Some comedic acts simply defy description, so before you read this interview with Julie Klausner and Sue Galloway, better known as the over-the-top lesbionic duo Betty and Joan of the mock 70's kids TV show Free to Be Friends, go have a look-see at the title sequence of their show or listen to "Boys and Girls Are Different in the Pants." That's just a taste of what you can expect from two women who sing songs like "Pancakes, Pancakes Vietnam" and "It's Okay to Rage" while bearing slightly demonic demeanors glossed with happy rainbow hippie chic. One gets the sense that these off-the-wall characters will either light up joints onstage and start making out or bash each other over the head with their guitars (but they don't). Once you return from 1972, come back to read all about their comic debt to The Magic Garden, owl companion Shylock, and upcoming show at the New York International Fringe Festival. (With a nod of gratitute to The Apiary, who also recently dissected the hilarity of Free to Be Friends.)

When and how did you come up with Betty and Joan and Free to Be Friends?
Julie Klausner: I grew up watching The Magic Garden with Carole and Paula on WPIX, which was a regional show from the tri-state area, and listening to the Free To Be ... You and Me album over and over again. I thought it would be a funny genre to send up, plus, the whole look of the show was a lot of fun. Wide leg pants and mushrooms and the like.

Sue Galloway: Julie grew up watching The Magic Garden with Carole & Paula . . . and then eventually asked me to write this show with her. We started writing it about a year ago, coming up with the songs and writing some bits that we performed a few times to test them out. We eventually wrote it into a half hour show that we first performed at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater last October. Though I consider myself to be an adult now, I continue to watch Mr. Rogers whenever I can, so I have a certain place in my heart for children's programming. The left ventricle.

Here's where I ask you to do my job for me: how would you describe Free to Be Friends to someone who's never seen you?
JK: It does take place in 1972. That is a fact. And there are some fun cultural references to that effect. It's a funny show: there are a lot of jokes in it. There are lots of funny songs in it that people seem to like a lot. And it's kind of mean, but also totally silly. We are big fans of the non-sequitur. There's also a lot of humor from the "teaching the wrong lessons" formula, which is probably due to being obsessed with Strangers With Candy, and because you can't really go wrong telling kids damaging things in the format of a fake kids' show. But the point of the piece isn't "This is a kids' show that's bad for children!" It's more about these two oddball, ignorant characters, and how self-important they are, in the context of the progressive, "boys can have dolls and girls can make mud pies" kind of children's programming that was so big in the early 70's. They have an agenda, but it's convoluted by their personal limitations.

SG: I would describe the show as the lady-swarthy 70's progessive children's show send up you've been wanting to see. Because, as Julie mentioned, it is not a "bad for children" show—there is much, much more to it. You know how TV shows from the early to mid-70's have that kind of slick, real-fake sheen on them from the way they are recorded, which seems in itself to reflect the horrid awareness of the true beingness of being after the drug-induced-transcendence of the late 60's apocalypse? We try to capture that sweaty actuality. And there's music! Who doesn't like music? Nazis. Oh, and there is no real sweat. And right, I know Nazis liked Wagner, but is that really music?

Free to Be Friends had an eight month run at UCB. How did it evolve over that time, and where do you see it going? How do you keep the act fresh for yourselves as performers?
JK: Because the structure of Free To Be Friends is a fake TV show, it could easily lend itself to more installations, with different themes. We'd love to do more "episodes." Or episodes, not in quotation marks; it would be amazing to get this shit on tape for cash. As far as how to keep it fresh, the show did change over the course of its UCB run. We expanded it, and added more songs and bits. I will say that personally, I love playing Joan. She's a bonkers old Jewish woman, which is what I hope to be one day, but in a different way (less cats). And I think she truly is evil; it's fun to play a villain.

SG: Yeah, yeah, what Julie said. UCB was awesome giving us all that time to work on the show and just run it and make it better. We changed it some since the beginning, streamlining it. There are a few tiny parts that we always "improvise," and we have also added more stuff to the show since the beginning. This show could really do anything it wants to do. Being a episodic TV show is definitely an option.

For some crazy reason, playing an idiot comes very easily to me. Like cutting butter with a nailgun. And, like butter, there is no need to do anything to keep it fresh. It just is!

There's some onstage banter in between songs. Is all of that pre-arranged, or do you improvise your dialogue?
JK: When we do gigs at different venues, like at variety shows around town, or Loser's Lounge, we got to do covers for the ABBA tribute and the Blondie vs. The Pretenders show at the Knitting Factory, we get to go off a bit from what we plan to say. But the show is pretty scripted. We vary what we bicker about on occasion, but that's about it.

SG: For our alternative comedy or Loser's Lounge gigs, right before the show we generally figure out basically the structure around what we might say. The stage show has a set script.

What can we expect at the Fringe Festival that's different from your standup routine? Is it a challenge to get your humor across in those shorter sets?
JK: I think people get it pretty quickly. The wigs and costumes help drive the point home. And if we're introduced as former hosts of a children's TV show from the early 70's, I think everybody's on the same page once we start singing "Boys and Girls are Different In The Pants." The show at the Fringe Fest is a play, basically. It's got a climax and a curtain call and everything! And there are other characters besides Betty and Joan: Shylock, the owl puppet who lives in our tree (voiced by Neil Casey), and Joan's aging mother, Mrs. Stein (played by John Gemberling). We also play off the structure of the original Magic Garden show, with bits like the Giggle Patch, which is based on the Chuckle Patch; a planter of artificial flowers with jokes inside. And, because it's the 70's, we strip down to leotards and demonstrate yoga at one point. If that's a draw for the show at all, I dunno. There are also a couple of cool slide shows, including one with a reference to Eudora Welty.

SG: I think the stage show is even more fun than the bit we do at variety shows because you see us for longer. I have never felt really "challenged" in getting the idea across in the shorter sets, because, for the most part, we have played venues that welcome this type of humor. When I am an audience member, I don't like it when performers assume I'm not going to get it. I like when they start running and I get to catch up to them. I always try to put on a show I would like to see.

When I saw you, you were owl-less. Can you tell me about Shylock the owl and what role he plays in your show?
JK: Shylock is based on Sherlock the Squirrel, again from the Magic Garden show. By the way, we don't know if Carole and Paula know about our show, but if they find out, I really hope they're flattered, and not litigious. When we were watching the original show, we noticed how dismissive of Sherlock Carole and Paula were. He'd say "Hey, girls, I can make a tree out of a newspaper!" and the girls would be like, "Yeah, right, Sherlock! You don't know how to do anything!" and they'd giggle and walk away. So we basically amped that up a great deal, and created this adorable owl puppet for Betty and Joan to berate with their misguided, anti-male sadism.

SG: Shylock is "the man" on whom Betty and Joan let loose their frustrations. He is really cute, and in our first few shows, the audience was so on his side right from the top, we had to rewrite to be a little less mean to him. I mean, the audience has to like us at least a little. But his role is to kind of show off our inability to function in the world at large. I mean, the inability of our characters to do so.

How often do you write new songs and what do you do to get inspired?
JK: It's been a little while since we've written new stuff, but basically we get an idea for a song, flesh it out. Sue writes the music, occasionally I'll write lyrics and she'll come up with the melody, or she'll do both, or in one case, I did both.

SG: That's the gist of it! With the newer songs in the show, we basically figured out which direction we wanted the show to go, and then wrote songs that had something to do with that, but that still played the "game" of our overarching idealism.

You also wear authentically 70's-inspired outfits. Where do you get them, and which are your favorites?
JK: Our pants are actually not vintage; they're made by an amazing designer named Judi Rosen, who has a shop called The Good, The Bad & The Ugly on Kenmare Street. And our leotards are Capezio. I don't dress dissimilarly to Joan, in general. Part of writing this show was an excuse to wear those clothes. I think I look best in high-waisted pants, a vest, a turtleneck, and a medallion. The wig is just gravy.

SG: For the bit shows, I frequently wear things that I have stolen from my mother's closet. I think my favorite is the purple one piece number, but I also enjoy what my family has long called "the head dress," which you can see in the main photo on our website. It really cracks me up that my sisters and I used to put these and other silly outfits on for holiday dinners when we were younger, just to be ridiculous and make ourselves laugh and act like crazy 70's ladies, and now I wear them all over town acting like a crazy 70's lady. And every time I go home to Pennsylvania my mom tries to find me something else from the days of yore to wear while performing.

If you were gonna go on tour with a group from the 70's, who would it be and why?
JK: Sweet. Or T.Rex. And we'd all get laid. I am really into how cute all those boys who live in Williamsburg dress, by the way. I dig their shaggy layered hair and their tight jeans and boots.

SG: I would tour with David Bowie. His shows were probably a lot of crazy crazy fun. Weird times all around. Or the Rolling Stones to just party. Or the Band so I could sneak on and play. Wait, am I playing with them? Or are we the opening act?

You have an album in the works. How's that going, and when will it be released?
JK: It's going well, though it's on hold a bit because of all the Fringe madness. Our friend Joe McGinty, who founded Loser's Lounge, is generously lending his talents to recording and mixing our songs, and he's doing an amazing job. We have our first single, "Boys & Girls Are Different In the Pants" up on our MySpace page, and once we're done with the Fringe run, I'm sure we'll get to cranking it out by October or so. That is also a date I totally made up, though, so the best thing to do is to check in on for updates.

Is there a political message you're trying to convey with Free to Be Friends, or should it be taken as pure entertainment?
JK: If anything, it's an anti-message. We're pretty much making fun of heavy-handed cause-trumpeters. But it's not an anti-feminist show, either. I love feminism! The Camille Paglia/ Madonna/BUST magazine kind.

SG: I would call it artertainment.

I never really know how to ask this question in a polite way, so I'll just come right out with it; in your act, Betty and Joan are lesbians and feminists. Are you?
JK: I am not gay. Well, I am a bit gay for musical theater. I see Ben Vereen and my heart actually starts beating a pace and a half quicker, in hopes that he will start to dance. But yeah?no. Not a lesbian. I didn't even experiment in college. With lesbianism. I experimented with journalism in college, but it wasn't for me. Am I a feminist? I'm going to go ahead and say "sure," with the provision that means being in favor of suffrage rights only. Vote it up, ladies!

SG: Oh, this is where we fess it up. I wouldn't call myself a raging feminist, but I definintely believe in a woman's right to lose. I refuse to participate in male/female segregated Olympics. Also, I would like to be paid as much as men in the workplace. I heard they make millions! I once rode in an elevator with Ben Vereen. He was wearing an orange scarf and was genuinely polite. I would most definitely ride in an elevator with him again. I hope that doesn't make me a lesbian! Because I am not one.

What's been the craziest Free to Be Friends show so far?
JK: I will defer to Sue on this one. Maybe Charleston? They didn't like us so much in Charleston.

SG: I am the authority on crazy! I suppose that is why you are deferring to me. Or is it my obsessive interest with the concerns of the audience? I think the craziest was the one when the show following us featured an interview with Rufus Wainwright. The audience was awesome, and there were lots of them! And they were very accepting of us even though we weren't him. That was good crazy. Charleston, meh, that was ok. As we mumbled to ourselves while walking around Charleston after the show, "I guess we weren't the fake 70's lesbian children's show they were expecting."

You each also do separate comedy projects; can you tell me what else you're working on?
JK: After the Fringe, I'm playing the role of "Abortion Girl" in Les Freres Corbusier's production of Hell House at St. Ann's Warehouse, which opens October 1. I'm also hosting a variety show with Jackie Clarke at Mo Pitkin's, blogging, acting in Sexual Intercourse, American Style, and I just finished work on this short film, which I wrote with cartoonist Michael Kupperman.

SG: As usual, I am doing lots of improv with my Harold team at UCB, 1985. I also like to try out characters around town at alternative comedy variety shows. Additionally, I play with my band Stickerbook, and we are making a video and writing a show for ourselves. I am also writing a few other projects, but I don't want to give away the surprises.

Julie, you wrote on your blog recently that for sexy Jewish girls, you're on speed dial, about a Daily Show appearance playing an Orthodox gal. Does this bother you, and are there other types of roles you'd like to be on speed dial for?
JK: I don't mind being typecast as a funny Jew, and the sexy part is extremely flattering. Based on my limited knowledge of cultural history, I glean that being a Jew in show business is not necessarily a disadvantage. As far as speed dial is concerned, I would like to be on the short list to do more musical comedy roles that require singing. I am not embarrassed to claim Liza Minnelli as my hero.

Sue, you're also part of the band Stickerbook, which you describe as an "all girl experimental cover band." What's your role in the band and what are your favorite covers to do? How does being in the band interact with doing Free to Be Friends? I would imagine it's a totally different approach.
SG: My role in the band is to love it and nurture it. I also play guitar, do some singing, and, once in a while, I play the drums. I came up with the idea for the band while singing in my bathroom mirror, and I am just happy that it has gotten out of that room. Originally, we were going to play big full rock and roll songs very seriously and emotionally, yet on ridiculous instruments (flower pots and theremin and wax combs) while wearing funny outfits. But, collaboration being the brother of expression, we now do mash-up covers of our guiltiest-pleasure songs and totally rock out—and the theremin, as mastered by our extraordinary thereminist Jen Hammaker, is still there. Eliza Skinner can bang the drums seriously well, Becky Poole rocks multiple instruments, including accordion and saw-playing like you've never heard, and Becky Yamamoto is hilarious and talented on the keys. And we all sing.

I love all of the covers we do, but my faves would have to be Aerosmith's "What It Takes," Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" (which is mashed up with the wonky end of "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac), and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." The last I like because it has a good message. I have also written some original songs that we perform, including "Wake Up Time," which is ten tons of fun to play, and "Lady Lion," which is kind of sad. There are a few more originals coming down the pike, too, so bate your breath!

The main difference between playing in Stickerbook and in Free To Be Friends is that I play my electric in Stickerbook. You are right, though, the approach is different, because Stickerbook doesn't require one character or game—we are really free to do anything we want (including be friends). And, though it may be surprising, we really musically craft the numbers we perform, and discover our interpretation through experimentation. It is more about the music than the jokes in Stickerbook, because the joke's not a haha joke, but a spectacle joke. I usually walk into our rehearsal room tired and achey, and bop out singing and laughing after a great couple of hours of just inventive fun. Stickerbook is a panacea!

Let's pretend we're on David Letterman. What are the top 10 reasons people should come see Free to Be Friends at the Fringe Festival?
JK: 10. It
9. Would
8. Be
7. A
6. Good
5. Time
4. And
3. Fifteen
2. Dollars
1. Isn't that much, when you think about it.

Sorry, I really farted all over that last question.

Catch Free to Be Friends as part of the New York International Fringe Festival on August 12 (8 p.m.), 13 (5:15 p.m.), 16 (8:30 p.m.), 17 (3:30 p.m.), 18 (4:45 p.m.) and 21 (7 p.m.) at Thirteenth St. Rep Theater, 50 13th Street between 5th and 6th ($15), and on August 14 at 10 pm at Spiegeltent (South Street Seaport, Fulton Fish Market, Pier 17, $15) as part of Chicks and Giggles. Visit Betty and Joan at and Julie Klausner at her website and blog and listen to Stickerbook here.