Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Julie Schumaker, Roz Chast—funny women all. Annabelle Gurwitch deserves a spot on that list (as you know if you’ve been giggling your way through the book in the Konenkii Fall box). Annabelle, who you may recognize as the engaging host of TBS’s “Dinner and A Movie,” surged onto the New York Times bestseller list with her latest collection of essays, I See You Made an Effort. She was also one of the three female finalists—a historical first—for this year’s Thurber Prize for American Humor (won by essayist Schumacher). This is just the latest success for the dynamic actress/writer/ host/motivational speaker. Her page on IMDB.com is a compendium of some of the decade’s most popular movies and TV shows, from “Seinfeld” to “Boston Legal” and “Dexter.” The subtitle of her collection, “Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50” speaks directly to all of us Konenkii women; the range of topics in this engaging and touching group of stories spurred Bill Maher to comment, “It should be required reading for anyone between the ages of 40 and death. Scratch that—even after death, it’s a must read.”
Our conversation, also full of laughter (and there was no wine involved!), started off with her basic philosophy of life: What we all need, she says, especially “as we face these landmark birthdays,” is a “really good moisturizer and a sense of humor.”
K: You are quite the whirlwind, doing so many things.
A: I think of myself as a recycling project—I basically changed careers in my forties, so I’m re-purposing myself. I write, MC, attend literary salons and storytelling shows, run writing workshops, and still act.
K: I loved how you captured the angst of auditioning for a TV ad (the pitch: “I was born to crone”) and how you refer to people in their fifties and sixties “reinventing themselves with Plans C and D.”
A: I call it “aging with a vengeance.” I recently did the keynote at a Prevention magazine summit [in a talk called “Love Your Age: Meaningful Ways to Redefine Your Age and Succeed”]. I mean, we are invisible at this age. Even Nielsen ratings don’t have a checkbox for anyone over 40. We have the opportunity to challenge that. I’m a late bloomer; you really don’t want to peak in your twenties.
K: Where do you find the humor you capture so effortlessly?
I try to read everyone; like Seinfeld and Larry David, who are always taking it to the extreme, finding the funniest. I try to be fresh—but ridiculous things do happen to me. Some things you can’t make up. As an actor, you’re always looking for the happy accident. While you’re on stage or shooting something, the lamp falls, you trip, something unexpected brings you into a moment. So as a writer, I’m always looking for that.
Like when I went to see the Love Coach [for the book’s title essay], she really was wearing a perfume called “Man Trap.” I remembered Gayle King had said it was vulvacious. I took creative license to make that the name in the essay, even funnier. Actually, I do a lot of editing. I tend to build on reality, stretch the truth a bit, find the comedic opportunity.
K: You’ve turned some negative things in life into great books, like your collection of interviews, Fired.
Being a Jewish girl, working with Woody Allen was my dream. But when expectations met reality, I realized what a transformational thing [being fired] could be. I gathered hilarious and inspiring stories about being fired from everyone from Anne Meara to Sarah Silverman and Jeff Garland.
K: What acting are you doing these days?
A: We turned this latest book into a one-woman play, so I’ve been performing in that. We’re preparing it for touring next year. My husband [writer/director Jeff Kahn] and I had both acted in the stage version of another of my books, You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!
K: Tell us a little about collaborating with your husband on that project, described as a “self-hurt memoir.”
A: It was a he-said, she-said look at marriage on the occasion of our tenth anniversary. Despite what so many rom-coms tell us, marriage is not the answer to your problems, it’s the beginning of new problems. So have a sense of humor, and apply to marriage immediately.
Writing a book together is much like opening a family business. But it was really fun, especially when we turned that into a play as well, and performed together. Other people play us now, but it’s fun to see that show going on.
K: You write a bit about your son, now in high school; how is that relationship going?
A: Well, the only tattoo I’ve ever gotten was right under my C-section scar: “Under New Management.” It’s fun and terrifying raising a human; and boy world is so different. We’ve had the “clash of the hormones”—menopause against puberty. My husband and I complement each other: he’s on the 30-year plan, I’m on the 30-minute plan.
It’s pretty exciting in our house. My son doesn’t want to read anything I write about him. He’s writing and playing music now.
K: So what are you writing now?
A: It’s going to be a book about family. I’m originally from Alabama, with a big southern family. People live so differently now, with chosen family as much as real. I want to explore that interesting dynamic. I like when I can tap the cultural zeitgeist as well as finding the humor.
K: Any parting wisdom?
When in doubt, apply humor continuously, and red wine.