Cole Escola Is Down For Whatever*
*Assuming he doesn’t have to wash his sheets afterwards. The comedian and actor opens up to JOHN EARLY about working with Amy Sedaris, re-watching Will & Grace, and the perils of dating audience members.
John: I’ve already pressed record, everything you say is on the record. Cole: [Starstruck] Oh my God, can you hear me?
[Nasal] Yeah. Can you hear me? Yeah.
OK, I love that, great. How was the premiere? The premiere was star-studded. Stunning. Guests. Glamour. It was great. The show is...everything that you want it to be, it is.
Thank God. And they showed just the one episode? The one that I’m in? The one that you’re in, John.
And you’re not in that episode? [Laughs] I’m not.
Aww, what a bummer for you. Have you not seen one of your own episodes? No, I haven’t yet.
Well, obviously we could gab about the premiere for hours. It’s a project we’re both involved in so I don’t feel like my career is being ignored. No, it’s not. You were smart to mention that we watched the episode that you’re in.
Who was there tonight? Any of Amy Sedaris’s notable friends, such as Sarah Jessica Parker? Sarah Jessica Parker was in attendance. And there was a girl there that looked like Amy and I wonder if it was her sister.
Wow, I didn’t know she had a sister. I think she has a few sisters.
I remember from the David Sedaris books. The thing is, I read David Sedaris after already being obsessed with Strangers With Candy, so I was always reading to find more stories about Amy. I mean, sorry, but we have to go there. You and I are both giant Amy Sedaris fans. Is it surreal [to be working with her]? I mean, you’re in like, six episodes out of what—ten? I did five episodes.
Oh, just five. I think the other one you’re thinking of is the one you did.
Right, which makes six total, because what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours. [Laughs] I was expecting it to be more surreal than it was. To experience or feel something I’ve never before experienced or felt in my life. When in reality you’re just meeting...a person...that you like. By expecting it to be earth-shattering and life-altering it swelled so big that all it could do was explode and deflate.
Yes, totally. Amy hired you because she’s a fan of your work, so you’re kind of her peer in the workplace. It’s not like you’re approaching her on the street and being like, ‘Hi, I have all of the Strangers With Candy DVDs.’ Do you overcompensate and you’re just like [gruff voice] ‘Hey. Hey, co-worker.’ ‘Hey, do you know where the coffee is?’
Did you freeze up around her at all? No.
I will say, and again this is not about me, but I have also worked with Amy—on one episode as opposed to Cole’s five—and I was stunned. Because I’m so intimidated by her level of taste, her stubbornness on staying in New York and never moving to LA...meanwhile we’re recording live from my bungalow in LA, ok? I sold out. I’m already done. So I kind of built her up and I just literally assumed that she hated me. [Laughs] Before knowing you?
Yeah. And, by the way, I didn’t think that she knew who I was. I just thought that if for some reason she stumbled upon or like, some gay intern made her watch a YouTube video of mine, I had this very vivid image—I imagined her scoffing at the video. And also her just going, ‘He’s doing me.’ I think that the more you like someone the more that fear part of your brain [kicks in].
You just fear abandonment. It’s like, Daddy! It’s like the more you like someone the worse you see yourself.
But why? Because, yes, I know that to be true. I admire Amy Sedaris so much my brain just looked for ways that she would hate me. It was like, working overtime looking through every nook and cranny for all the ways she could possibly hate me, thinking she would see something of mine and go…oh, so he’s a hack? He dresses up in shitty wigs? Ok, great. What am I supposed to do with this?
I know. And yet. The first thing we both experienced is that she’s obviously a total delight and so warm and just like, authentically silly. And I’ve thought a lot about young queer kids finding—newly finding Amy Sedaris and then it leading them back to Strangers With Candy and thinking that they’re in such good hands. I built my entire identity on that show as a lil’ gay kid. I bought it on Amazon.
Is it on Hulu? No. It was, but now it’s not.
I wanna talk about Meryl. Have you seen Ricki and the Flash? I forget. Uh, no, I haven’t seen that.
I want you to see it so that we can host screenings of it around the country when our careers have stalled. And I just saw Adaptation this weekend. I hadn’t seen it since I was in high school and had like, one eye open. It was so so good. And that was her kind of her comeback film, right?
Yeah, you can see in her eyes there is something kind of vulnerable about her performance. And not like, intentionally. She wasn’t doing Oscar bait, she wasn’t doing One True Thing...or Music of The Heart. [Laughs] I love One True Thing, by the way.
I have not seen One True Thing or Music of the Heart. I saw One True Thing when I was in middle school.
Did you sob? [Gasping] Of course! It’s Meryl with cancer.
And Renee Zellweger is her daughter? Yeah.
And what men are in it? Who?
What men are in it? Beats me.
[Laughs] While I was watching Adaptation I was reminding myself the whole time, like, if people ask you male actors you like you can just say Nicolas Cage. Not that that question comes up that much, it’s just that I’ll list fourteen women and then they’re like, do you like any men? And I’m like, completely frozen. That’s something I wonder about, especially amongst us and our friends, having all these thoughts and critiques of female performances and women’s movies and wondering where the line is between misogyny and just not caring that men exist? Does that make sense? Like, yes, I’m too critical of these actresses, but, to be fair, I can’t tell you a single man’s name.
Now I should say for the viewers at home that Cole is wearing a...how would you describe this? A hoodie onesie? Yeah. It’s a onesie, but I cut the sleeves off and made it shorts to turn it into a summer onesie.
And you wear it a lot. Yup, every night.
And do you wear it in bed? Sometimes.
Do you sleep in the nude ever? Never. Never.
Have you tried? Maybe a couple of times after sex with someone else who went to sleep nude.
Oh my god that is the worst, when they’re sleeping nude and they’re like, covered in cum [laughs]. And they don’t want to shower as a way to prove like, how in their bodies they are. Like, ‘Hey, it’s just sex…’
‘It’s just a little sex, there’s nothing to be scared of.’ That is so oppressive when you feel like someone is trying to perform this rugged, kind of earthy sexuality. I feel like I’m being punished for wanting to go to sleep sparkly clean. Or even if it’s authentic I still freak out about like, oh god that cum is on my top sheet and I just washed them two days ago and now I have to wash them again.
I remember also as a middle schooler trying to sleep naked just because I was horny and thinking to myself like, what a fun, sexy experience. But I always rattle awake in the middle of the night every time I try to sleep naked. Really? Like you’re afraid of being found?
That must be what it is. I always feel too hot or too cold, I’m tossing and turning. But I think at the core of it there’s some kind of trauma that I just haven’t processed. I think you just don’t need to sleep naked.
Absolutely not. And I don’t try to anymore. When I go home alone after a show, which is like 99% of the time—and I don’t mean alone like I’ve staked a spot out at the bar and am waiting for someone to pick me up, I just mean I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have anyone being like, ‘Ok babe let’s go home, I’ll carry your trunk full of props.’ And I do tend to get a little sad sack about that. I was just on a stage performing for a bunch of people and they were eating it up and I’m having the time of my life and then I’m back at the apartment on trycaviar.com ordering cheese tots. It’s easy for me to be like [whining], I’m alone! My only form of intimacy is on the stage! But you recently shattered that myth so beautifully for me when you were like, I like it. I like going home alone. I do now, because I have little rituals…[maybe] not rituals. But I go for a walk and I listen to music usually.
[High-pitched] That’s so nice! It’s been Barbara Cook lately because she just died—I literally say to myself in my head, welp, it’s time for my Barbara Cook walk. [Laughs] Then I usually buy a savory and a sweet from the deli across the street.
What’s your savory? It’s usually pita chips and hummus.
And then what’s your sweet? It’s a Lenny & Larry’s cookie.
Is that vegan? It’s a vegan cookie that’s high in protein.
Gorgeous. What else do you do? Watch things. I like Will & Grace right now.
What season are you on? I just started four.
I should plunge back in. Plunge whatever is comforting for you.
Do you find that when people see you in your show and then you hang out with them after, because I know you’ve been on dates with people who’ve come to see you, which—hello—I have too, duh. But what are people usually surprised by? Do people expect you to be more caustic than you are? I find that the conversation has never flowed.
[Bursts out laughing] Yeah. And I think that they’re maybe expecting me to pick it up a little bit more, for me to be the one leading, or for me to be more caustic and less...fake.
Less fake? Yeah.
And so in what way are you being fake, on a date? The way that anyone is on a first date.
So just like [nasal], ‘Yeah, where did you grow up? ...ah, that’s amazing, and she works mostly with kids?’ Exactly. And all of a sudden they’re confused. Because I’m more real onstage, so I think they get confused about—is this a bit? Are you...? And I’m like, [upbeat] ‘Oh, uptown, so that’s not far from work?’
[Nasal] ‘Oh, ok, so Serendipity 3 like, right near there?’ [Laughs] ‘How do you keep yourself from eating there all the time?’
I think that’s exactly what it is—you have an hour and a half onstage with basically no filter. That’s why it’s fun to do performance and comedy, you get to be the fantasy version of yourself. I get to make observations that I feel uncomfortable making in my daily life. So it must be jarring for people to talk to you about like, the most recent episode of Insecure. Right. Because part of being onstage is that the further you go in and the more raw and honest you are the funnier it is, but it’s not comfortable to go there when you’re one on one with someone who’s experienced you a little bit, but you haven’t really talked to them.
I feel like you are protected though by the fact that [you’re performing] characters. There’s a social contract. That’s also true in stand up. But the thing about stand up is that you have to perform it as if it’s just occurring to you and you’re just saying it. You have to walk out on stage and be like, ‘Two days ago…’
Meanwhile it was 400 days ago. That’s my problem. Any time I try to tell a story I always think I have to be transparent. I’ll be like, ‘So…four, I wanna say five…to be safe it was at least 6 months ago…’
Do you feel like you’re evolving, Cole? I think the world’s catching up. [Laughs]
I mean, I know you won’t say it, but every show you’re doing at Joe’s Pub is sold out. And it’s like, instantly sold out. I do get pleasure from that.
Of course you do. You’ve been doing your show for three and a half years—first at the Duplex and now at Joe’s Pub. I feel like if young Cole knew that he’d have a monthly sold out show at Joe’s Pub he’d be like, 'Excuse me, I’m a New York darling?!' And yet, it probably feels to you like...it’ll never be enough? [Laughs] Yeah, and it’s also the same thing of like, I’m assuming that they are watching the show, waiting for me to fail. When I go out onstage [I imagine] 184 people in the audience are thinking, ‘Like, really? This is it? I told you it would be this.’
Of course. I’ll feel like an impostor whenever I’m doing old material, but there is something so cozy about that realization of like, oh, I’ve actually been doing this for awhile. I always allow myself those moments when I’m on my way to the show. When I’m taking an Uber across the bridge and my suitcases are in the trunk. It’s a nice feeling to know that it’s going forward.