The Carol Leifer Interview
If you're a person who appreciates funny women then you should bow down to today's interviewee. She is a comedienne, writer, producer and actor whose career as a stand-up comedian who has written for shows like "The Larry Sanders Show", "Saturday Night Live," and most notably, "Seinfeld" (it is said that the Elaine character was based on her) and has had a hand in everyone's favorite comedy shows. She is the author of the new book When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win: Reflections on Looking in the Mirror, a book of comedy memoir essays.
What was the most difficult part of writing the book?
The sitting down and doing it. I once read where if you're procrastinating, you should tell yourself you're going to sit down for just fifteen minutes and work. And then you start, and the fear falls away and you keep writing way past the fifteen minutes. I used that trick a lot!
Why did you decide to write it at this stage of your life?
I wrote the book now because I have found that the best part of my life began at forty. Most people, especially women, have a fear of forty and upward. They think, "I'm forty. I'm old. I'm formed." But I feel that's a complete misconception. Since I turned forty, I found the love of my life, we got bat mitzvahed together, we adopted a child together, and I became an animal person and a vegan as a result of my partner, Lori, bringing animals into my life. Change is possible, growth is possible as we get older. I find that I'm also so much smarter than I was before at this stage of my life and I wanted to really crow about that. That doesn't get the air play that it should out there in the zeitgeist!
Do you think you'll do a follow-up book? What on?
I hope to do a follow-up book with a similar theme. What I love about the feedback I'm getting is, so many people, men and women, are relating to my essays. But what blows me away is the ages of the readers. I got a Facebook message from a woman who is twenty-four, saying how much she loves my book because it made her not afraid to age. She said she felt like she had a good template now, going forward, on how to age and do it happily and gracefully. And then on the other end of the spectrum, I got a snail mail letter from a woman who is ninety-eight (!) saying that she feels the same way I do about a lot of issues and things I bring up in the book. I love that the book is hitting such a wide demographic, but at moments, I have worried that someone ninety-eight and myself are such compadres.
How close to your onstage voice is the voice you used for the pieces in the book?
It's very similar. But with stand-up, it's very clear - you're always out there to get laughs. That is your job and what the audience came out for. But with the book, I can dig a little deeper, get a bit more soulful. I am very complimented by readers who have said they were laughing at one minute and then crying at other parts that are poignant. I like sharing that more thoughtful and sensitive side of myself that you don't really see of me onstage, doing stand-up. I like the feeling of making someone cry who I'm not in a relationship with!
Were you disappointed with the low profile of the people you got to blurb the book? I haven't heard of any of them! Was there anybody who you were hoping to get that you couldn't?
Before you knew you were gay, how did you envision your fling with Lori would begin and end?
Since she was the first woman I had a fling with, I thought it would last around three months, and be a sex-filled, hedonistic romp. And I'm happy to say that we're coming up on thirteen years together. We've got a three year-old now, so it's not as sex-filled and hedonistic, but The Wiggles now fill the void.
You mentioned that your standup audiences helped you guide you in editing the pieces: are there any examples of pieces that changed after you performed them?
A live audience is a great monitor for dead spots. You can feel it when you're reading an essay and it's very frightening, the feeling of boredom you feel coming back at ya. When i read a piece live, I know afterwards very specifically how to make it leaner and meaner.
In your essays on aging womanhood, was there anything you wanted to avoid, IE a certain tone or theme that you felt had been addressed before, or did you just write what came to you?
I definitely wanted to avoid the bad cliches - ancient menopause jokes, "Oh Lord! I need a Power Scooter!" jokes and anything that smacked of "Am I right, ladies?"
Is there anything that is never, ever funny to you?
Who makes you laugh lately?
Arj Barker, Mario Cantone, Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman on "Parks and Recreation."
Which have been your favorite talk shows to be on? For any reason, from the host to the snacks in the green room?
I loved just being on with Letterman because I hadn't been on the show in so many years. It was like old home week, seeing Biff Henderson, the stage manager. Barbara Gaines (who is the exec. producer but started as an intern on Dave's morning show!). It was like no time had passed once I sat down with Dave. I really liked that. And being on Howard Stern was fun since I hadn't been on his Sirius show yet and it just felt so good to curse like a drunken sailor.
Were there ever any jokes you didn't feel good about performing in front of your parents?
My mom, who's a shrink, always hated this joke, so I took it out if I knew she was coming to the show - "It's hard to picture my Mom solving other people's problems when she's the root of most of mine."
Is it true that you bid on and won the notes Michael Vick wrote about dogfighting in prison? What did you do with them?
The Humane Society of The United States put the apology note up on E-bay and we won them. We did it for two reasons - one, all the money went to HSUS, an organization we love and respect. And two, we plan on putting the note up for auction again in the future and giving all the money again to HSUS. So it felt like a double gift in the long run. We had the framed note up in our son's room, but he's a little reckless with crayons and markers these days, so it got moved into my office.
What's the best golf tip you've ever gotten?
You gotta suck to get good. Same goes for stand-up comedy. So don't beat yourself up as you're learning.
How does it feel to be the 231st person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
Better than 230 but not as heady as 232's going to feel!