Lisa Levy Tells Us What the Hell

This image was professionally focus-grouped before being used. Photo courtesy Lisa Levy.
This image was professionally focus-grouped before being used. Photo courtesy Lisa Levy.

Artist, artist-therapist, performer, interventionist, variably vocal—and comedically inclined—cultural critic and former advertising worker, Lisa Levy has something quite new and quite interesting to tell you about, and to invite you to. It’s a talk show of sorts, and a collaborative performance of sorts, and a focus group of sorts, and a perfect storm of so many sincerely advisorial and parodically reimagined ‘staged’ performative formats that it leads us to find one of its most alluring aspects, really, in being so damn hard to pin down. So we tracked down Lisa to help us do just that, to some extent. And to let us know if we should bring a certain used bandage to the show.

In so doing, we learned that you’re more than welcome to bring not only your brilliant idea for a new app, but also your new pair of jeans featuring your brilliant ass.

Bring it all, in other words, to Focus Group LIVE! Here’s our Q&A with Lisa to fill you in a bit more.

I do have a number of serious and perhaps practical questions I’d like to ask you, but I find it difficult to not open with one that is, at worst, useless and unprofessional, and at best, at least practically serious: What the hell is this thing?

Well Paul, I’m glad you asked. As my father used to say, “Is this another one of your crazy ideas?” Yes, Dad, it sure is! A focus group is basically a way to reach out to your potential users for feedback and comment. People are invited to present, or have me present for them, ‘whatever they choose,’ and get the answer to a specific question about what they are presenting. For example, say you want to know which pair of jeans your ass looks better in. You could try on both pairs in front of our group and get an honest answer. In my role as the moderator, I will help represent you, or what you’re looking for feedback on, properly to the panel, to get you a productive response—and you wouldn’t have to feel silly on stage, if that’s an obstacle for you.

Now that we’ve got that sorted out (sort of!), how long have you been working on it? The project overall seems to emerge as much out of your previous professional experiences as it does from your current creative practices as an artist-therapist, so is it fair to assume you’ve been chewing on it for a while? Was there a certain event or light-bulb moment that brought you to make it a reality now?

It’s an idea I’ve had kicking around in the back of my head for a while. When I worked as an advertising art director, it was always so informative/helpful/surprising to see how the advertising I created was received in focus groups. I got to watch people responded to my creative work in ways I could never had imagined. When I saw The Experimental Comedy Gallery was looking for new shows, I went for it. I was in the mindset to start something new.

Tell us about your elite team of fellow ‘focus groupers’ and how you chose them.

I am particularly thrilled that the focus groupers I wanted to be on the show agreed to do it. My main criteria in choosing them was their mastery of recognizing and being able to generate a great idea, and their ability to put it out into the world in their own way. I got to know Ken Johnson and Julio Torres a bit through interviewing each of them on my radio show, Dr. Lisa Gives a Sh*t. Ken is a well-respected art critic—New York Times, Boston Globe—and has a great Tumblr cartoon that he does as well, Ball and Cone. Julio is a rising—actually risen at this point—comedy star. His comedy is very conceptual. He knows what a great idea is and how to appeal to an audience. And the same thing for Sean J. Patrick Carney. He’s a super-talented artist/performer and has done so much to bring the Bruce High Quality Foundation University to be a valuable resource to so many innovative people. I met Dallas Athent when she was the Beauty & Fashion Editor for Bushwick Daily. She’s my go-to girl for all things makeup and fashion. She’s also a talented and accomplished, writer, artist and hamster mommy. I also have a focus group facility manager, Diego Barnes, who is also a talented young artist/performer.

You’re encouraging audience members to bring all kinds of curious things for ‘focused’ consideration and critique—from artwork, food and drinks to clothing choices and ‘significant others’. This sounds like a splendid train wreck of a mix, but you’re really seeking sincerity in all this as well. Is there a preference for one mode of inquiry or presentation?

Nope. The most important thing is the desire to get an outside opinion on whatever you have in mind. I think it’s human nature to wonder what other people think, and this is a fun way to get real answers from the smart people on our panel, and from the smart people in the audience. What I would say to my therapist is that I had an extremely controlling mother, so as an adult it was hard for me to make my own judgements about anything. I replaced my mother with controlling boyfriends, bosses, buddies, etc. I’m much better than I used to be, but society puts all this pressure on us to get approval from each other. This is a way to indulge in and, at the same time, make fun of that human quality we all share—yes, even you!

You’re also welcoming people to be creative with what they ‘bring’, so to speak, and to surprise you. It’s a lame question, but anyway: What might surprise you? Are you ready for how many people are going to show up with ‘brilliant’ ideas for apps?  

What I’m expecting and welcoming are people bringing artwork they would like feedback and direction on. Or questions on how to make things more marketable, perhaps. I hope people bring wardrobe and makeup/hair options. I would love someone to bring their date and ask if they are good together. Or tell us about a falling out with someone and figure out if they should patch it up or let it be. I look forward to being surprised, no doubt I will be. Who knows in what way? And Paul, this is not a lame question! Why do you feel that way? We must have a therapy session and discuss!

Right, perhaps. Anyway, come to think of it, I made a pretty impressive, huge ‘studio bandage’ the other day after slicing my thumb open with a metal tape measure, and the bleed-through made a large and incredibly well defined form that looks a lot like the state of Virginia. I still have it. Should I bring it? I think it might mean something.

That sounds super cool. Yes, bring it! We can find out if there’s a market for it, and if or how it can be tweaked. I think there’s an unmet need in our world for this sort of bandage.

You’ve mentioned prizes. Everyone loves prizes. Prizes, prizes! Also, prizes?

The prizes are an awesome secret. Every participant will receive a prize, and the grand prize is a rare item, something that’s made its inventor a millionaire!

To close on notes of total relevance, seriousness and practicality: Where and when is the show? How can our readers find out more about it? How can they keep up with you in case you get to do this more regularly? That said, do you plan to do this regularly?

I’m hoping to do this again, perhaps monthly, but no firm plans yet. As for this first instance, I’ll start with this IMPORTANT NOTE: We are having a limited sign-up-in-advance list. If you have something you want to have focus-grouped, send us a photo and/or brief description of it, along with what you are interested to find out about it from the focus group. Presentations will be limited to 3-5 minutes. Send to with the subject line, ‘Focus Group’.

As for the show, Focus Group LIVE! will be held at the Experimental Comedy Gallery, at 20 Broadway, near Kent Ave. in Brooklyn, on Tuesday, November 10th, from 9:30-11pm. Tickets are $10 and available here. More information about the show on Facebook

You can keep up with me on Facebook, on Twitter @DrLisaLevySP, on Instagram @drlisalevysp, or via my website.

Paul D’Agostino is @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.


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