Celebrity Autobiography satirises stars using their own words
Eugene Pack and Phill Jupitus target Tiger Woods and Miley Cyrus
This article is from 2010.
The memoirs of the rich and famous has spawned one of the least likely theatrical successes of recent years. Anna Millar catches up with the creator of Celebrity Autobiography
Whether it’s Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie waxing lyrical as Miley Cyrus or Eugene Pack ‘stroking his putter’ à la Tiger Woods, few things can raise a smile like celebrities getting their come-uppance. And award-winning show-cum-comedy book club, Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words, does just that. A knock out success since it began in LA’s theatrical backrooms in the 90s, the show has, with very good reason, been referred to as the ‘merry compendium of the witlessness and wisdom of the rich and famous.’
The premise is simple: a host of comics get together and read extracts from celebrity autobiographies – with very funny results. What F***-strewn wisdom does Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee’s Tommyland impart? What does Sly Stallone have in his freezer? What is Neil Sedaka’s favourite Chinese food dish? Is Miley Cyrus left or right handed? Heck, she barely knows.
For the show’s originator, Emmy-award winning comedy writer and actor Eugene Pack, the show – and the humour behind it – is very straightforward. Initially inspired by a copy of Vanna White’s 1987 autobiography Vanna Speaks, the Auto Celeb ‘family’ has grown in the last decade, enjoying a special on the Bravo TV channel, and with sell-out shows in LA and New York. The books themselves are scribed by a who’s who of the great, good and downright loopy – yes, Burt Reynolds, Madonna, Sylvester Stallone, Mr T, Elizabeth Taylor, Ivana Trump, Tommy Lee and David Cassidy we mean you – and the list of stars turning out to read about them is no less impressive.
‘There’s no great surprise or humour in the words themselves,’ explains Pack, ‘but rather the fun you can have with them.’ A case in point is the double entendres of Tiger Wood’s latest tome, How I Play Golf, complete with numerous mentions of his stroke and – whisper it now – the odd birdie.
Where the show goes, talent follows with instantly recognisable names like John Goodman, Dayle Reyfel (who co-developed the show), Brooke Shields, Matthew Broderick, Mario Cantone, Matthew Perry, Paul Rudd and the cast of Saturday Night Live, all having appeared on the line-up.
‘At the start it seemed like this really oddball idea but before we knew it some of the funniest people in New York and LA wanted to be involved,’ remembers Pack.
Sopranos star Steve Schirripa was due to appear in Edinburgh alongside Pack, Reyfel and Urie but when he had to pull out, due to filming clashes, Cheers star George Wendt happily stepped in. Never Mind the Buzzcocks panelist Phill Jupitus completes the line-up. ‘We get to work with some great people who just want to get up there and have a good time,’ says Pack, who admits it’s a delight to work on a show that will never be shy of new material.
‘After we did the special for Bravo I realised we had something and really wanted to travel with it. We have this wealth of material that never stops, because people will never stop writing about themselves and people never tire of hearing it.’
Brooke Shields, who has played both Ivana Trump and Loni Anderson, has spoken of the impulsiveness of the show: ‘There is not one moment of rehearsal,’ she has said. ‘You show up and they hand you a book with dog-eared pages.’ Pack is keen to hold on to that feeling of spontaneity and encourages a fairly loose format, with material and a cast that regularly rotates to keep the show fresh.
‘Sometimes the laughs come in the really banal details – say a really famous celebrity talking about their diet, other times it’s in the comedy of having a familiar face like Michael [Urie] reading the words of someone like Miley Cyrus. We have set piece “favourites” it you like, but we also know that while some people will love the Jonas Brothers’ stuff others will love the Sly Stallone readings.’
Besides which, Pack hastens to add, no offence is ever intended. ‘None of it is meant to be mean,’ he says. ‘It’s fun at the end of the day. We’re laughing with it and hopefully the audience are laughing along to.’
Celebrity Autobiography, Udderbelly’s Pasture, 0844 545 8252, 7–30 Aug, 7.25pm, £14.50–£16.50 (£13.50–£15). Previews 5 & 6 Aug, £7.