When she strolls across the stage, you know you’ve found a treasure, a friendly force of nature who will help you relieve your stress even as you laugh yourself silly. A group of Konenkii women shared in this unique experience when humorist/ author/corporate speaker/stress relief expert LORETTA LAROCHE commanded the audience at the Regent Theater in Arlington, MA; it was a raucous night to remember. The Brooklyn-born Laroche now lives in nearby Plymouth, but she travels far and wide, alternating between these entertaining evenings and corporate workshops and wellness seminars. When that is, she’s not writing books and raising money for favorite charities. We continued the conversation off-stage. Here’s a bit of the magic that is Loretta.
KO: Tell us a bit about your early days to set the stage.
LL: I’ve always been a ham. I was born in a Brooklyn brownstone (actually born in the house), and lived among all kinds of people, Italian, Irish, Jewish, very eclectic. There were always lots of relatives around, and all these adults pretty much made me their mascot.
There was always high drama, lots of laughing, lots of eating. You never knew what was next; you were in an opera. One day it was Rigoletto, the next Aida. Oh, all the characters that showed up every day! My writing comes a lot from describing my relatives. What I miss about those days was being around all those people. They brought “sane wisdom” into an insane world.
KO: Did education play a part?
When I was eight, we moved to Hempstead on Long Island; for some reason, my mother wanted to live in the “suburbs.” I spent two years in a Catholic boarding school; then I had to get out of there. It was like a boot camp. Went to a day school in the next town, but still had the nuns. I went to Hofstra for college (speech and communication—I’ve always loved to talk!). There were quite a lot of talented people there at the time. Francis Ford Coppola was a year ahead; Lainie Kazan was there. I ended up getting married in college (I was young and stupid) and had a baby. My mother put the “Sicilian eye” on me—you had to graduate—so my son came to graduation in a carriage.
KO: More than eight books, numerous PBS shows, now stage acts and corporate seminars. How did that train get started?
LL: I knew Herb Benson [pioneer of the Mind Body Medicine movement; now head of the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General]; I’ve done programs at his institute, guess you’d call it an adjunct professor. I had done a workshop, and someone at PBS saw it and thought they might tuck me into a five-minute spot at the end of a show for wellness. (They weren’t into humor then.) I’m tenacious, so when I want to do something, I’m like a dog with a bone. They got caught up; they saw me with my Attila the Hun hat, and that five minutes turned into my own PBS show. I heard recently that “The Joy of Stress” (1995) is still being shown all over, in all kinds of training, for nurse’s CPUs in hospitals, for addiction, they’ve even drop-shipped it into Iraq for the troops.
KO: So stress has been good to you.
LL: Well, at this stage, it’s been talked to death. It’s just part of the culture. Some people talk about it all day; it’s what defines you. My next book should probably be called, “Shut Up!”
KO: Who (or what) supports you in your times of trouble or stress?
LL: I can occupy myself with an issue until it’s like putting a fork in my eye. But I like to listen to music, get massages; I enjoy being around people. Thankfully, I now have a partner that is spontaneous…he’ll often say, “Let’s go out and get a burger.” He’s also a jazz musician, so I even get the chance to get up and sing.
KO: Your tours have introduced you to a wide range of places and people; any memorable moments?
LL: I’ve met so many fascinating people along the way: I had a radio chat with Gloria Steinem; was on Dr. Oz’s radio show before he was “Dr. Oz.” (His wife has read all my books.) I loved meeting Quincy Jones, and President Clinton on a couple of occasions. I may be doing a women’s empowerment program with Mia Farrow, in talks now about another project with Sting. You never know when you’re talking to people what will come of it. And I’ve traveled to all fifty states, been to Australia and many foreign countries. Now flying is more of a nightmare; I’m not afraid, just hate the whole experience.
KO: So many female comedians take it to another level by empowering other women. How do you help others?
LL: I wouldn’t call myself a “comedian,” though they have an incredible ability. Kelly [MacFarland, who headlined with Loretta at the Regent] is a comedian; I consider myself more of a humorist. I teach stress management, and I use humor as a coping mechanism. From what I’ve seen over the years, there is more stress now than ever before, and the way to get people through it is through humor. No one can have an epiphany unless you have taken the time to look inside yourself. I call it “Getting the ‘A-Ha’ in the ‘Ha-Ha.’” I weave in the educational with the theater…it’s more fun, crazy, entertaining.
KO: Any other causes?
I do realize at this point in life, it’s more important to spend time doing things that matter. Just next week I’m doing a show to raise money for Heroes in Transition, a veterans’ group; I do events for breast cancer, regularly participate in women’s empowerment days.
KO: When will you retire from performing?
LL: Retirement is your last breath. What are we retiring from? If I were in an office job, maybe, but you have to do something to stimulate your mind. I do love gardening, but I also like variety. I don’t want to get stuck doing one thing.
KO: Other than your great line “wear your party pants,” what advice would you offer to Konenkii women?
LL: You have to learn to be spontaneous, to get away from your own thoughts. Don’t get stuck. The more serious approach is to think about what you’re thinking. Become more of an investigator; not everything you think is true. And your thoughts are creating your reality, are warping your perspective. Are they helping you, or just making you upset? The rational approach would be “let me see where that could take me. Let me think about it….” In short, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?
Then there’s the fun part: If you’re a worry wart, just get up early and worry. Give it the time it needs, then get on with your life.
Find Loretta’s books/DVDs as well as information about her upcoming appearances at www.lorettalaroche.com.