Janis, Me & Bobby McGee in NYC

Janis Joplin on The Cutting Room Floor

In a genre rife with imitation, Janis, Me & Bobby McGee at The Cutting Room on September 15th offers unapologetic originality, with Joplin’s music as the catalyst for a high- energy evening of songs and stories.

Don’t go expecting a Joplin impersonator. At six feet tall with a Joker-esque grin, Karen Irwin may bear a passing resemblance to Joplin if you squint, but she makes it clear:

“I do not play her. I am playing myself. I am inspired by her and I am singing her tunes. But I am not trying to be Janis Joplin. I am trying to be Karen Irwin.”

Irwin had been told for years her singing was reminiscent of Joplin’s, and-- after her fiancé’s sudden death in 2007-- was encouraged to use her Art as a means to healing and self- empowerment.

“An especially dear friend did research to find parallels in [Janis’ and my] lives and philosophies and helped me to construct this cabaret show,” she says. “It’s a universal story, really. Girl isn’t the kind of girl who people think she should be. Girl is bullied and tortured by other boys and girls. Girl fights through the torture to discover her own authenticity and share it with the world.”

While the theme of discovering one’s own voice and comfort in her skin is universal, it’s the differences that resonate most strongly with Irwin. “I see where our stories diverge, mostly. I was given a supportive family and not the unbridled access to drugs [Janis had]. I never really felt connected to my gender until I was able to redefine for myself what it meant to be a woman.”

Having performed the show from Indianapolis to Bangor, with bookings lining up around the country, every audience gets a blood-pumping, powerhouse performance.

“I’m not ‘careful’ when I perform this,” she says. “I leave the stage with bruises and I don’t know where they came from. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it just to get lost. It gets me high. And people are moved.”

But her connection to Joplin and her legacy stops at the stage.

“I wouldn’t want to be her,” Irwin says definitively. “She has encouraged me to be myself.”

  • Janis, Me & Bobby McGee makes its New York debut on Thursday, September 15th at 9:30 at The Cutting Room, 44 E. 32nd St. New York, NY 10010.
  • Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 the day of show and are available at thecuttingroomnyc.com or linking from JanisMeAndBobbyMcGee.com.