'Another bride, another June, another sunny honeymoon," croons the eclectic American performer Amanda Palmer. Her husband, British author Neil Gaiman, takes the next verse: "A lot of cheers, a lot of rice – the groom is nervous, he answers twice."
The song is Makin' Whoopee, as performed on An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, a delightful three-CD set culled from live recordings of alt-singer-songwriter Palmer (who sings and strums a ukulele, cabaret-style) and the award-winning graphic novelist Gaiman (who recites poems and short stories). Just before marrying each other (on Jan. 2, 2012), in the fall of 2011 the couple took a trip up the U.S. West Coast, where they performed a string of concerts together as a duo. An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, released last week, captures the pair in lyrical frolic. We reached Gaiman and Palmer in New York.
In describing the recording you made together, the first word that came to my mind was "quaint." Are you okay with that adjective? Does it sound condescending?
Gaiman: I dig quaint. I kind of like that. It's definitely handmade. There is nothing about it that is crafted by any monolithic corporation. It exists because of the magic of [the crowd-funding platform] Kickstarter. It began with Amy and I deciding to take a holiday and driving up the West Coast. Then we decided to do some gigs, and then we decided we might as well record them. When Kickstarter gave us more money than we asked for, we used the extra money to make a triple album. The people who supported us got a bonus album and other stuff.
There's a line in one of the short stories you read, Feminine Endings, about losing the whole audience if just one person falls asleep. Not that there isn't some crossover with your respective followings, but how well were each of you received by the other one's fans? Any yawning in the audience?
Gaiman: Well, I have my areas of expertise, in the same way Amanda does. I mean, you're not going to look away when she starts to sing, whether you're my fan or whether you're her fan. To me, the joy in doing this was a bringing together of the clans. My lot didn't know how mesmerizing Amanda is on stage, and her lot didn't know that this floppy-haired Englishman actually was quite interesting. They may have come out for one or the other of us, but I felt like they stayed for both.
Palmer: I think this applies to both of our audiences, but I can only speak for my own: They've been trained for the past 10 odd years to be respectful and enthusiastic for whatever I bring their way. Since the dawn of the [musical duo] Dresden Dolls, I've brought them whatever has been of any interest to me, whether it was musicals, theatrical, magic, burlesque or mime. My stage has been an ongoing circus, and my fans have come to expect the unexpected.
As far as how it came together, the project itself was unexpected. Was there anything that surprised you, after you had a few shows under your belts?
Palmer: Yes, as we did the shows, themes began to emerge that threaded our work together that up until that point had been invisible. Themes of impermanence or death or reckoning would start to emerge and pinball around the stage. So, our work has a lot in common, even though the medium and the sensibility might be quite different.
There's a line from an old song of Amanda's, "I give out flowers to curious strangers who throw dollars at my feet." That applies to both of you, right?
Palmer: [Laughs] Well, the thing that I would be more ready to admit than Neil is that we're both natural entertainers. Neil does it in his straight-man, awkward, British way and I do it in my brash American way. But we both have a good sense of how to please an audience, and neither of us is a reluctant performer.
But Neil, didn't I read something about your stage fright?
Gaiman: When I'm reading a short story or a poem, this is something I've been doing in front of audiences for years, and I like doing it and I'm good at it. So, I'm comfortable there. The stage fright is absolutely and specifically on the singing. That's outside of my comfort zone. But I don't think anyone would leave their seat while I was singing, because it's an awful lot like watching a car crash. You cannot walk away.
This interview has been condensed and edited.