Larry Owens: Sunday In The Park 6 Feet Away From George Larry Owens discusses his role as a singing telegram messenger on HBO's High Maintenance, and working as a wedding singer. Then he plays a game that tests his knowledge of Stephen Sondheim musicals.

Larry Owens: Sunday In The Park 6 Feet Away From George

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. He's an actor and musical comedian. You've seen him in the latest season of HBO's "High Maintenance." Please welcome Larry Owens, everybody.



LARRY OWENS: Thank you.


OWENS: Hi (laughter).

EISENBERG: So I saw you recently in the new season of HBO's "High Maintenance."

OWENS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: You were in the first episode playing - yeah.


EISENBERG: It's a great performance. You play a singing telegram person, who is overworked, having a tough day - the worst day. You're going back to back. You're singing "Happy Birthday" dressed as a chicken, Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" dressed as, like, a heart. And at one point, you're dressed as Prince.

OWENS: Prince on Prince Street, yeah.

EISENBERG: Prince on Prince Street.

OWENS: That's a little - that's for the screen-grabbers, a little...


OWENS: ...Yeah, Easter egg.

EISENBERG: Have you ever done anything like this yourself in real life?

OWENS: The closest that I came to that was wedding singing, which, like, it just had, like...


OWENS: ...Which had huge Jim Crow vibes. It was very awkward. Like, the person who can afford a live band and the person who has to sing for hire, like, in such a thing - usually, you know, the like blissfully nostalgic music of the '50s and '60s, like, it's a hard job. Like, that's the closest. But, you know, it's this, you know, Catch-22 of, like, I - wow, you get to get paid for singing the hits. And then - there's a sketch that I can't finish writing about me as a wedding singer 'cause I never knew the words, so I would (laughter) like, start if off...

EISENBERG: To many of those...

OWENS: I would start it off, and then I would just be like, (singing) I know you want to leave me. Woah, yeah, yeah - like, you just put a lot of grit and tone on it. And the drunk conservatives are absolutely in heaven.

EISENBERG: You just need what everyone knows. You need the chorus, and then just a lot of...

OWENS: The chorus, the hook.

EISENBERG: That's it.

OWENS: You got to have the hook.

EISENBERG: You got to have the hook.

OWENS: You got too have the hook (laughter).

EISENBERG: I have a question for you. As a performer and living in New York, you have the advantage to go out and see a lot of great theater and Broadway shows. And you have a particular fascination - and I - for when watching Broadway shows, seeing that some of the cast members in gowns, the women, have hair ties on their wrists.

OWENS: Yes. Yes. And it's really, really great when they are in, yeah, a period gown, so truly, like, somewhere where you should not have a chongo (ph). You should not have a scrunchie. It's not a full scrunchie.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

OWENS: But I just like seeing, you know, just, like, the sight - I love seeing an actor, you know, so at home in the Broadway theater. You know, they just go out. They just go out there and, you know, have a hair tie on, but they're delivering this, you know, this really, really well-crafted performance.

EISENBERG: Oh, I want to go to a show with you. That's my favorite thing. I love that. I love that.

OWENS: (Laughter) No, you should watch the movie "Cats" with me so I truly have - or when they do the live musicals, like the Kristin Chenoweth performance in "Hairspray" - NBC "Hairspray Live!"


OWENS: And it's "(The Legend Of) Miss Baltimore Crabs." I'm from Baltimore, and so "Hairspray" was a really seminal musical. It was the first musical that made me understand that musicals happen in real time on Broadway, like, every night, and that someone's job is to do that every single night. And I was so obsessed that I knew every ensemble members' bio. I followed them from show to show. That's how I built my theatrical education. And I would even play the "Hairspray" cast recording every night at 8:00, like, at curtain time and, like, imagine...


OWENS: ...Like, what was going on at the Neil Simon Theatre (laughter). I can truly do, like, a NFL, like, coach football, like, diagram of that performance.

EISENBERG: That's right, every single angle of it. So the first musical you fell in love with was "Grease."

OWENS: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I guess I'm a true balladeer. You know, we love the worst things. We love the hopelessly devoted. I truly have princess syndrome, and it's so awful. Like, I truly think that I'm Sandy Dombrowski. I think Sandy - like, Olivia Newton-John is a window in, just, like, not accepted at school. Like, she works really hard at it, and then she's cool by the end of the year. Oh, my gosh. That's, like, what...

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.

OWENS: That's, like, what my black, gay, fat self wanted.


OWENS: Like, I was like, sit at the table with the cool kids.



EISENBERG: By the way, on your podcast "What Makes U Sing?," so you have guests. But you recently did one that's all you because you are really into Stephen Sondheim.


EISENBERG: And it's all - it's dedicated - the whole episode is about Stephen Sondheim.


EISENBERG: Yes. We couldn't resist asking you to play a special edition of our favorite game, Now We're Gonna Make You Sing. This is the Sondheim edition. So I'm going to read you the lyrics of a Sondheim song, and all of these songs happen to contain the title of the musical. But I'm going to stop before the part where the title comes in, and you are going to jump in and just sing the next part.

OWENS: OK. I'm ready.

EISENBERG: All right. And if you do well enough, listener Ali Tabirer (ph) from Oklahoma City will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

OWENS: OK. Ali, we got this. We got this, baby.

EISENBERG: All right, here we go. Just be the three of us, only the three of us. We love you. Phone rings. Door chimes. In comes...

OWENS: (Singing) "Company."


EISENBERG: That was perfect.


OWENS: (Singing, vocalizing) "Company."


EISENBERG: Yeah. Correct. He shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again. He trod a path that few have trod, did...

OWENS: Bars. Wow, this is so good. Did you hear that? Wait - give it to them again.


OWENS: And, like, really, like - like, listen to what the...

EISENBERG: I know. It's so good.

OWENS: Listen to what is happening. Like, it is truly - a demon is rising up from a trapdoor beneath the stage.


OWENS: And for the next 2 1/2 hours, we're about to get our bleeping lives. OK, so this is what - so this is - he's about to come onstage.


EISENBERG: He shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again. He trod a path that few have trod. Did...

OWENS: (Singing) "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street."



OWENS: (Singing) Inconspicuous, Sweeney was. Quick and quiet and clean, he was. Back of his smile, under his word, Sweeney heard music that nobody heard.


OWENS: Soprano, for real.

EISENBERG: Amazing. Amazing. How about this one - by the way, correct and correct, obviously. We have no time to sit and dither while her withers wither with her. And no one keeps a cow for a friend. Sometimes I fear you're touched.

OWENS: (Singing) "Into The Woods."



OWENS: This is - so this is why I love Stephen Sondheim.

EISENBERG: The withers wither?

OWENS: There's no time to sit and dither. OK, sure, we've heard that word before. We'll trust you. That's a word.


OWENS: And then we go into this language - while her withers wither with her. Unbelievable. Unbelievable.

EISENBERG: I feel smarter reading it.


OWENS: The worst part is that he's talking about a cow.


EISENBERG: Or is that the best part?

OWENS: That's the best part.


EISENBERG: That's the best part. All right. The petticoat's wet, which adds to the weight. The sun is blinding. All right, concentrate. Eyes open, please.

OWENS: (Singing) "Sunday In The park With George."

EISENBERG: Yeah. Very good (laughter).


EISENBERG: Congratulations, Larry, you and listener Allie Tabberer won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.


EISENBERG: One more time for Larry Owens, everybody.


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