What were you like as a teen?
I was always outgoing, extremely interested in other humans, and chatty. I got in trouble for talking too much in class, but that didn’t stop me. The only honors class I ever took was English. The teacher, Mrs. Williams, was annoyed by the bubbly spirit… She actually said to me, “You think you can just get by on your personality, but you can’t. No one makes a living from just talking.” She was…what do you call that? Oh yeah, wrong. Mic drop, Mrs. Williams. I always wanted to be an excuse for people to gather and have fun.
Did you have an un-sexy starter job?
I waited tables and was terrible at it. I worked in retail which was kind of fun. I think the job that was the most helpful, in terms of standup was I taught aerobics at the Y on 14th St., in Manhattan. I treated the class like a comedy stage and tried out all my material in between jumping up and down in Reebok high tops (it was the 80s). But he got me in front of large groups talking for 90 minutes at a clip and that was never scary.
What do you consider to be your biggest comedy achievement to date?
Surviving being married to a comic. I’m kidding. I’m a kidder. I think it would have to be writing and producing my own solo show and touring the country with it. Most fun ever.
When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?
As a creative person, I always need to create. Standup was a way I could call the shots and not wait for someone to give me permission to express myself. As a person growing up in a loud, Jewish household, I needed to be heard. The audience interrupted me less than my parents did, so I stuck with it.
Have you ever dealt with trolls? Hecklers?
Sure. Who hasn’t? That said, audiences tend to have my back. Drunk audience members usually dig a hole. If you just give them a chance, they make you look like a genius. Kind of fun actually…
On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?
Trust your gut about everything. Tell your truth on stage and off. Know that you are enough. You always were and you always will be. And don’t eat any gassy foods before you go onstage.
Best comedy advice you ever got?
The actor, Chaz Palmintiri, and the director Mark Travis told me this: every time you go on stage, tell yourself that it’s the first time you ever get to tell the story and also the last.
Worst comedy advice you ever got?
Get onstage every single opportunity you get. There is indeed no replacement for stage time and you do grow from that, but even as a woman in my 20s in the 1980s in Manhattan, I understood that I wasn’t going to grow from really shitty opportunities that were out there. I had to pick and choose and create my own opportunities, which I did.
How has being funny helped you in your life?
Oh my God! A million ways. I’m an 81/2-year pancreatic cancer survivor. I would not have made it without humor. I’m sure of it.
What specific things do you think a novice comedy writer should do to shape their voice?
Start with this exercise: write your life story in 100 words or less. just the facts.
Include the Aha turning point moments without which couldn’t tell your story. Then look at everything you’ve written down and see if you can mine any of it for material. Always go back to your roots Always explore every side of the coin, look for the truth, the absurdity, and the humanity.
Was there one person who inspired you to go into the comedy world?
Bette Midler. I wanted to be her. I just couldn’t sing. I still can’t. But her outrageousness, her playfulness, her larger-than-life persona/ all of it gave me the space to trust myself, and do what I do and find my version.
Do you have a writing routine?
Yes. Left my own devices, I’m on the couch with Law & Order and chocolate. I book a theatre or a gig and then work backward from that deadline. Don’t seem to get anything done any other way. I continue to surround myself with community and deadlines all the time. That’s how I get my work done.
What is your go-to show when you’ve had a bad day?
The moment it’s Queer Eye. Everything looks better after I watch an episode or two.
What single word always cracks you up?