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Celebrities Funnier Than They Thought: Autobiographies are ripe material

Posted on 08 October 2008

Let’s face it. America, on the whole, appears to be a celebrity obsessed culture. From the success of TV shows and bio-pics to tell all books, evidence would indicate that when it comes to getting an inside peak at the lives of the rich and famous, some people just can’t get enough.

The inside lives of celebrities has also proven to be very fertile ground for a successful stage show that will come to the Bay Street Theatre this Saturday and Sunday evening from New York City for two performances.

“Celebrity Autobiography: In their Own Words” is the brainchild of Eugene Pack and the premise behind the show is a simple one — well-known performers read from autobiographies written by a range of celebrities such as Britney Spears, Elizabeth Taylor, Starr Jones, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, David Cassidy or Vanna White.

“Celebrity Autobiography” was born in the late 1990s in Los Angeles when Pack had an opportunity to bring a show to a comedy space for one night. He had always found it funny to sit around with friends reading from autobiographies by stars. What if those words were shared with the general public?

“I thought, ‘What if you read it out loud to an audience?’” he says. “I invited friends who were performers and said grab something you find funny and let’s see if it works.”

Work it did. The show, which started out as what Pack calls “the best kept secret in Los Angeles” began to grow. Audiences kept coming and bigger name performers signed on to read. Soon, it became an evening of celebrities reading from the work of other celebrities. Then came the Bravo TV special followed by an East Coast version of “Celebrity Autobiography,” which can be seen weekly at the Triad Theater (?158 West 72nd Street in New York.)

When it comes to autobiographies, the sky, it seems, is the limit. Pack has found no shortage of material written by celebrities ready and willing to put their thoughts on paper and lives on the line in tell-all fashion. Everyone who’s anyone, it seems, has written a book (or several) about themselves.

“I’m always looking for fun material for people to perform. That’s really the inspiration behind this,” explains Pack. “It’s found material as monologues — and if it’s funny, it’s unintentional humor. The goal is not to make fun of the writer, if we’re making fun of anything, it’s the art form of the memoir. Anyone, if they’re at all famous, has a book. We take these dramatic moments and build around it.”

 “If you look at any memoir or biography, sometimes you can’t believe someone would write this or confess this or put this in a book,” notes Pack. “They’ll take something like how they get ready in the morning — and write this.”

On stage, the performers have a good time with the material as well, and several of those who appear in “Celebrity Autobiography” in the city will travel to Sag Harbor for one or both of the performances at Bay Street this weekend. Among them are Bob Balaban, Joy Behar, Rachel Dratch, Michael Urie, Claudia Shear and Kristin Wiig.

The beauty of the “Celebrity Autobiography” format is that a show doesn’t require a lot of preparation time and commitment, so performers are able to jump in and out of productions as their schedules allow. At the Triad Theater, for example, shows are every Monday — and for good reason — that’s the night Broadway is dark and more performers are available.

“We do rehearse it very briefly. But it’s nothing they have to commit to all week,” explains Pack. “They can grab it, read the material and really be spontaneous.”

What makes “Celebrity Autobiography” so much fun, notes Pack, is the fact that audiences get to watch seasoned performers let their hair down on stage. The intimate nature of the shared reading in many ways lets the audience feel as if they are in on the fun as well.

“All the time the performers are up there biting their cheeks to stop from laughing,” says Pack. “If someone on stage loses it and laughs, you can’t take it that seriously. It’s so much fun for the audience to watch the performers.”

With the success of the show, Pack has spent a lot of time reading through autobiographies to cull the best material for the show. So whose autobiographies does he find work best on stage?

“Anything by Tommy Lee is great,” says Pack, referring to the bad-boy drummer of the rock band Mötley Crüe and former husband of pin-up girl Pamela Anderson.

“He’s so graphic and blunt,” adds Pack.

Another personal favorite autobiography of Pack’s is “Laughter in the Rain: My Own Story” by Neil Sedaka which he, himself, reads on stage.

“He talks about everything he eats in every single restaurant — something that personifies the evening,” says Pack.

“Another good one is Ivana Trump who wrote a book about her child rearing philosophy and what pets you should get.”

Ultimately, Pack notes, what makes the evening truly enjoyable is the “commingling” of autobiographies written by celebrities with shared history. Putting performers side by side as they read from the works of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson or Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson (another famous once-married duo), brings a whole new meaning to the “he said, she said” philosophy.

“It’s fun and the performers love it,” says Pack. “They can really have fun with it.”

Also important for the show is the match up of performers to material. The best matches are what Pack calls “oddball opposites.”

“We will have someone very innocent reading Tommy Lee or a guy reading Vanna White,” says Pack. “It’s fun when you do it that way.”

And ultimately, whether everyone in the audience is familiar with the celebrities whose work is being read or not doesn’t much matter.

“There’s something in it for everyone. You don’t have to know who that person is to understand,” says Pack. “It’s funny and fascinating and they can learn more about them if they don’t know them. Across the board it’s always entertaining.”

“It’s not like seeing a play and its different than a comedy or improv show,” he adds. “This is something different.”

“Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words” will be performed at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 11 and Sunday, October 12 at Bay Street Theatre, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor. Tickets are $100. A reception with the cast follows. Call 725-9500 for more information.

Above: Joy Behar in “Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words”

 

 

 

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