Hi Wendy, thanks for taking the time to chat w/ Punk Globe. Can you tell the readers about your early years growing up in Long Island?
Wendy Liebman- "Most of my childhood is a big blur, cause I needed better glasses."
"My sister and I had a lemonade stand with a two-drink minimum."
"I was in all the plays in school and camp and in our basement."
"A lot of people in my neighborhood were rich, but I don't come from money, I come from coupons."
"And I was the youngest so I always got hand-me-downs and second-hand smoke."
"But I had a wonderful childhood, my mother asked me to tell you."
"My mother’s an actress, so I was raised by her understudy."
Only one of the above is totally true.
PG- Your delivery style is so individualized and rapid fire, it almost appears you've been doing this your entire life. When did you first discover your comedic talents?
Wendy Liebman- I remember getting laughs in our basement, dressing up as a rich Long Island woman who was kind of a Yenta (busybody, know-it-all, community mascot), doing skits and plays with my sister and our friend Emily. Debbie, my sister, is 2 years older than I am, so she's 52 now, and Emily just turned 53. I loved being invited to play with them. I remember being invited to Emily's birthday party. We played duck duck goose and I was the youngest one there (I was like 4). I was so excited. Well, I did not want to get up to go to the restroom even though I had to pee. Because I was 4 and I was getting to hang out with the big girls. I thought if I got up to pee I would lose my place. So I peed in my pants. I remember my thought process exactly: These Danskin pants will hold the pee at the ankles, and then I'll take them off when I get home. Well, I stand up, and there's a puddle underneath me. Emily's mother takes me aside and asks if I had an accident. And I reply: "No! Your pipes must be leaking!" I was 4.
The summer before that, Debbie and Emily and I put on the play Rumplestilskin for the neighborhood kids and their moms. I was Rumplestilskin. I was 3! I loved being on stage. Then over the years I did a lot of musical theatre and dramas. I was Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Eliza in My Fair Lady in high school. I had my moments :) Jumping around here, when I was 5 I was asked to be the star of a play at summer camp. I was probably the loudest. And I’ve always needed a lot of attention. I got it by singing, dancing, stand-up and ordering those sizzling dishes at Chinese restaurants.
A few years after that I saw Phyllis Diller being interviewed on Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin, and she was saying that in comedy you had to "hit the audience with a joke, and just when they thought they were done laughing, you had to hit them again!" I remember thinking, "I know what you mean Phyllis!"
I remember watching The Tonight Show and I would hold my breath until the comedian got their first laugh. I was so nervous for them! (I also thought they were making up jokes ON THE SPOT!)
When I got out of college I lived with 4 very very smart people (MD-PhD students). We would play Trivial Pursuit, and I would leave in tears. So I started making jokes as a defense mechanism for feeling intellectually inferior.
I started doing stand-up in 1985 after taking a class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education on How to Be A Stand-up Comedian. I was doing psych research during the day. I had seen the course listing in a catalogue that was delivered to the wrong apartment, and I was intrigued. Something resonated. I started going to open mic nights -- sometimes 3 a night! Getting laughs is addictive.
I listened to the other Boston: Don Gavin, Kevin Meaney, Jonathan Katz, Brian Kiley, Laura Kightlinger, Dana Gould, Linda Smith, Brian Frazer, Mike Martineau, Bill Braudis, Steve Sweeney, and Tony V, and reinterpreted their styles into my own.
Can you tell the readers about any comedic influences you may have had as a young person? Are there any current comedians you admire?
Wendy Liebman- Where do I start?! Well, I used to watch Sonny and Cher, Flip Wilson, Barbra Streisand, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Laugh-In, and The Harlem Globetrotters. I used to imitate people for my father, and I loved hearing him laugh! Some of the comics I admired (still do) were Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, David Letterman, Steven Wright, Roseanne, Rosie O'Donnell, Phyllis Diller, Cho, Ellen DeGeneres, Rita Rudner, Elayne Boosler, Garry Shandling, and Richard Pryor. I still admire them, and I've also grown to love Jake Johannsen, Richard Lewis, Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, Martin Lawrence, Kathleen Madigan and Sarah Silverman.
PG- I have to ask...are you any chance a Dorothy Parker enthusiast? And if so do you have a favorite Parker bon mot?
Wendy Liebman- I once hosted a TV biography about her, and they put me up in the Dorothy Parker Room at The Algonquin! It was very cool! She was dry...(And drunk.)
"She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B."
PG- Nice! What was it called?
It was a piece for TV called: Will You Kindly Direct Me To Hell: The Dorothy Parker Story (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0129639/
). They interviewed everyone from Fran Leibowitz to Matthew Broderick and Gloria Steinem. I was the narrator who said a few things at the beginning and the end from the famous Algonquin Hotel. The producer asked me to do it because he said my humor reminded him of Ms. Parker's!
PG- Can you tell the Punk Globe readers about your first time on stage?
Wendy Liebman- As a comic, the first time I was on stage was at Stitches Comedy Club on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Take the Green Line. The host was also the bartender, Jimmy Tingle (now a famous political comic), and the music at the time was like Bronski Beat and Simply Red. I did about 4 minutes of jokes like, “I’m 23 and I found my first gray hair today. It was on my chest. That’s just a joke. I’m 24.” One of my comedy classmates told me that no one could hear a word I said, but I didn’t care. I was hooked.
PG- I read that you were "discovered" by the talent coordinator of the tonight show with Johnny Carson. Can you tell the readers about how that happened?
Wendy Liebman- I was being followed by the TV show 48 Hours for a show they were doing on stand-up comedy. My story was one of the segments. Secretary by day (I was working at Radcliffe College then in a fellowship program for women) and comedian by night. I had just won the Boston semi-finals of The Johnnie Walker Comedy Competition in conjunction with The Improv, and Alix Friedman, the wife of Improv owner Budd Friedman told Budd that I was funny!. As a finalist I got to go to Los Angeles to perform there. The 48 Hours cameras were following me still, and after my set during the competition, the talent coordinator from The Tonight Show, Jim MacCauley asked why he had never seen me before and if I would like to be on the show?! (That exchange is part of 48 Hours segment.) About a month later I was on the show, doing jokes like, “I’m a writer. I write checks. They’re mostly fiction.”
So, hard to say who actually discovered me. Alix, Budd, Jim MacCauley, the comedy club owners in Boston who gave me stage time. I think it was Camus who said something like everything that happens takes a thousand helping hands.
PG- What was your earliest material like? How would you say your material changed from the mid 1980s to present? Would you say that getting married limited your range of material or expanded it?
Wendy Liebman- “Someone thought I was Lady Di! Then I found out he was just telling me what to do!”
“I got my hair cut. I said, ‘Make me look chic.’ He must’ve thought I said, ‘Make me look like shit.’”
“I saw a punk baby. It had an orange mohawk, a diaper pin through it’s left earlobe, and black Huggies. It even cried with a British accent.”
I am not proud of any of these.
My material hasn’t changed all that much--I do a lot of my old jokes still. But I deliver them slower. And my hair is longer.
Getting married and raising stepsons has given me fodder for new jokes. But I still talk about my old boyfriends because the jokes still work. I just talk about them in the past tense.
Also, my husband is the funniest person and I get to use any of his jokes in my act. That was a stipulation of the marriage.
Finally, when my family was in New York once, my 10 year old stepson wanted to see CBGBs. There had been talk about tearing it down. I’m not sure what the outcome was. But it was very cool standing on the stage. #VERYYCOOL!
PG- Are there any subjects you get a particular kick out of digging into?
Wendy Liebman- I wish I were political (a la Wanda Sykes or Jon Stewart).
PG- If you were political what would you talk about? And, do you have any political causes you're passionate about?
Wendy Liebman- I'm opinionated on facebook and Twitter. I think same sex marriage is a fucking no-brainer. Let's shut up, enact, and move on. Marijuana should be legal like it used to be. And we should spend more money on education and less on defense. I don't understand how we don't.
I started a benefit in Boston for an organization called Community Works, which is an umbrella charity for social service organizations throughout Massachusetts, helping the sick, the elderly, and the homeless. It's a great model for assistance to the needy.
PG- Right on. Do you have any thoughts about social networking phenomena like FB and Twitter?
Wendy Liebman- Facebook, and now twitter have both changed my life for the better. I try to write jokes or ideas for my followers throughout the day. And I feel connected to the world in the perfect way for a person who has both separation anxiety and fear of intimacy. They enable me to achieve distant-closeness offstage as well as on. I've also made real friends through the virtual world. And also things like this interview have happened as a result of being on line.
PG- Could you give a few words/thoughts on the following comics: Joan Rivers, Bill Cosby, Phyllis Diller, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, Kathy Griffin, Andy Dick, Sarah Silverman, Lisa Lampanelli, Margaret Cho and Wanda Sykes?
JOAN RIVERS: Fucking hilarious.
PHYLLIS DILLER: I idolize her. She once called me, “Liebman.” I love her humor and her artwork. I once went to a party at her house. She warned everyone not to use the restroom because the lock was broken. An hour later, someone was locked in the restroom. It was Phyllis.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG: Love love love.
ROSIE O' DONNELL: Got to open for her in Atlantic City! And I was the first comedian she had on her original talk show. She is incredible.
KATHY GRIFFIN: To die for funny.
ANDY DICK: I’ve never seen him not drop his pants.
SARAH SILVERMAN: She is sexy. In her book she wrote how she walked into a comedy club in Boston and heard me doing my act and one joke was funnier than the next. (She probably thought to herself, “I could do THAT!”) I’m only peripherally acquainted with her, but I can’t tell you how many men ask me to give her a message.
LISA LAMPANELLI: She KILLS me! She is so in her stride. And I love her dresses.
MARGARET CHO: The Madonna of Comedy. One of the coolest people on the planet. Her writing is sublime.
WANDA SYKES: Wanda makes me laugh so hard out loud. She is a brilliantaire (I made up a word). I’ve gotten to meet her twice: Once at the taping of a Louie Anderson show (LOVE LOUIE TOO!) and once at Costco. She is amazing on The New Adventures of Old Christine. Wanda Sykes is perfect.
PG- How did you like sharing a bill with Judy Tenuta, Paula Poundstone, Roseanne Barr and Tracey Ullman? Any memorable stories?
Wendy Liebman- I love Judy Tenuta and she is GORGEOUS.
I didn’t get to meet Paula when I opened for her in the late 90s but met her at a diner once 10 years earlier. I saw her show at Play It Again Sam’s when I first started performing, and thinking ‘Why bother? Can’t be funnier than Paula.”
Tracey Ullman is uber talented and ultra nice.
Roseanne is one of my heros. I remember seeing her on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in my dorm room on a little black & white TV. She was a-dorable. She has blossomed into a political powerhouse. She once told me that I was like the female Woody Allen :)
PG- I've heard it repeated that you kept your "Best Female Stand Up Comic" award in your shower. Is that actually true?
Wendy Liebman- I said that as a joke once and people quote it a lot. It’s in my home office. I cherish it!
Craig Shoemaker (aka “The Lovemaster”) won that year for Best Male Stand Up Comic, and we’ve become really good friends.
PG- Do you have any favorite punk bands?
Wendy Liebman- The Ramones. Green Day. Blondie. Billy Idol.
I looked at the list of punk bands on Wikipedia to refresh my memory. I’ve heard OF a lot of these bands, but haven’t heard their music. Also, a lot of the names are FUNNY tongue in cheek, parodies.
PG- Have you ever heard of a song called "No Children" band called The Mountain Goats?
Wendy Liebman- Love the music. Love the lyrics. Haunting. Hilarious. The guy is probably Borderline Personality Disorder.
PG- Any thoughts on the media blitz surrounding Rep. Anthony Weiner's junk?
Wendy Liebman- He’s reckless. And nothing surprises me when it comes to politicians.
I love seeing the footage of when he lied about the photos. Same with Clinton when he said he did not have sexual relations with that woman. I love seeing those clips because now I know what 2 people look like when they’re lying.
It’s interesting. I think if a woman sexted herself she would be given a raise.
I learned once that every keystroke is permanent. I was taking a computer class and they let you check your grade on line. I had to get an A in order for my employer to pay for the class, so I checked every five minutes. The TA told me that he knew how much I was checking. So that taught me to assume that anything having to do with the computer is not private.
Maybe he wanted to get caught because, um, just dumb.
Do you have any new projects you'd like to talk about?
Wendy Liebman- I just taped my first hour special, “Playmate of the Year* (*as voted in Kindergarten).” Showtime just bought it, but I'll also release it on DVD (with some extras, budget permitting!)! I managed to include my mother playing the drums, my father singing in his a capello group Shades of Blue, and a more philosophical side of myself. Plus video footage of our lemonade stand.
PG- Any links you'd like to share?
PG- Thanks again! Do you have any parting words for the Punk Globe readers/advice for aspiring comedians?
Wendy Liebman- The advice I always give to aspiring comedians is: Perform as much as humanly possible because nothing replaces experience, try new material every day (do as I say!) and write jokes that make you laugh.