Wendy Liebman: Clinical Psychology’s Loss Is Stand-Up Comedy’s Gain
Stand-up comedian Wendy Liebman has performed on late-night TV talk shows hosted by Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson; also on Hollywood Squares and at comedy clubs and events throughout the United States. She has starred in specials for HBO, Comedy Central and Showtime, and was a semifinalist on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
She is known for her distinctive style, which includes quick follow-up jokes to her original one-liners. In many cases, her punchlines seem to fall after the joke is over, delivered with unexpected timing. Her video, “Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV,” is available on Amazon.
Jewish Journal: You were a college psychology major. What happened?
Wendy Liebman: I was planning on becoming a therapist. So before applying to get a degree in clinical psychology, I got a job at Harvard Medical School, doing psych research at Massachusetts Mental Health Center. And it was utterly depressing. And I was clinically depressed myself. Luckily, I took the mail in for the wrong apartment one day and read the course catalog from the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I took an acting class, but the teacher quit after the first lesson. So they told me to pick something else, and when I saw “How to Be a Stand-Up Comedian,” I had a eureka moment.
JJ: Who are your favorite comedians?
WL: I grew up watching Phyllis Diller, Bob Hope, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Cher, Flip Wilson, Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball. When I was starting to do stand-up, I watched Steven Wright, Howie Mandel, David Letterman, Garry Shandling, Roseanne [Barr] and Joan Rivers. Some of my favorites working now are Nikki Glaser, Brian Regan, Sarah Silverman and Brian Kiley.
JJ: How do you feel your Jewish upbringing/heritage has influenced your work and/or your life?
WL: The people I grew up around were very clever and open-minded, and humor was almost a way of life, a commodity, a sixth sense. Perhaps our collective fear/anxiety/grief as Jews is relieved by the hope that is communicated through laughter.
JJ: What kinds of hobbies and interests do you have outside of comedy?
WL: I’m in love with my dog, JJ. I watch a lot of shows on the Food Network (even though I don’t know how to cook — even JJ’s like, “That’s OK — I’ll eat out tonight!”). I play the piano and sing like no one can hear me.
JJ: Any advice to budding comedians?
WL: Go to a million comedy shows. Become a student of stand-up. And perform as much as humanly possible. There is no shortcut. You just have to get onstage all the time.
JJ: Any movies, TV shows, books, plays, radio programs, blogs, podcasts or apps you’d like to recommend that have been especially impactful (and/or entertaining) for you?
WL: My husband, Jeffrey Sherman, is the funniest person I know, but quite shy and not a performer. He is a writer/producer/composer and the son of Robert Sherman, one of The Sherman Brothers who wrote a lot of music for Disney [“Mary Poppins,” “It’s A Small World,” “The Jungle Book,” etc.]. Jeffrey and his cousin Gregg did a documentary about their fathers called “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story.” I recommend that! Also, the Amazon show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and the Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil.”
JJ: What’s coming up for you? Any charities close to your heart?
WL: For three years, I’ve produced and hosted “Locally Grown Comedy,” a monthly showcase of great stand-up comedy at Upstairs at Vitello’s Supper Club in Studio City. Charities I regularly perform for include weSPARK Cancer Center (wespark.org), the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance (www.tsalliance.org), and facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (fshsociety.org).
JJ: What remains on your bucket list?
WL: I’m writing a one-woman play (“What to Wear to Therapy”), a musical about three stand-up comedians in Las Vegas over Valentine’s Day weekend (“Home on Tuesday”), a children’s book about losing a pet (“Keeping Miko”) and a novel (“As Isabel”). And now I’ve told you about them so I have to finish them. And I’d love to play a therapist in a sitcom!
Mark Miller is a humorist who has performed stand-up comedy in nightclubs and on TV, written on numerous sitcom staffs, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and is a current Great Gigs interviewer and humor blogger for The Huffington Post.