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Fresh Air Comedy Week: "Mean Guy" Comedian Richard Belzer Discusses His Life and Career.

Comedian Richard Belzer. For a number of years now, he's played a detective on the show "Homicide." This interview was conducted before he took on that role. Belzer also appeared frequently on "Saturday Night Live" "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night with David Letterman." He's also written a book titled "How To Be a Stand-up Comic." (Originally broadcast 12/31/87.)


Other segments from the episode on August 27, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 27, 1997: Interview with Richard Belzer; Interview with Richard Lewis; Interview with Larry David; Interview with Carol Leifer.


Date: AUGUST 27, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082701NP.217
Head: Carol Leifer
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:45

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Carol Leifer is a comic, actor, and writer. She's written for "Seinfeld" and has been a friend of Jerry Seinfeld's since she started doing standup in the late '70s. She's been a frequent guest on the Letterman Show and has had her own comedy specials.

Now, Leifer is the executive producer and star of a new sitcom called "Alright, Already" that premiers September 7th on the Warner Brothers Network.

I spoke with her in 1993 at the time of her Showtime special "Gaudy, Bawdy, and Blue." She wrote, starred in, and co-produced this mock documentary about a fictional comedian named Rusty Berman (ph) who was popular in the '60s for her risque humor.

The program opened with Leifer as Rusty Berman at a nightclub in the '60s. Wearing a sequin dress, she's seated at the piano doing her act.


CAROL LEIFER, ACTRESS AND COMEDIAN, AS PORTRAYING "RUSTY BERMAN": Did you hear about the woman ironing her brassiere?

Her husband says: "what the hell are you ironing that for? You got nothin' to put in it."


She says: "I iron your shorts, don't I?"


Did you hear what Lord Godiva said to Lady Godiva?: "where the hell have you been, you rat bastard? Your horse got home two hours ago."



She's the yellow rose of Texas, she charges 50 bucks,
The richest girl in Texas, and all she does is (Unintelligible)

LEIFER: Laugh loud, or I'll sing clean songs.

GROSS: Who are some of the comics you're paying tribute to in this mock documentary?

LEIFER: Probably mostly it was based on a woman named Rusty Warren, who was very popular in the '50s and early '60s. She had an album called "Knockers Up" that actually sold, I believe, it's eight million copies, Terry.

GROSS: Wow, that's a lot.

LEIFER: Yeah. And also women like Pearl Williams (ph) was another woman that was around then doing that kind of comedy. And other people have come up to me with other names of women that were around who did this style of cabaret comedy.

And it really fascinated me, especially Rusty Warren since she was so popular, and yet so out of sync with the time, in that it was a true underground kind of popularity.

GROSS: So what made you think about these comics recently?

LEIFER: I guess mostly that being a woman comedian and knowing what that's like in the current comedy scene; thinking about what it must have been like 30 years ago. You know, on Miami Beach in the late '50s, you know, Rusty Warren did a 4:00 a.m. show. You know? I just really -- I mean, I get such a kick out of that -- that that's what, you know, the night life was like then. That, you know, you -- so if it's 3:30, gotta run down to the show, you know. Four a.m.

And that, you know, they worried about being busted and when Pearl Williams played Carnegie Hall, I believe either she got arrested or, you know, cops were in the background. There was a real dangerous element to comedy. It was, you know, real Lenny Bruce-like kind of comedy.

GROSS: Did you write the jokes for Gaudy, Bawdy and Blue? Or did you get some of them from the old records?

LEIFER: Well actually, my dad is, you know, king of the joke-tellers...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

LEIFER: ... and ...

GROSS: I thought my dad was king of the joke-tellers.


LEIFER: Well, actually, on our little piece of Long Island, I have to say my dad laid claim. But, you know, he's the type of guy who's, you know: "gimme any subject. Throw out a subject. I got a joke for it."

So you know, he's semi-retired now. So I called him before I was going to do the special and I said: "Dad, get a tape recorder. Put a tape in, and every dirty joke you know, put on a tape."

So I really credit my dad with giving me a lot of the material. But, you know, a lot of the jokes are from those type of comedy albums. But even, you know, joke-telling is a dying art form. You know, "the two guys walk into a bar" and that kind of thing.

And so, you know, I like that part of it, too -- that, you know, part of comedy intrigues me, too. And it's sad to me that it's really kind of dying out.

GROSS: Would you tell the one about the guy who has six hours to live?

LEIFER: Oh, yeah. That's actually one of my favorite jokes of all time.

So a guy comes home from the doctor. Wife says: "what did the doctor say?"

And the guy says: "Doctor says I have six hours to live."

So wife says: "what would you like to do?"

He says: "how about sex?"

So they have some sex. She says: "all right. What would you like to do now?"

He says: "how about some more sex?"

She says: "OK."

Eh, they do it again.

A little while later, she says: "all right. What would you like to do now?"

He says: "how about sex? One more time?"

She says: "look, I gotta get up in the morning."


But you know, ladies and gentleman, thank you -- I'll be here all week.

GROSS: Can you tell this kind of joke in your own performances?

LEIFER: Well, no. I don't think so. I mean, I don't think if you go to the Improv, you know, you're expecting, you know, Shecky...


You know, I mean if you go to -- I went to the Concord Hotel with my family last year, and yeah, that's where, you know, you see these kind of guys who get up and do that kind of comedy. But you know, it's -- it's dying. It's really kind of gone.

It's really -- even, you know, in the special as Rusty Berman when she's being interviewed, you know, she says: "you know, the kids today with the -- did you ever notice this -- and you ever notice that?" "No, I never noticed." You know, "tell me a joke."

You know, I've heard that from older comedians over the years. You know, I think this kind of style of comedy that's prevalent now kind of baffles them because to them, you know, comedy is, you know, "two guys walk into a bar" and that, you know, that's what a show is.

GROSS: My guest is Carol Leifer. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

Let's get back to Carol Leifer. I spoke with her in 1993, when she was writing for the sitcom Seinfeld.

LEIFER: Yeah, I was originally program consultant, and now I'm a story editor, and they're all titles that are -- just mean "writer."


GROSS: Writer at different salaries, maybe?

LEIFER: Right, right. Different food chain; salary levels.

GROSS: Now, you and Seinfeld used to actually be a couple, right?

LEIFER: Yes, we dated briefly.

GROSS: When was that?

LEIFER: 1977, it's gotta be. God.

GROSS: So, does this make you "Elaine"?

LEIFER: No, actually people would think that probably, since Jerry and I went out. But no, actually the character of "Kramer" is based on me.


No, well, Jerry and I dated and then, since then we've been great, great friends. So I think that people would kind of maybe think that, but you know, Julia's really -- really made Elaine her own. But I guess that it's natural for people to think that since we're friends who used to go out.

GROSS: Have there been any story lines that did come out of your experiences together?

LEIFER: No, I wouldn't say any specifically. No. But working there now, they really like real-life experiences and translating that to the show. You know, they really want to keep it on a real plane, so I try to think, and everybody who writes at the show, you know, now I find myself doing a lot of things that I maybe wouldn't do before because I always think: "well, I could get a story idea out of this."

GROSS: Like what? What have you done to get a story idea?

LEIFER: Well, semi-recently, a gay friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go with another gay friend of his to the Hollywood Bowl because the guy he was going with -- he works in banking -- and he was going with his boss. And he kind of needed a beard to go with him.

GROSS: A beard-ette.

LEIFER: Yes. Beard-ette. So I went with him, and actually got a story line out of it. So I was happy to -- that I could do that.

GROSS: Has that one been on yet?

LEIFER: No, no. But it is funny, because when you put yourself in these situations, it's much easier to think -- you know, like I was thinking when I went to the Hollywood Bowl with this guy, you know, when he went to go to the bathroom, you know, it might have been funny if, you know, the boss and his wife then turn to me and say: "you know, I hope you don't get your hopes up too high with this guy because, you know, he's gay."


And then when, you know, he comes back, you know, Elaine would be like "oh, you know, ach -- you don't know how wrong you are. We're practically living together" -- you know, and starts like making out with him.

So, you know, I definitely do more things now that maybe I wouldn't necessarily just -- to kind of see what happens.

GROSS: Being -- being the only woman on the staff of writers, as I believe you are, are you often in the position of having to give the female point of view and saying "nah, no -- a woman wouldn't do that?"

LEIFER: Well, besides getting coffee for the guys...


Yeah, and actually sometimes even really very small ways. I was just working in my office once and Jerry called me from downstairs and said: "what's a really fancy type of woman's shoe? What's a nice shoe?" You know, I said: "oh, I don't know -- like sling-back pumps?" "Yeah, that sounds good. OK, thanks." You know.

So sometimes it's really in small ways like that.

GROSS: I wanted to ask you -- you had dated Jerry Seinfeld, as we mentioned. You also used to date Paul Reiser, who now has his own network show. I figure like the network should give sitcoms to your boy friends, or something.


LEIFER: Right. If anybody wants to get a network spot, my number is -- 555.

GROSS: So, did you leave Paul for Jerry?

LEIFER: I dated a lot of comedians in those days. I'm not sure exactly what my route or flight map was like then, but you know, when you're around comedians and they're really the only people that you see, you're -- you know, during your evenings, you're bound to date a few of them.

GROSS: Right. Carol Leifer, thank you so much for talking with us.

LEIFER: Hey, Terry...

GROSS: Yeah?

LEIFER: ... a pleasure.


GROSS: Carol Leifer, recorded in 1993. She's the star and executive producer of the new sitcom "Alright, Already." It premiers September 7 on the Warner Brothers Network. She plays Carol Lerner (ph), who runs a stylish optical boutique in South Beach, Florida, where she's perched between the ultra-hip and golden oldies crowd.

FRESH AIR's Comedy Week continues tomorrow. We'll close with Jonathan and Darlene Edwards (ph), the comic alter-egos of Jo Stafford (ph) and Paul Weston (ph).

I'm Terry Gross.



I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment -- every moment of the year
I love Paris...

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Carol Leifer
High: Comedian Carol Leifer. She's been a regular as a standup on Late Night With David Letterman, and a writer for Saturday Night Live. She also has written for comedy pal -- and former boyfriend -- Jerry Seinfeld -- some say the character of Elaine is based on Leifer.
Spec: Media; Television; Seinfeld
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Carol Leifer
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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