The fabulous Julie Brown has recently released yet another installment in her comedic-musical catalog. Brown's July 2011 release, Smell The Glamour is a brilliant study in classic camp hilarity nuanced with pop culture criticisms & social satire set to well crafted & fun 1980s-esque dance music. Smell The Glamour is her first release since 1987's Trapped In The Body Of A White Girl and may very well be her best work to date as is often the case with those rare artists who utilize multiple forms of creative expression & outlets. That is, Julie Brown has essentially been doing everything at once for decades and her mastery of her many skills shines through this new release beautifully. And you know, it's really fucking funny. Like, deceptively funny. Though, it's advisable to just check it out for oneself: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/smell-glamour-the-diamond/id445653775
I recently had a chance to ply Julie Brown with a few questions about her work, comedy, comedians, performance art, and a bunch of other random stuff. Enjoy.
Punk Globe- Thanks much for taking the time to do this interview! Can you tell the Punk Globe about your early development in music, comedy and performance arts?
Julie Brown- At one point I was studying to be an anthropologist.
Punk Globe- Really?
Julie Brown- Well, I won the science fair in junior high so I thought that that's what I was supposed to do. My parents were in show business and they always said I couldn't be in it. When I went to college and began as an anthropology major I soon discovered that I hated it so much that I would completely suck at it. I was always doing drama in high school and I really liked it so I went back into that. I went to ACT (American Conservatory Theater) in San Francisco. It's a regional theater so if you're a second year student you get to be a stupid little hand maiden, but you're on a real stage. I had a writing partner named Charlie Coffey and we started writing sketches for holiday parties together. We had such a great reaction that we decided to do a show at the the school. Everyone else was doing serious shows and we did this really insane comedy show. We ended up getting booked at a night club before even graduated. That's what happened. I started performing in gay clubs and had a local gay following.
Punk Globe- Were you always mixing all these different outlets together or did you access them one by one?
Julie Brown- I didn't always mix them but I did start mixing pretty early. I started writing when I was pretty young. I wrote some of the songs for my school play. I found that there wasn't the material for what I wanted to do so I started writing stuff to perform. I wrote comedy songs and was mixing, but I just didn't think of it like that. Me and my writing partner also started doing video pieces on really primitive video equipment that we kind of "stole" from the school. We'd go in there at night and use the equipment to do sketches and then we'd put the equipment back. We copied the key.
Punk Globe- Guerilla style!
Julie Brown- Well, when you have no money and and no access to things you find ways to get around it. So we didn't really "steal" anything. I mean, we put it back.
Punk Globe- Aggressive borrowing!
Julie Brown- That's a funny term, but that's what we did. Our first show at acting school was a mix of music, video pieces, and comedy. There was everything because I can't pick one thing to do. I kind of wish I could.
Punk Globe- As far as anything performance artsy, the really eclectic . . .
Julie Brown- What do you mean?
Punk Globe- Where it just seems that the performer is reaching all over and grabbing many different outlets and media . . .
Julie Brown- I didn't ever think of it like that. I always thought I was doing comedy. When I look back and think about how people define performance art, yeah it totally is.
Punk Globe- A lot of it seems like social satire.
Julie Brown- It was, but I never thought of it as that and I never thought of it as performance art.
Punk Globe- That actually makes a lot of sense.
Julie Brown- Does it?
Punk Globe- It does. People don't seem to know what they're doing when they're doing it, particularly if what they're doing is really important.
Julie Brown- You're just doing what it seems like you're suppose to be doing but I wasn't thinking that I was a performance artist or social satirist. It just depends upon how you look at it. I mean, Lady Gaga is totally doing performance art but what does she think of it? We don't really know what she thinks about it. When you see her in interviews it almost seems as if she's viewing it as performance art. It's hard for me to imagine that she thinks she's just making dance music. I think she thinks that she's doing all of it. Don't you?
Punk Globe- Yeah, I do. What was it like growing up in Van Nuys, CA.?
Julie Brown- Very, very normal and middle class. I went to Catholic school which was horrible. It was really oppressive and just not fun. It was a really serious environment for 8 hours a day and I also had to go to church everyday. The only way I could deal with that kind of seriousness was by trying to be funny and of course i got into trouble all the time. I got out in 8th grade and then I started having a lot of fun. In junior high I got into theater and then I actually enjoyed school but up until that point it just sucked so bad. Nuns are kind of miserable people because they're not having sex. Can you imagine? You're in this organization and they tell you that you can't have sex. You're going to go crazy. It's like telling a person that they can only eat apples.
Punk Globe- You worked on Happy Days. Tell us about that?
Julie Brown- That was one of my first jobs. It was really fun, but I didn't know how to deal with it. It was in the 1980s so I did snort some coke, which probably wasn't the greatest, but I don't think you can tell in my performance. It was a very young way to deal with acting. I would never do anything like that now. It was kind of weird because Henry Winkler -who I've since worked with- was really full of himself at that point. He was obnoxious. Ron Howard was really nice, cool, and normal. At that point it had been on the air for about 9 years. They were all stars and they all had a completely different way of dealing with it. Actually, everybody was obnoxious except for Ron Howard. I think he just had a completely different way of thinking about himself.
Punk Globe- You also worked with Lily Tomlin on The Incredible Shrinking Woman.
Julie Brown- She is really amazing. She came to see one of my early performances in San Francisco. I had somehow got a message to her asking if she'd come see me because she was one of my heros. She showed up at the club and was just so great to us. She told me to get a hold of her if I was ever in L.A. So when I got back to L.A. I wrote to her and she offered me a part in The Incredible Shrinking Woman. I needed a SAG card to be in the movie and she got me one. I've since worked with her on Murphy Brown and she came to a play I was in once. Just a super sweet person.
Punk Globe- Your first EP, Goddess In Progress?
Julie Brown- I made that because I had been doing stand-up and was really frustrated with it. I never felt good about doing pure stand-up. Before that I was in San Francisco doing songs and crazy theatrical things. When I came back to L.A. there wasn't much I could do besides stand-up clubs and that kind of material doesn't work too well in stand-up clubs. So I wrote some songs and got them on KROQ and then a few different alternative stations started playing my music. It was weird enough that it kind of broke through in a different way. Right after I had the album out, Warner Bros. called me and asked if I had any movie ideas because the songs were so theatrical. While we were writing that EP, Charlie Coffee and I had come up with the idea for Earth Girls Are Easy. So I pitched it to them and they bought it.
Punk Globe- You wrote, produced and starred in Earth Girls Are Easy, right?
Julie Brown- Yes. Warner Bros. jumped on it so quickly that I initially thought that selling movies was easy. Well, it's not. The first time it was.
Punk Globe- Then the LP you released in the late 1980s, Trapped In The Body Of A White Girl. What exceptionally clever social commentary.
Julie Brown- Well, I guess that is what I'm doing but when I think about it, it's just funny. This is social commentary for sure, but I think if you just do social commentary that's not that funny it's not as entertaining for people. If it's not entertaining enough I think it's hard for people to get excited about watching it. If you try to be as funny as you can people have the option of taking it on a few different levels. That's what I aim for.
Punk Globe- Do you have any particular piece of work that you audience seems to want to hear over and over again?
Julie Brown- There's two things that people seem to talk to me about the most: Medusa, which is the satire of Madonna and the MTV show Just Say Julie. The MTV show was high profile at the time and Medusa was Showtime's best rated special. They were satirical and for some reason the gay audience really seems to like that. Gay fans have talked to me about those two forever.
Punk Globe- It's also campy. I'm queer and I happen to love that stuff.
Julie Brown- I don't know why that is. I think being gay makes you more sensitive to what's happening socially and gives you a more acute awareness as to how the world perceives things.
Punk Globe- Yeah. I think anything that "others" a person tunes them into that.
Julie Brown- I've had to try and figure out why I've always had a big gay audience. They're so sweet to me and so accepting of me. First of all, we must have the same sense of humor. I'm making fun of the way the world's perceptions and they are very aware of why that's funny.
Punk Globe- Can you describe the character you portrayed on Just Say Julie?
Julie Brown- It was kind of an exaggerated version of me. This girl was very caught up in pop culture like I was because I was on MTV. She was very narcissistic and sexual because I have always found that to be very funny. I didn't want to come off like some jerk, so I always had whatever the character was conceited about kind of backfire on her. I was always having to suffer the repercussions of my delusions. It was a real comic character because she didn't get away with anything. It's almost Lucy-ish. I would get into trouble and have these problems that I had made for myself.
When I was first doing stand-up most of the women comics were like Joan Rivers or Phyllis Diller who were always talking about how ugly they were. I knew that if I went up on stage and talked about how ugly I was that it would come off as really weird. I had to think about how I was going to be funny. I started to think about the way Mae West did things. I thought it was just hilarious to act like I was super hot and just overdo it and then everything would backfire on me. Now there's a lot of comedians who do that. Though, at the time, talking about how hideous they are and how they can't get a date was pretty much the only thing going for female comedians.
Punk Globe- That's a really interesting observation. I feel like that's true.
Julie Brown- It was weird. There's also the valley girl element that was a huge part of my act. I had been incorporating that and when the song came out I was really bummed. Then I realized that I could still keep doing it. She wasn't the only valley girl. I really grew up there and I was that person.
Punk Globe- I have a question submitted by another writer for Punk Globe, Rebecca Wilson: What do you think of Mo Collins from Mad TV?
Julie Brown- I think she's really funny. I run into her on auditions more than anything. I never really watched Mad TV too much. I watched Saturday Night Live a lot. I don't know her work as much as I should but when I have seen her I think she's great.
Punk Globe- How was it working on The Edge with Jennifer Aniston?
Julie Brown- I had a deal to do a sketch show at NBC and then it ended up at FOX. When we started casting it Jennifer came in and she was really adorable, funny, and cute. She does a lot more characters than people know. She kind of does one character now. the character she did on Friends. She doesn't do a lot of other characters now, but when I was working with her she did Chyna Phyllips and we did these groupies called Shasta and Carmel. It must not be that interesting to her anymore because she doesn't ever do it and she could if she wanted to. Though, in Horrible Bosses she plays a dentist whose super horny and really obnoxious. She's really good in it.
Punk Globe- Did anyone from designing Women complain when you did the sketch about Delta Burke?
Julie Brown- They didn't and I was kind of worried. I mean, playing Delta Burke as this big monster. I read for her for a pilot a couple of years after that and she was completely sweet about it.
Punk Globe- It seemed like you were delving into the public fascination with her weight. People were really interested in her weight at the time.
Julie Brown- She had a really good sense of humor about it. None of them ever got mad about that. I was always expecting someone to get mad at some point, but no one ever did. I think it's because I'm playing them. Kathy Griffin gets people mad at her all the time. I think she's really hilarious, but she's playing herself making fun of them. I'm playing them and for some reason that buffer is enough so that people don't get angry. They seem to take it as more of a compliment. Isn't that weird?
Punk Globe- Yeah, and it makes sense. What about your friendship with Ben Stiller?
Julie Brown- I don't really have one. I wish I did. I love him. I've met him and we had sketch shows on at the exact same time on FOX. His was The Ben Stiller Show and mine was The Edge. We knew each other then. We weren't really buddies or anything, but I think he's just amazing.
Punk Globe- Do you ever hear from Kurt Loder from MTV News?
Julie Brown- No, I never do. The only person I ever see is Martha Quin and that's because she lives relatively close to me.
Punk Globe- Was there really a rivalry between you and Downtown Julie Brown?
Julie Brown- There kind of was at the time. It wasn't really real, we played on that because we had the same name. I had the name registered with SAG and would get checks of her in the mail. Then when I'd run into her sometimes she'd be really cool and sometimes she'd be really weird. So we don't really have a friendship. It was the coincidence of having the same name and being on the same network at the same time.
Punk Globe- What about Nina Blackwood?
Julie Brown- I haven't seen her either. She was a really nice girl though.
Punk Globe- What about the limo driver who insisted you were Judy Tenuta?
Julie Brown- That's always annoying to me and it shouldn't be because Judy is such a sweet girl. But Judy Tenuta? Do I look anything like Judy Tenuta?
Punk Globe- When you performed Medusa on Arsenio Hall, that was kind of peculiar.
Julie Brown- It was completely peculiar. He wanted me to come out and do Medusa without explaining it. I thought that was a mistake and it turned out that it was. For things to be funny, people have to be able to understand what you're doing.
Punk Globe- Was it a tiny bit fun at least?
Julie Brown- No it wasn't. When you feel that people aren't quite getting what you're doing it's not that fun. It's fun when they get it.
Punk Globe- Do you have any favorite performance artists?
Julie Brown- I do like Lady Gaga a lot. She combines so many things. I think it's really interesting that Lady Gaga has made performance art mainstream. That's really difficult to do.
Punk Globe- She has. I think it's nice that she's made it accessible to the mainstream.
Julie Brown- I can't believe some of the stuff that Lady Gaga has done on mainstream TV. I saw her on The Tonight Show and she was dancing with all these black men with cages on their faces. That is just so different for The Tonight Show.
Punk Globe- Do you have any favorite musicians?
Julie Brown- That's a question that always boggles my mind because I go through phases where I'm just not listening to music at all. As I was saying I like Lady Gaga. I like old Madonna but then I don't even like new Lady Gaga. The first album was great. The newest one I felt like I didn't even know what she was doing. There's some songs on there that I just don't understand.
Punk Globe- How about comedians?
Julie Brown- I have a boatload: Lily Tomlin, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Cathering O'Hara, Tina Fey, Andrea Martin, all the people from SCTV. . .
There's a new kind of woman comedian that I don't find as funny, but they're definitely present and they didn't used to be. Like Whitney Cummings. She's a stand-up who has a new show coming out on NBC and she also did the Joan Rivers Roast. She was so super nasty and told really mean jokes.
Punk Globe- Like Lisa Lampanelli?
Julie Brown- Yes.
Punk Globe- I interviewed her.
Julie Brown- What did you think?
Punk Globe- She's trying to touch on all these social issues and that's her way to do it. I think she means well, but I don't think she's really funny. She gave a thoughtful interview.
Julie Brown- I guess so. I just don't find it all that funny.
Punk Globe- Maybe it's part of some kind of social development or whatnot.
Julie Brown- I think so. Well, now I've defined people that aren't funny to me too.
Who else is funny? There's a lot of people who are super famous that I find funny, like David Letterman or Eddie Murphy, they *can* be funny. I like Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and all the girls in Bridesmaids were hilarious. That's a modernism of women being raunchy, but it's not mean. The mean element is really hard for me to take. When Whitney Cummings was roasting Joan Rivers -who I really love- and she just kept talking about how ugly and old Joan was. Those were the jokes. Maybe she's going to be a big star but I just don't get it. I've always had a problem with comics who don't care if they're mean or alienating.
When Catherine O'Hara plays a character, she has a lot of compassion for the character she's playing. That's one of the funniest things to me. Steve Carell is so brilliant. He really has compassion for the characters he's playing even if he's playing a person whose a complete insane maniac. I've probably watched every episode of The Office. That character is so complex. Sometimes he's just so sad and pathetic that you genuinely feel sorry for him. That's because Steve Carell is having empathy and really identifying with him. He's not just written the character off as a jerk. I also think that Meryl Streep is a brilliant comedian. When she plays a character she goes so far into it and has a lot empathy for the character. Just like Carell, she's not just going, "This character is a jerk and I'm so funny." The Devil Wears Prada is so funny, dark, and complicated. She's amazing.
Punk Globe- That's really cool. I don't think people would think of her as a comic, but you're right.
Julie Brown- They wouldn't, but that's because she can do anything. Such a brilliant comedic actress.
Punk Globe- Can you tell the Punk Globe readers about Another Drunk Chick?
Julie Brown- When I first decided to do music again so I started listening to the radio all the time. I heard this Keisha song that sounded so funny to me. It was a celebration of being drunk and it was also really catchy. So I thought it would be funny to push it further and do a song that celebrated drunk girls. The video is me and Nadya Ginsburg, we go out and get really drunk. It's a little bit of a satire of the Keisha song, but mostly it's about women who are way too old to be doing that.
Punk Globe- Do you have a website we could link up?
Punk Globe- Do you have any other projects you've been working on?
Julie Brown- I'm a doing The Middle again and I'm a writer for Melissa And Joey. I'd like to perform but I kind of have to get my son through this whole college thing. I started trying to go out while he was in high school and I just found t impossible to deal with a high school kid and be out performing. I think the second half of his senior year I'll start performing more.
Punk Globe- Yeah! That'd be so cool if you were out performing again. Do you have any parting words for the readers?
Julie Brown- I think the whole reason I do comedy is to make fun of something that is false or fake or mean and not true. Or just to lighten up people's lives by making them laugh at all the things that make us human: our sexuality, how much we worship Madonna and chocolate! In general, I hope the comedy I've done makes people feel good and not take their lives so very seriously.
Punk Globe Magazine would like to thank Julie Brown for all her wonderful work and for being so generous with her time!