This past April, a new advice book came out about business. More importantly, about how to succeed in business. Because, really, this is what most of us want. Most of us want to be successful in our own way. But this book wasn’t a typical ‘you can do it,’ boring business book. This book was special. This book was written by Carol Leifer. A woman, who has risen to the top of comedy writing. A woman who has worked with the best in the business. She’s opened for Frank Sinatra. She’s been on David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Johnny Carson. She’s written for The Ellen Show, episodes of Modern Family, seven (yes seven) Academy Awards Ceremonies, and Saturday Night Live. She was a writer and story editor of Seinfeld. SEINFELD! She’s written material that many of us reminisce as though it was our own life, but in reality, it was an episode featuring four of our favourite degenerates. Some even say that Elaine’s character was based off of Carol. What’s that all about? Well, from the (marble) Rye; to the Hamptons (the ugly baby); and to the Lip Reader – to the skinny mirror, and the Korean manicurists, Carol, instead of wallowing in the fact that it’s tough to be a woman in a man’s world, took advantage of our differences, and brought forward a hilarious perspective that was uniquely female.
She currently is the Co-Executive Producer of Devious Maids, and most recently released the advice book: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying, is a book that I wish I was given the day I graduated university. Carol talks about hard work, sticking to it, and gives genuinely good advice, all the while peppering in hilarious and relevant anecdotes from her long and successful career that included working on amazing projects/jobs with A-List celebrities (ex. Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Oprah, and Letterman).
She also accepted an interview with me. Suffice it to say, pretty much, this is the best writing experience in my life to date. So without further ado, below is the interview that I am so honoured that Carol agreed to:
JTTM: Can I call you Carol? Since we’re doing this via email, I’m going to pray that you just gave me the nod and go forth with it. Fingers crossed.
I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to answer my questions. You’re such a successful and talented woman; it means a great deal that you would take the time to do this. With that, I’ll cut right to the chase:
JTTM: In your book, you mentioned that Comedians are warriors; how does one become a warrior? It takes a lot of guts to constantly put yourself out there, how do you recommend one goes ‘about thickening their skin?
CL: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT, IN WHATEVER FIELD YOU ARE PURSUING. CERTAINLY, WHEN YOU’RE A COMEDIAN, YOU HAVE TO SUCK TO GET GOOD. THERE’S NO WAY AROUND IT. SO YOU GO ONSTAGE, AND ON AND ON, AND YOU’RE ALWAYS LEARNING – EVEN WHEN YOU THINK YOU’RE NOT. SO YOU BECOME A WARRIOR BY PUTTING IN THE HOURS – IT’S REALLY AS SIMPLE AS THAT. THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE.
JTTM: A Yoda experience is one that is so precious (I’m experiencing one right now and let me tell you, my face is flushed with nerves), who would you say were/are your ultimate Yodas?
CL: SINCE “SEINFELD” WAS MY FIRST SITCOM JOB, I FEEL THAT IN MANY WAYS LARRY DAVID & JERRY SEINFELD ARE “YODAS.” I LEARNED SO MUCH FROM THEIR WRITING (EVERY EPISODE OF THE SHOW YOU SEE ON THE AIR CAME FROM THEIR PEN ULTIMATELY) AND FROM HOW THEY WERE AS BOSSES. THEY NEVER TREATED ANY GRIP ON SET DIFFERENTLY THAN A BIG CHEESE FROM THE NETWORK.
AND JAY LENO HAS BEEN A “YODA” TO ME AS WELL. I REMEMBER YEARS AGO, HE ENCOURAGED ME NOT TO CURSE ON STAGE – YOU KNOW, “WIN THE BATTLE, LOSE THE WAR.” AND I’VE COME TO SEE HIS WISDOM THIS MANY YEARS LATER – I DO A LOT OF CORPORATE SPEAKING NOW AND A BIG REASON THAT I’M HIRED IS BECAUSE I WORK CLEAN. IF I HAD RELIED ON PROFANITY EARLY ON, I WOULDN’T HAVE GOTTEN THESE SWEET GIGS NOW.
JTTM: Ok. You mentioned that one should always send hand written notes after an interview, but what if their hand writing is so atrocious that the last time they sent people hand written invitations to their parents 40th surprise anniversary party, that some of the guests had to knock on several random doors, having to eventually use a strangers computer to Google the address (sorry Mr. and Mrs. Brennan). What do you suggest then? (As you may or may not have guessed, you probably won’t get a hand written thank you note from me after this interview, as you won’t be able to read it).
CL: I STILL THINK HAND WRITTEN IS THE WAY TO GO, JUST AS LONG AS IT’S NEAT AND LEGIBLE. LOOK, MY HANDWRITING IS ATROCIOUS. I CAN ONLY PRINT, I NEVER LEARNED TO WRITE CURSIVE, AND MY THANK YOU NOTES LOOK LIKE A FIFTH GRADER WROTE THEM. BUT IT’S MY HANDWRITING, FOR BETTER OR WORSE. SO DON’T LET THAT STAND IN YOUR WAY. PEOPLE ARE STILL IMPRESSED THAT YOU TOOK THE TIME TO WRITE A NOTE – EVEN MORE SO, BECAUSE WITH AN E-MAIL, PEOPLE FEEL THEY NEED TO RESPOND BACK, WHICH YOU DON’T WANT TO DO AFTER A JOB INTERVIEW. NOBODY WANTS THAT PRESSURE.
JTTM: You do address that this world is sexist and yet, you were able to use the fact that you were a woman and had different perspectives to your advantage, how do you stay so positive about this? Sometimes, seeing the boys club gliding along in their careers is so frustrating.
CL: THERE ARE ALWAYS ADVANTAGES IN BEING FEMALE IN THE WORKPLACE. YOU JUST HAVE TO FIND WHAT THEY ARE IN YOUR PARTICULAR LINE OF BUSINESS. FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN I WAS COMING UP, I USED TO ASK OTHER COMEDIANS A LOT TO WATCH MY SETS AND GIVE ME CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. I DON’T THINK THAT MOST OF MY MALE COMPADRES DID THAT – MY HUNCH IS THEY THOUGHT IT WOULD MAKE THEM LOOK “WEAK,” WHEN I KNOW THAT FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COLLEAGUES IS INVALUABLE TO GETTING BETTER AT YOUR JOB.
JTTM: Segue: FYI, I checked to see if the URL theoldgirlsclub.com was available. It’s not. But, theoldgirlsclub.xxx is available, however I’m not sure that either of us want to start that club. Could you suggest how as women we can work to form our Old Girls Club?
CL: TO ME, IT’S ALL A MATTER OF WOMEN STARTING TO DO WHAT MEN HAVE BEEN DOING FOR YEARS: GIVING A BUDDY A BREAK, KIND OF CREATING OUR OWN “INSIDE TRACK” WITH EACH OTHER. BUT IT’S NOT EASY – FOR EXAMPLE, MANY WRITING JOBS I GO UP FOR, THEY’RE ONLY SOMETIMES LOOKING TO HIRE ONE, MAYBE TWO WOMEN TOPS. SO HOW CAN WE AS FEMALES SUPPORT AND MENTOR EACH OTHER WHEN WE’RE STILL COMPETING FOR SO MANY OF THESE JOBS?
JTTM: My cat Tuna Turner (he has amazing legs), was a rescue. I got him when he was anywhere between the ages of 7-12. Currently, he’s now between the ages of 12-17. Would you want to tell us a little bit more about your involvement in the Long Island North Shore Animal League and what others can do to help?
CL: GOOD FOR YOU, JEN! I LOVE WHEN PEOPLE RESCUE! I AM A FIERCE PROPONENT FOR ANIMAL ADOPTION. IT’S SUCH A SHAME, PEOPLE DON’T REALIZE HOW MANY INNOCENT DOGS & CATS ARE EUTHANIZED ON A YEARLY BASIS. AND I DON’T KNOW ANYONE WHO’S EVER ADOPTED A PET AND THEN TURNED AROUND AND SAID, “MAN, I WISH I HAD BOUGHT MY PET.” ADOPT, DON’T SHOP! AND FOR MY DEEP FEELINGS ABOUT MY LOVE OF ANIMALS, PLEASE PICK UP MY FIRST BOOK “WHEN YOU LIE ABOUT YOUR AGE, THE TERRORISTS WIN,” AND READ MANY OF MY ESSAYS THAT TOUCH ON THE SUBJECT.
JTTM: For those who are unable to get into the showbiz machine (ex. People who realized their passion late in the game, or are unable to go back to the bottom), do you recommend other ways for them to break into the business that people call Show?
CL: IF IT CAN’T BE A CAREER BUT IT’S STILL YOUR PASSION, I ALWAYS TELL PEOPLE TO JUST DO IT FOR FUN! JOIN A FREE IMPROV GROUP OR GET INVOLVED IN LOCAL COMMUNITY THEATER OR GO TO AN OPEN MIKE. YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE A LIVING AT SOMETHING TO PURSUE WHAT BURNS INSIDE YOU!
JTTM: Is it possible for me to request that you’ll be a guest on next seasons Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee? I would love to see that.
CL: ME, TOO! REQUEST AWAY!
JTTM: As a writer, who attempts at writing humour, do you recommend Stand-Up? Even if performing isn’t the end goal?
CL: STAND-UP IS SOMETHING I LOVE, BUT IT’S NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. IT’S GOTTA BE IN YOUR DNA BECAUSE THE REJECTION CAN BE SO DEBILITATING. SO I DON’T RECOMMEND IT TO SOMEONE WHO HAS A PASSING FANCY FOR IT. (SEE: EARLIER COMMENT ABOUT HAVING TO SUCK REPEATEDLY BEFORE ONE GETS GOOD.)
JTTM: Do you ever do stand-up tours? Translation, do you ever come to Toronto?
CL: I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED TORONTO AS A COMEDY TOWN. SOPHISTICATED, INTELLIGENT, FRIENDLY AUDIENCES WHO SPELL THE WORD “HUMOR” AS “HUMOUR.”
JTTM: Besides your mom’s advice ‘You don’t ask, you get Carol!’ is there other advice that your parents gave you that you’d like to share?
CL: BOTH OF MY PARENTS SHARED A THEORY OF TENACITY IN GETTING WHAT YOU WANT. ACHIEVING SOMETHING HUGE TAKES A LOT OF FAILING OVER AND OVER – IT’S JUST HOW IT WORKS. SO THEY IMPARTED A SENSE OF STICK-TO-IT-IVENESS THAT IS BONE DEEP INSIDE ME.
JTTM: Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you! I couldn’t put your book down. Ok, that’s not true, I had to go to work and eat and it’s hard to eat with a book in your hand.
CL: THANK YOU! I REALLY APPRECIATE WHEN THE BOOK “CLICKS” LIKE THIS WITH SOMEONE.
JTTM: Anyway, I really wish I got this book years ago when I was first starting out as your perspectives were honest, funny and an excellent guide for steering ones professional career. Thank you for being my Yoda.
CL: YOU’RE WELCOME!
With that, I hope you’re all planning on going to Chapters, Indigo, Amazon, and everywhere else this hilarious/necessary book is sold, because this is a book that could change your – or a loved ones – life. Because it’s an advice book that actually resonates. Remember, keep trying, be nice, and work hard. It’s the only way you’ll see results.
Here’s Carol’s Twitter and Facebook. Follow her because she’s funny and inspirational: