clare o’kane on buzzcocks, the damned, and james carville

The comedian on opening for Jawbreaker, growing up with punk, and that Sparks documentary

clare o’kane on buzzcocks, the damned, and james carville
Clare O’Kane, photo courtesy the artist

“Record Exchange” is a series of conversations between see/saw’s Evan Minsker and a fellow punk enthusiast. Each person brings two songs to discuss. The latest installment is a chat with stand-up comedian Clare O’Kane. Please consider subscribing to this reader-supported newsletter!

In 2018, Clare O’Kane got her public-facing punk rock bonafides when she was asked to open for Jawbreaker on their reunion tour. She knew drummer Adam Pfahler as a supporter of the Bay Area stand-up scene, but the band itself? “I had no concept of Jawbreaker when I opened for them,” she said. “I was very familiar with the Jawbreaker fanbase, though. I dated people who were that kind of guy. I could draw a Jawbreaker fan from memory.” She presents the following caricature: tattoos only in black ink, a beard (“or at least the idea of a beard”), bitterness, not afraid to yell, not afraid to cry. 

Clare’s new album Everything I Know How to Do was just released in May, a stand-up special follow-up to 2018’s Let It Be. In it, she discusses a failed SNL sketch pitch about She-Hulk visiting the gynecologist (and then, at the end of the album, presents it as a classic comedy album audio sketch). She also talks about her open marriage polycule, pansexuality, and internet weirdos who come out of the woodwork to talk about how she looks in an Amazon pilot that got passed over for Mrs. Maisel

There’s another gem on the album: “Ragin’ Cajun: A Sincere Song About James Carville.” O’Kane has been writing and performing sincere, not-comedic songs since high school, inspired by anti-folk icons like the Moldy Peaches. “I like keeping the comedy and the sincerity separate,” she says. It’s a romantic, lovely song about Carville, inspired by his real-life relationship with a Republican strategist. “I just thought god, they must have crazy sex,” she said. A full album of songs in this vein—sincere songs, not specifically all about Carville—is being planned.

Clare’s pick: The Buzzcocks’ “What Do I Get?”

The older I get, the less inclined I am to listen to punk music. The music I listen to has turned from angry to melancholy, and I think that's kind of how my life has gone as well—or my personality has changed. When I was little, like 9 or 10, I was into Blink-182 and Sum-41, all that stuff. Then you find out about the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash. From there it was more indie stuff, and then in college I got into bands like Crass and the Wipers. But I was listening to Buzzcocks and the Damned in high school.

Actually I found out about the Buzzcocks from that movie Ghost World, I think maybe when I was 11 or 12. All the punk I've ever really listened to ends up being kind of melodic. Very rarely is it like [wordless hardcore yammering]. Even Minor Threat, to me, is like you could kind of tap your toes. But yeah after that scene in Ghost World, I looked up Buzzcocks on LimeWire and downloaded everything. 

This music video is amazing.

This is the kind of punk person I relate to the most—these guys who are seemingly normal looking. They're not actively wearing studs and they're not all pierced up. Their idea of punk is dressing nice as a goof or something—wearing a tie but rocking out. I love that.

see/saw’s pick: Bush Tetras’ “Too Many Creeps”

You know, I never really have listened to Bush Tetras. I know that I should listen more because I liked this song a lot. There definitely are too many creeps. Somebody’s gotta sing about it. I think in the music world, there’s a specific kind of music creep, show creep—especially for female musicians, it’s a similar thing that female comedians get. These guys who are creepy but also at the same time very much like, “You’re actually not using that pickup correctly.” Always correcting you or giving you tips when they’re not asked for. 

Clare’s pick: The Damned’s “Melody Lee”

This one’s on Machine Gun Etiquette, the album after Damned Damned Damned. I really connected with the singing, same with the Buzzcocks, that English lilt. I find that I really love this area of English punk and post-punk, and bands like Television Personalities and the Vaselines. From the ’70s to the 2000s, whatever’s going on over there, I’m into it. And I like the way this song starts with a piano and then it really softly hits you in the face.

see/saw’s pick: Dangüs Tarküs’ cover of Sparks’ “Sherlock Holmes”

I’m a Sparks fan very tangentially. That’s one of the songs I knew. This cover really feels like Chicago in 2017—that garage punk revisited. I like that song. It reminds me of that band the Gizmos. I saw that Sparks movie. Too long. It’s cool that they put Jake Fogelnest in there, but otherwise, it’s just like: let these guys talk.