Native Tongues: Danny Hoch

Photo: Joan Marcus

Danny Hoch, arguably the best of the shape-shifting solo performers who brought multiethnic New York to the stage in the nineties, hasn’t done a one-man gig in ten years. He wasn’t particularly eager to put himself through the wringer again when Berkeley Rep asked him to work something up last year. But it took Hoch only four days to write most of Taking Over, maybe because the subject is so close to his spleen. His screed against gentrification in Williamsburg, where the Queens-born Jewish New Yorker has lived since 1990, “was all in here for ten years,” he says, tapping his head and whispering to save his voice for that night’s panoply of expert and hilarious impersonations—from clueless hipsters to the angry locals they’ve besieged. He spoke to Boris Kachka about his distinctly non-positive message.

When did you know things were changing in your neighborhood?
A café opened—the L Cafe—in ’93 or ’94. Big industrial parties began to happen.

Weren’t you, in fact, an early gentrifier—an artist who’d moved to Williamsburg?
Absolutely. But what’s happening is not gentrification. What’s happening is colonialism— a recolonization of cities and neighborhoods in the country, and we’re all participating. As am I.

That was pointed out in e-mails you read onstage—and in a San Francisco Weekly pan of your show, which gleefully mentioned spotting you eating at an Oakland restaurant that serves $16 burgers and elderflower cocktails.
I am going to include that review when my play is published. It’s emblematic of the gentrifiers’ reaction. Particularly the white gentrifiers, who feel they’re being attacked and blamed. What they’re upset about is that they’re not being celebrated, which hurts more.

You must be delighted that the economy’s collapsing—maybe Williamsburg will de-gentrify and new condos will stay empty.
I promise you, the condos will be filled. The kids of baby-boomers are still flocking to New York en masse.

Americans who come to New York—are they that different from immigrants? Sometimes the lives they’re fleeing are just as dreary.
No, here’s the difference. Get your pen ready. Immigrants come with no money, and they come with sweat equity. Americans come with money and very little sweat.

Not all of them.
But they come here with a collective wealth that eclipses what immigrants come with collectively. And when second- and third-generation immigrants have for decades been asking for a new school, or a hospital, or a traffic light where four young people got killed, and in five years a bunch of Americans move in and in six months they get a bike lane, it makes you want to commit an act of terrorism.

Is anything authentic left in Williamsburg?
The baccalao on Friday’s at Vecinos’ on South 4th is the best.

Uh-oh. Now all the gentrifiers will go there.
They already know.

Taking Over
The Public Theater. Through December 14.

Native Tongues: Danny Hoch