How to Succeed in Business
Without Really Crying
Lessons from a life in Comedy
by Carol Leifer (A)
A lot of college graduates get a copy of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” as a gift. It is about as helpful as saying “plastics.” But this book by Carol Leifer (rhymes with reefer) is the book for every college grad entering the workforce – whether it be as a writer, banker, administrative assistant, proctologist, artist, or whatever.
How should you network? How should you not screw over people? How to be nice to waiters, since one day they might be writers, producers, actors, or fans? How to approach celebrities whom you know, even if they spent the might drinking with you and can’t remember you. How to interview and ask questions, dress appropriately, write personalized thank-you notes, be reasonable, and be willing to offer assistance on scripts for free, since it might lead to a paying gig.
Carol Leifer is among those few female comedians who have blazed a trail in stand-up and sit-com writing. She joins Joan Rivers, Totie Fields, Lucille Ball, Roseanne Barr, and others.
Leifer grew up on Long Island. Her parents played all the important comedy record albums of the time: from Mel Brooks to Mickey Katz. They let Carol stay up late to watch the great comedians on Ed Sullivan. They once drove her into Manhattan to eat at the same West Village bistro as her idol – Soupy Sales (what kind of parents did that sort of stuff? Great ones.)
When she went to what is now called SUNY Binghamton for college, her dormitory floor-mate was a guy named Paul Reiser. He became a friend and boyfriend. They both did acting and stand-up, and came down to NYC on Route 80 for gigs. There they met two up and coming comics: Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Carol’s father supported her decision to drop out of college to pursue stand-up, striking while the iron was hot.
From gigs at brick-walled comedy shops and campuses, where being a woman was a novelty, but also – as Carol explains – a strength, (but also flypaper for the heckling of drunk college guys), Leifer worked her way up the stand-up comedy ladder. She also landed writing spots. From Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live to Seinfeld and Larry Sanders, from co-creating The Ellen Show to writing for seven Oscar’s and Modern Family, Carol has written for and/or performed on some of the best TV comedies. She even got her own situation comedy which was well reviewed, but hey, it was on the WB channel, and most Americans did not even know that channel existed
In very short chapters, Carol shares her experiences and anecdotes and teaches important career lessons. She shares successes and also the errors that led to temporary downfalls. Can you ever rest? Unlikely. If The Tonight Show with Carson says “no, thanks” twenty times, should you audition a twenty-first time? Even though she has written for The Oscars more than half a dozen times, she still needs to audition for the show. Why is Larry David’s shoulder key to his liking or disliking an idea for an episode? Should you burn a bridge after getting rejected by the Larry Sanders Show? No way. Her graciousness ended up landing her a writing gig after the other finalist candidate didn’t work out.
Carol shares that no industry support passive people so you have to manufacture your own success and not lean back. She explains how her first interview in Manhattan was a failure and the silly errors she made. Learn from it. She scored a writing job on Saturday Night Live and was loved by her direct bosses (one is now a U.S. Senator), but she was invisible to the Captain of the ship, Lorne Michaels. BIG career error. Is it better to be a grunt / P.A. / Writer’s Assistant or wait for the big job? Why should you develop a professional camaraderie? I wish I had read this book decades ago, so I would have avoided some errors.
Part memoir, part guide to life, and all incredibly funny, HTSIB-WR-Crying offers tips and tricks for getting ahead, finding your way, and opening doors — even if you have to use a sledgehammer