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Creatively Speaking: Laraine Newman

larainenewman.jpgLaraine Newman may be best known for her funtabulous roles on Saturday Night Live (Connie Conehead, the Valley Girl, etc.), but she's been plenty busy in recent years doing pantloads of voiceovers for every animated feature under the cartoon sun, as well as working on a memoir and writing for the exciting new food zine, One for the Table.

I've been contributing some personal essays to One for the Table, and was introduced to Laraine by the zine's founding editor, author and screenwriter Amy Ephron.

So click on through to find out all about the origins of the Coneheads, who Laraine's favorite cartoon character was when she was growing up, what her writing process is like, as well as some links to her own essays on One for the Table.

coneheads.jpgOn Saturday Night Live:

DI: What's your favorite character that you played on SNL?

LN: Well my favorite character that I brought from The Groundlings [Theater Company], was the Valley Girl. And my favorite character that I created at Saturday Night Live, which, I think, only pleased me and no one else, was Lena Wertmuller.

DI: What's the origin of the Coneheads?

LN: That came out of an improv that we did at Lorne's [Michaels] loft about an alien family. We assumed the roles: Jane [Curtain] was the mother, Danny [Akroyd] was the father, and I was the daughter. And then Tom Davis and Danny went off and created the Coneheads.

DI: Do you still watch SNL today?

LI: Now that there's TiVo, yeah! I have a season pass and I think the cast is better than it has ever been. I just love the show.

Oy012.jpgOn voiceover work in animation:

DI: Did you have a favorite cartoon character when you were a kid growing up?

LI: I love Olive Oyl on Popeye. But I forget the name of the woman who voiced her. She also did Betty Boop. Your readers are smart, surely someone will know and let us know in the comments.

DI: How did you get into voiceover work for cartoons?

LN: About the time I had my first child, I was trying to figure out something I could do where I didn't have to be on a set. For actors, the minimum day is 12 hours. I knew I could do dialects and a lot of things with my voice. So I got a voiceover agent and auditioned for two years before I got any work. Then I took a class with Charlie Adler, who directs a ton of cartoons and he was a great teacher. After that, I started to get a lot of work and haven't stopped working since then. It's perfect because you go in for two hours, laugh your ass off, act stupid and get paid. It's really fun creating characters right on the spot. So with my improv background, it's a perfect fit.

DI: Of all the characters that you've voiced, is there one that you're particularly proud of?

LI: Yes, there's a show called "As Told By Ginger" which is one of the only cartoons out there for tweens. I played the mother for about three years and it was just great. I'm also proud of my association with Metalocalypse. It's completely wrong and subversive and it gives me street cred.

DI: What advice would you give to someone looking to break into animation voice over?

LN: Well they should start out with the ability to do dialects, characters, and play different ages. If you have those three things, I'd recommend taking a class to learn how to act with your voice, which is an entirely different skill.

On the memoir:

DI: How long have you been working at your memoir?

LN: About five years. I have a first draft and about five attempts at a second draft. But I'm having trouble recalling some of the details about the middle years of SNL. And I get sidetracked by wonderful other projects, like One for the Table, where I'm writing short form essays. What will probably happen is that I'll cobble together these essays, which all have SNL stuff in them, and that will be better way to approach this -- less of a tyranny.

DI: What are some of the challenges of writing a memoir?

LN: When I was working on the second draft, I went through a really bad depression because I had to revisit some very unhappy moments in my life. In order to offer a more vivid tone I would inhabit those moments in order to represent them. And it's also easy to get bored with long-form writing. That is, and this is the French translation of boredom: I bore myself. It's hard for me to remain enthusiastic about telling my story at times.

DI: Is there a memoir or autobiography that you've read for inspiration?

LN: Sidney Poitier's. It was interesting in the sense that he gave his philosophy of life along the way.

DI: What's your writing process like?

LN: To tell the truth, I don't really have a process. Sometimes I write in the morning for 10 minutes, other times I write in the evening for an hour and a half. That's a really long time for me. My younger daughter is a cheerleader and her gym is in Pasadena. We have to be there from 3:00-9:00, so I take my laptop and get a lot of work done there.

oneforthetable-759537.jpgOn One For the Table:

DI: How did you get involved with One for the Table?

LN: My high school friend Amy Ephron—my roommate at the college of Saturday Night Live—asked if I would contribute and I said, "˜Would I?!' It's an incredibly unique idea to have a food magazine with pieces written by people who are not food writers, who are known for other things. It's a compelling approach. It's been really fun for me to read other people's stuff and fun for me to write.

DI: Why is it so rewarding for you?

LN: I'm trying to build something by writing for One for the Table. I'm trying to build a literary presence in the essay form and also I think this circuitous route will ultimately help me with the memoir.

DI: What's your hope for One for the Table in the future?

LN: I'd love for it to have the same presence as The Huffington Post. I think it's a wonderful form of expression. There's also an entertainment value built in because you'd never imagine someone like Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York) writing about food. Or Arianna Huffington submitting a cookie recipe. That's the fun of it.

Check out some of Laraine's One for the Table essays:

Nixon vs. Kennedy

Kids Say The Darndest Things

The Joy of Cooking

Browse through past Creatively Speaking posts here >>

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Creatively Speaking: MeetingBoy

Read on to win a new Meeting Boy wall calendar!

We have a nice interview/contest today with someone you need to know about if you don't already. PC World named him one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. Like Racer X, no one really knows who MeetingBoy is, but whoever is behind this madness is one hilarious, talented fella. Tweeting out quips and one-liners, he's amassed close to 80,000 followers on Twitter as @MeetingBoy. I first got to know him (well, as much as you can know a masked-man) after he re-tweeted a Twaggie (illustrated tweet) we did off one of his tweets over on my start-up, www.twaggies.com.

Then one day, MeetingBoy asked me if I'd like to give away one of his new MeetingBoy wall calendars in a contest. I said sure, under one condition: he do the following interview. So read the interview and follow the contest rules at the bottom of this post. We'll pick one tweet/comment at random and send you the calendar in time for Christmas! Good luck!

DI: First of all, where do you take your meetings? Tell us about your day job.

MB: I work in a glass & steel high rise in New York with lots of lazy idiots. The managers spout buzzwords to impress each other, and my boss is a clueless, bullying hypocrite more concerned with covering his own ass than getting things done. Does that narrow it down?

I am stuck in 3-5 meetings a day, so if there’s a way to waste someone’s time, I’ve seen it. And I’m sick of it. I must have really bad karma to deserve this. I must have been something truly awful in a former life, like maybe a manager or CEO.

@MeetingBoy: 125 PowerPoint slides? Well, I hope you're not presenting a case for how efficient our department is.

@MeetingBoy: Definition of insanity: holding the same meeting with the same people every week and expecting different results.

@MeetingBoy: Four meetings today. And then later, no doubt, a meeting with my boss about how I'm not getting anything done.

@MeetingBoy: I'm confused by this article about Bernie Madoff. I thought "white collar prison" was just a euphemism for my office.

@MeetingBoy: 7 hour conference call, though my lawyer says I'll be paroled in 6 with good behavior.

DI: How’d all this Meeting Boy stuff get started? Walk us through the early days.

MB: Since my biggest pet peeve in meetings is people who ramble on and on, Twitter was the right place for me to vent. The forced brevity was just right. If only I could force the people who write PowerPoint presentations to stick to 140 characters instead of 140 slides!

I’d been on Twitter before, but mentions of work had become a problem once people knew I was tweeting and started following me in the office. After I got a new boss last year, I created the MeetingBoy account so I would stop hearing about it. Since then I only tweet under my own name after hours.

@MeetingBoy: I'm married to my job. I don't love it. It was a shotgun wedding; I had knocked up my credit cards with all sorts of debt.

Early on as MeetingBoy, I was getting positive responses. People identified with my complaints-- in fact the most common response to MeetingBoy is “do you work at my company?”

Of course I hate buzzwords, and so many of my rants result from sitting through an hour of them. The word I hate the most is “robust”:

@MeetingBoy: At the end of the day I think we can all agree how tired the phrase "at the end of the day" is.

@MeetingBoy: When the revolution comes, I'm shooting everyone who says "robust". Well, except the coffee roasters.

DI: When did your first little break happen?

MB: Last October, PC World named me as one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. My following increased dramatically as a result. This was a huge surprise to me. I had no idea I had broken out of the Favstar community of internet jokers. After that my friends who weren’t on Twitter insisted I start cross-posting my material to Facebook and MeetingBoy.com so they could follow along too.

DI: And then your big break?

MB: Earlier this year someone at Twitter added me to their Suggested Users - Funny list. I was pretty excited; after all, as my friend said, “It sure beats being on the Suggested Users - Not Funny list.”

Though some people would say my “big break” was when I got a boss that didn’t get my sense of humor, forcing me to put more of it on the internet. Speaking of my boss:

@MeetingBoy: We have high expectations for him - he got his MBA in business jargon from Wharton.

@MeetingBoy: You're right. It was wrong of me to question how another layer of paperwork would speed up the process. I apologize.

@MeetingBoy: Hey, everybody! My boss is running a special on poorly thought out, unworkable ideas today. The discount code is YESSIR.

@MeetingBoy: "Dumb it down. Remember, you're presenting it to management."

@MeetingBoy: "I didn't read the executive summary you sent. Can you just put the idea in a few quick sentences and send it to me? Thanks."

@MeetingBoy: New line on my job description: "maintain high morale". Told HR I could do it, but not if my boss keeps trying to motivate me.

@MeetingBoy: My boss is very susceptible to food poisoning. Apparently this occurs when he stays out late drinking.

@MeetingBoy: The boss sent an email at 11:30 "reminding" everyone that he's working from home today. He sent it from his Blackberry.

DI: Did you set out to achieve Internet fame or did the idea sort of take over by itself?

MB: I set out to vent about work in an amusing way, in part because I was so annoyed at how people in the office reacted to my being on Twitter. I certainly had no idea how to get people to write about me or who at Twitter to sweet-talk to get them to recommend me.

Being famous and anonymous is a little odd though. None of the benefits of fame have come my way. I’m not getting a better table at Sparks or celebrity gift bags at the Oscars. And no matter how many followers I have, I’m still stuck in the same meetings every day.

I would like to see a MeetingBoy calendar make an appearance on The Office. Seems like something Jim Halpert would have (though since he gave up his office, I’m not sure where he’d put it). Or maybe Michael Scott because he’s a “cool boss” and none of it applies to him..

DI: Talk about the tweets themselves. Mostly they are things you think up in these meetings every day?

MB: They are responses to things that happen in meetings. Or things I wish I could say. In a few cases I’ve actually said these things. Of course the names have been removed to protect the boring, the rude, the jargon-spewing types, the lazy, the bullies, and the people with “bad grammer”.

@MeetingBoy: I know, I know, but if your idea is so good, why hasn't some VP passed it off as their own yet?

@MeetingBoy: Sorry, I have to leave your meeting. I have something I need to do. I need to not be bored to death.

@MeetingBoy: This PowerPoint needs an art director? Wow! I never thought I'd say this to you, lady, but you're overthinking this.

@MeetingBoy: That email you claim I never sent you? Here it is. Along with your REPLY TO IT.

@MeetingBoy: No, I wasn't playing Devil's Advocate. I really think your idea is stupid.

@MeetingBoy: You are mean, incompetent, and ignorant. Life did not hand you lemons; life handed you CONSEQUENCES.

DI: But other times I see you attributing the tweets to other authors/publishers. How does that work?

MB: Sometimes I see a tweet that I wish I wrote. Other times my followers send me one I missed. Either way, if it’s something I think my audience would appreciate, I share it. After all, I don’t want to be like that guy in my office who thinks the only good ideas are the ones he thinks of.

For example, some of my favorite tweets that someone else wrote are:

@swimparallel: I've recovered from my death sickness. Now I'm back in the office. It feels like a lateral move.

@summersumz: Evaluating data, making conclusions. LIVING THE DREAM!

@kerissmithJA: Your cc list doesn’t scare me. I still refuse to respond to your email.

DI: So now you have this cool wall calendar. How’d that come about?

MB: A friend makes up a calendar with photos of his family, which I dutifully hang in my cube. I thought it would be cool to have a MeetingBoy calendar. I’d hoped to make a 365-page-a-day calendar, which I think would really work for my short quips, but I couldn’t find a way to publish it. So I went with a wall calendar, and asked for illustrators among my followers.

Of course once I had printed the calendar, I realized I couldn’t possibly put the calendar on my desk. I can’t have my boss or coworkers know that I’m MeetingBoy, and it’s probably better if they don’t even know he exists. Clearly I hadn’t thought this through.

I think the calendar makes a great Secret Santa gift. I think coworkers across the English-speaking world would love to get one.

Calendar available for sale online at http://meetingboy.com/calendar

DI: Have you learned any profound lessons going through the self-publishing process?

MB: I’ve learned that self-publishing isn’t very profitable. I’ve been very happy with all the illustrations I got, though paying for them before I sell the calendar has made money tight.

I was going to try to sell them directly myself over the internet, but I couldn’t be sure that my secret identity would be safe. Luckily one of the illustrators owns a comic shop and they agreed to carry it for internet sales.

And I’d still like to make a 365-page-a-day calendar if anyone knows how to go about that.

DI: What’s next for you and what’s your ultimate goal?

MB: Next up I’m starting to do regular illustrated tweets on MeetingBoy.com. Of course I can’t draw, so I’m using some of the same illustrators from the calendar, and any new ones I pick up along the way.

My ultimate goal is to be the boss on The Office after Steve Carrell leaves at the end of this season. Though I would also accept President Obama declaring my birthday, June 23rd, to be a national holiday, maybe National Out-of-the-Office Day. Write your congressman to make it happen.

DI: Will you always hide your true identity Meeting Boy? Or will we one day find out you’re actually Racer X’s older brother?

MB: I can’t reveal my identity without losing my job and potentially risking never working again. After all, who would hire MeetingBoy? A surly, sarcastic person who will mock your every shortcoming on the internet to tens of thousands of people. Even I might balk at hiring that guy. He kind of sounds like a loose cannon.

Okay, contest time! Of all the tweets mentioned in this post, by MeetingBoy or someone else, which would you like to see illustrated on Twaggies.com? RT it with the hashtag #twaggies and we'll pick one of you at random to get the calender. If you're not on Twitter, leave your vote in the comments below. The tweet with the most RTs will also get twagged on twaggies, too!

For my interviews with Jason Alexander, Monty Hall, Mitch Albom, xkcd and more, browse through past Creatively Speaking archives here >>

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A chat with Jeff Garlin

Jeff Garlin co-stars and executive produces the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. The unique comedy, which is one of the rare television shows to become part of the national zeitgeist, stars Seinfeld creator Larry David, with Garlin portraying his loyal manager. Born and raised in Chicago and then South Florida, Garlin studied filmmaking and began performing stand-up comedy while at the University of Miami. He has toured the country as a stand-up comedian, is an alumnus of Chicago's Second City Theatre, and has written and starred in three critically acclaimed solo shows. I was fortunate enough to get this interview with him when he spoke at an event a charity I work with produced.

DI: Which do you prefer: writing, directing, or producing?

JG: I prefer to direct what I write.

DI: If you were to retire, what would you do with your time?

JG: Nap and eat puddin'.

DI: What's your favorite food?

JG: Puddin'.

DI: Of all the comedians and actors you've worked with over the years, who has been the most enjoyable.

JG: Larry David.

DI: Is Larry David as obnoxious in real life as he is on the show?

JG: See my answer above.

DI: What's the biggest difference between Chicago and L.A.?

JG: Human contact. In Chicago you get it on a regular basis.

DI: What's one of your favorite films?

JG: Sullivan's Travels by Preston Sturges.

DI: If you could have lunch with anyone deceased, who would it be?

JG: My grandfather Harold.

DI: Who's your idol?

JG: My wife.

DI: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

JG: A comedian.

DI: Where do you like to go to unwind when you're not working?

JG: Wherever my wife tells me.

DI: If you could change one thing about Hollywood, what would it be?

JG: The street names.

DI: Shakespeare wrote: "Brevity is the soul of wit." What do you think the essence of comedy is?

JG: A plate of fresh cornbread.

DI: I heard you studied law in college and almost graduated before deciding to pursue a career in comedy. Do you think you would have been a good lawyer?

JG: That's on Wikepedia.com and it's not true. I studied film.

DI: What's more difficult: performing stand-up comedy before a live audience or performing on camera?

JG: Actually, my personal life is harder.

DI: Do you own an iPod? If so, what's the most unusual music you've got on it?

JG: Chin Ho soundbites from Hawaii Five-0.

DI: Who is the funniest comedian of all-time?

JG: Jack Benny.

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