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Entries in Playwright (79)

Thursday
Apr272017

Call Answered: Christina Franklin: "New York, New Year: A New Musical," at TADA!

Christina FranklinIn Sunset Boulevard, "Norma Desmond" sings "I've come home at last!" and that is what I loved about Christina Franklin's journey with TADA! Youth Theater. She started out in TADA's! Youth Ensemble and now has come back as the writer and director of their latest production, New York, New Year

New York, New Year tells the story of "Tess" who moves to NYC in the middle of the school year from her hometown of Missouri and wonders how she will fit in. Will she make friends at her new school? Tess has the months of the year to help guide her, but she misses Sarah, her best friend from back home. When she tells 3 NYC kids that she's going to take a bus tour to really get to know NY, they tell her you don't get to know the real NYC through a bus tour, so she asks them to show her things they each love about the city & they become her new friends. Tess thinks that she needs to change herself to be liked, but who does she become? And will she still be friends with Sarah? Can she be the Tess from Missouri with Sarah & the NYC Tess with her new friends? What happens when they all get together for New Year's Eve as a surprise for Tess? Can the “months” save the day?

New York, New Year plays at TADA! Youth Theater (15 West 28th Street) from April 29-May 21. Click here for tickets!

For more on TADA! be sure to visit http://www.tadatheater.com and follow them Facebook and Twitter!

1. This May you are presenting New York, New Year: A New Musical, at TADA!, based upon the original concept by Gary Bagley. What made you want to write the book for this show and direct it? When I was six years old, my older brother Norman, was in the original production of New York, New Year at TADA! I saw the show many times and I loved it. The show takes place over the course of a year and each month is played by an actor. I was very drawn to this concept; it’s so unique and fun. TADA! usually revives show every five-six seasons, but New York New York hasn’t been done since 1999. The script needed more development time. In the summer of 2016, our artistic director Nina Trevens, proposed that I rewrite the book and direct the new production in the next season. I got in touch with the original writers and began rewriting the book. Fast forward 10 months and here we are!

2. One interesting fact I found out is that for 10 years you were a member of the TADA! Youth Ensemble, but while you were a sophomore at Professional Performing Arts School, you found a love for the production aspect of theatre. What was it about the production side that made you go, this is the part of theatre I want to pursue over acting? I discovered that I have a love for creating stories and devising interesting ways to tell those stories. Also, I am admittedly a control freak, so the older I got, the harder it was to let myself be free and vulnerable as an actor.

Janine Nina Trevens (TADA! Artistic Director) and Christina Franklin3. What is it like being back at TADA! after being away from it for a few years? The thing is, I haven’t been away from TADA! very much. Even during my college years, I came back to work on productions when I was on break from school. It’s always great to come home. I particularly love staying in touch with the ensemble and watching them grow and learn.

4.  In New York, New Year, "Tess" moves to NYC in the middle of the school year from her hometown of Missouri and wonders how she will fit in. When did you ever wonder if you would fit in somewhere? I have similar worries and doubts every time I enter a new experience, particularly college. Like "Tess," I was in a new city (Philadelphia), starting a new school year, and feeling very lonely. Fortunately, it was a new beginning for everyone, whereas "Tess" jumps into an environment where everyone is already acclimated, which makes it even harder for her to find her place.

Christina Franklin and Ben Vereen5. "Tess" tells her new friends she's going to get to know NYC via a bus tour, who in turn, tell her, you can't get to know NYC from a bus tour. What have you learned about NYC from living here that you wouldn't have had you taken a bus tour? I think the best things about the city are the non-commercial features. Organized NYC tours tend to hit the standard things the city is already famous for. I value the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the quaintness of various neighborhoods, and more importantly the character and essence of the city that changes every 10 blocks or so.

6. This show has so many great themes for kids, like how "Tess" feels she needs to change herself to be liked." Have you ever felt like you needed to change to be liked or fit in somewhere? Yes - middle school was particularly tough for me. My new classmates made fun of how I spoke and the way I looked. I was not confident enough to hold my own and stay true to myself so to avoid bullying, I tried to assimilate myself to how they all acted. I was somewhat successful, but 8th grade graduation couldn’t have come soon enough. This was a time that TADA! was vital in my life. Although I had to change myself during the school day, I was able to let go and be free when I got to rehearsal.

Christina Franklin7. Since the show is called New York, New Year. What is something you are going to do or have done in NYC that is new this year? There are always new restaurants to try, so I plan to check some out. Although it isn’t new, I do want to get to the Highline once the weather gets warm again.

8. What are your top five favorite things to do in NYC? I love seeing new shows, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, shopping in the Christmas Villages that pop up in Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Bryant Park, checking out various farmers markets in the spring and fall, and going to free outdoor movie screenings in the summer.

9. After being part of TADA! Youth Ensemble and now being back as a playwright/director, why would you recommend someone to be part of TADA!? I would recommend it because there’s always something to be gained. Nina always says it; an 8 year old can learn from an 18 year old and vice versa. It’s the same thing when working on the production side. I’ve learned so much from the kids in the cast and I hope I’ve been able to teach them some things too!

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I love this idea! I definitely need to improve my patience skills. New Yorkers are always on the go, thinking about the next thing. When things aren’t swift and efficient, we tend to get agitated. I can definitely stand to slow down and enjoy the ride.

Christina FranklinMore on Christina:

Christina Franklin is a theatre artist, born & raised in NYC & has been a part of the TADA! family since she was four years old. As a member of the TADA! Youth Ensemble for 10 years, she performed in 17 main stage musicals in addition to many workshops & readings. Christina found a love for the production aspect of theatre when she was a sophomore at Professional Performing Arts School. She went on to earn a BFA in Directing, Playwriting & Production from The University of the Arts. During her time at UArts, she stage managed multiple productions, wrote plays, produced student work & directed many projects. Shortly after graduation, she began an internship at The Public Theater, which led to working on multiple projects including The Total Bent & Eclipsed on Broadway. Since becoming a TADA! Alumna, she has worked on many TADA! shows as a stage manager & assistant director. New York, New Year marks Christina’s NYC directorial debut as well as her 26th production with TADA! Youth Theater. 

Wednesday
Apr262017

Call Answered: Part 2: Facetime Interview with Michael Zam, writer of "Feud: Bette and Joan"

"Call Me Adam" and Michael Zam live at The Algonquin HotelIf you loved the finale of Feud: Bette and Joan, then be sure to check out the second part of my interview with Feud writer Michael Zam, who gives us the backstage stories that didn't make it into the show as well as some insight to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford!

Live from The Algonquin Hotel, Michael Zam and I go at it again with even more tales from Feud: Bette and Joan!

Click here to watch Part 1 of our interview!

For more on Feud: Bette and Joan be sure to visit http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/feud and follow the show on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

Part 2 of "Call Me Adam's" Facetime interview with Feud: Bette and Joan writer Michael Zam:

Michael ZamMore on Michael:

Michael Zam, BFA/MFA, author of the Black-Listed screenplay, Best Actress, has been developed into the hugely popular and highly-acclaimed 8-part miniseries, Feud, for FX, starring Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. He has also written scripts for DreamWorks, Plan B, and many others. Michael wrote the book for the Off-Broadway musical The Kid, based on Dan Savage’s memoir, which won the Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre and the Outer Critics Circle Award. The musical was nominated for a Drama Desk Award, Lucille Lortel Awards, and GLAAD Media Awards. Michael has been honored twice with the SPS Award for Teaching Excellence. He teaches screenwriting, film, and television writing at NYUSPS in the Center for Applied Liberal Arts.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Call Redialed: Joe Gulla: GARBO: 2017 Downtown Urban Arts Festival at Cherry Lane Theatre

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Jeffrey HornsteinWhat can I say about the man who adores me to no end? I mean, the man who adores "Call Me Adam" to no end. He actually never has said he adores me, Adam Rothenberg, he just loves my site, but I'll take it! I can't believe I've known Joe for eight years and have gotten to interview him, now three times, plus have seen him go from a fellow blogger to an award winning playwright! He writes, acts, directs, and produces. He does it all!

GARBO tells the story of Joe, a Gay New Yorker, who happens upon the tiny, hidden, candle-lit Garbo Bar during his visit to Rome, Italy. An emotional adventure begins when he is introduced to the handsome, enigmatic, (possibly!) closeted bartender/owner. Funny and heartfelt, GARBO explores why life and love may be better lived outside the closet...even (or especially) in the shadow of the Vatican!"

I'm thrilled to bring this new interview to you about Joe's latest play, GARBO, that will be presented in the 2017 Downtown Urban Arts Festival on Tuesday, May 9 at 7pm at The Cherry Lane Theatre! 

For more on Joe be sure to visit https://www.joegulla.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

1. On May 9, you are presenting a one-night only performance of your play GARBO at the Cherry Lane Theatre as part of the 2017 Downtown Urban Arts Festival. What excites you about having your play in this particular festival? I am huge fan of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival! They care about playwrights. They care about "the words." Their festival is curated within an inch of its life. So, I am extremely proud that they selected GARBO. Oh and, um, they are producing us at the Cherry Lane Theatre! Adam, c’mon…THAT is exciting! And, in my case, a dream come true!

2. GARBO has had some previous incarnations already...in 2011 it was a ONE ACT selected for the 2011 FRESH FRUIT FESTIVAL...and then, in 2012 it was selected by the TIMES SQUARE INTERNATIONAL THEATER FESTIVAL for a STAGED READING…and since then, you have added a second act. What made you want to add a second act? What did you feel was missing from the show as a one act or did you just love performing the show so much that you wanted to write yourself more stage time...hahaha? I love this question! Nothing was ever missing from the ONE ACT (short play) version. I wrote about my experience having (what I call!) an "unrequited love affair" with a bar owner in Rome, Italy. I was very pleased with the piece, its message and the early performances.

The fact that the play was only an hour long bothered me. I believe in GARBO and I wanted it to be available to larger audiences and (in my mind) that meant it had to be a proper TWO ACT (full length) play. This stymied me because the original version was true to what happened to me in Rome. It had a beginning, middle and an end!

My director, Brian Rardin, challenged me to come up with an Act 2. I was resistant! Like I said, there was no more "true" story, so I did not know where to go with it. I didn’t rush my feelings about it. I let it all marinate. Then, one day, I was at the gym and it just "came to me." A twist! A freakin’ twist, Adam! One that opens the story up but, at the same time, allows it to go deeper. I am pretty sure Act 2 will come as a big surprise to our audience. It definitely creates a richer…more resonant experience. But, honestly, it also adds another element of just plain soapy fun! So, no! I did not write Act 2 so I could have more stage time! Ha! I am already horrified enough about the amount of memorizing I need to do!

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Jeffrey Hornstein3. Without reading a description of the show, one might think GARBO has something to do with Greta Garbo, but in actuality, it's about your time in Rome where you had an unrequited love affair with the owner/bartender of a tiny candle-lit bar called GARBO Bar. Has there been any confusion about this? Yes! All the time! But, to the confused, I say…"Was MOBY DICK really about a whale?"

4. Now, let's get into the intricacies of the show itself! As stated in the previous question, GARBO is about the three years you spent in Rome, but you initially went there for just three months, until you "fell in love." You original reason for going to Rome was because you felt it was your duty to visit the homeland & get to know your history. What happened in your life that made you feel this necessity? It sounds like something "negative" happened but, actually, it was the opposite. In the mid-90’s, I took a trip to Spain that was supposed to last a month. I ended up staying there for a year and a half! As a native New Yorker, I was astounded by how "out" the gay guys were. I lived in New York all my life and, obviously, New York is a great place to be if you are gay. But, I had never seen men holding hands in the streets, kissing and making out in public spaces until I lived in Spain. This stayed with me.

Moving to Spain was sorta random. I never expected to stay that long. But, when I was back in the States, I started to feel guilty. I mean, there I was, I had lived in Madrid and Ibiza, but never even visited Italy. As an Italian-American, I knew I had to remedy this! In planning my trip to the "homeland," my goal was to "get in touch" with my Italian heritage and, ideally, fall in love with a sexy, hot Italian guy. Ha! At the very least, I’d experience that same European, gay (Spanish-like!) openness…only, this time, I’d be in the country my family is from!

Cast of GARBO: Joe Gulla, Kate Greer, and Aristotelis Ambatzidis5. How long into your three-month visit, did you meet the owner/bartender of GARBO? Then how long after that, were you like, I should stay longer? Ok, well…in real life, I was there for three years! I met the guy about a month into my trip. I knew I was staying for an "extended holiday," but I was not familiar enough with Rome to know exactly where I should settle. I’d read a memoir called, Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. The author wrote rhapsodically about a part of Rome called Trastevere. All I remembered was that you could enter Trastevere from a bridge named the "Ponte Sisto." I bought a map (This was before I had an iPhone!) and I made my way to that damn bridge. I crossed it, fell in love with the neighborhood and got an apartment almost immediately. I went to Garbo the first night that I lived there...and, well, that’s when we met!

To be clear, I did not meet this guy and fall "head over heels." It wasn’t like that at all! I liked him! We became friends. As a foreigner, I appreciated his friendship and it made my acclimation that much easier. I never really "decided" to stay longer. I just sorta lingered!

6. Three years is a long time to stay somewhere for someone, who you say is an "unrequited love." What indications did he give you that he was in "love" with you too? Why do you feel it took three years to realize it was time to go home? What was the moment that made you say, "It's time to go"? First, I agree! It was a ridiculously long time to stay! I mean, besides him, I was enjoying every aspect of being in Rome. It lives up to everything you hear about it: gorgeous, magical.. "eternal!" So, the backdrop helped me stay stationary…for sure. I guess my answer is: Everything happened so slowly. It took time for my emotions and feelings to catch up with the friendship that already existed. I won’t say too much more because it’s pretty well-illustrated in the play. Oh and, in terms of leaving, the play is very specific about what happens and why I finally check out! Besides, Adam, you are going to be there May 9th! I want you to have an unfettered experience.

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Jeffrey Hornstein7. As an out gay man, what was it like being in a country that was so closeted? Adam, it is just horrible…and ridiculous. I was shocked!

8. When did you decide this experience should be made into a play? What did you learn about your time in Rome writing this play that you didn't know going through it? That’s easy! While I was there, I became friends with an Irish painter. She was a lesbian and she spoke English. Both of these facts were a huge relief to me. I would spend my nights hanging out with the bartender/owner and I would spend my days gossiping and bonding with her. As months went by and the drama heightened, she would often say, "Joe, this is a play!" When I returned home, I sat down and wrote it! I loved the concept of telling a fully wrought story by simply juxtaposing two ongoing, yet separate, dialogues.

In terms of what I learned creating the play….Well, I didn’t learn much when I first wrote it. I just regurgitated my experience. I was "fresh" from it. But, when we started rehearsals, my director and my fellow actors had a million (understandable!) questions. This forced me (on a daily basis!) to relive it. Full on, intense therapy, Adam! Not fun! It is interesting because there are still a lot of questions unanswered.

We were rehearsing with our current cast last night. Kate Greer plays "Anne," the Irish painter. Aristotelis Ambatzidis plays "Ario," the sexy owner of GARBO! Adam, wait until you see the shocking amount of talent these guys possess! They are spectacular! Anyway, we were working through the script as a group and, once again, I found myself learning new things about what went down back in Rome. I mean, this was literally last night! Thankfully, the emotional stakes are lower for me these days! It’s a freakin’ relief…but, I promise, the impassioned potency of the material is strong as ever!

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Michael Arthur9. After GARBO, you have another project already coming up called GAY.PORN.MAFIA, a collection of your award-winning, nationally produced plays. What made you want to name this collection of your work GAY.PORN.MAFIA? Ah, yes, and how lovely to have a project that is completely separate from my personal life! Ha! Keep in mind, my autobiographical monologues (THE BRONX QUEEN TRILOGY) and GARBO are what’s been keeping me busy these days. GAY.PORN.MAFIA is a lot of crazy fun! Yeah, there’s heart and layers, but we are going for some big laughs! The name derives from the simple fact that each of the six plays contains at least two of following themes: GAY, PORN and/or MAFIA. For instance, one of the plays, REEL WOOD, is about a gay married couple who are forced to live in the basement of their Hollywood home because the rest of their house has been rented to a straight porn production company! Fastidious gay men descended upon by straight porn stars, Adam! Ha! Chaos ensues!

10. Since this collection is called GAY.PORN.MAFIA. if you were to star in a gay porn movie, what do you think your porn name would be? "Moby Dick," of course!

11. How does one transition from porn to this next semi-serious question? I don't know, so I will just ask it. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? First, I would like to be able to swipe my Metro Card once, as opposed to the three or four times it takes me to get that damn turnstile to unlatch. If I can get one percent better at doing that, I would be be a much more calm, affable and content subway rider.

Second, I am firm believer in the "pay it forward" movement! I am that corny guy who buys a latte for the lady behind me on line at Starbucks! And um, yes, that is ME receiving her suspicious/awkward/nervous glance when I do it.! We all have the power to be positive. I suggest being bold, being creative and being direct…be DYNAMIC in putting that positive energy out there!

I mean, I read someone’s Blog, Twitter and Instagram who does this ALL OF THE TIME….yep, I call him…ADAM!!!! Thank you for dialing me up, my friend!

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Jeffrey HornsteinMore on Joe:

Joe Gulla is an American playwright, actor and reality television participant. He is best known for the autobiographical monologues that he writes and performs for the theater. His best known work, Bronx Queen Trilogy is based on his experience growing up as a gay boy in the Bronx.

The Bronx Queen, first in the series, won the 2016 Downtown Urban Arts Festival "Audience Award" for Joe's sold-out performance at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater. The Bronx Queen was also awarded Best Comedic Script and Most Popular Show at NYC Theater Row's 2012 and 2013 United Solo Theatre Festival, respectively.

Faggy at 50, second in the series, was awarded Best One-Man Show at NYC Theater Row's 2014 United Solo Theatre Festival.

Daddy, the series' final installment had its World Premiere at NYC Theater Row's 2015 United Solo Theatre Festival. Joe won the 2015 United Solo Award for Best Comedian for his performance.

His play Garbo was based on an unrequited love affair experienced while living in Rome, Italy. Garbo was selected to be part of the New York City's Times Square International Theater Festival in 2012. He played the role of "Frankie" in Off-Broadway's long-running hit, My Big Gay Italian Wedding.

REEL WOOD, a short play written by Joe, had its World Premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June 2015. It was also selected by NYC's Village Playwrights to be performed in their "Re-Inventing Family" series commemorating Gay Pride.

Joe's play, Knock Off!, had its world premiere in Houston, TX at Theatre Southwest. 

Christmas Caroline, Joe's newest comedy had its World Premiere at Studio C Theatre, Hollywood, CA in November 2015. His play, Gayfever had its World Premiere at the Funky Little Theatre Company in March 2016. Sleeping With The Fish by Joe Gulla opened the Village Playwrights' "Gay Pride and Prejudice" series in June 2016.

In June 2016, Joe's play, Fall and Rise had its World Premiere at the Carrolwood Player's "One Act Weekend" in Tampa, Florida. Later that month, Fall and Rise premiered at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Fall and Rise was awarded "Best Play" in 2016 at the Acadia University Mini Fest in Nova Scotia, CN.

The Advocate named Gulla its "Anti-Bullying Hero" in 2012.

Joe was a contestant on the NBC adventure reality series Lost in 2001. The show followed three teams of two as they made their way from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia back to the United States.

Saturday
Apr152017

Call Answered: Facetime Interview: Michael Zam: "Feud: Bette and Joan" Writer

"Call Me Adam" and Michael Zam at The Algonquin HotelLive from The Algonquin Hotel, "Call Me Adam" goes face to face with Feud: Bette and Joan writer Michael Zam! From the story lines to the characters to clearing up misconceptions about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, I get the inside scoop on what it takes to bring the hit FX show to life. 

Michael & I had so much fun together that we had to divide this interview into two parts. The second half, where we discuss left out plot lines, the show's brilliant intro, and other cutting room floor items, will be released soon.

Feud: Bette and Joan airs every Sunday on FX at 10pm!

For more on Feud: Bette and Joan be sure to visit http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/feud and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

"Call Me Adam's" interview with Feud: Bette and Joan writer Michael Zam:

Michael ZamMore on Michael:

Michael Zam, BFA/MFA, author of the Black-Listed screenplay, Best Actress, has been developed into the hugely popular and highly-acclaimed 8-part miniseries, Feud, for FX, starring Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. He has also written scripts for DreamWorks, Plan B, and many others. Michael wrote the book for the Off-Broadway musical The Kid, based on Dan Savage’s memoir, which won the Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre and the Outer Critics Circle Award. The musical was nominated for a Drama Desk Award, Lucille Lortel Awards, and GLAAD Media Awards. Michael has been honored twice with the SPS Award for Teaching Excellence. He teaches screenwriting, film, and television writing at NYUSPS in the Center for Applied Liberal Arts.

Thursday
Apr132017

Call Answered: Monica Piper: "Not That Jewish" at New World Stages

Monica PiperLast week I had the opportunity to go see Monica Piper's one-woman show Not That Jewish, a hilarious heartfelt show about her life in comedy, the Bronx, and being Jew-"ish." From family to relationships to laughter, Not That Jewish has something for everyone! If you want advice on being a comedian, Not That Jewish has it. Have a broken heart, Not That Jewish will help heal it. If you want to see a show with laughter and substance, Not That Jewish is the one to see!

Monica's performance was fantastic. There were so many moments my jaw dropped from laughter, I eventually lost count. Monica knows how to deliver a comedic moment like Willy Wonka knows how to make candy, perfectly! Monica's writing is strong (She has written for such hit TV shows as RugratsRoseanne, and Mad About You), which is what obviously made her an Emmy Award winner and Golden Globe nominee. Through the tears and laughter, Monica still shines bright, center stage, where she belongs!

I love all the behind-the-scene stories Monica shares with me in this interview about her life and the show. Not That Jewish plays at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue) through April 30th only! Click here for tickets!

For more on Monica & Not That Jewish be sure to visit http://notthatjewish.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. After seeing the show recently, I'm so excited to be doing this interview with you. What made now the right time to write & premiere Not That Jewish? I had written several stories for the Jewish Women’s Theatre Salon Series in Los Angeles and they were received very well. In about 2008, Ronda Spinak, the artistic director of Jewish Women’s Theatre, said, "I’m starting this new theatre; cutting edge writing and performing of the Jewish woman’s voice and I want you to write some original pieces." I said, "But Ronda, I’m not that Jewish." She said, "Yes you are, just create from the heart. Someday that’s going to be the title of your play," and that was in 2008. Anyway, I just kept writing stories for them and performing and we just suddenly started realizing that this whole body of work was really centered on this theme of passing it down and family. I was approached by one of the patrons of Jewish Women’s Theatre who said, "I love your stories and I want to commission you to write a play," and I started writing it in 2014. It opened in Los Angeles, and it was supposed to run for five weeks but it ran for sixteen months.

2. Being Jewish myself, there was so much I could relate to, especially the importance and love of family. In the show, you re-create your family throughout the show. When you are playing them (whether it be your mother, father, grandmother), what goes through your head during these moments? Does it make you appreciate them, miss them more, or just happy you have those memories? I appreciate them more and I think what has gone through my mind so many times is how they would’ve loved seeing this show and how they would’ve loved that I’m honoring them in this way. Every audience is different and they laugh at different things, but they always laugh at something my grandmother says, something my father says, and something my mother says. To me, that’s great because I’m honoring them and that feels really good.

Monica Piper and her dad3. In the show you, you say that Jews tend to laugh even during the darkest times. I definitely agree with that because I tend to find a lot of my humor during rough times and I see that in my dad a lot as while he was undergoing/recovering from triple bypass surgery, he kept his spirits up with his humor and that has definitely made an impression on me. After your mother passed away, how soon after did you and your father find that moment of laughter you portray? How did you feel to laugh again after such a tough moment? It took a day or two, obviously, to get over the shock, but we were sitting Shiva and it was during that time that I said, "Dad, we gotta laugh." There are moments in my life that, just because of time we couldn’t include everything in the play, but when I was growing up my father and I would sit and watch sports together and we would always make fun of the commercials, this was before DVRs when you couldn't fast-forward the commercials and had to watch them. There was an IBM commercial called "What if?" It showed a guy taking a shower and in the middle of the shower he clearly gets an idea and a voiceover says, "What if?" My father shouted at the TV and said, "What if you left me alone and let me take my shower?" Then I shouted, "What if I called the cops? I don't know you and you’re in my bathroom." We would just riff and laugh. The reason I’m bringing this up is because when we’re sitting Shiva and I say to him in the play, "Dad, we gotta laugh. Come on, let’s play." That’s what I meant, I meant let’s do what we’ve done in the past to make each other laugh and that’s what we did.

Monica Piper in "Not That Jewish"4. You also mentioned that when your dad passed away, you missed calling him when you wanted to bounce a joke off of him or had news to share about your professional life. Who became your substitute for him, if anyone? Yes, I also have great friends. Because I’m an only child, some of my friends are like my sisters. Not only do I have close friends, but I have an entire family of comedians, it’s like a tribe. The comedians that came up in the 80s or 90s, we traveled so much to comedy clubs that we knew each other. Now especially on Facebook, it’s so great. Even if we haven’t seen each other in twenty years, we’re still making each other laugh. Not only do I have great friends from my life as a civilian, but also from my life as a comedian. I had any number of people who could make me laugh on a daily basis. It was different with my family because he came from an old school way of thinking and laughing at things.

5. In writing this show, what is something you learned about yourself or your family that you didn't know while it was happening? It’s really very simple. What I didn’t realize while things were happening in my life is that things were being passed down. My father was not only passing down his humor to me, but his values, and my grandmother had passed them on to him; these ideas of humor, good deeds, acceptance, and compassion. My father always said, "Always think of the other person, kid," and I had passed that down to my son.

Monica Piper in "Not That Jewish"6. There are a few moments throughout the show where you pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Pyscho which got me every time. What made you want to format those instances with that tip of the hat? It happens twice: when my neighbor tells me I’m not that Jewish and then my husband tells me later on that I’m not that funny. Those are the two times where the only thing I could think of was the shocking horror, I wanted to show that it was like a horror movie to me. When my husband said, "Did it ever occur to you that you’re not that funny?" Ugh! Like stick a dagger in my heart, why don’t you! I just thought it was a very funny way to communicate to the audience very quickly and unmistakably that this was a moment of horror for me.

7. If you could have a conversation with your parents and Grandma Rose today, what would you want to tell them? First, I would thank them. I would thank them profusely for just giving me these values that are inherently Jewish without being outwardly Jewish. I would thank them for the view of the world they had, and for giving me a funny and compassionate place. I’m really lucky. A lot of comedians say that you can’t be funny unless you had a disastrous childhood, but I have to disagree. I had a funny childhood and that’s what I would thank them for.

Monica Piper in "Not That Jewish"8. What has been the most heartwarming story you've heard from an audience member after they saw the show? I have heard a lot, people relate on different levels. I’ve heard women talk to me about being adopted or being an adoptive mother and how that hits home. I had a birth mother thank me profusely with tears in her eyes for giving the birth mother’s side of the story. I’ve had cancer survivors, people who just lost their father or mother and this helped them get through it because it made them laugh and have a good cry, but I honestly think that the comment that really got to me was from a man who said, "I just want you to know that this is the weirdest thing. I had no idea when I came into the show that it was going to make me feel this way. But I know that I’m now going to be a better husband and father," And that blew me away.

9. When you were climbing up the comedy ladder, what was the most challenging part about being a female comedian in a male dominated industry? Them just always assuming that the female could not be as funny as a male. It was just a natural assumption. You were in these people’s presence knowing that attitude was there, even though you were killing it on stage. It was like that had to be a fluke. It was also challenging when I wanted to get booked at a certain club at a certain time of year and they would say, "We already have a female on the bill that week." There could never be two females and one male, that would be crazy to them and you were either the one female out of three, because there’s always three acts: an opening act, a middle act, and a headliner. It was either that you had one female or it had to be an all female show, "Look at us doing something wacky this week, we have all females!" It was really like that.

Monica Piper "Rugrats"10. What was the best part about being the head writer for Rugrats? What did you learn from being a writer on Roseanne? The best part on a personal level was being able to share what I did with my son. In other words, when I wrote on sitcoms, the hours were really long and when I had a script due, they would send you home. I’d be home writing with a deadline and I’d have to tell my son, "Jakey, I have a script due, I can’t do anything right now, I have to write." Whereas on Rugrats it was the greatest thing in the world, I would say, "Jakey, come here. I need a joke for Chuckie." He would be so excited to talk about Rugrats with me and I think the coolest thing was once he gave me a germ of an idea that I thought was pretty good, I made some changes and pitched it to the producers and they liked it, so I turned it into a story, then an outline, and then a script and I gave Jake story credit when he was seven years old. The show was produced and it said, "Share and Share a Spike: Based on an idea by Jake Piper, written by Monica Piper." I had that credit framed and when he woke up on his 8th birthday, it was hanging on his wall. That was the big difference between writing on sitcoms and writing on Rugrats.

RoseanneWriting on Roseanne was my first experience writing for a show. It was like being called up to the majors, and it was the number one show in the country so it was pretty cool. However, they kept you there until four in the morning. That was tough because Jake was very young when I was writing on Roseanne. I had a daytime nanny and a nighttime nanny so it was a difficult time for me. On one hand, I was thrilled to be writing for the number one show in the country, but I had made a promise to the birth mother that I would be a great mom and I was feeling guilt about the time I spent away from him. So as soon as Roseanne was over, I left the whole writing world and took my kid with me on the road for two years and it was great because we were never apart. But on the positive side, what I learned from writing on Roseanne was how to structure a story, how important it was to have an arc and a real beginning, middle, and end, and how jokes are not interchangeable. You can’t give a joke for "Darlene" to "Roseanne’s" sister, "Jackie." I learned to write for characters and how the character makes the joke funny. I really believe it was the beginning of me learning to be a really good writer, plus the thrill of getting your joke in a script and having other comedy writers laughing at what you wrote, and I also learned that male comedy writers have no problem farting in the room.

More on Monica:

Monica Piper was a Campfire Girl…in the Bronx. "You sense your life isn’t normal when you’re sitting on the D train with a bag of marshmallows and a twig." Monica began her career as a high school English teacher. While finding it rewarding, she had to move on. "I couldn’t handle the money and prestige." She realized her passion was making people laugh. She studied improv with Second City in Chicago, and performed with Spaghetti Jam, Sons of the Sunset and Papaya Juice in San Francisco. Monica then went solo as a standup and soon became one of Showtime Network’s "Comedy All Stars." It wasn’t long before she landed her own Ace Award-winning Showtime special, No, Monica…Just You. Monica was nominated for an American Comedy Award as one of the top five female comedians in the country. She has opened for Gloria Estefan, Neil Sedaka, Glen Campbell, The Smothers Brothers and Lucie Arnaz. Monica was recruited by Roseanne herself to write on Roseanne. Thus began her career as a sitcom writer. She went on to write for Mad About You and Veronica’s Closet. Now a mother, sitcom hours meant too much time away from her son, so Monica turned to animation. After writing for the adult cult favorite Duckman, she became the showrunner of the #1 children’s animated series Rugrats, for which she won an Emmy. She went on to develop and write series for Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network.

Monica has returned to her first love, performing. As a stand-up, she headlines clubs and organizations around the country. An artist-in-residence with the Jewish Women’s Theatre, Monica performs original comedy pieces for their acclaimed In-Home Salons. It was there that Monica developed her solo show Not That Jewish, which ran for 16 sold-out months in L.A. and was nominated for Best Solo Performance by the L.A. Drama Critics Circle and Stage Raw. Born and raised in the Bronx, Monica is thrilled to be returning to her NY roots with her show. "I’ve lived in California for 25 years but am still, and always will be, a New Yorker." Monica lives in Santa Monica with her son, Jake, whom she loves and adores almost every day.