Comedy Legend Andrea Martin Releases New Book

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COVER_LADY PARTS

By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

SAN FRANCISCO — For anyone who is a fan of comedy, Andrea Martin’s name is a familiar one.

From her early television presence on the Canadian sketch show “SCTV,” where a host of insane characters people the headquarters of a fictitious television station, to her recent turn on Broadway, Martin has gone from strength to strength in her four decades entertaining audiences.

The actress and comedienne, who divides her time between New York and Toronto, jokes that she is often thought to be Jewish and Canadian, but indeed, she is an Armenian and a Mainer. “I don’t think I said I was Jewish. It is just that no one knew I was Armenian and it was easy for people to assume it,” she said.

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Martin, 67, when not donning wigs or prosthetic butts or guts, is a beautiful woman. However, she did not always see herself that way. “I don’t think it was until I was a lot older that I was comfortable with how I looked. It was 1995, when I was 47-48, that I believed I had any merit looking like myself,” that she could be “really sexy and pretty and really comfortable with myself.”

Martin often plays over-the-top characters but when speaking in person, she is self-effacing, polite, charming and sweet to a fault. It is hard to think that Edith Prickly, the brash, bossy and aggressive station manager from the Canadian sketch show “SCTV,” clad in her trademark leopard print outfit and rhinestone-covered glasses, has occupied the same body as this elegant, charming woman.

Martin’s Armenian Genocide survivor grandfather changed the family name to Martin from Papazian upon arriving in Maine. “I think my background really infused a lot of the characters that I did on ‘SCTV.’ I wasn’t aware of it, but it was cellular, really. There is great pride in being Armenian, humility, self-effacement,” creating a balance. “One kept the other in check,” she said.

Martin has received acclaim in every field she has tackled. She has received two Emmy Awards for writing for “SCTV,” as well as garnering several Emmy nominations for acting and writing on “SCTV” and other shows. In addition, she received a Gemini Award in Canada for her TV work as well as two Tony Awards for her roles on Broadway, as Berthe in “Pippin” and as Alice Miller in “My Favorite Year.” She has won a host of other stage awards, including the Outer Circle Critics Award, Drama Desk Award and the Elliot Norton Award.

She has appeared in many movies, also, including brilliant roles in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as Aunt Voula who is puzzled by vegetarians and Phyllis Stein in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” who is Hedwig’s manager.

She came up in the world of comedy with several other legends, such as Martin Short, who was her former brother-in-law, Eugene Levy, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara and Harold Ramis, among others.It seems it is on stage that she is happiest. “What brings me most joy is theater. I love the routine of the theater, the camaraderie of the cast, the community of the cast. You are with the same people every night.”

She added, “I love doing the part of Berthe in ‘Pippin.’ It is age appropriate. I perform on a trapeze in a corset.” She added that at age 67, she is “very fit, agile and vital and I feel the part allows me to be very expressive.”

A veteran of both comedy and drama, Martin said for sure, it is harder to make people laugh in a theater rather than to act seriously. In fact, she has done solo stage shows, including “Nude, Nude, Totally Nude” and “Final Days! Everything Must Go!!” which she said were incredibly rewarding though terrifying.

Speaking from San Francisco, Martin said that she was in a special abbreviated tour of “Pippin” there and in Los Angeles for two weeks.

“I really love the show,” she said.

HarperCollins Publishers in September released her autobiography, Lady Parts. The book is by turns hysterically funny, observant, empathetic, confessional and somber. So much of it revolves around her two sons. She is brutally honest about the challenges she faced as a single parent after she divorced her husband when her boys were young. She speaks about her anxiety which sometimes would cripple her, her battles with alcohol and bulimia, as well as her work ethic.

Martin admits in the book that she has been flying regularly to Atlanta for the one hairdresser in the world that can manage her wild mane. (On the day of our interview, a delighted Martin in San Francisco her eyes had misted over when a young hairdresser had shown just the right touch with her hair, the day before.)

She added, “I’m a hair diva and bitch.”

Martin also freely discusses sex, her dependence on one particular psychic in New York and the effects of age on various parts of her body.

She has a light touch that can make the reader chuckle or bring tears to one’s eyes when she talks about her childhood friend with whom she had stayed in touch all their lives, who lost her battle with cancer.

Martin also writes extensively on her own private demons, including anxiety. She said that for her, speaking openly about mental illness and banishing stigmas was important. “It is how we think about anxiety. It is taboo to talk about the illnesses of the mind. There are afflictions that I thought were particular to me. Many of us deal with what I have dealt with. I don’t think we talk about it enough.”

The process of writing the book was “grueling,” Martin said. “You think of every reason not to write,” she said, but once she got started, she said, “I loved it. I loved the storytelling aspect of it. I love entertaining audiences [albeit] in another genre. It was really gratifying.”

And entertaining it is.

She has some great reviews from fellow comic geniuses. Says Tina Fey, “I have loved Andrea Martin from afar for many years, but now, after reading this funny and heroically honest book, I would like to take things to the ‘next level’ and marry her.”

Steve Martin calls the book “A lovely, bawdy and emotional memoir from one of our finest comedy artists.”

And Martin Short says, “Andrea’s genius at combining hilarity and poignancy is breathtaking and will break your heart. From the first page, you know this is going to be a brilliant and joyous ride with one of the truly great, funny originals.”

It is clear both from the book and from conversations that Martin dotes on her sons. “They are my biggest fans. They love to laugh. They are proud of me and are an amazing audience.”

She noted, “They have grown up around show biz and are not intimidated by it or are in awe of it.”

As for the key to her success, Martin, in typical style, downplayed her genius. “I’m a hard worker. Talent is overrated. I have been lucky. I think there was less competition [when I started]. I don’t know where I would be if I started out now. It is all luck, talent and perseverance, never being bored at what I do. The idea of retirement is not even in the realm.”

When Martin speaks, it is hard to believe that she has spent decades in a competitive business. In fact, she calls herself “enormously naive” and says that she has always had difficulty with self-promotion. If she had a bit more of that, she said, “It would have propelled me to be a household name. It is not something I do very well. I just put it out there.”

Martin said she has been pleasantly surprised by the different people that she has reached with her book. “I thought I was writing it for my demographic. It has been so gratifying, particularly when young women, or gay men come up to me, crying. I learned the most powerful connection is honesty.”

People, she said, “feel compelled to connect with someone so authentic.”

Martin has advice for young people just starting in their path in show business. “It’s a business. Take nothing personally. Hone in on your own voice and exploit that for all its worth. That is what people want to see and hear. Don’t be shy.”

She concluded with this humorous appeal to Armenian-American readers: “If you are a good Armenian, go to Amazon.com and take $20 and make me a best-selling author. Chris Bohjalian can’t be the only Armenian-American author on the New York Times Bestseller List!”

Lady Parts is available at amazon and at all major bookstores.

 

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