PR rep Kambri Crews generates her own buzz
By Noah Fowle
Kambri Crews is not used to being the center of attention. Managing her own PR firm, her talents lay in generating buzz, and her hard work and dedication have helped launch some of downtowns hottest alternative rooms, where a fresh style of entertainment is being served from equal parts comedic and literary influences. She helped promote one of her clients weekly comedy shows at Rififis (332 E. 11th Street), Giant Tuesday Night of Amazing Inventions...and more recently got behind the Drink at Work comedy series held at Ace of Clubs (9 Great Jones Street).
Now, Crews is stepping from behind the curtain and trading her clipboard for the microphone and working on a little self-promotion of her own. She crafted a unique performance that blends humor, poignancy, and sign language in Love, Daddy, which is based on her correspondence with her deaf father, who is currently serving a 20-year prison term for the attempted murder of his girlfriend. Crews chronicles her brutal and funny story with candor online at www.love-daddy.blogspot.com, yet onstage she manages to inject a new dimension into the story with her gregarious spirit and unflinching insights into abuse, prison, and a girls relationship with her father.
On Monday, June 26 Crews will join a host of other comedians and performers at Ace of Clubs for the most recent Drink at Work event, and read from her most recent entries of Love, Daddy.
Most people tend to shy away from the skeletons in their familys closet. Why didnt you?
When my dad tried to kill this woman I didnt tell anyone at first. Then the trial got underway and they wanted to subpoena me because I witnessed him try to kill my mother years earlier. I didnt want to go because I was helping produce a cabaret here in New York. I asked my mother to go instead, feeling as though she hadnt done a whole of mothering up to this point and now was the time to make up for past failures. She agreed to go. And this was such a traumatic experience for me during a stressful time in my life that I eventually had to tell my partners. They were stunned of course. Ive always been good at not letting my personal life affect my business. In a way thats what drives me. I dont want to end up back in a tin shed in Texas. After I told them it was sort of an exorcism for me. Most of my friends assume Im from the Upper East Side. And it dawned on me that there was this huge contrast between what I appear to be and what I am. It became exhilarating to know that I had this story that could blow people away.
Your work seems to straddle both the comedic and literary worlds. Were you influenced to do that or is this your personal style?
I used to act and back then I always gravitated towards comedy. My natural inclination is to make people more relaxed and feel comfortable. This material is so heavy that it needs some laughter. I figured that if I brought in funny elements it would make it easier for me to get my message across. I dont want to bum everyone out. I never liked going to shows where I ended up crying.
Domestic violence and prison are at the forefront of your story, yet you avoid saying how you feel about them. Why?
Its weird. Ive always liked journalism, you know investigative reporting and fact-finding missions. But Im also so worried that people will wind up hating my dad or not understanding me. Thats where Im weakest. This is a scary path. My dad doesnt totally recognize that I dont believe hes innocent. And I feel like Im betraying him a little because Im making fun of him. I know people dont like him. But hes a funny person and a great storyteller, and I try to capture that side of him. There is a something about him that is magnetic and charismatic. He does deserve to be in jail. But hes not entirely bad and thats what I want to get across.
Im from Texas, the death penalty state, and I still support it. But now I know someone in prison. And my viewpoint has changed somewhat. Most of these people will be released and we are not rehabilitating them. They are going to become our problem again. But me, I wont change the abuse by the guards. Thats not the most pressing issue for me. He complains a lot about how he and the other deaf guys are not treated well, and Im happy to help him write letters to fix that. I want him to feel as if he has some control over how he is treated. But Im just trying to deal with my dad and come to terms with our story.
Why did you choose the blog format to tell your story?
So I could take it slow. I write at my own leisure, and it allows me to get feedback. Who knows who will come across it? And it helps me to gauge peoples reactions. You know, which entries are interesting and which ones encourage my memories. Its very organic. The blog is helping me find more interesting ways to bring out the story. But I cant just use the written word, because sign language doesnt translate to print. Thats what is great about the readings.
What do you think about the recent trend of doctoring memoirs?
The whole James Frey thing bummed me out. There are so many people with these stories. Just tell it and tell it honestly. I understand they need to sell books. But I dont want people to be turned off by the genre. Luckily Ive got letters from my dad since 1995, and I have enough pictures and back up, so I dont need to worry if people will question my story.
Downtowns music scene has been fading a little. Do you think its time for a more literary scene to take its place in the form of these alternative rooms?
Everything is cyclical with peaks and valleys of heightened or lessened interest. I do think that alternative comedy and readings are experiencing a high right now. It helps that it is relatively simple to put together a comedy show and producers can get creative with the venue choice as opposed to musicians who have specific technical needs. Location is the toughest thing in New York. You have to be willingly to come up with new ways to look at a space. Who says a performance has to be at a theater or with a bar and a backroom? A smaller venue is a lot more fun. It doesnt take a lot of people to make it intimate.