAU: Cheers! Your mom would hate this wine.
P-H: Mmmm. It has the tannins I was looking for. I want to feel like they’re putting sandpaper in my mouth.
SCHWARTAU: I need to know if our readers have my same experience, which is not being able to sleep after drinking red wine.
P-H: Vinos, call in.
SCHWARTAU: I’m going to say it: I’m over wine. Natural wine feels so six months ago.
P-H: Well babe, we can’t come up with a new alcohol every six months.
P-H: That’s the truest thing you’ve said all night.
SCHWARTAU: One nation, under funk, with mild, citrusy vibes for all.
P-H: We need a First Ladies debate. The cat’s already out of the bag—we have a reality show president, let’s keep the ball rolling.
SCHWARTAU: Or maybe more of a Drag Race. I feel like it would be a lot of “my husband…”
P-H: A lot of proving their relationship is more virile. Jill Biden telling the American public she has sex 1.5 times a week.
SCHWARTAU: And Melania fervently insisting she doesn’t have sex with Trump.
P-H: In the lighting round, they have to describe the perfect dinner to cook for their husbands, and/or a visiting head of state.
SCHWARTAU: I can’t imagine Melania has ever cooked in her life.
P-H: I mean, back in her Slovenian shtetl she was probably boiling turnips every day.
SCHWARTAU: Maybe I should boil some turnips. She looks great.
P-H: They should also have daughter/son debates and pet debates. It’d be very Puppy Bowl. Biden’s golden retriever versus some Mar-a-Lago peacock that lost all its feathers, so now it has implants.
SCHWARTAU: Breast implants or feather implants?
P-H: Feather implants. Drag name Feather Locklear. 16 megatons of plumage.
SCHWARTAU: Talk about a payload.
P-H: I love that Trump addressing climate change was just him describing air quality like a Long Island mom planning her asshole son’s wedding: crystal clean air, immaculate, gorgeous.
SCHWARTAU: He thinks that America is Mar-a-Lago.
P-H: America is essentially a hotel.
SCHWARTAU: Our forests need some housekeeping. Gavin Newsom left the Do Not Disturb sign on too long!
P-H: So, Trump’s taxes. I guess I’m pro scamming the government. Trump scammed the system the way you’re supposed to! Everyone being so proud they pay all these taxes—I don’t really get that.
SCHWARTAU: I just feel like arguing that Trump is a loser because he’s in debt is ultimately not going to go over that well with the 300 million Americans who are also in debt.
P-H: It goes over well with self-righteous people that make over 250k.
SCHWARTAU: Obviously, I want millionaires and billionaires to pay more in taxes than I do. But like—it’s how the system is designed. The NYT couldn’t even say it was illegal.
P-H: The tax code has evolved over the last 50 years to transfer wealth to the top and get rid of middle class tax breaks. But it’s also evolved so that we can deduct everything from our taxes. If society is going to monetize every waking second of my life—guess what, my whole life is my job! Yes, my wig is a business expense. No one’s paying to see my real hairline.
SCHWARTAU: Well, I’m definitely saving tonight’s receipt.
P-H: What about the Proud Boys?
SCHWARTAU: First of all, Joe Biden is the one who said Proud Boys first, so they should really be thanking him for the free press.
P-H: Great job, Joe. They were not a national trending topic. And now…I alluded to this in my Vanity Fair piece, but cancel culture is bad because it’s always liberals elevating nobodies they allegedly don’t like and turning them into celebrities. But it’s interesting that Vice magazine invented them. Indie culture had a fork in the road in 2010. Half of the indie Williamsburgese ended up becoming singers, and half…
SCHWARTAU: Became comedians? Or are you saying that half became neo-Nazis and half are art fags?
P-H: Half is overshooting it. I was referring to a more specific archetype of person—this bearded, suspendered 2009 Vice magazine reader. A small sect of this man became Proud Boys.
SCHWARTAU: Well, they should be proud men by now.
P-H: [Eating the Normcore] I think they went a little crazy on the lemon in this.
SCHWARTAU: I wanted to talk about Uncanny Valley, but you haven’t read it.
P-H: Where’s the book?
SCHWARTAU: It’s in my apartment.
P-H: I suppose a railroad apartment is sort of an uncanny valley.
SCHWARTAU: Almost a habitable space, but not quite.
P-H: So, it’s about valleys. It’s cottagecore?
SCHWARTAU: It’s by Anna Wiener, this tech reporter for the New Yorker, and is about her time as an employee at GitHub and some data analytics firm. I think you would really like it because she picks apart the language of the tech start-up world. She also alludes to the infantilism of start-up culture, how it’s all these guys taking zero responsibility for running these businesses that have huge influence over how we live.
P-H: The design of start-up culture is very infantilizing too. All these curves and pastels.
SCHWARTAU: No sharp edges. Everything can be suckled safely.
P-H: No ouchies or boo-boos.
SCHWARTAU: I also liked how she doesn’t name a single company once. She always describes the company and what they do, which I think is a great exercise. How long could we go without name dropping a brand?
P-H: We forget how branded our thoughts are. Branded Thoughts is actually the name of a book of mine coming out in 2022.
SCHWARTAU: About being a horny copywriter?
P-H: Yeah, Branded Thots. People are already calling it “uproarious” and a “genre-bending work of auto-fiction.”
SCHWARTAU: “A tour-de-farce. A spoon-sharp acid bath from page one.”
P-H: Whenever I see someone on page one of a book I can’t help but laugh. It’s the funniest thing in the world to me. Just like, welp, here we go! Like, who are you kidding with that level of casual commitment out of nowhere? You’re 90 Day Fiancé-ing a book.
P-H: And yet, I see people on page one—on the subway! In plain sight.
SCHWARTAU: The number one page I see people on is page one.
P-H: Where is the shame in this country?
SCHWARTAU: Before this I had an hour to kill, so I read twenty pages of a book. I mean, it didn’t take the whole hour, but…
P-H: Before this I had an hour to kill so I played the Property Brothers mobile game. I really focused, because I’ve got a lot of properties to renovate.
SCHWARTAU: Does playing video games prepare you for real life?
P-H: Oh yeah. I’m 160 hours into Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey right now, and I’m much better at looting ancient Greek temples now than I was before. I know right where to go. I know how to kill a priest from 50 meters away.
SCHWARTAU: An important skill that segues into my next topic: my trip to the New Jersey gun range. It was a 2A stronghold. There was so much signage all over about the second amendment and bachelorette parties.
P-H: A bachelorette party on the gun range—is that where you shoot your single friends?
SCHWARTAU: Goodbye Drinks at the shooting range! We’re all getting Bloody Mary’s.
P-H: I’ll have the Corpse Reviver, thank you very much.
SCHWARTAU: I had never shot a gun. I felt empowered. The adrenaline rush was amazing.
P-H: So you’re one of the good guys with a gun?
SCHWARTAU: Bringing my AR to the coffee shop to protect our way of life.
P-H: Our way of life is under constant threat! Like that museum show I would’ve never attended that got canceled. Did you see that? It looked like a classic case of dumb meaninglessness.
SCHWARTAU: Philip Guston. It was because there was KKK imagery.
P-H: Was he pro or against?
SCHWARTAU: The only thing the art world can get headlines for is cancelling or getting canceled. Just a bunch of finger-pointing in an insular, incestuous world.
P-H: All a museum can do is have desperate openings and closings and cancellations and drink champagne and hope that something happens.
SCHWARTAU: Museums get huge tax breaks, so they have an obligation to serve the public. A bored couple going to see a dead artist’s show at a museum isn’t going to influence culture that much. They just get tired and go back home to watch Schitt’s Creek and not have sex.
P-H: Listen, I hate that show because everyone likes it and I don’t want to talk about it! Anyway, after the opening, there was this afterparty dinner, then I went to Washington Square Park where strippers were having a mobile stripping show. The next day I realized I lost my wallet, and I think it got stolen. And the other week, you lost your keys. And then I lost my keys, and I think the point is that gay people—
SCHWARTAU: —have alcohol problems.
P-H: They lose things. But society needs a chaos agent. It needs spice. I’m sick of being frowned upon because my wallet got stolen.
SCHWARTAU: In this era of mutual aid, your wallet is all our wallets.
P-H: This circles back to my spending proposition: just get rid of money. Spend, spend, spend. Rich people need to stop hoarding. Bloomberg sitting on billions, and for what? To have a Scrooge McDuck pool of gold coins? Now, if you believe in a communist society with absolutely no money, in the words of Kamala, we should have that conversation.
SCHWARTAU: Imagine a world with no money, just exchange. What are skills we could barter with? Copywriting?
P-H: Are you asking if there will be columns after the communist revolution?
SCHWARTAU: The columns will be toppled. Or you fill out some forms and apply to Bernie Sanders to get your column work assignment. Anyways, in the event of a revolution, I do foresee a Marie Antoinette-style raid of your sweater closet.
P-H: Did they raid her closet? I’m not sure that was part of the French revolution.
SCHWARTAU: They stormed her walk-in. They took all her streetwear. Maybe I’m confusing Sofia Coppola films.
P-H: I think we should get the check. You want me to get this?
SCHWARTAU: No, I don’t want to hoard all the money. We’ll split it.
P-H: Viva la revolution!
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