Former Seinfeld show writer Carol Leifer demonstrated her skills as a stand-up comic in an appearance on Saturday, Oct. 25, with what became a humorous monologue about growing up with her family in East Williston, her career and some of the finer points about Jewish behavior.
“My dad was an optometrist who would come home with hilarious stories. He’d ask people to read the eye chart, and they’d say, ‘Out loud?’” she told her audience at Meadowbrook Pointe in Westbury. “My dad would joke that optometrists were lousy lovers because the whole time they’d be in bed with a woman, they’d be saying, “Better like this or better like this?”
She said her mother Anna, a psychologist, never liked the line she would use in her stand-up act, that, “It’s hard to picture my mother solving other people’s problems because she was the root of most of mine.” The audience responded well to Leifer, who was at Meadowbrook Pointe to do signings of her latest book, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Crying.
“I grew up in a Jewish house that had a reverence for comedy,” she said.
She listened to her parents’ comedy albums, including Mel Brooks’ 200-year man schtick and Alan Sherman’s Camp Grenada satire and remembers watching Jackie Mason, Alan King and Rodney Dangerfield on the old Ed Sullivan Show.
Leifer’s act on Saturday included one-liners about the consistency of Jewish behavior in her travels from Anchorage to Austin, notably the tendency to exaggerate.
“Nobody in my family is ever hungry. They’re starving,” Leifer said. “And no one ever has a headache. They have a migraine.”
Striking what seemed to be a serious note, she said, “You know, we Jews have the lowest incidence of suicide of all the major religions. My only hunch would be is that in our deepest, darkest hour, there’s a little voice, ‘Oh God, my life, I don’t want to go on. Oh look, cake.’”
She said her comedy journey started in varsity revues at The Wheatley School and took a profound turn when she was dating Paul Reiser while they went to Binghamton University together. He told her about auditioning at comedy clubs in New York City and her career direction was set, encouraged by her father, who observed, “Comedy is a cash business and you can’t beat cash.”
She met Jerry Seinfeld at the first audition she did at the Comic Strip and met Seinfeld co-creator Larry David at Catch A Rising Star, the second audition she did.
Often asked about working in a male-dominated business, Leifer said she sees it as a tremendous advantage. She said she wouldn’t have successfully pitched the Seinfeld episode about Elaine—reputedly modeled on Leifer herself—asserting that Barney’s had “skinny mirrors.” (Nobody else knew what “skinny mirrors” were, she said.) She said another episode in which Elaine is convinced the Korean girls at her nail salon are talking about her could only have been pitched by a woman.
When asked about Seinfeld and David, she said, “They are the two biggest mensches you ever want to meet.”
Her father, suffering from dementia, was hospitalized after falling outside his East Williston house. Seinfeld gave her a ride to New York on his private jet when she told him what had happened.
In what she called her “wild” personal life, she divorced at age 40 and realized she was gay.
“I was 40, divorced, childless, single and thinking, ‘Is there any way I could piss off my mother?’” she said.
His parents have been supportive, she said, along with her male friends, who say, “Carol, tell me all the details.”
She also became a vegan, she says, “Because I felt as a Jewish lesbian, I wasn’t in a small enough Jewish minority.”
She said she and her partner, who is also Jewish, adopted a little boy from Guatemala
“He has two Jewish moms. We bought him a toy phone. But does he ever call?” she said.
In addition to her stand-up and Seinfeld experience, her book recounts her 22 auditions for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, co-creating The Ellen Show and contributing to seven years of Academy Awards ceremonies.
She is currently co-executive producer of Lifetime’s Devious Maids and still enjoys doing stand-up work to try out material.