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Celebrity Autobiographies: The Good, The Bad, and The Ones You Mine For Comic Effect

by Karen Tortora-Lee on February 5, 2008

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Years ago PEOPLE Magazine had done an excerpt of Celine Dion’s autobiography and it had me virtually LOLing on the plane all the way to Ft. Lauderdale. Unable to keep this gem of a story to myself, I proceeded to do a dramatic reading of it in the voice of Celine herself for my hosts that night, replete with odd French Canadian accent and sweeping arm gestures.

My favorite parts to read aloud were the ones that involved Celine’s deep deep deep love for her old old old husband. The first passage was about how, as a young teen, she used to keep a picture of Rene under her pillow and rub it all over her face, smothering it with kisses till the picture was worn through. Then one day OH NO! The picture was gone! Her mother had found it and taken it! Girlish Crush: Exposed! Nightly Ritual: Discovered! Forbidden Love: No Longer Hidden! The next day her mother replaced the picture without saying a word. Crisis: Averted! Mom knew which side the bread was buttered on.

The second howl-out-loud section dealt with Celine’s wishes to conceive a child with her old old old husband. After a painfully earnest set up she ends the section with how her doctors chose to tell her and Methuselah the good news. They gathered them into a room and announced (over speaker phone) the itchy squirmy phrase: CONGRATULATIONS LOVERS!!!

Similarly, I was quite fond of reading passages from Nancy Cartwright’s “My Life As a 10-Year-Old Boy” out loud. I’ll let this one speak for itself. Here’s the first few paragraphs of the book:

It is a Saturday morning in 1986. I am in my bed, in my jammies, eating a big bowl of Cap’n Crunch. My dogs are wining because they wish they were on my bed and they love Cap’n Crunch too. But this is “my time” and I don’t want to be distracted. After all, three of my favorite shows are on: Galaxy High, My Little Pony and Friends and The Snorks. Oh, I forgot to mention, they are all cartoons. Uh-oh, I doubly forgot to mention, I am in all of them. Double uh-oh, I am single. This is my life! It didn’t occur to me until right now that maybe that was why I was single.
Flash forward, a Sunday evening in 2000. I am in the den with my son on my left and my daughter on my right. Hubby is reaching for the Cap’n Crunch … some things never change! The dogs, cats and birds are settled in for the evening. This is ”family time” and we don’t want to be distracted. After all, The Simpsons is on.

Nancy Cartwright is divorced as of this writing, so I’d dare to write a third paragraph of her introduction that goes something like this:

Flash forward again, now to a Tuesday afternoon in 2008. I am in the grips of a “midlife crisis”. Hubby is late with his “child support payment”. Again! Cap’n Crunch is scattered all over the living room floor and embedded in the carpet. Some things never change! The dogs, cats and birds, along with a few goldfish and a hamster, are dead. This is “miller time” and I don’t want to be distracted. After all, I gotta get my drink on!

In her book, Nancy Cartwright proved to be as 2 dimensional in real life as her alter ego Bart Simpson. Her book highlights her desperation to be as famous as her voice has made this 10 year old boy … It’s a don’t you know who I am? tantrum but with less diva bravura and more plaintive knitted brow. Don’t you? Really? Don’t you know who I am?

Peek behind Nancy’s plethora of exclamation points, randomly quoted words, awkward phrasing, and odd little jokes and you find an insecure mass of self-doubt, all tied up neatly in a Tina Yothers package. (Tina Yothers circa Family Ties, not Tina Yothers of Celebrity Fit Club Fame. Or rather, as Nancy Cartwright would write, Celebrity Fit Club “Fame”.) Nancy uses the book as a means to rail at her inability to find work as a REAL actress (Oh, poor sweetheart, the world could barely provide a career for the actual Tina Yothers, why would we want a lookalike minus the nostalgic factor and plus the weird little voice factor?), and even lets the cat out of the bag that her co-stars don’t seem to like her (or each other) enough to hang out after the line readings and grab some drinks. In fact, judging by the photo, they’re not even comfortable standing next to one another at the Simpsons Movie Premiere.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Hey, Hank, can you skootch a bit closer to Nancy?


Imagine my joy when I discovered Celebrity Autobiography. I was thrilled to see that my secret passion for dramatizing bad writing to comic effect had jumped, 100th Monkey-like, into the minds of actual comedians who could actually get strangers to come watch them do this stuff. And I could be one of those strangers for the low low price of 25 bucks!

Stephen: Just for context, can you explain what kind of stuff they’d be doing at Celebrity Autobiography?
Karen: Well … the flyer says that at one point they take “the infamous memoirs of Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, which are edited together to create a Rashomon-esque playlet in the participants’ own words.” Do you know what that means?
Stephen: A little.
Karen: What’s Rashomon?
Stephen: A Japanese Choreographer.
Karen: It’s a movie. Who’s Eddie Fisher?
Stephen: A comedian.
Karen: No. Who’s Elizabeth Taylor?
Stephen: I know her. She’s an actress.
Karen: From what?
Stephen: Wait a sec … wasn’t she on Designing Women? She played Blair, right?
Karen: (making frustrated little fist shaking motions in the air) Do you have any idea how wrong that statement was?
Stephen: (smiling adorably and shaking his head like a bobble-head puppy) No.

Monday night Stephen and I made our way to the Upper West Side and shoehorned our way into the nosebleed seats at the Triad, which has an odd little second level that is a bit disorienting (there are cabaret chairs lined up along tiny shelves in front of you, the better to rest your 2 drink minimum on, my dear). Still the view was decent, and when the show started I was giddy.

Rachel Dratch opened with a reading from Good Morning, I’m Joan Lunden that painfully detailed each step of her EARLY morning (“I like to lay out my clothes for the next day in the order I’ll put them on. That is, panties on top …” “I’m a fantaic about not waking my family up when I leave, so I oil the door hinges every night”). Kristen Wiig did the early poetry of Suzanne Sommers (“My Two Week Love” — “So, while I can’t quite remember your name, or even your face, I’ll always remember my two-week-love” and “Extra Love” –”So please, if you have even a heartbeat of love to give away, don’t waste it on a dog”).

Richard Kind showed us the bubbling font of knowlege that is Vanna White. (“While my job turning letters may not require much thought, how many jobs do? And it is hard work. I’ve lost fingernails, I’ve stumbled …”). Marilu Henner’s book gave a glimpse into her odd little thing for Danny DeVito (“I’d take Danny over Robert Redford any day!” she coos), and Tommy Lee’s Tommyland left me gasping for breath. (“The trouble with threesomes is, someone is always feeling left out. My solution is … foursomes! This way everyone’s being taken care of and in the middle you can switch!”) Tommyland was read in between Stallone’s Sly Moves which centers around his muscles, his fitness routine, and his strict diet. As Sly prattles on about what’s in his refridgerator, it was extra funny to hear Tommy exclaim “That thing about tracing the alphabet with your tongue really works! Of course, you have to know the alphabet which I DO!”

Unfortunately, Stephen’s phone could only capture faceless blobs, but that’s Rachel Dratch reading Joan Lunden on the left, and Richard Kind reading Vanna White on the right.

The evening ended with, as promised, readings from Debbie Reynold’s autobiography, juxtaposed with Liz Taylor’s and Eddie Fisher’s. It lived up to they hype and was, indeed, Rashomon-esque. See faceless blobs below:

Happily, you actually didn’t need to know the celebrities to find their inane thoughts comical, and the actors who interpreted the material had perfect comic timing and dead pan delivery. Stephen actually had a great time and enjoyed the evening more than I thought he would. While I don’t expect him to come away from Monday night remembering who Joan Lunden is, at least now next time we see Sally Field I can lean over and say “That’s the one Burt Reynolds quoted as saying “What do you mean I wasn’t nominated for Sybil! I played 17 freakin’ people!”

Although I already know, Stephen will smile back at me and say … “Oh. That’s Elizabeth Taylor, right?”

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Hammer of Israel February 7, 2008 at 10:53 am

OMG, so sorry I had to miss this, both because of my love of being around you when you’re around things like this, but also because it sounds just as horribly perfect as advertised.

Glad you and Quib had a nice night, thank you again for thinking of me when you think of celebrity literary appreciation :)

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