Rachel Dratch brings ’Celebrity Autobiography’ to Boston
We’ve all read them. On the beach, on a Kindle or - in some cases - secretly in bed for fear that someone might find out you’re reading such trash.
They’re celebrity autobiographies and it seems that everyone writes them - from Justin Bieber to Zsa Zsa Gabor, detailing the minutiae of their lives in ways that will either make you wince or laugh out loud.
It is the latter reaction that the show "Celebrity Autobiography" have been eliciting from audiences in various productions over the years.
Currently it is a monthly staple in New York, as well in London and Los Angeles. Over the past few years it has been performed in dozen-or-so U.S. cities as well as at the Edinburgh Festival. Boston joins the ranks on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 7:30pm with "SNL"-alumnus Rachel Dratch heading a cast that features such local Boston performers as Larry Coen, Timothy John Smith and Kathy St. George, and the show’s creators Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel.
The show, which features readings from such literary luminaries as Sylvester Stallone, David Hasselhoff, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ivana Trump, Vanna White, Star Jones, Neil Sedaka, Kenny Loggins, Madonna, and the Jonas Brothers, is Pack’s brainchild.
"I would listen to a lot of books-on-tape, particularly autobiographies, and was astounded at what people would write about," he explains on the show’s website. "If I got a hold of one of the books, I’d read it out loud to a friend, and they’d insist I was making it up... but people actually wrote these words. I thought that putting the material up in front of an audience would be extremely entertaining."
Pack’s hunch proved successful - he mounted a production in 1998 in a Los Angeles club with a cast comprised of well-known personalities and it became a sensation. In 2005 Bravo adapted it for an hour-long television special. Then in 2008 a New York version was mounted at the Triad Theatre where it has been a monthly staple ever since.
"The mock-sober title, which almost sounds like the name of a television crime show, is to the point. This no-frills, big-yuks entertainment consists simply of comics and actors reading verbatim selections from the memoirs - and the odd poetry collection, emphasis on ’odd’ - of minor- and major-league stars..." wrote Charles Isherwood reviewing the show in the New York Times in September, 2008.
"The show is a bracing tonic for anyone weary of our fame-addled culture. It gives you a chance to indulge in a little celebrity schadenfreude without having to endure the shame of grabbing that issue of In Touch Weekly off the rack at the grocery store. (You never know who might be behind you in line. Your boss? Your therapist? Jennifer Aniston herself?)"
One of the performers that has been with the show since its start has been Dratch, a Lexington native who is best-known from her years on "Saturday Night Live." After college (Dartmouth), she settled in Chicago where she became part of the Second City Comedy Troupe and worked with Tina Fey, with whom she teamed on a show called "Dratch and Fey." When they brought it to New York City, Time Out New York hailed it as "the funniest thing to be found on any New York comedy stage."
Dratch joined "SNL" in 1999 and stayed with the cast until 2006. Over that time she created such memorable characters as Debbie Downer, Nicole, the Girl With No Gaydar, and characters that took advantage of her Boston-area roots: teens Sully and Denise, and Sheldon, the junior-high-school boy from "Wake up, Wakefield."
Since leaving SNL, Dratch has down stage and television work, as well as becoming a mother last year at the age of 44.
She is currently putting her "SNL" and post-"SNL" experiences into a book. Hopefully, she points out in the interview below, she won’t see her book read aloud on future production of "Celebrity Autobiography."
EDGE: You grew up in Lexington - is this a bit of a homecoming for you?
Rachel Dratch: Yeah! I get home a lot though because my family and all my high school friends are still in the area.
EDGE: And Larry Coen, who is in the cast, was your teacher at the Chauncey School in Waltham. If you were to give him a grade, what would it be and why?
Rachel Dratch: I did this summer theater camp in Waltham - I actually remember Larry really well because he was laidback and funny. so I’d give him an A.
EDGE: Have you performed in "Celebrity Autobiography" prior to this?
Rachel Dratch: Yes many times - I’ve been doing the show for probably over 2 years now.
Goofy and fun
EDGE: What do you like about the concept?
Rachel Dratch: It’s fun because there’s a core cast, but then there are always actors dropping in that are new to the show. It’s never quite the same show twice. The audience’s seem to love it. It’s just goofy and fun.
EDGE: Which celebrities will you be reading? Zsa Zsa? Star Jones? David Hasselhoff?
Rachel Dratch: I was doing Joan Lunden for awhile, though lately I’ve been doing Madonna and Ethel Merman.
EDGE: I think I read somewhere you have a special fondness for the Jonas Brothers. Had you read their book prior to learning you were going to part of this show?
Rachel Dratch: No. I just have a fondness for doing the part of the 9-yr old younger brother who’s not in the band. he is referred to as the Bonus Jonas. I am not a follower of the Jonas Brothers. No offense, I’m just not their demographic.
EDGE: Will you be reading from Snookie’s book?
Rachel Dratch: No!
EDGE: Were there any celebs you want to include that are not part of the scripted show?
Rachel Dratch: No. Gene and Dayle, the creators of the show, handle all that. If you had an idea you could bring it to them, but I leave it to them.
Her own book
EDGE: You are writing your own book about your post-"SNL" experiences. Working on it, have you developed any empathy for those celebs you’ll be skewering in this show?
Rachel Dratch: I hope it’s not read in a future show! Sometimes when I’m writing and I crank out a bad sentence I know it’s bad because I can almost hear it being read in the show. That makes me hit "delete."
EDGE: Do you enjoy the writing process?
Rachel Dratch: I actually am finding that I do! the stuff that was much easier to write are the stories that I would just tell my friends as a funny story. those I can almost take what I wrote that first time and turn it in because I am just naturally telling a story. The stuff that’s much harder is when the editor tells you you have to write about "SNL," so the reader has some background. That’s not a linear story - there’s so much to pick and choose. That part was much harder. But I like writing because during the process, the only one you have to answer to is you - you know when it’s good or bad, there’s not some casting person saying, "Um, could you be taller?"
EDGE: You were on "SNL" for seven years - how would you best distill that experience down to a couple of sentences?
Rachel Dratch: You’ll have to read the book! um...super fun, dream job with a lot of pressure involved.
EDGE: Of the numerous characters you created for the show, did you have a favorite?
Rachel Dratch: I always liked that Lovahs scene in the hot tub.
EDGE: Do you miss the intensity of it on a weekly basis?
Rachel Dratch: I do. now that I’m off the show I idealize it to myself and only think of the fun. but it’s a crazy adventure to be on the show. there’s nothing like it.
EDGE: What has been the hardest part of the post-"SNL" experience for you?
Rachel Dratch: Not having that steady gig, and not being in the "cool" crowd anymore on a weekly basis - I mean there was always some cool event happening over there, or like, "Hey! Paul McCartney’s doing the show and he’s playing extra songs after 1 am!" Just stuff like that. But I’m still friends with the cast (although now there are fewer and fewer people there that I overlapped.) But you can always go hang there if you want. though you don’t want to do that too much and become the creepy guy who graduated and is hanging in the high school parking lot.
EDGE: You recently became a mother - by chance, it seems. How did you learn that you were pregnant?
Rachel Dratch: Well, that part really is in the book and I think it’s better explained there.
EDGE: Did you ever think you’d become a mom?
Rachel Dratch: I always thought I would but then as the years were going by and I didn’t have a husband or partner I started trying to let go of the idea. I knew I didn’t want to do it alone. although now that I know what it’s like I would have told me to just do it alone if I had to.
EDGE: You’ve described your pregnancy as "crazy" - what were the special circumstances that made you put it that way?
Rachel Dratch: Just that it seemed as if it was brought to me by all sorts of coincidental circumstances.
EDGE: I read where you’ve said that the "SNL" schedule prepared you for that of being a mother. Why is that?
Rachel Dratch: Because it’s late night hours, all-nighters, not a lot of sleep. I’m used to being up at 3 am.
"Celebrity Autobiography" will be performed on Monday, October 17, 2011 at the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA. Tickets are priced $35/$25; with $75 - premium seating and post show reception with the artists. For more information, visit the Lyric Stage Company website.