Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Coming in from “The Edge…”
That’s What Friends Are For…

Well, now it’s official. I can honestly call myself a stand-up comic. I had my first heckler the other night at Stand-up New York comedy club…and I nailed him! What he yelled out to me while I was onstage was raunchy and kinda rude, but it made the audience laugh. What I said back to him topped his wisecrack and the audience laughed even louder. What a high that was! Since then I’ve even figured out a way to incorporate that little exchange into my act. That’s the great thing about life…its sour lemons are the stuff from which sweet, satisfying pitchers of lemonade can be made.

Getting older can be like that, too, especially in show business. That “ripening” process can produce a particularly bitter fruit…especially for women. But with the right recipe (action plan), that same fruit can also be served up as a pretty sweet dish! That’s my objective with doing stand-up comedy.

One of my Edge of Night, castmates, Jennifer Taylor (Detective Chris Egan; pictured above) has implemented a different action plan.

She and I shared a dressing-room when we were on EON together. And we were part of a support system of fellow castmates who migrated from New York to Los Angeles when Edge went off the air in December 1984. When Jen and her family decided to move “back home” to the Midwest in 1990, we continued to stay in touch, and often got together for lunch or coffee whenever I’d go back to visit my family in Chicago.

Jennifer’s acting career began to ebb after she turned forty and her husband, Garry Henderson, a commercial photographer, encouraged her to take a risk and seriously pursue her other talent as a gifted painter. With his support, she partnered with a friend and opened up a storefront called Painted Board Studio in Forest Park, IL. When Jennifer wasn't trying out for acting roles in theater, industrial films, commercials and movies being filmed locally in the Chicago area, she was running her own successful business selling her oil paintings and original-design, hand-painted furniture. (www.paintedboardstudio.com)

When, like me, Jen lost her SAG (Screen Actors Guild) health insurance because she hadn’t made enough money from acting, she almost decided to give up acting altogether. But a call, a couple years ago, to audition for a small part in the Fox-TV series, Prison Break, which was being filmed near Chicago, changed all that. That small part turned into the recurring role of Becky, secretary to the prison warden played by Stacy Keach.

It restored her faith in believing that she had something to offer as a “seasoned” actress. And recently, she e-mailed me to ask my advice about going either to New York or Los Angeles, this year, to participate in pilot season -- the period (usually between February and April) when television networks cast their new shows premiering the following fall.

Now, almost fifty, Jennifer says she has developed a network of woman friends who have helped her cope with getting older, and meets with them once a week, in a coffee shop near her home.

“These women have become a real important part in keeping me buoyant and in touch with the fact that I'm not alone in my curiosities about how to make my dreams and efforts continue to be meaningful as I enter a more mature stage of life,” she says.

And I say: “Like Jennifer, we can all benefit from a good support system. So if you don’t have one, start one!”

One of the things I did after ”graduation” from my stand-up comedy class, was to get an e-mail list together of all my classmates. Actually, it was Jay, another participant in the class, who formulated the list. But then I was the one who implemented it with an e-mail request that anyone who planned on going to an open mic (where comics can sign up on a "first come" basis to get 5-8 minutes of microphone & stage time to try out new material) on a particular night send out an e-blast to everybody else on the list. To kick it off, I sent out a couple missives with information on comedy websites and online interviews with various comedians. I took on the responsibility of becoming the den mother for this group because I knew it was important for my morale to be part of an open mic “buddy system.” My own self-interest may have been the catalyst…but nineteen other people get to share in the benefits. Sounds like a pretty fair trade to me!

Another smart thing that Jennifer did was that when prospects for something she loved to do (acting) began to dwindle, she gave her full attention to something else she loved to do but up till then, hadn’t been able to spend as much time doing (her painting).

Which brings me to a personal philosophy of what I call “metaphysical meal-planning…”

Living a good life is like cooking a fine meal. Keep the other burners on simmer while you pay attention to one burner on high. When that dish is done, turn it down to simmer and turn up another one. If you try to rush things and have all the burners on high at the same time, your attention will be diffused and chances are some things are either going to get burnt or over-cooked…but if you keep everything on simmer the whole time without turning up the heat on anything, nothing will ever get done.

When Jennifer’s acting career was in full swing, she “dabbled” in painting as a hobby. When the acting career went from full-boil to simmer, she turned up the heat on her painting.

As for me, commuting into New York from Long Island to audition for commercials, film and TV work would take a lot of time away from my 91 year-old mother, who really needs me to be with her during the day; so for now, I’ve put that part of my acting career on “simmer.”

In the meantime, I’ve turned up the heat on my writing – which I do from home – and stand-up comedy – which I pursue at night, when my sister is able to be at home with my mom.

The action plan for my stand-up is to brand myself ­­as a voice of the “forever young” baby-boomer generation, which is now coming face-to-face with the poignant, but humorous (because sometimes you’ve just gotta laugh to keep from cryin’) realities of getting older. My goal is that this will lead to a contract or development deal…which will then allow me to afford a quality, daytime caregiver for my mom while I go back to working “days” on the set.

How’s that for a plan!

My advice to Jennifer regarding pilot season, by the way, was: “Go for it, girl!!!” And if she decides to come to New York, I promise to be right there as part of her support system, cheerleading all the way.


(Mariann also blogs at Lee Bailey’s Electronic Urban Report)


Esther said...

I think you gave JT some good advice. Thanks for the update on her life...and as always, yours.

I still vividly remember the scene with Calvin and Didi, when they had to go out to dinner because he was watching Chris with Dick Cavett (okay, DC was only acting...not playing himself). And afterwards, an annoyed Didi was asked by Calvin if she noticed anything different about Chris and Didi was like, other than she was anti-social, no. And then he told her the shocking news -- Chris Egan IS blind. You had such a great reaction shot. Sigh. I miss Edge.

swheats said...

Thank you! You encourage me. I got my wakeup call this morning in turning 45. Now I'm really living. From another seasoned woman.