Interview with a Comic: Carol Leifer, author of ‘When You Lie About Your Age, The Terrorists Win
Carol was Interviewed by my lovely, dear friendL Elizabeth Cassidy, Coaching for the Creative Soul
Carol was recently nominated for an Emmy for her writing on a variety, music or comedy special – The 82nd Annual Academy Awards. Her very funny book When You Life About Your Age, The Terrorists Win is now available in paperback. But buy the hardcover. It means more money in Carol’s royalty check.
The Interview from 2009.
One of the comics that I admired for her sharp observational humor is Carol Leifer. Well, Carol just published a very funny book called, “When You Life About Your Age, The Terrorists Win.” She writes about embracing her life and her age and her writing is insightful and hilarious.
I just had the great fortune to interview Carol about her life and her new book.
ec. We both grew up on Long Island but we never had any play dates together. Another thing we have in common were fathers who were both naturally very funny. Were you influenced by your father’s sense of humor or did you develop your own style?
CL. My father was a huge influence on me. He was an optometrist by trade (and how could he NOT go into that profession with a name like Seymour – SEE MORE? Get it?) but always dreamed of being a comedian. He was the king of the joke tellers and no one told a joke like he did. I was very fascinated by him as a young girl watching him hold court and tell jokes to friends around the neighborhood or at family gatherings. My father also had good taste in comedians. He would always call us kids down to the basement when a great comic was on The Ed Sullivan Show. So comedy was important to the family and I believe it’s in your DNA when you grow up like that.
ec. I remember seeing you perform when I was a comic wannabe. I do recall quite clearly how tough it was to be a woman and a comic back in the mid 1980s. How did you keep going when comedy clubs owners were not that supportive of women comics and were just a tad sexist? Or was your experience different?
CL.There were very few women comics when I started out doing stand-up. But I always saw that as a great advantage. It was incredibly sexist back then – the club owner would put together line-ups like, “Okay, we’ve got the monkey act, the ventriloquist, we’ll put a woman on, and then the impressionist.” But at least I got on! I always say to women, “Take advantage of the fact that you’re in the minority, don’t see it as a disadvantage. You’re that much more unique when there’s fewer of you.”
ec. Did becoming a stand up comic trump all other careers? Did you look at it as a passionate calling or just a way to pay the rent while you were looking for something else?
CL. Stand-up comedy, and getting good at it, is such a ballbuster career that if you’re not pursuing it as your passion, you’ll last about three seconds. I always like to put it this way – They say that most peoples’ greatest fear is speaking in front of large groups of strangers. I contend that most comedians’ greatest fear is NOT speaking in front of large groups of strangers. Again, it gets back to DNA – if it’s not in your bones, you’ll never have the fortitude and strength to sustain the great challenges that go along with a stand-up career.
ec. And is it true that the character of Elaine Benes from the Seinfeld show was based on you? And I know all the Seinfeld fans will want to know – do you really dance like Elaine?
CL.Completely false. I am the inspiration for Kramer. You should see the smooth way I enter an apartment!
CL.The title is from one of the essays in my book. The message of the book is all about loving and embracing your age and your life, whatever age you might be. I have been blown away by the response of readers so far! I got a Facebook message from a young woman who is 24, thanking me, saying “I was so afraid of getting older. But your book is like a how-to in aging with grace and dignity. I’m not afraid anymore.” To even more messages from guys saying how funny they think the book is. There’s a positive message for everyone who reads it, if I do say so myself.
ec. How is the book tour going? It seems you kicked the Octomom off the talk shows and for that we are very grateful.
CL.The book tour is going phenomenally well. I was so honored that all these shows, shows that I love, had me on – Leno, Letterman, The View, Bill Maher. You have no idea how thrilling it is when Oprah Winfrey is reading from your book on her show! I can certainly die and go to heaven, no problem. And doing The Howard Stern show again was a hoot – but then again, what OTHER show are you going to go on to talk about your lesbian affair?!?
ec. In your book, When You Lie about Your Age, the Terrorists Win, you talk about turning 40. Today most feel that turning 40 is no biggie and that a card and maybe a nice dinner would make turning 40 memorable. But not you. Would you like to share how you dealt with turning 40?
CL. I wrote the book in large measure because my life got so much better after forty. That’s something that most women don’t expect to hear, but I hit the motherload. I found the love of my life, became an animal person, got bat mitzvahed at 45, and then, adopted a baby at 50! I’m having the best time of my life and people don’t hear that message enough. They think, “I’m 40. I’m formed. It’s over.” But I want to spread the word that the best part of your life can start at 40 and beyond if you don’t buy the hype. You also get so much smarter as you get older and that doesn’t get the air play out there that it deserves. I cried when I turned 34 for no other reason than 34 sounded old to me at the time. That seems pretty dumb now 18 years later. So I wrote this book so women would stop their sobbing about aging!
ec. So you meet Lori, and that’s it for you. You two have been together for 12 years. That makes you 52. You’re still younger than me. Seem so unfair. How was coming out as a lesbian received by your friends and family? I personally think it’s great that you didn’t have to deal with speed dating and eHarmony.
CL.My family was amazing about it. Although my Dad did ask, “Was it the golf lessons?”
And clearly, my straight male friends were the most supportive. They were like, “Carol…I want to hear EVERYTHING. Slowly and in great detail, please.”
ec. One thing that I find liberating about adding years to our lives is the right to reinvent ourselves and get involved with causes that make our lives more fulfilling. Can you tell us a little about some of the issues that you are putting your energy into now?
CL. I am involved with lots of non-profits that are important to me. I am very pro-choice so I do a lot of events with Planned Parenthood. Gay rights, Jewish causes, animal issues – they all live deeply inside me. And I feel very strongly about giving back. I’ve been so blessed in my career as a stand-up, a television writer and now, as an author. And I do believe that in my heart that what you give out, you get back in spades. So it’s a win/win.
ec It seems that you were a late bloomer when it came to animals. I read that you and Lori have 7 rescued dogs. From what I can tell, my rescued cats can probably beat up most of them. How did this change of heart come to be?
CL. I had never had a pet as a child. But my partner Lori had a dog and 2 cats when we finally moved in together. And I have to say I challenge anyone – to live with an animal for at least 6 months, and not be completely smitten at the end of those six months. Their unconditional love, their unwavering support and companionship – I can’t believe I only started to love animals in this way in my forties. How much more joyous my younger years would have been being enveloped in animal love!
ec. Maybe you can explain this to me –what is attraction to golf? It can’t be the shoes, can it?
CL.Golf is a lot like stand-up comedy. You have to suck to get good in the long run and I have always loved a challenge like that.
The shoes are funny and always keep me laughing, especially when I suck extra hard!
ec. Your son, Bruno, is almost 3. What changes has motherhood bought to you and Lori’s lives? Is he a funny little boy?
CL. I adopted Bruno when I was 50! And it’s pretty funny getting Parents Magazine in the mail the same time as AARP magazine arrives in the mail. But motherhood is great. Bruno has two mommies – his Oedipus complex is now a threesome! And Bruno has 2 Jewish Mommies, to boot! If this kid is ever hungry, it’ll be a freakin’ miracle!
The biggest adjustment, honestly, having a baby at 50 was the crying all night – I kept waking the baby!
Bruno is so funny. He loves to watch me weigh myself. The last time I did, I got on the scale, Bruno looked down and said, “Not so bad!” Wonder where he heard that from.
ec. What would you like to say to the younger women who are maybe a little forgetful about the struggles that their sisters and mothers experienced in making the road that they travel today a little easier? Is feminism on life support or just lurking in the background?
CL.I am very pro-choice and I go to all the marches. And I’ve noticed that it’s mostly me and the old broads. I want more younger women to get engaged. These rights are not set in stone, they could all go away in a puff of smoke. So I want to encourage more women to get up and join us! We’ve come a long way, baby – oh yes, we have! But the idea wasn’t to get there and then open up a folding chair.
ec. And finally, most people seem to think that if you can get in front of a group of mildly intoxicated people and make them laugh and forget about their problems then you are capable of doing almost anything in the world. So, Carol, what is the next big project? Please don’t say that it involves a Barcalounger and the call of the sweatpants.
CL. I’m on the brink of 53. I love my life and it does get sweeter everyday! But man, am I lazy now! I swear that when I go to the mall and I see that an escalator is broken, the first thought that pops into my head is always, “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!? IS IT AMISH DAY NOW AT THE MALL?!?” I just want to be home in my sweatpants all the time – now that’s living!
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