In the world of comedy, Laraine Newman is an industry legend. She’s been consistently working for over 40 years, starting as a member of the legendary first cast of Saturday Night Live, and branching out into dozens of roles in television, film and voice acting. She has an amazing amount of stories, and when I heard she was going to be doing a one-woman show as part of Sketchfest this year, I jumped at the chance to experience her live.
It was a rainy night and a late show. This was my first time visiting PianoFight, and the big room is still an intimate black box of a theater. It was almost disconcerting to be this close to somebody so vital to the history of sketch comedy. Newman came on stage with very little fanfare, and she had one prop: a single metal chair. She spoke in a calm, conversational manner with the crowd, and introduced what would be the deep premise for the show: the anxiety of an audition.
She opened up with a discussion of her first audition after she ended her run on SNL: the Martin Scorsese film “King Of Comedy”, which starred Jerry Lewis and Robert DeNiro. To make matters even weirder, her audition was with DeNiro doing Lewis’ part! This lead to 45 minutes of what was essentially pure honesty. Via a projector, she incorporated video and sound effects to simulate the experience of the things that go on in one’s head when one is about to embark on something both difficult and important.
It’s hard to imagine that somebody like Newman would ever experience audition anxiety — she’s a living legend! She’s a veritable chameleon of voices, a pinnacle of comic timing; her resume is inarguably impressive. Like most every other human, however, she showed that even the greats don’t always feel they are “great.” The way she embodied this feeling was intense and lovely, and I’ve never felt more comforted by a single performance. She told stories of experiences with uncomfortable casting directors, and also showed footage of her most successful performances, and how she never even thinks about those when performing live.
As I walked out of the theater, I felt something better than experiencing a great show. I genuinely felt like I needed to work on my own anxieties, and learning not so much to overcome them, but to acknowledge them and work through them. It was as good as therapy. Lairane Newman is a national treasure, and should always be remembered as such.