Lea DeLaria and all that jazz, for moppets

Lea DeLaria returns to Oberon Sunday in “Boom Boom’s Bow.”
Kate Glicksberg for The New York Times/file 2008
Lea DeLaria returns to Oberon Sunday in “Boom Boom’s Bow.”

Last time we saw her at Oberon, Lea DeLaria wielded a mean baseball bat as a bullying demigod in the Steven Sater-Serj Tankian rock opera “Prometheus Bound.” Now the comic, actress, and singer is returning to Harvard Square as — wait — a children’s entertainer?

Her interactive jazz musical “Boom Boom’s Bow,” co-written with Janette Mason, will have two performances at Oberon on Sunday afternoon for children ages 3-10 and their parents. The 54-year-old DeLaria, who spent her own childhood in southern Illinois, not far from St. Louis, plays a singing character called Jazz. She’s accompanied by Mason as Mrs. Tinkle the pianist; Dylan Shamat as Boom Boom the bassist, who’s lost his bow; and David Tedeschi as Crash, the drummer.

DeLaria will be back on the Oberon stage Monday at 8 p.m. with her stand-up show for grown-ups, “The Last Butch Standing.” She got on the phone last week to talk about it all.


Q. How did “Boom Boom’s Bow” come to be?

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A. I suddenly sort of realized that jazz was not as popular as it should be, and what I wanted to do was get to children before someone else did and said to them that jazz wasn’t cool or that they wouldn’t like jazz. So I figured the only way to do that was create a show specifically for them so they could hear the music. When I was a kid, we had “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” and that [Vince Guaraldi score] was really kind of everyone’s first foray into jazz as a child, hearing it on TV every year.

Q. Your dad was a jazz pianist?

A. He would take me in to sing with him in clubs when I was younger, which is kind of like the first thing I did for an audience. I would sing with his trio or sometimes it was a quartet or quintet, as a novelty thing. He would bring me out and I would sing “Summertime.” I was 10, just a child. It was probably just an excuse for the cats in the band to get a break and go smoke some weed.

Q. Wasn’t that kind of unusual for a 10-year-old girl in the Midwest?


A. What was outrageous about it was that it was late at night, more than anything. I was singing in the 10 o’clock set, and sometimes even later. I think people were unused to seeing it, but that was part of the charm, why it went over so well. I loved singing even when I was younger and would sing around the house with him, so for me it was just a chance to sing.

Q. How did this show develop?

A. [Laughing.] People are shocked I have a kids’ show! I can understand that! I’m probably one of the more outrageous comics that is out there, as well as being a jazz singer and a Broadway person. I’m certainly not known as this kind of entertainer. But anybody that knows me personally knows that I like kids and kids like me. They always get very excited when they’re around me. This is something that Janette brought up: “You have this gift with children, and we both write. Why don’t we just come up with an idea and make a fun show for kids?” And it’s worked very well. I’ve done it in London many times now, and it ran in New York for probably two months, and I’ve done it at many festivals. January 2011 was when we first did it.

Q. So what’s it like being this sort of high-energy Pee-wee Herman type up there?

A. It’s really fun. I’m exerting a lot of energy. The premise is that the band doesn’t actually talk; they play their instruments and I translate what they’re saying. So it’s really me talking and singing nonstop for an hour and jumping up and down with the kids and running around the room and — it’s really fun. It’s way, way, way more physical than anything else I do. I lose so much weight when I’m doing this show, it’s like a diet.


Q. Do you have another album coming out?

A. We’ll be in the studio within two months. The new record, that’s going to be David Bowie covers. We have a great lineup of guest stars involved in this album that I’m really excited about. Sandra Bernhard will join me to sing “Boys Keep Swinging.” Jimmy Scott is joining me to do “Space Oddity,” and he’ll be singing Major Tom and I’ll be Ground Control.

Q. This will be in the style of your “Double Standards” album of jazz covers of rock songs?

A. “Double Standards” was pretty much swing, almost the whole thing. This Bowie stuff is going to have bebop, swing, some acid-jazz fusion stuff. We’re throwing everything at this record.

Q. Was jazz always in your life or did it go away in favor of rock when you were making your name as that angry young comic?

A. It never went away, darling. I always had music in my act because that amped-up comic you’re talking about was so loud, so bold, so screaming in your face that most people couldn’t take it. So after a couple minutes I would then sing for a little bit to let people chill out, and then I would come out and start doing stand-up again. It’s been my M.O. since I started doing stand-up in ’82.

Q. Is “Last Butch Standing” going to be different than when you performed it in Boston before?

A. Boston was one of the first places I tried it out [in 2011], and it’s utterly different now. It’s still morphing, but we’re hoping to film it by this time next year. This is very specifically talking about what it’s like to be the kind of butch I am, old-school butch, in the postmodern, “Ellen” queer world that I’m in now, where not only is there a difference between me and the world as a gay person, but there’s also a difference between me and other gay people. As our community morphs and changes, and sometimes I think not for the better, those of us who’ve been around for a while start to feel like leftover garbage. And as a butch that’s a big deal, because we’re becoming almost extinct.

Interview has been condensed and edited. Joel Brown can be reached at