Death in Benes - Carol Leifer
This article is from 2008.
Having been convinced that playing a Fringe show in the late afternoon is no bad thing, US comic and Seinfeld muse Carol Leifer is now getting excited about her Edinburgh August. Julian Hall makes sure he doesn’t mention the ‘E’ word
You may not know Carol Leifer’s name but you would have almost certainly seen her work as she wrote and produced on the seminal sitcom Seinfeld and was a writer/producer on The Larry Sanders Show. Starting out on the comedy trail back in her college days she never looked back after David Letterman saw her at The Comic Strip in New York’s Upper East Side, subsequently appearing on his influential chat show programme no less than 25 times.
Looking back is not something Leifer is in the habit of doing and understandably so for someone who is billed on Wikipedia as ‘known as Jerry Seinfeld’s ex-girlfriend’. That she was partly the inspiration for the Elaine Benes character in Seinfeld is, as she says, ‘old news’ and something for which she is ‘done talking about’. Leifer has plenty more to say though in her Edinburgh show that has sprung from writing a book of the same name: When You Lie about Your Age, the Terrorists Win.
Vignettes spanning love, marriage, divorce, aging, family and motherhood make up what she calls a show of ‘universal’ themes and something that is ‘more weighty’ than stand-up material alone. ‘As much as I love doing stand-up, I feel this is a new direction for me. The show is a fun evening and there’s plenty of laughter but people will leave thinking about a lot of stuff; it’s very provocative.”
Turning 50, adopting a baby with her partner and her father dying are just some of the resonant events that Leifer will talk about in her show and the feedback she has had from its US showings encouraged her that it will work in Edinburgh. ‘My friend Barbara Romen who is a producer over there really encouraged me to do it. It’s good to get out of your safety zone. I heard for years about Edinburgh and I can’t believe that I haven’t done it before but better late than never.’
Leifer says that she has no particular preconceptions about the Fringe and she has already been put straight about one thing: the time of her show. ‘When I first found out that I was on at four in the afternoon I said, “who sees a show at that time?”’ Assured of the normalcy of Festival hours, the American comic will also feel comforted by a few familiar faces on the Fringe; she knows Rich Hall from starting out in NY comedy clubs and is a friend of Paul Provenza, another US/UK Fringe veteran. Not only that but Joan Rivers will be in town. ‘Joan is an inspiration to me. There was a time that the only women in comedy were her and Phyllis Diller.’
Among other inspirations, Leifer names Robert Klein (very popular in the 1970s when she was starting out) and Jerry Seinfeld who she says is still a good friend and whose advice she values because, ‘he really has his head on straight and gives smart advice’. Allowing me to hark back slightly to the Seinfeld era, Leifer explains what she thought was the key to its enormous success. ‘When I worked on the show, Larry [David] and Jerry wanted the pitch in one or two sentences and if it wasn’t funny in one or two sentences they didn’t want it. That was the secret. You can work on jokes and a million things to make a show funny but if the inherent idea of an episode is not funny, it’s not going to work.’
Seinfeld was inevitably one of Leifer’s career highs but topping the bill of those moments where she, ‘had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming’ was opening for Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas, after which he’s quoted as saying: ‘I wish my mother had been that funny. I wouldn’t have had to work so hard.’ After 30 years in the business, Carol Leifer is no stranger to hard work either, be it writing or performing. ‘I like to express myself in both ways; I like being in my head and the solitude of writing and the kick of being in front of an audience is something that I can’t live without.’
Carol Leifer, The GRV. Guthrie Street, 0131 220 2987, 12-24 Aug, 4pm, £10-£12 (£9-£11)