Describing Get On Your Knees, Jacqueline Novak’s acclaimed, 75-minute evening of theatre, is tricky to do in a single sentence. The show interweaves a coming-of-age story with Novak’s meditations on literature, philosophy, and anatomy. It’s also fiercely feminist, as well as laugh-out-loud funny.
Written and performed by Novak, with direction by John Early, Get On Your Knees surprised both the comedian and the theatre world when it extended its original run at the Cherry Lane and then transferred to the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2019. This month, the show is back for another (extended) Off-Broadway run through February 16. “I’m still in shock that it keeps going,” says Novak. “I truly was not thinking beyond the first few weeks.
“I think it’s because I do a worst-case scenario before doing anything and then decide whether I could live with that,” continues. “The worst would be that no one buys tickets and we close the day after opening night. I thought: ‘How bad would that be?’ I guess the worst thing that would mean is that it says so online. I would just never go online again. I made peace with that.”
Novak admits that she was nervous about entering the theatre world as a comedian. “The encouragement of the people around me is what allowed me to present [Get On Your Knees as a piece of theatre],” says the writer-performer. One of those offering encouragement was Mike Birbiglia, a friend of Novak’s with a long history of performing similar solo shows onstage. Birbiglia, who is an executive producer of Get On Your Knees (the show is presented by Natasha Lyonne and produced by Abingdon Theatre Company), was a model for Novak. “So many things in my career and in general, when it comes to having the confidence to do something, kind of comes down to one person I trust saying, ‘You can do this.’”
Though she’s now performed Get On Your Knees over several months, Novak says her performance continues to feel fresh. “In my mind, the show is never done,” she says. “Get On Your Knees is filled with me arguing for things. … So every night there’s the question: ‘Is the way I’ve been saying this the best way?’ I don’t feel as if I’m just presenting the text.”
Despite any initial doubts, Novak couldn’t be happier to have officially joined the theatre world. “You’re so generally alone [when doing stand-up],” says the comedian. “Whereas this is really putting on a show with a group of people. Feeling like we’re in this together, making this thing happen. That, without a doubt, has been one of the most positive things.”
Update: As of January 7, 2020, Get On Your Knees has extended through February 16.