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Isaac Mizrahi on His Café Carlyle Debut, Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?

Isaac Mizrahi on His Café Carlyle Debut, Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?

Isaac Mizrahi
Photo: Jason Frank Rothenberg

"In the end, it’s really just a tribute to Eartha Kitt."

The storied Cafe Carlyle may not be one of New York's larger performance spaces, but for cabaret acts, in terms of stature, there's no bigger venue. The perennially multi-tasking designer/performer/writer Isaac Mizrahi, who's had his share of club gigs (Joe's Pub, City Winery) is painfully aware of this. He'd been approached by the Carlyle in the past, "but I couldn't work out the date, or I was too scared. Then over the summer I got a request, and I was only too happy to accept."

Mizrahi will make his Carlyle debut with a show called Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?, running January 31 through February 11. Accompanied by a jazz band, he'll sing a variety of classics, from Duke Ellington's "Lotus Blossom" to Kismet's "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," though he'd rather not give too much of the set list away. "I want people to be surprised," Mizrahi stressed, when we caught up with him recently.

Congratulations on your Carlyle debut. So what's your plan?

One thing I really want is for it to be super fun, so I encourage my audiences to come as loaded as possible [and] have a lot to drink. I feel like the best shows are a dialogue between the performer and the audience. I think the trick is going to be to just arrive, live and breathe in that room--to not feel intimidated or overprepared. You have to leave something to chance. It's really inches away from hosting a party. I don't like it when things are boring; boredom is my arch enemy.

Related | First Look: 'Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History' at the Jewish Museum

Tell us about your band. You've worked with these musicians for a while, right?

I've been working with some of them for 17, 18 years. They're serious jazz musicians, but the great thing about them is they're so funny. And I'll tell you what: They're kind of cute. And straight--they're all straight, which is ironic. But you know, men are supposed to get better looking as they get older, but not necessarily these men. They were much cuter 17 years ago.

Have you always liked to sing?

When I was 10 or 12, I was a female impersonator. It didn't go over big in family situations, in Brooklyn, but they couldn't stop me. I mean, I can't impersonate women anymore, unless it's Bea Arthur. But what I'm going for in my shows is something like Judy Garland or Elaine Stritch. In the end, it's really just a tribute to Eartha Kitt. I might be doing "C'est Si Bon." I hope to be doing that.

Do you get nervous before going onstage?

Oh, are you kidding? I question my sanity. I question why I'm alive, or why I ever opened my mouth and accepted a gig. What I've tried to do, over the years, is work with that and try to turn the nervousness into excitement. But sometimes that can backfire; the excitement gets the better of you, and the whole thing becomes this big explosion that no one understands. Maybe I should just drink really heavily before the show.

Is crafting and performing a show like this in any way an extension of what you do as a TV host or judge, or in presenting a fashion collection?

I don't know if extension is the word I'd use. It's a completely different set of muscles you use. I guess I touch on fashion a little bit in the show, but more than that I'll talk about what it's like living in this city, living in the world, living with anxiety, and whatever else comes up. More than going, "Oh, short skirts are happening this week." But I don't do that, even in my work in fashion.

Of course, we need to know what you're going to wear. It's a fabulous room.

I'm thinking about that. I mean, how many Swarovski crystals can you throw on at one time, right? Kidding. There will be no Swarovski crystals in the show, sadly--at least not on me. But I'm going to be dressy, that's for sure. And the boys know it's a dressy gig.

Any other projects you're working on at the moment?

I've been doing a lot of writing--writing essays and working on a memoir. I'm not sure when the memoir will come out; I'm hoping it will be this year, or if not early next year. I've been working on it for years, and I'm at that crucial point right now where it's the beginning of the end. I think it's going to be really good.

Something else to look forward to. Thanks, and I can't wait to see the show.

Whatever you do, please, don't tell me when you're coming. I don't like to know when smart people will be in the audience.

Isaac Mizrahi's Cafe Carlyle debut, Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?, runs January 31 through February 11. Tickets are available for purchase, here.

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