Los Angeles Times, Saturday, May 27 1995

Next on the Stand-Up to TV Circuit?

Wendy Liebman has no trouble leaving audiences laughing, but only recently has she wanted to join Roseanne and Seinfeld on TV.

"I think he was having an affair with his secretary, because I would find lipstick on his shirt, covered with White-Out."

"The health club in Aspen is so fancy, they have a spiral Stairmaster."

"When I was a smoker, people were always coming up to me, 'Miss, your smoke is bothering me.' I'd say, 'Hey, it's killing me!' "

Imagine Mary Tyler Moore doing Steven Wright's material, and you have something of an idea of Wendy Liebman's perky quirkiness. She's a master of a throwaway line, of making a perfectly rational observation, then adding, almost subliminally, the punch line, which skews everything she has said before. Speaking of her personal life, Liebman will say, rather cockily, "Younger guys have been approaching me," until adding, deflatedly, "and asking me to buy them alcohol."

In conversation, too, Liebman is similarly disarming. She frequently wanders, and far, from the topic at hand; it's never too long before she suddenly lapses into her routine without warning. "There are so many things to do in Los Angeles," she says, earnestly, before adding, "like leave." She's particularly adept at this just when it seems she's filling in an important biographical detail: "The hands on my biological clock," she announces, "are giving me the finger."

Though Liebman, 34, is one of the highlights of "Women of the Night IV," premiering tonight at 10 running through June on HBO, don't expect her to be home watching. She's part of the talk-show and stand-up circuit, from Carson to Letterman to "The Larry Sanders Show" to appearing as herself animated in the upcoming Comedy Central series "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist," but as easygoing as she is in person, she's very intense about her actual performances.

"It usually takes me a really long time to watch myself on television," she says. "I'm a perfectionist, and I'm not usually thrilled with it. Even on my last Letterman set, I really enjoyed myself while doing it, it still took me three months to watch it, even though I knew I liked it and got positive feedback." Her sensitivity about her work extends only to her standup: She can bear to watch herself in a current TV commercial for a deodorant (even though, in reality, she perspired through her silk blouse while filming the spot under hot lights.)

But Liebman, who writes material for other entertainers-both comics and singers-may want to get used to the seeing-herself-on TV thing. After her success on the HBO special, her agents have put her on the fast track to get Liebman her own sitcom, with a target date of January.

Non of this may have happened had it not been for a silly mistake. Liebman was living, post-college, in Boston, where she was "shy and depressed". One day, she took in the wrong mail-intended for the neighbors downstairs from her apartment-and came across an adult-education catalogue. Looking through it, she decided to take an acting course. "The teacher quit after two weeks," Liebman remembers, "not just because of me, I don't think. And then we had to take another class. I went through the catalogue again-'Basket-weaving, flower arranging, stand-up comedy...oh! That sounds like fun!' Even though I remember growing up and watching comedians on "The Tonight Show" and thinking that what they were doing was so scary."

"I am reading about career counseling," she adds. "I'm reading that people end up doing things by coincidence. You really have to pay attention to the coincidences in your life. Not to sound too fatalistic, I often wonder what would've happened if I hadn't taken the wrong mail in. It's mind-boggling to think about. Maybe I would've ended up an advertising executive if I had taken the mail from next door instead of downstairs."

This is Liebman's 10th year as a stand-up; she moved to Los Angeles four years ago to pursue it full time. This year, she was a nominee in the best female stand-up category of the American Comedy Awards. She travels extensively, writes 50 jokes a week without fail and is happy if only one of them really connects.

And now, she's ready to follow Jerry, Roseanne and Ellen onto the small screen. "I've always done things in my own time. When I moved here, I just knew I wasn't ready," she says. "I wasn't that anxious, either, I knew I had to get some acting classes under my belt. The thing about stand-up, I know I can go into Caesar's Palace and open for Julio Iglesias or Ann-Margaret and feel comfortable doing it. I feel like I could do any stand-up anywhere, because I've done it. But acting, it took me a while to feel comfortable there. To say out loud that I'm ready is the first step. From there, people can say yes or no, but I am ready."

Liebman has been offered shows in the past, she says, though she hesitates to say how serious they were. "People talk, but everybody talks. And I listen to the way they talk-I take what they say with a gram of coke," she says, lapsing into shtick once again. "When people would say 'let's do a sitcom,' I'd say 'Yeah, yeah,' knowing I am not ready and they are not totally serious. After almost every performance, people say to me, why don't you have your own show? I can see you on your own series. I love hearing that, but you have to convince other people.

But the HBO stint has done some convincing. "Honestly, a lot of people saw me in a different way," she says. "People say I look different than when I started. I'm a lot more confident. They paid a little more attention to me."

How, if she can't bring herself to watching herself on talk shows, does she expect to sit through an entire TV series? "It's totally different," she explains. "It's not my stand-up. I love watching myself in home movies; I'm in that commercial and I could watch that a million times. It's just my stand-up that I get super-critical over."

 

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