Those who complain about the proliferation of these types may consider themselves lucky that they never encountered 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson.
Chris, the alter ego of actor Chris Elliott, was the star of the late, great Fox sitcom Get a Life, which ran from 1990-92 and has finally been released in its entirety on DVD as Get a Life: The Complete Series from Shout! Factory (previously, only a few scattered episodes were available on now out-of-print discs due to music rights issues).
But instead of lying around a filthy apartment with a bong or coming up with slang terms for the female anatomy, Chris’ path was far more whimsical and destructive. Over the course of the 35 episodes of Get a Life, he nearly drowns in his shower after assembling a mini-sub he ordered from a comic as a child, violently crashes a fashion show, inadvertently drives his childhood friend away from his family and reverts to savagery after eating hallucinogenic berries on a camping trip.
By the end of the series’ run, he’s also engaged in mind-switching, temporarily developed psychic powers, encountered a pudding-spewing space alien, traveled through time with the help of self-mixed “Time Juice,” and won a series of international spelling bees with toxic waste-enhanced intelligence. Most of these adventures end with him shot, stabbed, poisoned or blown to pieces, but by the next episode, he’s up for more disasters.
Get a Life ran during the early days of Fox, where the network distinguished itself with such left-of-center comedies as Married… with Children, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, In Living Color and of course The Simpsons. It managed to somehow be stranger than any of those shows, shot like an old-fashioned sitcom with a laugh track, then twisting stock sitcom plots into surreal, sometimes disturbing pretzels. Viewers might have gotten a clue from the opening credits, set to R.E.M.’s “Stand,” where the innocent image of a paperboy on his route gave way to reveal Elliott’s flabby, bearded form hurling papers from his tiny bike.
Rather than the endless pop-cultural riffing and shock-oriented humor of such Seth MacFarlane series as Family Guy that have come to dominate Fox’s airwaves, Get a Life allowed its weirdness to speak for itself. Chris’ parents were played by Elliott’s real-life father Bob Elliott, who’d developed his own surreal comedy as part of the Bob and Ray comedy team, and Elinor Donahue from Father Knows Best, as deadpan, indifferent figures always seen in their bathrobes at the kitchen table.
By the second season, Chris moves out (his parents then fill his old room with concrete) and moves into the garage of a gruff ex-cop played by Brian Doyle-Murray, who introduces him to such vices as the lucrative world of corrupt health inspectors. According to series co-creator David Mirkin in a call from his office in Los Angeles, had a third season been produced, Chris would have become a homeless drifter, “and every week he would have touched someone else’s life, and made it a little bit worse”.
The abbreviated second season saw a writing staff that included Bob Odenkirk (later of Mr. Show and Breaking Bad) and future Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman (appropriately for the Being John Malkovich scribe, the real Malkovich was a Get a Life fan, according to Mirkin).
Their warped chops are apparent on their scripts (Kaufman wrote the “Time Juice” episode), but a rewatch of the episodes reveals the show’s dark, bizarre tone is present from the very beginning—it simply gets even darker and more bizarre as it goes on. By the end of the second episode, Chris’ deluded efforts to become a male model (don’t ask) have ended in him crashing a runway show, which he narrates in a rapturous voiceover while shoes are flung at his head and police cart him away. “To him, that’s a triumph,” Mirkin says. “We originally thought of him as an adult Dennis the Menace.”
From the show: Chris, as male model "Sparkles," is horribly exploited when he's expected to pose topless.
Steampunk, for those not in the know, is a branch of science fiction that postulates what would have happened if modern or futuristic technology had been created in the past, using the technology and materials available at that time, e.g. steam engines, zeppelins and the like. It’s become a particularly popular subset of science fiction fandom, with many fans creating steampunk-themed outfits and crafts sold online and at shows.
Priest has become one of the most popular authors of steampunk in her “Clockwork Century” series, which began in her award-winning bestseller Boneshaker, about how a massive steam-powered drill unleashes a zombie plague in Civil War-era Seattle.
Priest says that steampunk’s appeal comes from a “perfect storm of pop culture” where people embrace the sense of design and functionality in the old-fashioned technology, as opposed to the sleek, compact style found in Apple-style products. “In that school of design, everything is this sort of pristine, inscrutable box where if you don’t know where to touch it or how to react to it, it might as well be a brick,” Priest says.
“The Victorians, God bless ‘em, thought their technology should be beautiful as well as functional. And we seem to have lost that in the streamlining efforts to make everything look futuristic. I think in one regard, Steampunk is a reaction to that, a way of saying, ‘No, we don’t want something that looks like what everybody else has, that’s flat and inscrutable.’"
So are the fans wearing homemade goggles and railroad pocket watches giving the finger to the iPad?
“I’ll put it this way: If the Victorians made a giant death-ray killing machine, it would look like a giant death-ray killing machine,” Priest says. “It would fill an entire room and have gears and brass and engraving, and would be this enormous, powerful, beautiful-looking thing. If Apple made a giant death ray killing machine, it would look like a button. And I think there’s a sense that something has been lost, and steampunk’s trying to reclaim that a bit.”
In February of this year, Regan retired after 39 years with the North Carolina Arts Council—36 of them as its executive director. On March 2, just days after her retirement, she and I sat down for a different sort of exit interview in a Morrisville cafe. As lunching office workers came and went (and a cool rain came and stayed), we took an hour and a half for a conversation that was largely about distance: How far the arts have come in North Carolina since her start in 1972; how they’ve managed to come that far, despite the economic turmoil of the past decade and the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and how far they’ve yet to go.
Regan was as graceful and candid as I’ve known her to be throughout our own long conversation over the years. And this time, she was able to go a bit further on the record.
The remarks below are excerpted from that conversation.
INDEPENDENT: Let’s go back to the beginning of your term. Where was the North Carolina Arts Council when you found it?
MARY REGAN: (laughs) In offices in the Heart of Raleigh Motel, which was over on Edenton Street. There was something of an “entertainment house” right across the street, where we saw ladies coming and going. And men. All of the time. (laughs) That was very interesting.
I don’t even remember what our budget was—maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
I took the job just because I needed a job; I didn’t have a clue what it was about or what I would do. I intended to leave in a year and go back and work on Nick Galifianakis’ campaign [a Democratic congressman who lost to Jesse Helms in 1972]. But after a year came, I had really gotten hooked on it. I knew it was a great job.
Is there a moment you can remember as a turning point, or the moment you realized you had to stick around?
Not really. I think I could have been torn away, but because of the things going on at the time, I thought this was a good place to be.
Edgar Marston [Executive Director of the Arts Council from 1968-1973, and director of the NC Division of the Arts, 1973-1978] was such a visionary. Everything was very experimental then. We’ve tried to remain experimental through the years, but back then, there was no mold; everything we did we kind of invented.
We carved out for North Carolina a role as a leading arts council, as far as doing community development, working out in the communities. Some arts councils started off just funding major organizations in the cities. But the early leadership understood: If they were going to be able to make it within state government, they had to be serving the whole state.
All of our programs were public value programs. In the last 10 years, that’s become a popular term, almost as if were some new thing discovered to do. We were into public value from the very beginning; we just didn’t know to call it that. We wanted to be at the table (in state government) with the rest of the sectors in the state. Public value was our hook.
With their assistance, Gethard has done awesome (and awesomely weird) episodes like “Night of Zero Laughs” (where Gethard and company tries not to laugh during the whole show), “Monologues Only” (an entire episode where Gethard does late-night talk show-style monologue jokes) and “The Dominatrix Show” (whatever you’re thinking of, yes, that was the show).
This weekly dose of usually off-the-cuff nuttiness is something Gethard, who is both a regular of New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and an author who has dabble in weird, strange things (along with writing for the Weird U.S. travel-guide books, he has just released his own book, A Bad Idea I’m About to Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure).
Luckily, he’s bringing this show to the Cat’s Cradle on Friday, as part of the N.C. Comedy Arts Festival, which comes to a close on Saturday. We spoke to the 31-year-old, Queens-based Jersey boy about his show and why he prefers the company of weirdos like himself.
ARTERY:An easy place to start would be where the hell did The Chris Gethard Show come from?
GETHARD: I've been doing comedy in New York for 12 years and have done all the traditional types—improv is my base, I do storytelling, stand up, pretty much anything. But, along the way, I also got a reputation for staging some sort of out-of-the-box, stunt-driven stuff. Eventually the UCB Theatre gave me one night a month as a home just for those bigger, weirder ideas. A lot of it was spurred by the time I rented a bus to take people all over New Jersey showing them where my stories took place. That event's high point was taking 60 strangers into the basement where I lost my virginity. It was weird, but people dug it. That led to a lot of momentum that lead to my very weird show.
You seem to be a person who has built a bit of a rep for basically capturing general weirdness, whether it’s on your show or your work with Weird U.S. Where did that desire to unearth weird stuff come from?
I think being from New Jersey helps a lot with it. New Jersey makes people really appreciate odd stuff and out-of-the-box stuff, and also sort of puts a chip on peoples' shoulders. In my case, that meant growing up to be the type of person who likes to see stuff up close, likes to deal with things head-on. I just have always had a very curious side and a lot of willingness to take things slightly farther than they probably should have been taken.
However, he’s still very much an integral, behind-the-scenes member of his pride and joy, the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, which began yesterday with shows at the DSI Comedy Theater. We spoke to Ward about what to expect at this year’s festival, as well as what’s going on comedy-wise over in his new Boston home.
Independent:So, Zach, you're up in Boston now. How long have you been there and what made you decide to move there?
Zach Ward: My first day as managing director of ImprovBoston was June 13, 2011. I was actively recruited by ImprovBoston, a 30-year-old comedy theater in Cambridge. I felt confident in both my company in Carrboro and the DSI leadership, so I was excited to take a pretty exciting professional step for my own comedy career. Paula Pazderka assumed my role as artistic director two weeks before I left for Boston and she has done exceptional work over the last seven months.
What made you decide to make the move up to Boston, and how different is the comedy scene over there as it is in the Triangle?
ImprovBoston as a theater and comedy school is very similar in many respects. However, the scope of my work has increased exponentially just given the metro market and what it takes to operate an arts organization in the city. The comedy scene and community are much larger—which has obvious benefits and unique challenges.
Was it difficult rounding up talent for the festival since you're in Beantown?
Not at all. NCCAF grows each year and we continue to see more and more unique acts to register, in addition to the veteran acts who have become festival favorites. I've been exposed to even more acts by traveling outside of North Carolina and, with our festival jury reviewing online submissions, NCCAF was able to curate one of the best line-ups we have ever had for the festival.
I see there is no film section this year. Why is there no more of that?
We really seek to provide the best line-up possible. NCCAF will bring film back when we can provide the strongest line-up possible with the ability to also bring the artists involved to the festival. For the past few years we have had specialized weeks, but we are considering introducing NCCAF Film into the other weeks for 2013 as a way to highlight projects by acts who may be performing live in standup, sketch or improv.
Mike Birbiglia is one of the headliners this year. He's lately been getting a lot of buzz for his movie, Sleepwalk with Me, which just played Sundance. You couldn't get him to play that flick at NCCAF?
Mike is part of our partnership with the Carolina Theatre—that is new this year. As we understand it, Mike was working on the film right up until the festival. Maybe next year. For 2012, Mike will be in town for the show and that's about it. But even that is awesome for comedy in the Triangle and great for the festival.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: I'm going to be blunt. A copy of your book arrived just this morning, and I finished it, and it’s a very gray and rainy day in Raleigh and this book did not help things.
DANIEL HANDLER: I’m sorry to hear that. I can only think of your suffering.
Well, I mean it as a compliment—the book captured for me the verisimilitude of a first romance and break-up. I’m curious about the roots of the story, and what inspired you to try to capture such heartache.
Well, it was Maira’s idea, I guess. We had worked together on a picture book (13 Words, written as Lemony Snicket), and she wanted to do another book, and she said yes. And I asked her what she wanted to paint, and she wanted to paint small objects, and I tried to think of a way that small, ordinary objects might seem magical. And it seemed to me that it would take a romantic imagination to transform such objects, and I began to imagine small objects returned to an ex-boyfriend by a sentimental-yet-enraged young woman like so many women I know.
Did Maira think of the objects, or did you?
Something you’ve done with this book is get other writers to talk about their own worst break-up stories. When you were going back and putting yourself in the mindset of Min, what was the hardest part—or even the easiest part—of capturing the outsize emotions of a teenager?
I didn’t find it particularly hard to capture the voice. I take public transportation every day, and I’m surrounded by young people conversing, and I listen in to as much as I can without being called out as a creep. I guess maybe one of the more strenuous parts is I wrote the entire thing longhand—seeing as the entire book is one long letter, I thought it was only fair that I write a letter of my own. I wrote it all in cafés, basically, on legal pads, and by the end of writing my hand was roughly some sort of subhuman claw. The easiest part was having Maira doing all these paintings and have people talk about the spell the book casts, when so much of it comes from her drawings.
That’s oddly reminiscent of Jack Kerouac writing things out on a continuous scroll of paper, though on the one hand you’re talking about a fictional teenage girl and the other a drugged-out beatnik. But there’s a spontaneous feel to both.
I guess so. I’m kind of a careful writer, so a lot of what looks spontaneous in the book is actually several drafts old. It’s like what Dolly Parton used to say: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” So I haven’t experienced much of the Jack Kerouac method, which to my knowledge involves lots of cocaine and beating women. That hasn’t been my preferred strategy in writing fiction.
You can only abuse women if they’re fictional.
I don’t think that’s a line Jack Kerouac drew. Though I spent a weekend at Jack Keuorac’s cabin once, and it was very beautiful. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, and you can understand he might be prone to fits of despair, as it’s very isolated, but also in an unbelievably beautiful location.
The book’s a first-person narrative, but there’s a certain unreliable quality to Min in that she’s not completely aware of herself and how the romance is really playing out. And what I thought was relevant about the story was that Ed’s not an evil character—his great crime is that he’s a teenage boy who doesn’t see the big moments or hurtful moments the same way Min does. Do you find that’s a common flaw in first relationships, or relationships in general?
I think romance itself is constructing a beautiful story from the very ordinary things that you are surrounded by, be they objects or people. So I think Min had a long narrative in her head informed by movies that she liked that didn’t in fact always fit the narrative that was going on. So sure, I think she’s unreliable, in the way that everyone is a little unreliable in their memory.
And it gets into the idea of how you can define yourself by a relationship, even without realizing it, and how that’s fundamentally unhealthy, which is something that got to me as a reader.
That’s the idea. I think that the entire point of a romance is to get as memorable as possible for as long as possible, and you have to allow someone to get a certain kind of significance in your head. And when it’s over, you’re angry at yourself for allowing them to get to you.
Love is strange, as Mickey & Sylvia said.
And tainted, as Soft Cell said.
I thought that was a remake of an older one.
It is, but I don’t remember the original, and I think that two-note synthesizer riff feels like the pierce of heartbreak.
What, in your mind, are the great romances, be they film, literature or real life?
Well, I guess it depends on the kind of romance you like. My favorite novel is Lolita, which is a great romance, though if it were happening in real life it would be less of a romance and more of a monstrosity.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the book is that Min has these fictional touchstones she refers to throughout the book—films and music that don’t exist in the real world. I read elsewhere that you did this in part to not tie the book to any specific time period. How’d you come up with these—do you think of titles in your spare time or things like that?
I think the problem with these things when they’re referred to in a novel is that they don’t mean the same things to the same people. So if you say something like, “Going out with this person makes me feel like I’m starring in When Harry Met Sally,” some people are going to say, “Oh, he means the most romantic movie of all time!” and others are going to say, “Oh, he means two hours of nails on a chalkboard, having an unbelievably grating time.” And if you have negative views about some movie, and the reader doesn’t like it, it’s a strange and alienating thing. So when Min describes movies that didn’t happen, it’s easier to imagine them as something beautiful in your head than if she’d described an actual film.
Nor was it the stroke, the brain aneurysm, the killer virus, the breast cancer or the traumatic repressed memories that had resulted in her developing seven personalities and forgetting about giving birth to not one but two daughters (one of whom developed a split personality of her own before dying of lupus). No, for all her resilience, what finally killed Viki and her fellow residents of the fictional Llanview, Penn., was a diet show.
Llanview, setting of the 43-year-old ABC soap opera One Life to Live is just the latest fictional small town to disappear from TV screens in the last few years, in a wave of cancellations that have also seen Guiding Light, As the World Turns, Passions and All My Children leave the air.
“In a way, it was inevitable — not just to One Life, but to a genre that had a very good long run,” says Duke University English professor Michael Malone, who served as One Life’s head writer from 1991-1996 and 2003-2004.
“I’ll always say the fiction of Llanview lasted longer than Shakespeare’s Globe. These were very long-lived shows—30 years, 40 years, Guiding Light was 70 years. That’s a lot of stability in a very fast-moving medium like television. And it taught other parts of television how to make serials.”
Malone, a Durham native who resides in Hillsborough, says it’ll be “too painful” for him to watch on Friday, Jan. 13 when Viki and the others say goodbye, with a few cliffhangers and Viki taking yet a third round-trip to heaven before giving way to the new self-improvement talk show The Revolution with Ty Pennington and Tim Gunn. But he remembers his time in Llanview fondly, and maintains a deep and abiding respect for daytime soap operas, a genre of TV that seems on the verge of extinction.
Malone cites declining audiences for network programming for the soaps’ demise, along with the fact that “there became so many other ways to see this stuff,” citing shows such as Gray’s Anatomy and Six Feet Under as examples of programming that co-opted the soaps’ style of open-ended long-form serialized storytelling.
“It’s not that (audiences) don’t want story, it’s just that they have so many more ways to get it,” Malone says.
His tenure in Llanview was one of the show’s most influential periods, with many of the characters he created still playing major roles on the canvass as One Life to Live reaches its end. It was also one of the most unlikely pairings in television—a Southern literary novelist with no television-writing experience and a soap that by the time he arrived, had eschewed its roots as a spotlight for social issues in exchange for stories about time travel, lost underground cities and the aforementioned trips to heaven (in fairness, a storyline about a soap-within-a-soap had shot some exterior scenes on Duke University’s campus).
1993: Malone won an Emmy for this episode, which guest-starred Marsha Mason as a priestess who marries reformed bad boy Max and “North Carolina goddess-worshipping feminist” Luna.
Dirty Dancing producer Linda Gottlieb, who’d been brought on the save the program, recruited Malone as headwriter based on his experience as “someone who wrote capacious novels” such as Time’s Witness and Handling Sin.
“In a way, our complete ignorance of (daytime’s) traditions gave us complete freedom to do adventuresome things,” Malone says.
Those “adventuresome things” included tackling issues that even prime-time TV was shying away from in the 1990s. One of Malone’s first major storylines cast a 17-year-old Ryan Phillippe as a gay teenager struggling to come out; the story climaxed with the AIDS quilt being brought to Llanview, with the names of actual AIDS victims read on a location shoot.
For Malone, the story represented an opportunity to allow viewers to relate to the issue through characters they had come to know through years of viewing.
“To have Viki carry the AIDS quilt into the church and lay it on the altar was to say to the audience of One Life who had spent so many years with Viki and trusted her judgment that ‘It can’t be all bad to be accepting and understanding,’” Malone says. “For all its conservatism, daytime expands tolerance.
It also allowed him a broader audience than his literary work.
“There was no way ever on God’s green earth that five million people a week would be reading my novels, but they might see Viki carrying that AIDS quilt to that altar.”
1992: A CBS This Morning segment and the final scenes from Malone’s gay teen/AIDS storyline.
Malone’s greatest acclaim came the following year with a large story where town bad girl Marty Saybrooke (named for his daughter Margaret), was brutally gang-raped and brought her attackers to trial. The story won Emmys for many of the actors involved (and Malone himself received an Emmy for his work on the show that year), but ran into trouble when Roger Howarth, who played lead rapist Todd Manning, became so popular that the character had to be kept on the show.
As it happens, Rosenberg proposes “scientism” as a positive term to describe a worldview that does not contain a supernatural being. It’s a relatively minor point but it’s indicative of the focus of his book, which aims to provide a positive set of beliefs for today’s atheist. For Rosenberg, who has extensive training in the natural sciences—indeed, he began his education intending to go into physics before switching to philosophy—the issue of God’s existence is a question that’s long been settled by science. Instead, what interests him is what science has to tell us about the reality of our existence.
Independent: Is this your first book on atheism?
Rosenberg: It’s my 14th book but it’s my first book on atheism. But it’s not really a book on atheism. It’s a book about what we atheists should believe, about all the other big issues that, as I say in the book, keep us up at night wondering.
The book begins by saying “there is no God, and we believe there is no God because science rules God’s existence out.” And then goes on to answer all the other questions on the basis of science. So in that sense, it’s not another book proving atheism.
I was going to ask you about popular titles like those by Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion). Those books were very popular, but you’re saying that you don’t think the project of persuading people there is no God is one worth pursuing?
My book differs from all of them in that it is not another indictment of religion, not another brief on the irrationality of a belief in God, not another analysis of how religion seduces us into belief—those are the aims of three of the most popular books. My book is about what else we should believe now that we believe in atheism.
What would you tell people are the basic things atheists should believe?
The quick and dirty version is on page 3 of my book, where there is list of questions and short answers: “Is there a God?” “No.” “What is the nature of reality?” “What physics says it is”—
—“What is the purpose of the universe?”—
—“there is none.” “What’s the meaning of life?” “Ditto.” “Why am I here?” “Just dumb luck.”
We could go through that list, that’s the short-answer list, and the rest of the book substantiates each of those answers and explains why science dictates each of those answers. But the tour goes like this: I try to explain why the nature of reality is what physics tells us it is and nothing more than what physics says, and then to show that biological phenomena are the result of Darwinian natural selection and that is mandated by physics alone. All you need to believe Darwin is to believe physics because Darwin's theory is a consequence of the operation of purely physical processes. All the adaptation and all the appearance of design in the universe could only happen that way. There’s no room for intelligent design.
The strange, tragic and very funny tale of two siblings coming to terms with being part of their parents' performance art experiments as children (from the boy infliltrating a beauty pageant in a dress to the parents staging a mock failed proposal on an airplane), Fang is a personal story for Wilson, though not in the way you'd think. On the phone from his home in Sewanee, Tenn., the soft-spoken Wilson, who appears at Quail Ridge Books & Music tonight at 7:30, answered our questions about the book's roots—and why his own childhood wasn't like the Fangs'.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: So the book's been getting strong reviews—what's your reaction to that, and what do you feel is the source of the story's appeal?
Kevin Wilson: Oh, it’s beyond what I had expected. I’m overwhelmed.
I’m thinking that it’s the age-old story of dysfunctional families, which I think strikes a chord with people, and that this dysfunctional family is particularly strange because of the art they create. It taps into that disconnect that children feel from their parents—something that’s been done hundreds of times, and tries to find some new spin on it.
From what you’ve said elsewhere, it sounds the Fangs’ childhood resembles your own—at least superficially.
I grew up in a household where my parents were, I think, very much interested in creating a world separate from the real world for myself and my sister. They were not fond of the outside world, so they created this great place in our house. Not a lot of people came in—they didn’t have many friends—so we were their best friends in a lot of ways, and allowed to do whatever we wanted.
If we wanted to be superheroes, they got us capes. If we wanted to make movies, they showed us how to make stop-motion-animated movies with our Star Wars figures. They allowed us to have this childhood where the outside world existed, and we knew it was there, but it just wasn’t as interesting as what went on between the four of us inside our house.
I drew upon the idea of how we isolate ourselves from the rest of the world growing up, because all you need is your family, and the way that becomes complicated as you get older, and you need to leave it and become your own person.
But your parents weren’t like the Fangs’…
Oh, my parents were awesome! With this book, I tried to create terrible parents, who took things to such an extreme they were ruining their children. While I relate to them in some ways, they’re probably the least fit people to have children.
Are your parents still alive, and if so, what’d they think of the book?
Both my parents are still alive—in fact, Dad is on the book tour with me. He rides with me whenever I do a book tour. They’re savvy enough to separate themselves from the characters in the story, and to recognize that this is a family that is similar to us in some ways and in other ways completely different. They really liked it—I think this is the first thing I’ve written where they really, totally gave their whole heart over to the story.
Dad and I drive in the car together and stay in the same motel rooms. He gets a kick out of going on these things more than I do—after every signing he pulls the bookstore manager aside and thanks them in such a sincere way that I feel like a Make-A-Wish kid and my dad has arranged all this without my knowledge.
Speaking from personal experience, I can say if you and your dad can take a trip together with that level of closeness and still be speaking at the end, you’re not only better off than the Fangs, but most parents and children, period.
I think it works because I am pretty much anxious 100 percent of the time, while my dad is one of the most calm, upbeat, optimistic people I’ve ever met. So in many ways, he’s like medication for me.
It’s very calming to be around him. Three people will show up for a reading and I feel like the biggest loser in the world, and my dad is wanting to take pictures of me with the three people. He’s happy all the time, and in a lot of ways, that keeps me from going crazy.
What type of research did you do for the book?
I think E.L. Doctorow said, “You do the least amount of research possible—enough to get away with it.” That’s what I try to do. Research is a black hole for me—I’ll keep going and going down the rabbit hole and never write.
I remembered things like Chris Burden, the performance artist, and the Fluxus movement, and I went back and did some cursory research to remind me of it. I did some research into music that I thought the Fangs would listen to that I would listen to, but I mostly stayed away from research because the Fangs are so absurd that I don’t think that doing too much research would be beneficial for creating that family. They need to be separate from the real world in some ways.
According to Kristin Buie, spokesperson for the Raleigh-based theater company, Shepherd sustained her injury on a staircase last Wednesday morning. She soldiered on through the rest of the day, but on Thursday afternoon, a medical exam revealed that she had sustained a tibial plateau fracture and severe ankle sprain.
The decision to replace her was made Friday afternoon, Buie said. Although there is an understudy for the role, NC Theatre hired Jacquelyn Piro Donovan, who was flown in from the New York area on Saturday. Donovan is a seasoned musical veteran who will be familiar to NC Theatre audiences for her turns in productions of The Music Man (Marian the librarian) and Funny Girl (Fanny Brice).
Hello, Dolly! will be performed as scheduled, from May 7—14 at Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium.
Two weeks ago, Zack Smith spoke with Cybill Shepherd for a planned story for the May 4 issue of the Independent Weekly. Smith's story follows. —David Fellerath
From her roles in such acclaimed 1970s films as The Last Picture Show, The Heartbreak Kid and Taxi Driver, to half of one of TV’s most beloved couples in the 1980s series Moonlighting, to her recent appearances on The L Word, Cybill Shepherd has never been afraid of reinvention, or speaking her mind. This week, Shepherd begins a run with North Carolina Theatre as the title character in the classic musical Hello Dolly at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium. We spoke to Shepherd over the phone in Los Angeles to discuss her journey to the stage, memories of Taxi Driver, her relationship with director (and UNC School of the Arts professor) Peter Bogdanovich and more.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What made you want to do Hello, Dolly?
Cybill Shepherd: I’ve been a singer my whole life. I started formal training at 16, sang choir before that, and I’ve done albums and live shows. I always wanted to do a musical comedy, a really great one, and I’ve been offered a lot of things that I didn’t feel like I’d love to do, because it takes a lot of dedication on my part. You know, you can’t just walk in and do two weeks’ rehearsal—it takes several months. With Dolly, though, every song is just so wonderful.
It’s a wonderful step for me to get to play Dolly Gallagher Levi and to find my own Dolly—it’s been done by so many great people. I believe it’s a great show, and an uplifting show, and a funny show. I’m viewing it as a tryout—if I love it here, maybe I’ll do Dolly somewhere else as well.
It’s a classic character—what appealed to you most about Dolly?
It’s a story of a woman who hasn’t felt alive in years. There’s a beautiful monologue where Dolly talks about this. I think, being 61 myself, you do have things in your life where you have things happen that make you feel alive again. It’s about love, and no matter how old we are, love makes us young again. I can relate to that in my life too—I’ve been involved with someone since a year and a half ago.
So it feels very personal to me, this story, and she’s a survivor as well, an Irish girl married to a Jewish man. That was pretty shocking to people! And she was widowed, and if you look at the time frame when this occurs, 1890s, there was nothing a woman could do! She has to become a master of all trades to keep things together. I relate to that as an actor, because every time I play a different part, I’ve got to learn a different skill.
You just did a new pilot for ABC, My Freakin’ Family, and you’ve maintained a presence in different media ranging from film to TV to the theater in recent years. What’s been interesting about working in those different formats?
The L Word was a bit of a comeback for me; that got me a lot of new fans. I also did a one-woman show called Curvy Widow that I didn’t write, and that was an experience—I did it in Atlanta and in San Francisco, and I really loved doing it. So I want to do more theater. That’s been my dream—and part of that was doing a musical comedy.
On the new pilot, it’s a half-hour, and I’m attracted to half-hours, and more important than that, it’s a comedy. I was thrilled—this is a very funny pilot, and the cast is brilliant. I love ensembles—I started with ensembles, with The Last Picture Show.
…which just had its 40th anniversary, obviously—and Peter Bogdanovich is in North Carolina.
I know! He’s coming to see me! If I wanted to learn how to make a great film, I would find out where Peter Bogdanovich was teaching and sign up for his class. I can’t believe it’s an undergraduate class he’s teaching—he should be teaching a doctoral program.
I say a prayer every day for Peter, what he has contributed to my life, to the films he made and the films he exposed me to, and to the great, great friendship and great love, which will last forever. Every time I see him, he’s so entertaining.