Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to remember Gilda Radner

If you're reading this blog, then you've probably seen this story.  The headline: Cancer Support Group Named After Gilda Radner Changing Its Name Because Young Patients Don't Know Who Gilda Radner Is.

Really?  According to the above Gawker article, the group did this because a lot of their younger patients were born after Gilda died, and don't know who she is, and "We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there's not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors."

I went to the University of Texas.  The business school there is named The Red McCombs School of Business to honor the man who made a lot of money selling cars and giving it to the school of business so people would remember his name after he died.  He's still alive and kicking, but is UT going to change the name twenty years after he passes to avoid confusion? Is anyone going to say, "Oh, I wanted to major in business, but I was confused by the names so I ended up with this liberal arts degree because the liberal arts school isn't named after anyone because no one ever got rich enough off their liberal arts degree to endow a college"?

Gilda Radner was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live.  She was hilarious.  Here, watch some of these video clips:

Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals

 With her dog on Letterman

Society For Stupid People

If you've got Spotify, listen to her album Live From New York.  You remember Gilda, don't you?  And if you'd never heard of her, aren't you now glad you have?   My friend Jill (an amazingly talented comedian) did a one-woman show all about Gilda Radner and what an inspiration she was to her.  Jill now lives in New York, writes for the onion, and makes people laugh online.  And she's just this one person I happen to know who was inspired by Gilda Radner. She wasn't the first, and I hope to god that we're not anywhere near to the last.

See, when you name something after someone, you're honoring them.  You're giving them a chance to mean something to the world long after they leave it.  Whoever named that cancer support group recognized that Radner had done something important in the world.  And yes sometimes people's reputations tarnish over the years or legacies become embarrassments--I went to Robert E. Lee Junior High, home of the fighting Rebels and that's a little fucked up--but that's not the case here.  Gilda Radner is still as funny and complicated and talented and amazing as she always was.  Her work and her life still has the capacity to inspire people and give hope to budding comedians and cancer survivors alike. Maybe Gilda would want to have been known for her comedy more than her cancer. But I'm pretty damn sure she would have wanted young women with cancer to get all the help they can.  More than anything I bet she wanted to be remembered at all. And she would have wanted someone to go into those doors, into Gilda's club, and ask "Why is this called Gilda's club?" And she would have wanted the person at the front desk to lean forward and say, "You've never heard of Gilda Radner?  She was a comedienne, she was an actress, she was amazing. She died of cancer.  She would have wanted you to live and to be amazing. Here, watch these video clips:"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Inspiration at the Texas Book Festival

I had been thinking about starting a blog about funny women for quite a while.  There are just so many hilarious amazing women who have amused and inspired me, from Jane Austen to Tina Fey. I especially wanted to heap some extra love and attention on the funny ladies who have served as role models and inspirations to the comediennes of today.  So yeah, that's what this blog is for.  But what took me so long? Blah blah blah, life is busy, there are always other things, etc. I guess the better question is what lit the fire under my butt to finally start putting finger to keyboard? It was, my dears, the Texas Book Festival.  

I have the distinct pleasure, not only of being friends with the amazing, talented and hilarious Amy (theoeditrix.com), but of being her default partner for literary excursions. Besides having a PhD in English, teaching, writing, and being a general badass, Amy writes wonderfully and critically on art, culture, and especially literature. Whenever she's headed out to a modern fiction symposium, the Teen Book Festival, or the downtown-Austin-consuming Texas Book Festival, I get to tag along and play worldly and sophisticated. Amy is much more tapped in to the literary scene, so I always leave it to her to set the agenda and recommend the authors.  So we arrived at the book festival, sprawling over the Capitol grounds and into tents down the main boulevard, on a beautiful, bright and crisp fall morning. 

Just in time, slipping in as the dutiful ushers of the Paramount Theatre were closing the doors, we took our seats near the rear to listen to Jenny Lawson.  I had not previously had the pleasure of knowing Lawson's work, but she is HILARIOUS.  Blogger, published author, mom, and native of Wall, Texas (just outside my own hometown of San Angelo). She blogs about her everyday life with a bizarre and charming perspective. Her blog is the ultimate release for everyone who ever wanted to have poor impulse control but was too intimidated by authority (me! That's me!). I feel like all the strange places i let my mind wander, Lawson goes there all-in.  She read a chapter from her book that had everyone cringing, laughing, and nodding in recognition, and took questions from the audience, giving some great insight on being a writer and taxidermy.  Best piece of advice: You can be everything, a great mom, a great wife, a great writer, just not all at the same time.  Some days you're a great writer and kind of suck as a mom.  Some days you're an amazing mom but fall short as a wife.  That's how it is, and that's ok.   A good thing for someone like me (business owner, roommate, girlfriend, employee, improvisor, writer, friend) to remember.  Also, she's going to name her taxidermied horse Pony Danza.  And cornered Tony Danza to tell him that. Check out her blog at thebloggess.com and her autobiography, Let's Pretend This Never Happened.

After Lawson's talk, we hightailed it out of the paramount to get to an interview with Yael Cohen, author of We Killed: Women in American Comedy (not to be confused with We Killed Women In American Comedy, by Christopher Hitchens and Adam Corolla). In this book (which I purchased at the book festival and am so excited to read) she gives an oral history of female comedians from the 1960s to today.  I'll definitely be providing a full review of that book in the near future.  But back to the moment in question- the mise en scene, Amy and I hightailing it up Congress avenue, drinking in sunshine, to get to the Capitol and find the elusive Capitol Annex Room 2.104 or something like that. At every entrance to the Capitol, the security lines were out the door.  After admiring the gorgeous details of the Capitol door hinges and knobs from our line on the east side, we were slowly shuffled ever more into the building, scanned and detected, and allowed to enter. From there it was a mere series of labyrinthine twists and Escheresque staircases and herd instinct reliance and a little bit of asking directions until we were able to find the room we wanted. The interview had already begun, and the tiny room was already full. We squeezed into the back and settled in.

For no discernible reason, Kohen's talk was shepherded by some dude. I don't know who he was or what his credentials were, I can only assume he had some.  I should admit right now, folks, that I am not that great at blogging.  At cross-referncing, finding links, doing that background research to give the whole picture and put things in perspective.  One this blog gets famous and I make a lot of money, I'll hire someone to do all that for me.  But for now, I'm going to fall short in a few of these areas, but I'll do my best. Anyway, as I remember, and maybe Amy can help me out here, most of his questions seemed to be along the lines of, "and then what?" And his most memorable comment (for me) was something to the effect of, "finally, with Sarah Silverman and Tina Fey, women have proved they CAN have it all. They can be pretty AND funny."

Nevertheless, the snippets and bits of the history Kohen documented that I heard from that interview deepened my resolve to start this blog.  Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers playing self deprecation for laughs, the women of SNL, the show which provided both a haven and a challenge for them, Mary Tyler Moore, Lily Tomlin- some of these women I grew up with, some I just barely know.  I wanted to get to know them all.  There are tons of great resources for current and up-and-coming comediennes (list of links to these to be compiled soon), and I hope to round out the discussion by filling in and exploring some back story.  I want to learn more about the amazing women who have come before and share my explorations and celebrations with all of you, as well as some discussion and analysis of the environment in which the female humorist has lived and worked since the very first time she made someone laugh.

In this spirit, I welcome and hope for lots of discussion and suggestions.  Who are your favorite and inspiring funny women in every field? Writers, satirists, stand ups, improvisors, sketch comediennes, singers, actresses, cartoonists.... I want them all.

Friday, November 2, 2012


I am a comedian.  An improvisor for 11 years now, a sketch comedian for a few months now.  There have been so many funny, interesting, and inspiring women to lead the way, in sketch, film, stand-up, theatre, writing: anywhere humor is found, there are funny women.  I want to talk about them, share what I love, explore the ones I've missed, make discoveries, and think critically about women and humor.  Mostly I want to celebrate the funny woman, because she makes me laugh, and that's what I love about her.