Nellie McKay Calls Columbia University's President a ‘Big Dumb Doofus’

Nellie McKay at Joe's Pub. Photo: Tim Murphy

Looking like Kirsten Dunst’s more interesting twin sister in her canary-yellow fifties shift, and singing and talking like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, 25-year-old indie cabaret sensation Nellie McKay took to the piano late last night at Joe’s Pub. The evening’s fare was as kookily eclectic as her albums, a trippy time shuttle back and forth between our innocent mid-century radio days and our angry, ironic present. One minute McKay played a ukulele and (adorably) channeled Blossom Dearie singing “If I Were a Bell” from Guys and Dolls, and the next she was singing “Ding Dong,” her acidic ballad about a troubled woman being carried away by men in white.

But if McKay, a passionate animal-rights activist and anti-corporate leftist who has lived in Harlem for most of her life, gave the night a theme, it was her disgust with Columbia University, both for its research on lab animals and its aggressive plans for massive expansion in West Harlem. She urged the audience to go home and type “Columbia is an asshole” into their search engines to see how many hits it got. "Is Columbia racist?" she asked, then, answering herself, said, "Yes." But she saved most of her bile for the school’s president, Lee Bollinger. “He just looks like a big, dumb jock — a doofus,” she declared.

Backstage, she let us take a picture, but only if we promised to link to the Websites Stop Columbia and Columbia Cruelty. So there you go, Nellie. —Tim Murphy

Related: Her Life Is a Cabaret [NYM]