Gilda Radner Heir Apparent Betsy Salkind brings Showtime-Tested Comedy to Marin
Interview: LA Comic Betsy Salkind has made millions laugh on Showtime’s Fierce, Funny Women and The Tonight Show. How did she became a writer for Roseanne? Why she is compared Gilda Radner? Read on & see for yourself 10/5 in San Geronimo
Saturday, October 5th San Geronimo Valley Community Center will present LA Comic Betsy Salkind who has made millions laugh on Showtime’s Fierce, Funny Women and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is oft compared to Saturday Night Live legend Gilda Radner. A formerRoseanne sitcom writer and contributor with Margaret Cho and other humor luminaries to the anthology No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood. She may be the most intelligent person in comedy with an MIT education and as a former Federal Reserve Bank Examiner before leaving because she “preferred the security of the arts”. She may also be one of comedy’s most interesting performers with a great range of abilities – as the Boston Globe says, “There are countless ways to make someone laugh, and Betsy Salkind knows most of them. Want sarcastic wit? Political humor? Or maybe just a good animal mime? Salkind…can pull all that off and more.” She will be joined by special guest Aundre the Wonderwoman who has been a semi-finalist in the SF International Comedy Competition.
There are limited seats in the intimate San Geronimo Valley Community Center venue and advance purchase is recommended. Partial proceeds benefit the SGVCC food bank. San Geronimo Valley Community Center is located in a historic building in the rolling hills of West Marin. Easy to find at 6350 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., it has plentiful parking and a reputation for a warm welcoming environment. The performances take place in a gallery featuring a print-making show and adjacent to a fully restored historic Works Progress Administration mural by Maurice del Mue. There are breathtaking hikes and biking as well as stellar restaurants and activities for those who want to make a day of it.
Hannah: You’ve talked about the influence of some comedy greats including Gilda Radner, Carole Burnett and Lily Tomlin on your comedy – how have they influenced your work?
Betsy: I have been in the same room as Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin (2 different rooms), but was too shy to talk with them. When I was young I would watch them, Lucille Ball and Gilda Radner on TV and laugh and laugh and then imitate them and their characters. They made it seem like a perfectly respectable thing for a grown woman to be. The more grotesque and slapstick, the more I loved it. And later I loved the really smart stuff too. Roseanne was the first stand up that I loved and she hired me because she loved my stand up, so that was huge.
Hannah: Who are some of the most exciting performers you have worked with, shared the stage with, opened for?
Betsy: If you’re going to force me to drop names I’d have to say the most exciting night of my career was at the Comedy Store in LA at a Comedy Awards after-party; I met Roseanne, she invited me to perform and introduced me; I then walked off the stage and sat with her, Jennifer Saunders, and Joanna Lumley. I don’t think I slept that night. It was also pretty cool when Robin Williams attended one of my shows and was very complementary.
Hannah: What was it like to work on the sitcom Roseanne?
Betsy: It was life-changing. I was already a huge fan of the show — Darlene Connor (Sara Gilbert) was my teen idol (well into my 30s) – she was the first girl character I’d seen on TV that I could relate to, and writing for the show was the greatest opportunity I had been given. Here was someone whose humor I loved who asked me to write for her. I learned that I was capable of much more than I thought. It also helped me to stop living off of my credit card scheme (which I was able to do successfully because of my business school degree). As for what it was like on a day to day level, I sat around with a lot of funny people and ate candy and wrote jokes
Hannah: You have had a long successful career in comedy – not to date myself but I first saw you perform in my early 20’s – what’s the secret of your staying power?
Betsy: I haven’t died yet.
Hannah: There’s talk about the Federal Reserve Bank and whether they might raise interest rates – have you got a joke about that?
Betsy: I do have a bit about my time working as a Federal Reserve Bank Examiner. It will not give anyone more faith in the economy.
Hannah: Can comedy change the world?
I sure hope so. I know in my house growing up if you could tell the right joke you could avoid getting hit. Not so much “make me laugh or I’ll hit you,” more like if you could make the angry person laugh, then they weren’t angry anymore. I’d love to think that works on a larger scale.
Hannah: Tell us about one of the most interesting shows or venues where you have performed and why?
Betsy: I think the funniest show I ever did was at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. My friend Deb Doetzer (from my improv/sketch days) and I performed as Sigfried and Roy in a show about cross-dressing called “Fear and Clothing.” Her (enormous) cats played the tigers (one orange, one white), and we had cheap pyrotechnics (flash paper and sparklers). Everything went wrong. The cats escaped into the audience which was oversold and we couldn’t find them, The sparkler fell between the floorboards, we had to go wildly off script and while Deb (Sigfried – she’s blonde) improv’d through the show I was basically Harvey Korman to her Tim Conway, shaking with laughter with my back turned to the audience to try to reign myself in – unsuccessfully. The audience loved it as much as we did.
Hannah: If you were queen of the world what are three things you would change?
Betsy: The patriarchy is over.
No more parenting without a license.
isn’t that enough?
Hannah: What are the top 3 reasons every person living in Marin and then some should be at your show on Saturday, October 5th at 8pm at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center?
2. Cheap tix, no drink minimum (actually, no drinks) and free parking
3. Last chance to see the Squirrel Lady herself live in Northern CA this year.
Discount advance tickets are available while they last until midnight October 4th. Get yours now!
Betsy Salkind is an actress, comedian, writer and former drummer for the PHENOBARBIDOLLS. She was a founding member of the TERRORIST BRIDESMAIDS (4 comediennes determined to get a second use out of those dresses), and alumna of the improv troupe GUILTY CHILDREN and the sketch comedy group THE OTHER WHITE MEAT.
She was also a staffwriter for “SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL” and “ROSEANNE” (the sitcom), and a jokewriter for Anthony Robbins. She is a regular at NY’s Comic Strip and LA’s Comedy Store, and has appeared on “Girls Night Out,” “Stand-Up, Stand-Up,” “ARLI$$,” “Pet Shop with Andy Kindler,” the “TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO,” and most recently in the SHOWTIME special “Fierce Funny Women.”
She has written and performed 3 one woman shows to date, including “ALL MY LIFE” (the darkest comedy this side of hope), “MASTER OF SCIENCE” (an irreverent look at science and scientists), and most recently “ANNE FRANK SUPERSTAR: THE ETHEL SPILIOTES STORY” (a satire of Anne Franxploitation). Born in Troy, New York and razed in Connecticut and Virginia, she was not the funny one in her family. As a child she put on plays with her brothers in which she was always cast as the wicked witch or cruel stepsister.
She graduated from MIT with a BS and a Master’s degree from the Sloan School of Management. Her master’s thesis was titled: “Can’t You Take A Joke? A Study of Sexual Harassment Among Peers.” Preferring the security of the arts, she left her career as a Federal Reserve Bank Examiner to become a comedian. She is perhaps best know for her squirrel impression, but refuses to be pigeonholed as a squirrel.
She is currently developing an animated series based on Ethel, the lead character from Anne Frank Superstar, as well as a comedic play about depression. She is the author of 2 children style books for adults: “More Than Once Upon A Time” and “Betsy’s Sunday School Bible Classics,” and a contributor to the anthology “No Kidding: Women Writer’s on Bypassing Parenthood.” She also writes for “ETHEL’S LAW”(a blog by a 5th grade activist who has turned her girl scout troop into a revolutionary cell.) Betsy was Andy Kindler’s Tae Kwon Do sparring partner, and hangs her own drywall. She has 28 teeth.
Aundre the Wonderwoman is a Bay Area comedian who made her debut at Steve Harvey’s Comedy House in Dallas, Texas. Since that time, she has been honored as The Funniest Woman in Half Moon Bay, The Funniest Comic on the Block in Oakland, First Place Winner of the Inaugural Russian River Resort Comedy Competition and a semi-finalist in the 2005 San Francisco International Comedy Competition. A lawyer by day, in 2008, she received the Stand Up For Justice Award for her work against the death penalty. Taking on everything from politics to animal lovers, she is smart, she is irreverent and she is FUNNY!
Hannah Doress is an events producer who loves intelligent comedy. As events programmer at San Geronimo Valley Community Center she has produced shows with stellar comic talent including Swami Beyondananda, Sandra Valls, Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad and the San Francisco Mime Troupe, as well as
a variety of events and festivals including the Mexican Arts Festival, the West Marin Himalayan Festival and the Wavy Gravy Summer of Love Revival. Through Hannah Doress Events she is producer of the Earth Day Marin Festival and promotes the Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer.
Diary of Anne Franxploitation
Photo by Gail A. Halaban
Not for the easily offended: Betsy Salkind, as Ethel Spiliotes, in “Anne Frank Superstar.”
Chelsea Now: December 4, 2013
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | West coast comic Betsy Salkind cut her choppers in 80s-era Boston — when stand-up was still an insular (mostly white) boy’s club. During a rare turn at the mic, she staged her own infamous tea party.
“The Emperor’s Getting F***ed,” a confrontational screed about toxic misogyny and racism in local comedy clubs, got Salkind effectively banned from the professional circuit. That pushback ended up driving her even deeper into the city’s emerging sketch, improv and performance art scene — where she found kindred spirits (and new fans) by performing in non-traditional venues.
A few years later, times and tastes caught up with her ability to mix blunt political material with the silly and the surreal — earning Salkind bookings in New York and LA comedy clubs, a job writing for the sitcom “Roseanne” and a staff position on Roseanne Barr’s short-lived, criminally underrated FOX sketch show (you’re in good company if you don’t remember “Saturday Night Special”). Salkind emerged from a brief appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” with a signature bit and a cult following. That memorable creation, a cracker-munching “Squirrel Lady,” somehow makes its way into the multi-character solo show soon to touch down in the East Village (courtesy of Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company).
Based in no small part on her own experiences, “Anne Frank Superstar” is Salkind’s take on the age-old battle between artistic integrity and profit. Opening on the last night of Hanukkah (a happy coincidence, we’re assured), this “one-woman satire of Anne Franxploitation” looks at what happens when television executives decide that the tragic story of a brave little girl in an attic has mainstream hit potential — if they just add a few laughs. Bad idea meets even worse taste, when precocious little 11-year-old Ethel Spiliotes is manipulated into headlining the ill-advised sitcom, “Let’s Be Frank.”
As much a commentary about the ease with which we bury unimaginable tragedy as the entertainment industry’s ruthless drive to copyright the next big thing, “Superstar” is Salkind’s latest — but hardly her first — experience with slaughtering sacred cows. Those not easily offended by her Holocaust humor should check out “Betsy’s Sunday School Bible Classics.” Now available for the iPad, it’s a 240-page, NC-17 version of religious morality tales — liberally interpreted by a woman who, prior to becoming a comedian, wrote an MIT Sloan School of Management master’s thesis titled “Can’t You Take A Joke? A Study of Sexual Harassment Among Peers.” No matter what medium she’s working in, Salkind knows how to audit hypocrisy.
THEATER ANNE FRANK SUPERSTAR: A ONE-WOMAN SATIRE OF ANNE FRANXPLOITATION
Written & Performed by Betsy Salkind
Presented by Playhouse Creatures
Dec. 5-7 at 8pm & Dec. 8 at 2pm
At The Kraine Theater
85 E. Fourth St. (btw. Bowery & Second Ave.)
For tickets ($25), visit smarttix.com
For info: betsysalkind.com
Los Angeles comedian Betsy Salkind
August 31st, 2010 12:09 pm PT
I haven’t felt like writing a column in a while. Not much has made me laugh. 2010 seems to have been a year rife with tumult: earthquakes, floods, religious wars, civil wars, media wars, collapsed mines, seized banks, stalled governments, oil spills, Glenn Beck…we’re all going to purgatory in a purse (Hell in a Basket is clearly full).
But I was recently made laugh by Betsy Salkind, so I felt it apt to share her humor with the world. Maybe the world will be righted, if but a smidgen. Perhaps thoseChilean cities nudged off coursefrom that 8.8 will regain their geographic positions.
What I admire about Betsy’s humor is not just her straightforward delivery but its keen intelligence. There are no fart jokes here. No racist how-many-Slavs-does-it-take-to-make-a-pie bon mots. No cheap I-don’t-know-what-to-say-next-so-I’ll-go-gutter defaults. Betsy writes material that is smart and delivers it in a way that’s funny.
Speaking of which, if you have children (or nieces or nephews or vulnerable neighbors) and you care about their mock religious education but don’t have time for Temple or Church (mosques don’t count; this is a Judeo-Christian nation, after all; it says so in the First Amendment…right?) tuck your kids in with “Betsy’s Sunday School Bible Classics.” It will be just the ticket to get them on track so G-d doesn’t punish us all with more natural (they’re certainly not human) disasters.
And when Betsy’s play Discontinuation Syndrome hits the stage, be sure to experience its profundity. Bring prescription pain killers for the portions of the play that throw your back out (from laughing, not from anything else; get your mind out of the cesspool) and also for the audience participation portion that is akin to a key party (that part is not written yet; I’m just hopeful).
Provocative humor is her preference
By Nick A. Zaino III, Globe Correspondent
Boston Globe, May 27, 2005
There are countless ways to make someone laugh, and Betsy Salkind knows most of them. Want sarcastic wit? Political humor? Or maybe just a good animal mime? Salkind, who on Sunday headlines the Women in Comedy show at Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway, can pull all that off and more.
Salkind especially relishes uncomfortable laughter, the kind elicited by her one-woman satire, ”Anne Frank Superstar,” about a network sitcom pitch based on Frank’s life, or her silent sketch piece about Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001.
The more difficult the subject, the better.
Salkind is also noted for silly, physical comedy. She once landed a job writing for Roseanne Barr, on the last season of her sitcom, because Barr had heard of about one of Salkind’s signature bits, of a squirrel eating a cracker, and asked her to perform it at a party in LA.
“It’s sort of riding that edge between talking about that darkest, most serious stuff and just being a goofball,” she says. “It’s always an interesting ride for my audience.”
Salkind views herself as the anti-Seinfeld, given his tendency to stick to mundane topics. ”I don’t do that,” she says. ”There are a lot of people who say, ‘Just do the squirrel and don’t do anything else,’ because they’re happy with that, just funny and not at all provocative.”
Pleasing the audience is the first job of the comedian, and Salkind doesn’t exempt herself from that. She tests the limits of each crowd and adjusts her act accordingly, rather than trying to shock people up front with something like the Yates piece. She has also changed her stage image somewhat to soften the blows.
“Now I come onstage looking like a ’50s housewife and have a very sweet, quiet demeanor, so I’m not threatening in any way,” she says, ”except these things that are coming out of my mouth.”
Salkind began brewing her mix of improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy in Boston in the late ’80s studying business at MIT. She had thought she might be a serious actress, but says, “everything I did kind of came out slapstick.”
Salkind was eventually drawn away from a career as a Federal Reserve Bank examiner after classes at ImprovBoston and a stand-up career that evolved from making fellow activists laugh at protests and rallies.
After leaving Boston for New York in 1993, Salkind landed in Los Angeles, where she continues her comedy and activism. Club and theater work leaves her days open to lobby the California Senate on behalf of groups trying to prevent child abuse. Having faced hecklers in dark clubs, Salkind isn’t shy about facing down a politician or two.
“I can walk into anybody’s office and talk about anything, and it doesn’t hurt to bring a little humor into it, too,” she says. “It is a performance in a way.”
In fact, Salkind is working on a one-woman show based on her lobbying experiences for abused children. ”Of course,” she says, “it’s a comedy.” She also hopes to bring Ethel, the hero of ”Anne Frank Superstar,” to television in an animated series, and has staged workshop performances of a play where drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and a personified Depression battle for the custody of a woman.
List these projects on her resume along with writing for Roseanne and writing talk-show fodder for self-help guru Anthony Robbins, and even Salkind has trouble describing her career. “I kind of have to do what I do,” she says. “I definitely see myself as an artist first, and I’ve never tried to create what the industry wanted to see.”
October 5, 2000 by Gina Perille
“Betsy Salkind somehow manages to be simultaneously insidious and forthright in her one-woman show titled “Anne Frank Superstar.” Salkind is 11-year-old Ethel Spiliotes, who has the great misfortune of being cast as Anne Frank in a new network sitcom about the WWII hideaway and famous diarist.
In what starts off as a very polished stand-up routine, Salkind warns that the show is going to have Holocaust humor. At first, audience heads turned side to side to make sure others were laughing. They were. What Salkind doesn’t say right off is that the show is going to be filled with all sorts of one-liners that, in this politically correct society, really shouldn’t be funny. But funny they are.
There are many characters in the show and Salkind plays them all as she retells the story of her Hollywood break gone terribly, terribly awry. From conception to table read to script revisions, it’s abundantly clear that the Anne Frank sitcom idea is a bad one. But the choices made along the way in attempt to make the show more palatable for national television are ridiculously appalling. One of the best “changes” is to drop all references to Nazis and instead use the word “squirrels.”
Salkind flies through the material flawlessly, making smooth transitions from one wild character to another. During the September 8th performance, there were a couple of technical miscues that left Salkind without the light she was expecting. Her comic timing and ability to improvise allowed her to make the necessary adjustments in order to keep the show going at its energetic pace.
The final scene of “Anne Frank Superstar” is an unexpected one. It’s similar to when filmmakers add an extra scene after movie credits to reward ticket buyers who sit all the way through the rolling names. In this case, however, Salkind’s bonus tidbit is tucked neatly within the performance. It is a recreation of her audition for “Show Squirrels,” the network sitcom that somehow did make it on the air. If you haven’t seen Salkind’s bit before, you may never look at the little creatures the same way again.”
In Newsweekly, September 27, 2000
“Much sharper focus, intelligence and wit are apparent in “Anne Frank Superstar,” in which a 10-year-old girl (Betsy Salkind) is exploited by TV executives for a sitcom (yes, a sitcom) based on Anne Frank’s diaries. Salkind, a TV veteran who has written for “Roseanne,” aims to expose the banal stupidity of those running the business. When executives become skittish at the thought of the show becoming controversial, their brilliant idea is to add a deaf cast member because “handicapped is in.” If she tends to rely too much on bathroom humor, you’re willing to forgive her because you can see she is an intelligent performer who has much more in mind. She has constructed a sharp, insightful satire, and delivers a wicked performance. Don’t be surprised if “Must-see TV” executives buy the rights to this piece, just so they can make sure you’ll never see it.”
Boston Herald, September 13, 2000
“Equally funny is “Anne Frank Superstar,” Salkind’s hilarious satire of a television industry that will go to any length for commercial success, even trivializing one of the most famous victims of the holocaust.
Salkind imagines what would happen if the story of Anne Frank were to be developed as a sitcom, titled “Let’s Be Frank!” Recalling Tracey Ullman in her range, Salkind portrays eight characters (including a precocious 11-year-old girl around whom the series is developed, a British producer and a deaf stand-up comic). And she does so with a brashness that likely would offend the more politically correct.
This, though, is a striking satirical piece that skewers the tasteless limits of today’s television and, with further development, likely will turn up as a special on one of the more cutting edge cable networks.”
September 7, 2000 by Robert Nesti
“Anne Frank Superstar,” Betsy Salkind’s piece that completes the program, came about while the comedienne/ activist/ actress/ writer was working on a special for “Roseanne.”
“It was a sketch that we wrote about Disney wanting us to do an Anne Frank sit-com, but the censors wouldn’t allow us to do it,” she said from her L.A. home last week. “So I took the idea and developed this show.”
What developed was a one-person show in which Salkind plays all the roles, including 11-year old Ethel, the young actress who is to play Anne Frank in a network sitcom about her story.
Salkind came up with the idea in
reaction to the award-winning documentary film “Anne Frank Remembered,”
which featured Glenn Close as the voice of Anne Frank.
“I just felt that to pick Glenn Close to speak the words of Anne Frank right there [was] so wrong,” Salkind recalled. “She’s middle-aged and a WASP. Couldn’t they have found a teenager, or maybe a Jew?
“The other thing that kind of grossed me out about that movie,” she continued, “was the ads that said, ‘She was Hitler’s most famous victim, but who was she really?’ It’s, like, ‘why don’t you just read her diary?’ But what was really gross to me also was that they staged all these tearful reunions, like something like you’d see on E-entertainment. It really depressed me, that it won the friggin’ Oscar.”
The point of her show, she explains, is “how Anne Frank is exploited for profit and awards.”
Is it offensive?
While some may feel that to do a satiric show based on Anne Frank may seem offensive, Salkind says that those who have seen the show, which she has performed in numerous West Coast venues, feel differently.
“Some who haven’t seen the show have said, ‘No, you can’t make fun of Anne Frank,’ without really knowing what I am doing. The show in fact is quite reverent in relation to Anne Frank. It really makes fun of those who would exploit her.”
In fact, she would welcome a little controversy.
“I had hoped that people would protest and then I’d get all this publicity, but it actually hasn’t offended anyone. It’s a really funny show, and I think it also says something about how the entertainment industry exploits tragedy generally and the Holocaust specifically.”