“It’s pretty crazy,” says Andrew. “People show up to see me dance in front of a chalkboard. I don’t know what exactly they get out of it, but from what I gather it feels good somehow, and I don’t need to question it beyond that. It’s about creating a feeling of exhilaration and inspiration, a sense that you can do anything. If I go out there and make a fool of myself, then it certainly feels easier for other people to do the same, to take risks, which I think is part of the appeal.” The lectures, in other words, are best understood as an extension of the role he hopes the club plays in New York. “I’m kind of like a jester, you know?” he says. “I absorb all the fears and negative energy and awkwardness people have. My goal is to create the best feel-good feeling in the world and bring it to as many places as possible.”
On a Sunday night last month, as a foot of snow begins blanketing the city, Andrew is in the downstairs D.J. booth at Santos preparing to host a party called What the Fuck!? Wearing his trademark white jeans and white T-shirt with fake blood dripping from the collar, he is in full Andrew W.K. mode, no longer the quiet impresario in the lighting booth but the nucleus around which the party orbits. “Tonight is an experiment,” he says. “I want this club to be a safe haven for fringe performers. When I started performing, I played in all sort of places. A Starbucks. This guy’s apartment. There was a place in Ypsilanti, Michigan, called the Green Room, where there was never more than twenty people, but I pretty much created the whole Andrew W.K. thing there.” Hoping to re-create that experience, he has invited nine little-known performers to play a series of short sets. “I’m nervous about the weather,” he says. “We’ll have to see if anyone shows up.”
As the party gets under way, the prospects look grim. There are fewer than ten people gathered when the first act, a bawdy comedienne named Heather Fink, comes on. Only a few more filter in for the second act, an ironic dance-pop duo from Brooklyn called the Nuck Fuggets. Despite the meager turnout, Andrew works the audience as if addressing a packed stadium, joining in every performance while manically dancing and clapping his hands. With his voice magnified by an echo effect, he begins screaming into the microphone, issuing a number of sentiments that, for all their semi-coherence, seem to define the anxiety-annihilating role he wants the club to play. “The way we work at Santos Party House,” he yells, “is we get your pleasure in mind and then we hold it up there like a baby dove!” A few minutes later: “We’re in a blizzard, but down here we’re in a bunker of fun!” And finally: “Even in the middle of a snowstorm, and even with all the issues we’ve been facing as a country, we are all okay!”
As the third act gears up, Andrew asks the crowd for a favor. “Now I would like you to do something for me, if that’s all right,” he hollers into the mike. “I would like all of you to cheer on command. I realize that following orders isn’t always fun, but let’s give it a try! Ready?”
As this back-and-forth goes on for a few minutes, something strange occurs: There’s a palpable shift in the mood, and … look at that! More people are coming in now, streaming in, almost as if they could hear Andrew from their apartments and figured, fuck the snow, fuck everything, let’s go get lost for a bit. By the time Andrew’s wife, Cherie, clad in a silver lamé leotard and knee-high boots, comes on, the downstairs is filled with strangers dancing together—two young girls in matching Obama T-shirts, a Williamsburg dude in skinny jeans, a jolly old guy with a video camera—all pressing up against one another, purging themselves of whatever hang-ups and neuroses were eating them up before. Though Andrew had intended the party to end on the early side, it goes until four in the morning. When he finally clears out of the club, there are no cabs in sight on the snow-slicked roads, and he and his wife have to meander through the empty streets looking for a ride home. Eventually, Andrew finds a livery cab willing to make the journey, and, content with the state of downtown for the night, he and Cherie slowly swerve their way back uptown.