Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Paul F. Tompkins and The Late Show expose New York City’s foamy ’70s underbelly

Paul F. Tompkins remembers the glory days of Bubble (screenshot: YouTube)

There are 8 million stories in the naked city. But when they’re about the naked city in the ’70s, those stories tend to gravitate toward a few choice New York settings: Studio 54, Max’s Kansas City, Mercer Arts Center, 1520 Sedgwick Ave., CBGB. You know, anywhere a character from Vinyl might’ve hung out for an episode, only for Vinyl to reveal, in the most excruciating fashion, that they’ve been at some soon-to-be landmark the whole time. But last night, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert detailed the history of a Big Apple destination that hasn’t had its story told to death. The show just had to make one up.

Boasting gravel-throated narration from Late Show writer-performer Brian Stack and requisite stock footage of velvet ropes, conspicuous consumption, and half-naked bodies, the segment introduces viewers to Bubble, “the Midtown night club still regarded as one of the most famous—and controversial—venues of all time.” What made it so famous and controversial? As former owner Claudio Luca (Paul F. Tompkins, resplendent in sleazy lounge-lizard wear) tells it, it had something to do with the music, the dancing, and the “midnight marionette murder mystery.” Also: the highly toxic foam Bubble covered its clientele in.


The Ed Sullivan Theater audience doesn’t seem to know how to react to this parody of smug, “You had to be there” retrospectives, but pay them no mind. The segment is a potent mix of celebrity cameos, laser-precise writing (“In the same night, you could have a drink with Gore Vidal, argue with Norman Mailer, then help resuscitate Mr. T”), and hazardous materials. Sneaking a bit of Mr. Show-esque spoofery (it’s pretty much the late-night-circa-2016 version of “Taint Magazine”) onto CBS, it’s a retort to every “What Colbert’s Late Show is doing wrong” essay and/or the launching point for a new wave of writing about how Colbert’s Late Show should just keep doing whatever the hell it wants to. Isn’t that the best way to honor the memory, decadence, and memory-loss-inducement of Bubble?

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