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Originally published on February 2nd 2010

We’re all big fans of Michael Showalter over here at BYT, growing up on The State and Stella, covering a bunch of his shows, and being obsessed with his new Comedy Central show Michael & Michael Have Issues.  But who knew his mom was so cool too?!  Well, actually a lot of people, she’s a well respected author and one of the founders of feminist literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept of gynocritics (the historical study of women writers as a distinct literary tradition, thanx wikipedia), and has written for People, Vogue, The Guardian, and The Washington Post.  Oh, and his sister Vinca?  Former speechwriter for President Clinton, a partner in the Washington firm West Wing Writers, and an international speechwriter and ghostwriter.  This is one talented family.  They’ll be at the 6th & I Synagogue tomorrow to talk about how they became writers and how being part of this family influenced their work.  We’ve interviewed Michael before, so 2010 is all about his mom, she was kind of enough to spend a few min answering some ill prepared questions.  I also got her to send me some adorable family photos.

All in the Family: Writing as a Showalter
Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
600 I Street NW, Washington, DC 20001
Wed, February 03, 2010, 7:00 PM

Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 the day of the event, or receive one free ticket with the purchase of “Jury of Her Peers” for $17 here

Cale: Hi Elaine, what are you doing right now, be specific!

Elaine Showalter: Right this minute I got off the phone being interviewed for the BBC about the death of J.D. Salinger. More generally, I retired from Princeton in 2003 and moved to DC where I am a writer, reviewer, and freelance journalist. We also spend part of the year in London where we have an apartment.

C: I just heard, and Howard Zinn the other day! How would you approach either of these authors’ work from a gynocritics perspective? Does that question even make sense? (you can give us the short version, our readers all have ADD because they spend too much time on the internets)

ES: Salinger was a great writer, although like Hemingway, whom he idolized, he could be very cruel writing about adult women (as opposed to little girls or teenagers.) But Franny is one of the memorable women characters in 20th century American fiction.

C: I was just asked to do this interview about 10 minutes ago so I haven’t had a chance to read your latest book… or any of them actually. Where should I start?

ES: OMG. No need to read all my books! The latest one, Jury of Her Peers, is the first literary history of American women writers.

C: Tell us a little about the event, how it came to be, what to expect, etc.

ES: The paperback of A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers has just been published by Vintage and I was asked to do a talk & signing at Sixth & I. They asked if I might suggest someone to have a conversation with me about the book, and I immediately thought of Mike, because we have been to see him do comedy stand-up at Sixth &I many times. And then I thought that Vinca could come too and we could all talk about being writers of very different kinds: non-fiction writer, screenwriter, speechwriter.

C: Is this a one time event or are you doing a tour of sorts?

ES: We have never done this as a family and this is a one-off, although I myself have talked about my books in the US and Britain.

C: Both of your children are very talented, but who are you most proud of, Michael or Vinca? Don’t worry, I won’t tell.

ES: No mom could answer this question! Mike is a performer and we have been to see his shows, plays, movies in NY, at the Sundance Festival, Tribeca Festival, Off-Broadway, NY, Boston, DC, etc. I am a charter member of the support group for Mothers of Comedians and Independent Film-makers. Vinca’s work as a speechwriter and ghostwriter has to be confidential but we went to the White House to meet Clinton when she was writing for him, and have been to Oslo to hang out with her while she was consulting for the government and appearing on Norwegian television.

C: Do they ever ask you to proofread for them?

ES: Yes. My husband (a scholar of 18th century French literature) and I often read drafts and they read ours. My husband came up with the name for Mike’s show on Comedy Central, “Michael and Michael Have Issues.”

Dad with Joan Rivers!

C: That’s great! Have either of you ever made a cameo in any of his work?

ES: We have never made a cameo in any of Mike’s films or skits although many of the sketches for The State were filmed at our house in Princeton.

C: Do you get his jokes? I know my mom doesn’t. Are you ever offended by his material?

ES: I do get his jokes and I am not offended by his material although it has to be said that, hey, he is my son and I love everything he does. But I prefer his other jokes to the ones where they are waving dildos around.

C: I love you. If I was well versed in feminist literary criticism what is a really informed question I could ask you right now?

ES: Q: Why aren’t there more women writing for late-night comedy shows? A: Partly age of the hosts (ie Leno 60; Letterman 62; O’Brien 46) –younger generation of comics more open to women writers as peers.

C: Or could it be that because women must carry a baby for 9 months they are more selective in their mates, thus driving men to compete more.  If men that weren’t able to successfully compete on traits such as health, strength, or wealth instead honed their entertainment skills, humor would have become more advantageous and selected for. Therefore over thousands of years there are simply more funny men than women in the world.

ES: I take your point and for whatever reasons, evolutionary or social,.there may be more funny men than women. But that doesn’t get late-night off the hook. Men on the average are taller and stronger than women but there are some mighty tall strong women who play great basketball. And there are lots of very funny women. But the main demo of much TV is male 18-35, (or even 18-24) and the female audience is just not targeted which I think is a BIG mistake. Joan Rivers agrees.

C: Fair enough, we threw a huge comedy festival in DC last Oct and 25% of the comedians were women, including our headliner Sarah Silverman. Michael had a scheduling conflict, but hopefully we’ll get him this year. Can you tell us something embarrassing about his childhood?

ES: Embarrassing about Mike’s childhood? He was in a rap group with 3 other white boys. Washed dishes at a local restaurant with Jon Stewart who lived in Lawrenceville. Wrote poetry.

C: Does Michael Ian Black mind his manners when he comes over for dinner?

ES: Mike Black hasn’t been to dinner at our house in a long long time. However he and other members of The State used to hang out fairly often at our house and they never broke anything. They mostly ate hoagies from the Hoagie Haven. I think there are still onion and pickle slices in the floorboards.

Thanx Elaine!

All in the Family: Writing as a Showalter
Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
600 I Street NW, Washington, DC 20001
Wed, February 03, 2010, 7:00 PM

Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 the day of the event, or receive one free ticket with the purchase of “Jury of Her Peers” for $17 here