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`Celebrity Autobiography' roasts bad star books

`Celebrity Autobiography' roasts bad star books

What is more delicious than reading one of those bizarrely self-centered, poorly written autobiographies of a celebrity? The answer may be adding more stars: Get another celebrity to read it aloud.
That is the premise behind "Celebrity Autobiography," a riotous, slightly subversive show with a rotating lineup of famous people who read from the books of such dabbling authors as Justin Bieber, Burt Reynolds, Star Jones, Geraldo Rivera and Tiger Woods.
Though some participants take a few creative liberties, for the most part there are no impersonations, props or costumes. Just the carefully selected indulgent words spoken aloud, as if anyone cares about Suzanne Somers' poetry or what order Joan Lunden puts on her clothes in the morning.
"You just can't believe that somebody wrote this," says "Saturday Night Live" star Rachel Dratch, who has done several "Celebrity Autobiography" shows.
Or as Michael Urie, of "Ugly Betty" fame, says: "You can send a monkey out there and it'll be funny."
The show, staged once a month in London, Los Angeles and New York, also currently is on the road, with coming gigs and different stars appearing in Charlotte, North Carolina, from Jan. 25-30; Cleveland, Ohio, Feb. 3-6 and March 10-13; Atlanta, Georgia, on Feb. 19; and Wausau, Wisconsin, on Feb. 25.
It is the brainchild of Eugene Pack, an Emmy Award-nominated writer, producer, actor and playwright who came across the book "Vanna Speaks" by Vanna White a decade ago and laughed as he read a passage in which the "Wheel of Fortune" star insistently pointed out the hardships of flipping letters on national TV.
Pack thought it would be even funnier to read such excerpts aloud at a comedy club and soon started going through his thick Rolodex. The show, he says, works best when the juxtaposition of readers and text is carefully calibrated.
So he will ask Dick Cavett to read from a Jonas Brothers book, Brooke Shields will get Somers' early poems and Richard Kind gives voice to "Vanna Speaks" as if it were "King Lear." Just about anyone can get a laugh with Kenny Loggins' love letters, including the immortal line, "I want to let your love open me like an envelope."
It is not intended to be cruel, says Pack. "Hopefully, you see the creativity and the artfulness behind it, as opposed to we're just going up saying, `Aren't these celebrities crazy?'"
That skill is evident when a group of stars take turns reading sections of related memoirs, such as the love triangle that ensnared Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds. Or when passages by Tommy Lee graphically discussing sex are mashed up with a passage by Sylvester Stallone graphically discussing diet.
"If we're hanging anybody, it's by their own words," says Alan Zweibel, who often reads from Eminem's book "The Way I Am" and once did Lee with Florence Henderson reading portions as Pamela Anderson.
"There's no blood on your hands because if the audience hates it, they hate the guy who wrote it. And if they're laughing and having fun, they applaud you," he says. "It's really working with a net."
Perhaps that is why a who's-who of stars from TV, film and Broadway have signed up to read, including Matthew Perry, Justin Long, Michael Ian Black, Rita Wilson, Paul Rudd, Donna Murphy, Kenan Thompson, Kristen Wiig and Alan Cumming.
"Even though it's subversive, it's not mean-spirited," says Urie. "It's not like we're reading their works and doing dances interpreting what we think they mean or how stupid we think they are. We're just reading them, and maybe giving a bit of an ironic twist, but we're sort of letting the audience do the interpreting for us."
Many of the books that work best are from the 1980s, when stars took themselves very seriously, but Dayle Reyfel, a producer and actress who directs "Celebrity Autobiography," isn't worried the supply of silly books will dry out.
"It's never-ending, thank goodness. I'm so grateful to the authors. Every week there's another book out," Reyfel says, laughing. "It just seems so universal. Everyone laughs at this material."
There is a side-effect to so much laughter, however.
"I was actually going to write some stuff of my own," Dratch says. "I hope it's not read a couple of years from now."
So far, the only celebrity author who has attended one of the shows is George Takei, of "Star Trek" fame, who good-naturedly listened as a section of his own autobiography was read.
"He got it. He had a great time watching it," says Pack.
Some things are off-limits, though. "We wouldn't read someone's book if they wrote something about their battle with a terrible chemical dependency. It's just really not what we do," Pack says. Celebrities reading their own work also isn't in the cards. Where's the parody in that?
Do the creators have a dream celebrity they hope to one day lure to one of their stages? Reyfel says she would love to get Dustin Hoffman aboard.
What would you have him read?
"Anything," she says. "I feel like he could do anything."
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Online:
http://www.celebrityautobiography.com


Updated : 2021-04-23 01:11 GMT+08:00