Laughter in the Land of Celebrity Self-Love

Rachel_DratchCelebrity Autobiography is screamingly, laugh-out-loud funny. In its fall run, it draws a young, excited audience. The stage is simple, the concept is simple too, but the product is brilliant. First conceived by actor and producer Eugene Pack, the subtitle of the show is “In their own Words,” and that is exactly what occurs on stage. Wonderfully talented actors and comics step up to the mike and read from the published autobiographies of such luminaries as Joan Lunden, Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, the Jonas Brothers boy band, Liz Taylor, Lonnie Anderson, and my personal favorite, the ever cool, narcissistic, and horny Burt Reynolds.

Pack claims he used to entertain his friends by reading out loud from such works, and his pals would insist he must be making it up. From this experience he created the show, first in Los Angeles, then on Bravo, and now in New York City. When you hear their words on stage, you are also dumbfounded by the sheer vacuity of what passes for personal insight on the part of these “stars” (for lack of a better word). They go into great and obsessive detail on how they lay out their clothes for work (Joan Lunden), what is in their refrigerator (Sylvester Stallone), how their mind works (Miley Cyrus), and how to perform oral sex on a lady (Tommy Lee).

What emerges is a vision of the genre as shaped by two abiding concerns: their own self (in all its wonderfulness) and the pursuit of sex (a widely practiced addiction). Of course they often confuse sex and love, so they may think they are telling tales of their fabulous love lives when actually horn-dog antics rule the day. There’s a good deal of hopping in and out of bed, cheating on partners, planning crass weddings, lusting after co-stars, and pursuing that exciting celebrity sex, which, like food and shelter, is perceived as a god-given right.

What makes the show effective is the great talent of those who do the reading, stars in their own right, such as Rachel Dratch (above) of Saturday Night Live, Kristen Johnston of 3rd Rock from the Sun and Craig Bierko of The Music Man on Broadway. Everyone in the ten-person cast is stunning. Their technique works perfectly for the material, a sort of dead-on reading of the text, not an imitation of the actual celebrity, but a commitment to the words on the page, such that even gender-blind casting can work, and in fact adds to the theatricality. The secret is sincerity. These celebrities are certainly sincere in their most banal revelations, and the actors wisely play that sincerity.

It would be difficult to rank the works relative to their shallowness or tastelessness. On the evening I attended (they vary their material as well as cast on different nights), I’d say the young came off rather badly: Miley Cyrus (Miles to Go) isn’t just immature, it’s clueless in the best child star fashion, but the Jonas Brothers (Burning Up on Tour) give her a run for her money. They simply have no story to tell. No thoughts. And no insights. But someone somewhere decided these books might sell, and I guess they did.

Of course, for sheer bad tastes, they’d have a hard time competing with Marilu Henner describing how she taught her husband about sex with the help of a hand-held mirror, because, as she confides, “men are trainable.” She also points out, apropos of diet, “If you don’t eat dairy, you can have more sex.” (Who knew?) Then there’s the romantic story of Tommy Lee and Heather Locklear. He explains that being the classy woman she is, on their first date “she would not put out, dude.” He was “nervous as shit… popping zits,” but happily for all concerned, on their second date, “we finally fucked.” Whee. I was worried about that one.

Strangely, laughing hard at all these folks, it’s not their crudity that ultimately strikes one, it’s their pathos and their unadulterated narcissism. And this is what makes Celebrity Autobiography more significant than just a good long laugh. It provides an insight into our ludicrous celebrity culture: the Page Six world, the proliferating gossip shows on television such as Entertainment Tonight, and the stories on Fox news and CNN about Tom Delay dirty dancing or Britney Spears hopping out of a taxi with no panties on. It’s as if we believe that everything about a celebrity is interesting, a story that must be told, that we in the general public deserve it. We need to know. It’s not too far a stretch to blame Sarah Palin’s rise on this culture, or that handsome dolt Levi who knocked up her seventeen-year-old daughter. Because a year or so later, there is Larry King hanging on Todd’s every word, and to be kind, Todd’s only a little behind the Jonas brothers in the level of his discourse.

So, go see Celebrity Autobiography. It’s the hot ticket these days, once a month on Monday nights at the Triad. You get a drink with your ticket so you can share the pleasures of laughter and alcohol, while Liz Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, and Eddie Fisher let you in on their naughty escapades, voices from the past now, but still alive on the page and the stage, still burning to let us listen to their very own stories “in their own words.” It doesn’t get much better than that. - Victoria Sullivan

Triad Theatre
158 West 72nd Street
Oct. 12, Nov. 23, Dec. 7
7:30 PM

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Ms. Sullivan is a poet and playwright who lives in Manhattan and has a little cabin outside of Woodstock, NY. When not brooding, she is generally traveling, writing, or staring at the trees. She also loves to laugh.

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