Have you ever been standing in line at the grocery store, or maybe you’ve just settled into your seat on a long transcontinental flight, and a well-meaning, somewhat quirky stranger next to you decides to strike up a conversation? It’s all, “The weather is lovely right now” and “I wanted to get the last of those beans myself!” And you nod politely, hoping that’s the end of it. But in Cole Escola’s world, it’s never, ever the end of it. Suddenly this person is telling you about their odd allergies and some horrific, gory backstory from their youth. You can’t get away from them fast enough if you can get away at all.
Such is the case with Escola’s character Donna Germaine, the lead of the fake, “never aired” TV pilot for a show called Pee Pee Manor, about a real estate agent trying to sell a haunted property that ends on a spooky cliffhanger. “Eventually I just took the thing down, I just said I’m sick of feeding hummingbirds,” Germaine rambles in one scene, with hair that looks straight off the head of Barbara Bush, before talking about how she never had nice shoes growing up and that she’s allergic to strawberries. That’s all well and good until you realize this is her response to a job interview question about why she moved to Oregon.
Comedian and actor Cole Escola has a knack for building out bizarre, dark characters in these little conversational asides. The women he invents often look like sweet old ladies and housewives, done up in sassy store-bought wigs and muumuus until they reveal something in passing that turns everything you thought about them upside down. Maybe he’s a mom in a cheery commercial whose monologue on nutritional breakfasts turns into a story of dog-fighting and murder, or a compulsive gambler posting on Instagram to say, “If that’s crazy, then call me Trail Mix because I’m mostly nuts!”
Since writing and performing on the webcam-shot Logo show Jeffrey & Cole Casserole, he’s appeared on shows like Difficult People and At Home with Amy Sedaris, playing the vain, scene-stealing girl-next-door Chassie on the latter, and held a one-man comedy show at Joe’s Pub inspired by old cabaret shows. But some of my favorite Escola performances come in his one-off videos where he has full creative control like Pee Pee Manor and his perfect parody of true crime documentaries. On Instagram, it’s hard to know which Escola you’re going to get, like in his series where he records a story with several chunks missing. “She said, ‘I’m pretending this is ice cream, treat me like a baby,’ and proceeded to hump her own arm,” he says exasperated in one video thread about canceling Christmas, with no lead up as to how he got there. “And I thought okay, something tells me this is not the real Norah Jones.”
Escola has enough characters in him that he could conceivably cast an entire show with different versions of himself and he even does, sort of, in Pee Pee Manor. Even if Pee Pee Manor isn’t a real show, I would definitely watch a whole series of it were Escola to make it.