Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An Evening of Laughter...

In the middle of all of the Upfronts insanity, I decided I needed a break. Getting up at five a.m.-- no, getting up so that I'm alert and articulate at five a.m.-- should have had me tucking myself into bed early, but as those who know me personally know, when I take a break from one thing, it's only to be productive on another. I wrote two books simultaneously that way (one has not yet been published, but I'm thinking it might be coming to you in the fall), and I often work on advance reviews of pilots and premieres while taking a break from transcribing interviews. So last night I headed out to a very special panel held at the TV Academy to honor the "Women Who Make Us Laugh."

A stage of women who have backgrounds in stand-up, sitcoms, and sketch comedies, of course the program more than lived up to its name. Mary Lynn Rajskub, who most know from 24 but who was also hilarious on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Raising Hope, among others, moderated, but as she announced when she first came out on stage, she hadn't really prepared. She figured with the group that they assembled, it would be more fun and informal if they all just chatted like old friends. And that is exactly what they did, though admittedly at times it did lean a little Lily Tomlin-heavy as all of the women on stage were in awe of the legend they were now being honored alongside (and really, can you blame them?). In fact, forget The View or The Talk, these women should have their own show!

Things started off with a bang when the women first sat down and immediately Tomlin made a crack about Elayne Boosler's age after having stood backstage, watching old clips from years ago. It became a running theme of the evening, but they weren't being self-deprecating for self-deprecating's sake, and Boosler made a great point in that all comedians have that in them, not just women. So many comedians come from rough childhoods or from places of feeling alone that they use the snark to feed material, and on stage they can finally feel comfortable.

All of the women on stage, including Bonnie Hunt, Margaret Cho, Caroline Rhea, and Carol Leifer, seemed to agree that Tomlin must have had the best childhood because her sunny demeanor shines through into her characters, and they all also agreed that coming up as a woman in comedy was hard, but it would have been harder if the women who came before them hadn't reached out a hand to pull them up. The sense of camaraderie was tight, but today it doesn't necessarily reflect those roots as ambition breeds jealousy and a competitive edge more than it used to.

Hunt pointed out that on the television side of things, she managed to do something that very few at all (regardless of male or female or whatever) have been able to achieve: she would pitch and sell her shows solely on her own. And somehow she actually went to network! All of the great female comedians before her, Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore included, had a male producing partner who could take the lead in meetings with executives who might not have been as comfortable dealing with a woman. These days, though, it's a miracle if you can even get a meeting with an agent if you're a first-timer, let alone trying to go into a network and pitch without an established showrunner cracking open that door for you. I know this from personal experience!

Usually the TV Academy events are not open to the public but only members (though every now and then they will make exceptions for diehard fans of the shows being honored there and the networks will do giveaways for tickets), but if you have even a toe in the entertainment industry, it is more than worth joining so you, too, can be on-site at such great events and not only hear one-of-a-kind stories in person but also have the opportunity to get first-hand advice from those who have been noted successes.

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