Vicki Abelson has done it all. She has been a writer, actress, director, producer, promoter and comedian. Her bi-coastal literary salon Women Who Write features many giants from the comedy and entertainment industry.
AmericasComedy.Com: How did you get started in the comedy world?
Vicki Abelson: I was an actress as a girl and a young woman. While waiting tables I lucked into getting in a few filmed pieces on Saturday Night Live, one of which was with Billy Crystal. I ended up on the cutting room floor which was one of the biggest heartbreaks and humiliations of my career. About a year later I met Bob Nelson who had an improv group on Long Island called The Laughter Company. It’s where Eddie Murphy started. They invited me to join the group based on my picture, in character, with Billy Crystal, who was Dave Hawthorn’s partner before he started The Laughter Company with Bob.
I told them that I’m an actress and had never done comedic improv. They assured me they’d help and I’d do fine. I replaced Rosie O’Donnell. Were they crazy? They were all stand-up comics and knew what they were doing.Plus there were set bits, and they knew how to get to the funny. They’d been doing the same show for years. I didn’t have a clue. It was a nightmare. I felt like a lamb being led to the slaughter.. just fresh meat to cure their boredom. They tortured me for eight months.
AC: How did this lead to stand-up?
VA: I decided to learn to defend myself so I took a stand-up class. With the help of my teacher, who eventually became my husband, I developed a pretty good five minutes.
He and his girlfriend at the time gave me my first gig at the Rock N Roll Café on Bleecker Street. It was a brand new music club with a tiny clientele. I had a good set. The owners started chatting me up. I told them it was a cool club and said my boyfriend’s band could pack the place. They gave me a date a month away. I called everyone I knew and fulfilled my promise. Then I did it again. They offered me a job doing promo for the club. That led to a full-time gig, also handling their publicity and booking the place. I was doing more and more rock n’ roll and less and less stand-up. When I tried to jump back in cold, I died a miserable death.
After a successful run as a music producer in New York I left the business to start a family. In 2005 we moved to LA where I did a live pilot with the late, great Robert Schimmel. Andy Kindler and Eddie Pepitone were in it as well. It was hysterical. I have no idea why it didn’t get picked up.
AC: I find it fascinating that women continue to be discriminated against in the comedy community. Why is that do you think?
VA: Adam Carolla recently said that women aren’t funny. Late night TV is notorious for ignoring women comics. Even after Eddie Brill‘s comment in the New York Times about women not being funny drew attention to the subject, the situation didn’t change. I believe three female comics were booked on late night TV last year. The whole year!
One of my dearest friends, Elayne Boosler, went years without working. That’s ludicrous. She’s one of the most brilliant, funny women on the planet. There are loads of them: Cathy Ladman, Wendy Liebman, Sarah Silverman. Sarah broke huge but it took her a long time to become and overnight sensation.
AC: What would it take to change that mindset? Is it a structural issue?
VA: It is. Women need to get into positions of power so they can empower other women. We need women in the writers rooms. We need a woman to host the Tonight Show. It’s time.
AC: I noticed on your website that you have a connection with the Howard Stern show. There were pictures of [producer] Gary Dell’Abate.
VA: Gary and I go way back. We were introduced by a mutual friend. Gary and I dated a couple of times. I think I was his last date before he married his wife. I tend to drive men to get married to other women (laughs). But mainly, we were friends.
AC: Howard’s fans are known for supporting sponsors and guests. That is true for comedians and actors but I would assume that when the music industry was thriving that was a huge venue.
VA: Absolutely. If Howard is a fan of a band he promotes them like nobody’s business. A mention from him can sell a gazillion of anything. He’s a character in my book, albeit with a different name. We both made our movie debut in Ryder P.I, back in the 80s. I got him a guest he sought a few years later in exchange for a plug for my opening night, and then I got it in Page Six. Jackie Martling did the toast at my wedding. Gary did Women Who Write. I hope Howard has me on his show when my book drops.
AC: What are your thoughts on the allegations that Howard is sexist or misogynistic?
VA: Howard knows his demo, what works for him. I listened to him for years and he always made me laugh. But when it comes to the lesbian stuff,it got old after a while. That said, he’s smart, funny, and he’s quick as hell. I have no problem with Howard.
AC: Okay, enough Howard Stern talk. Tell me about Women Who Write.
VA: I was new to LA and I wanted to workshop my book into a play. My editor suggested I start my own thing in a restaurant. After looking around I decided to do it in my home, where it would have a more intimate vibe. Within a few months it became a celebrity-driven literary salon, sparked with conversation about what drove the art. Much like in Paris in the 1920s.
AC: You’ve had some great guests: Carl Reiner, Jeff Garlin, Laraine Newman, Marc Maron, Steven Weber, who I adore, Robert Klein, and pretty much every guest I’ve had on my show.
VA: It’s been amazing. Mackenzie Phillips read from her book in my living room before she read it on Oprah. Michael Nesmith previewed his upcoming solo tour, Howard Kaylan from The Turtles will be with us next month, and Fred Willard will be here in a couple of weeks. It’s just amazing.
AC: You worked with publicists in the past booking talent and promoting shows. Is it easier now in the Internet age?
VA: I’ve always preferred dealing with artists directly, which was more difficult before the Internet. Facebook has changed my life. It’s pretty much how I’ve gotten everyone who’s read for us. That’s not to say it’s easy. Not everyone says yes. I’ve reached out to Albert Brooks, Steve Martin, and Garry Shandling, and I’ve tried to talk to Larry David more than once. They’re my dream “gets,” and they’re proving “hard to get.” It took me two years to get Steven Weber.
AC: Before we go, I want to ask about your book.
VA: Don’t Jump is my fictionalized memoir. I swear to some of it. It’s about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, comedy, addiction, recovery, marital happy days and not-so-happy days. There are celebrities and cool stories. At the heart of it though, it’s a woman’s quest to find her place and purpose in the midst of the sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and celebrity. Hopefully it’ll drop in the next few months.
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About the Author: Darren Staley is the host of Atari-winning podcast Dylan Brody's Neighbor's Couch, based out of North Carolina or Los Angeles. He is known in comedy circles as "Who?" or "Oh, That Guy." Darren's two biggest fears are spiders and Paul Provenza.