Lady Rizo: 'Lowbrow Is Where It's At' The New York cabaret star has been described as "the product of a night of unrestrained indulgence between Peggy Lee, Mel Brooks, Nina Simone, Dean Martin and Janis Joplin."
NPR logo

Lady Rizo: 'Lowbrow Is Where It's At'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Lady Rizo: 'Lowbrow Is Where It's At'

Lady Rizo: 'Lowbrow Is Where It's At'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LADY RIZO: So, I'd like to mix up some sex and sass and a little bit of tango in this next song. How about that?


The word cabaret is taken from the French to describe small, intimate spaces where the performances take place.


RIZO: (Singing) Rusted brandy in a diamond glass.

SIMON: New York cabaret star Lady Rizo fills those small, intimate spaces with a signature mix of elegance, a little blue humor and this voice...


RIZO: (Singing) ...only the fools know what it means. Temptation, temptation...

SIMON: Lady Rizo performs to sold-out crowds all over New York City. She won a Grammy for a duet with Yo-Yo Ma. Now she's taking her act out West, where she's currently on tour. Lady Rizo joins us from the studios of NPR West. Thanks very much for being with us.

RIZO: Oh, it's so delightful to be here.

SIMON: You've been describe in your publicity materials as - I've never had to read anything quite like this as, quote, "The product of a night of unrestrained indulgence between Peggy Lee, Mel Brooks, Nina Simone, Dean Martin and Janis Joplin."

RIZO: Yeah. It was a crazy orgy and they were all there.


RIZO: Yeah. I exist between boundaries because I am a comedian.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

RIZO: And I consider myself a chanteuse and a singer. And it's really an equal mix. One of my first explorations with Lady Rizo was the song "I Will Follow Him," you remember the '50s kind of - I think it's Little Peggy March song, and...


RIZO: Yeah. Ooh, very good. Yeah.

SIMON: Well, I...

RIZO: That's nice.


RIZO: But I always thought, God, this sounds like a stalker song. And if you just twist it a little bit theatrically it's kind of a very scary stalker song. So I like to not only sing songs but explore them in a way that tweaks the dark humor of things.


RIZO: (Singing) I love him, I love him, I love him and where he goes I'll follow. He'll always be my true love. It's you.

SIMON: You seem to speak of Lady Rizo as her.


RIZO: Well, this can get into a whole other conversation of alter egos. But I can have so much more freedom if there's a little bit of separation from the name of the person that I was born as, which is Amelia Zirin-Brown, who is a wonderful gal as well.


SIMON: I've heard. Yeah.

RIZO: But it's actually freedom from humility, if that makes any sense.

SIMON: Oh my god. Yeah. No it does.

RIZO: Because Lady Rizo has no apologies and exists in a land of diva.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

RIZO: I think that everyone has to struggle with this idea of finding these parts of themselves that can be overly egocentric and underly filled with that kind of positive ego. And I don't think Amelia has a lack of an ego but sometimes Lady Rizo needs to step in and be, like, boldness is required here.


RIZO: (Singing) She tears you down, darling. Says you're nothing at all. But I'll pick you up, darling when she lets you fall. You're like a diamond that she treats you like glass. Yet you beg her to love you, with me you don't ask. If I were your woman, if I were your woman, if I were your woman...

SIMON: You have a group and tell us about - I like to think I'm a gentleman, but I can't phrase this any other way. Please tell us about your Assets.

RIZO: Oh, my Assets. Well, I first started doing Lady Rizo as an exploration of burlesque and cabaret together. My sister, she's an incredible dancer, she dances with a modern dance company called Mark Morris and we were like let's do a collaboration and we thought about doing something highbrow. And then we were like, let's forget about highbrow - lowbrow is where it's at. And so we decided to make a burlesque show with live music, and I would host and I would get to explore this comedic side. And we did our first show in like a Burrito Shack in Long Island City, Queens and we sold out.

SIMON: Forgive me, is it hard to sell out a Burrito Shack? I mean it's not Carnegie Hall.


RIZO: Well, you know, everything's hard in New York to sell.

SIMON: All right. I've never sold out a Burrito Shack so I should be respectful, yeah.


RIZO: You know, it's hard to sell anything in Long Island City, Queens.

SIMON: I have to ask, and the name?

RIZO: Assets.

SIMON: Yeah.

RIZO: Well, I believe...

SIMON: That's all part of the double entendre?

RIZO: Yeah. And I feel like everyone can get behind it.



RIZO: (Sung in French)

SIMON: In this era of big venues - and for that matter, social media...

RIZO: Yeah.

SIMON: What's the place for something like cabaret?

RIZO: It's a very good question because, you know, for all these years I've done kind of the opposite of what most artists do. I haven't recorded a proper album. Instead, I've been slaving away on the boards, performing live so I can really perfect what I'm doing. It's a very old fashioned way of approaching a career. I think as we approach a time with less human-to-human contact, the place for intimate venues is even more desired. I've been really happy about the economic downturn because it's really meant great things for my business.


SIMON: People want to be around each other, holding a martini, wearing something that makes them feel alive and watching a woman in a sparkly gown come to a microphone and whisper sweet nothings into their ear.

Lady Rizo, from our studios at NPR West. She's currently on a tour of the West Coast. So tonight you're in Seattle?

RIZO: Oh, yes. Tonight I will be in Seattle at Fred's Wildlife Refuge, it's called. So hopefully, the animals will come out.

SIMON: Well, thanks so much for speaking with us.

RIZO: Thank you so much, Scott.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.