talk hole

Talk Hole: Kidney Girl Autumn


Photos by Darryl Natale and Annie Millman.

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 call 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. This time, Talk Hole serves up a kidney and heckles Fran Lebowitz on West 4th Street. 


ERIC SCHWARTAU: It feels quiet—where is everyone?

STEVEN P-H: Upstate? It’s fall now. Everyone’s picking apples, getting married, adopting dogs and competing for cash in pumpkin-flavored bloodsport…

SCHWARTAU: Which leaves local celebrities a lot more vulnerable to plebeians. I saw Fran Lebowitz on the street outside IFC after seeing Amalia Ulman’s new film El Planeta

P-H: Two New York icons.

SCHWARTAU: Me and Fran?

P-H: Fran and the street.

SCHWARTAU: I asked her if she had ever done karaoke.

P-H: We are journalists! Interview, where’s our press pass?

SCHWARTAU: I assumed Fran would have something grumpy to say about karaoke, and I was right. She said she’d “never set foot in a karaoke bar and doesn’t plan to.” 

P-H: Well, she has nothing to fear. Karaoke is mostly reading comprehension, and she’s always bragging about how many books she has.

SCHWARTAU: Am I being a bad art friend to Fran by using our convo as material in the column?  

P-H: A bad art friend is a friend who doesn’t tell you when your art is bad.

SCHWARTAU: No, it’s someone you meet at a gallery opening who doesn’t tell you where the after party is.

P-H: No, it’s when you sleep with a painter and he doesn’t paint a large-scale nude of you lounging in his unmade bed.

SCHWARTAU: Don’t use me—muse me!

P-H:  Exactly. Being immortalized in art is wonderful. That psycho BPD kidney parade girl should’ve been thrilled to be her fake friend’s muse.

SCHWARTAU: But it still begs the question—is writing art?

P-H: I would argue a New York-based column is art, but a Boston-based short story seminar isn’t.

SCHWARTAU: Lawsuits are the preeminent American art form— they are abstractions of life and have italicized titles. Dawn Dorland v. Sonya Larson is the art piece.

P-H: For our readers who have jobs and don’t have time to read an entire New York Times article, a psychotic woman posted about her anonymous kidney donation to a Facebook writers group, then another woman in the group basically copy-pasted her deranged self-aggrandizing letter about her kidney donation in a short story she wrote about a deranged woman with a savior complex donating her kidney. Then the kidney woman sued the short story writer for plagiarism/stolen kidney valor.

SCHWARTAU: I love that you’re considering our readers— that’s a form of savior complex. 

P-H: She should’ve changed the organ. That would’ve made it fiction.

SCHWARTAU: Maybe an appendix? Breasts, even?

P-H: Yes! A straight woman gets top surgery so she can donate her rack to a needy trans girl. It would’ve still been topical.

SCHWARTAU: Congratulations to your podcast partner Lily on her top surgery, by the way. 

P-H: Congratulations to you for mentioning my podcast. You’re now officially a good art friend.

SCHWARTAU: My feeling is that bad art is reactionary and good art is transcendent. If she “felt bad” about writing the piece, then it’s in bad faith and therefore inauthentic. 

P-H: I do think you should tell someone if you’re gonna use their anecdote for your art. It’s a nice gesture. For example, one time a girl told me she was going to write a musical based on one of my tweets.

SCHWARTAU: Feel like a TikTok based on a tweet would have sufficed—did she end up writing it? 

P-H: No, but if she had I wouldn’t have been able to sue. And that’s friendship.

SCHWARTAU: Which brings up the real issue of that article—our overly-litigious society is bringing far too much attention to a Greater Boston Facebook group.

P-H: And on the same day Facebook went offline! Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.

SCHWARTAU: Even the LGBTQIA+ congresspersonx Facebook group was unreachable. 

P-H: AOC desperately trying to upload Drag Race memes.

SCHWARTAU: Sinema’s bi-visibility posts not going through.

P-H: I’m imagining Sinema coming back the next day like, “hey guys, just bumping this. We lost a bi visibility day due to the outage so it’s really important we like and comment on my bill to funnel SNAP benefits to the Tucson Sip n’ Sculpt Wine & Pottery boutique.” 

SCHWARTAU: Thank God someone blew the whistle on Facebook.

P-H: Everyone’s saying this whistleblower ballet is a ploy for Gillibrand and other schoolmarm liberals to create some toxic, 1984-esque “Bureau of Misinformation Police, Digital Truth Enforcement and Calling Out Toxic Friends” that’s just a propaganda wing in disguise. Which could be a fun new job opportunity for any budding Diet Pradas out there.

SCHWARTAU: I don’t trust the government to call out my toxic friends. The government already is my toxic friend. Constantly asking me for money then not even picking me up for work on time.

P-H: If there is an ominous truth bureau, I think the most senior members of the senate should be tasked with deciding if your Instagram photos are pushing unattainable beauty standards. Dianne Feinstein zooming in on your underwear selfie like, “Nope. We’ve got a sock in there. Take it down.”

SCHWARTAU: The Facebook whistleblower is a bad art friend.

P-H: Mark Zuckerberg’s story isn’t hers to tell!

SCHWARTAU: Did she spend years devising an algorithm that could rile up aunts in their various knitting circles? No. Stolen aunt valor.

P-H: I think that Facebook “going down” and the whistleblower “coming out” are part of the same desperate bid by Facebook to appear relevant by appropriating gay sexual terminology.

SCHWARTAU: I mean, they did invent being “interested in men.”

P-H: It’s also some reverse psychology— how do you make something appear powerful? Make it seem like it’s so dangerous and out of control it needs to be whistle-blown. Make it disappear long enough for people to freak out, but not long enough to realize they can live without it. 

SCHWARTAU: Sometimes our techno fascist overlords need a sick day too. I was glad to have some extra time to work on my “we adopted a dog” post.

P-H: I’m happy for you, or sorry that happened?

SCHWARTAU: It felt like an unplanned pregnancy, and I decided to keep it because I’m quirky.

P-H: Sounds like a Netflix show where they jack Rachel Bilson out of retirement to play a divorced chef who accidentally opens an inn.

SCHWARTAU: But she falls into debt and agrees to compete in a life-or-death game to win money to repay her debts.

P-H: Speaking of, people want to say Squid Game is popular because its “class narratives” reflect the “brutality” of the “gig economy” and “rising inequality”, but the reality is humans beings are deeply violent, and we love seeing other people get gruesomely murdered, especially when they’re wearing matching Gosha Rubchinskiy tracksuits.

SCHWARTAU: I prefer slightly more abstract forms of violence like porn, tennis, or real housewives, but you’re right. The class narrative just makes it high-brow enough to talk about over Slack.

P-H: It’s Saw meets the Hunger Games, but then you add the class element of Snowpiercer or Skyscraper or some other object-metaphor for hierarchy, then make it even more intellectual by adding subtitles. At that point it’s basically a book.

SCHWARTAU: I’m now realizing foreign films have been wrongfully over-intellectualized because you have to read during them.

P-H: I think Squid Game is also resonating because much like the kidney donation saga, it’s a story of fake friends and how you can’t trust anyone. In our highly duplicitous world of finstas, catfishing and private Slack channels, we all secretly suspect that our peers would sell us out in a heartbeat for 50 billion Korean won, or even just a fellowship at some sad New England writers’ workshop called Cabbage Patch or Word Cauldron.


Photo by Darryl Natale.

SCHWARTAU: Sorry, I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about my wedding looks for this weekend.

P-H: Ok well, to circle back to me, everyone at my barbershop this week was also going to a wedding.

SCHWARTAU: A wedding is a call to action. Level up your look.

P-H: If you don’t have a skin fade, you’ll fade into the background of every photo.

SCHWARTAU: It’s important to try and look hotter than the groom.

P-H: I think you mean grooms?


P-H: It’s leftover wedding season right now. There was a huge backlog from last year’s quarantine. Not too dissimilar from what’s happening in our criminal courts system.

SCHWARTAU: You know, gay weddings used to be punishable by death. I think they’re still quite revolutionary. 

P-H: I think that’s the Connecticut Board of Tourism’s slogan: “Still Revolutionary.”

SCHWARTAU: Well, “quite” is the gay part.

P-H: The gay part of a wedding is everything after—the reception, the hangover, the photos you post to Instagram. The straight part is everything before—the engagement party, the tux fitting, the invitations. This is because, to paraphrase Foucault, for centuries heterosexuality was about the anticipation of sex, as mainstream culture revolves around courtship. Whereas homosexuality is all about having some furtive, brief encounter, then reminiscing about it afterwards—diarizing about it, telling your fellow peasants how big his dick was, etc. 

SCHWARTAU: It’s all sounding pretty gay to me.

P-H: I can tell you’re reminiscing right now because I said “big dick.”

SCHWARTAU: I’m thinking about how I used to always reference Runaway Bride in therapy.

P-H: I love how she wears running shoes with a traditional wedding dress, which ironically, would be totally appropriate attire at a modern wedding. Very Balenciaga.

SCHWARTAU: The lesson of Runaway Bride is that a strict dress code eliminates commitment issues.

P-H: Straight jacket for the groom.

SCHWARTAU: It does seem hard to get out of a wedding dress. 

P-H: Not as hard as getting out of a marriage.

SCHWARTAU: Speaking of Balenciaga, I love their content machine—the red carpet, the Simpsons. Demna is so good at consuming everything in sight and regurgitating it back to us like a gothy mama crow. 

P-H: As a gamer, I felt seen by the Fortnite collaboration. For too long, our community has been ostracized by the snooty, Parisian fashion elite. 

SCHWARTAU: Nothing says inclusion like an $800 hoodie.

P-H: I would pay $800 for a Talk Hole hoodie if I saw a pic of Isabelle Huppert wearing it. I just need to win a couple rounds of Squid Game for the cash.

SCHWARTAU: Speaking of regurgitation, Pitchfork is really phoning it in with their “rescoring old reviews” series.

P-H: Kudos to Pitchfork for getting people to go to their website, if only briefly.

SCHWARTAU: Maybe there’s something noble about looking back on your past and reevaluating. About having the courage to say, “I was wrong.”

P-H: Do you ever look at our old columns or photo shoots? What would you change? What would you tell the little girl who thought she could get photographers to shoot her in her underwear every month for the rest of her life?

SCHWARTAU: I would tell her that wine has a lot of carbs.

P-H: I’d like to “rescore” our old shoots based on the following criteria: how turned on people were, how much they shifted the culture, how much older I feel now, and how many followers I lost.

SCHWARTAU: I imagine most are getting downgraded.

P-H: It’s interesting that with Pitchfork, almost every album they “corrected” went up. Grade inflation and the economy of positivity is infecting all industries and artists—except for poor Grimes, who got demoted.

SCHWARTAU: And all while she’s going through a divorce! How much do you think Elon paid Pitchfork to downgrade her?

P-H: Free Grimes!

SCHWARTAU: People love to dunk on her, which makes me feel like said people are just resentful reactionaries wishing they could be imprisoned by a cavalier crypto billionaire. 

P-H: Kill Grimes, marry Elon, free Britney. 

SCHWARTAU: So no one is worried about freeing Britney?

P-H: She posted a photo of herself flying a plane. I’m definitely concerned. 

SCHWARTAU: Exactly. Who’s minding the store? We freed her from her family only to have her be ruled by what—Instagram?

P-H: Maybe she escaped when it went down—the electric fence surrounding her gym wasn’t on. 

SCHWARTAU: Deranged fan support is not management. Parental managers work. Look at Kris Jenner. Look at Jon-Benet Ramsey.

P-H: Look at Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin. 

SCHWARTAU: Mommy and daddy are taking away AOC’s credit card.

P-H: And grandpa’s keys to the nuclear codes.

SCHWARTAU: And Pete’s model trains.

P-H: Ultimately, I think Manchinema is an important reminder that if your state sucks, you will hold it over everyone else.

SCHWARTAU: The Manchineman Candidate could be a great January thriller. Netflix, take it from here.

P-H: It’s about Kristin Sinema being brainwashed into using her sexy arms to seduce and murder Biden so a Russian-backed DSA plant can ascend to the Presidency. I’m thinking… Cynthia Nixon.

SCHWARTAU: She is a redhead. I could see her as a Putin gal.

P-H: If Putin likes you, I feel like you’re a bad art friend, but a good Art Basel friend.

SCHWARTAU: I’m a Basel 9, but a Pitchfork 6.8.

P-H: And still a New York 4.5.

SCHWARTAU: Ok, I think I’m ready for this column to go down.

P-H: Like most crashes, we need the rest.

SCHWARTAU: See you on Facebook.