“People ask if this is a ‘self-help’ book, and if I’m a ‘positive thinker.’ I say, screw that. You know what the biggest motivator in my life is? Anger and negativity.”
Annabelle Gurwitch is an actress, comedian, author, media personality, and mother. Her most recent book, “I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50,” chronicles life at a terrifying precipice, and includes stories of self-deprecation, motherly missteps, and love at the Genius Bar. A self-described “secular Jew” and “reluctant atheist,” Ms. Gurwitch was born in Mobile, Alabama and was raised Jewish in Sunset Islands, Florida. Millennials may best remember her as co-host of the cult-classic TBS show, Dinner and a Movie. I was fortunate to interview her ahead of her appearance Thursday in St. Paul.
I (along with many of our readers) also feel on the precipice. For me, it’s 29. Do you think the message of the book applies to a younger generation?
Annabelle Gurwitch: The book wasn’t originally supposed to be about turning 50, but rather just a collection of essays I was writing about maturity at any age. It’s about transitions and looking at where you are in the world. The book isn’t about a particular age; the edge of 50 could be 29. I’m not one of those LA people with a staff–except for my cat, who works very hard manufacturing cuteness all day long… just killing it. But I do have an assistant who is 29 and recently said to me, “I won’t make one of those lists of “30 people under 30” and I haven’t reached my career goals yet! In that respect, “the edge of 50” can apply to anyone.
For the Millennial generation, there has always been the message of “40 is the new 30,” etc. It’s as if the entire time we’ve been adults, people have been saying we have more time, and true adulthood is delayed. Was that your experience during those years?
AG: There’s something unknown about what you’re “supposed to be doing” at any given time, and the question is, “Is there a template?” Remember that in this period in human evolution, we are living far longer and healthier than previous generations. A thousand years ago, 50 was ancient! There are new biological and societal circumstances that we face. It’s crazy: if “40 is the new 30” then 20 is the new 10! It’s a symptom of our desire to figure things out that we have to attach a number to our lives. The book speaks to the unending question, for all ages, of “What am I supposed to be doing?”
Coming from the entertainment industry, is getting older (particularly as a woman) more stressful?
AG: Well, I think you can say there’s a reason I’m a writer now, that’s for sure! [laughs] You know, for men of a certain age, there are any number of what I call “forgettable expositional roles” in Hollywood. Those are the guys with craggy faces and they get to be in TV shows and movies saying things like, “Mr. President, there’s an emergency in Sector 7.” They can play these generals who are sitting around the war council, etc. So I am theorizing that now that women can have active combat duty in the military, my goal is to play a craggy-faced general sitting around a conference table saying, “Mr. President, there’s an emergency in Sector 7.” When that happens, it will be progress.
From a Jewish perspective, one of the interesting things about you is that you were raised in the South (Alabama and Florida), which is not typically known for its Jewish communities. What was that experience like?
AG: Being Jewish in the South is very clan-ish. You mostly knew people who were Jewish. If there was anyone Jewish in Alabama, we knew them. It was a very closed world, and fortunately we live very differently now. My great-grandparents were immigrants who didn’t speak English and kept to themselves, and there’s a lot to be gained and lost by closed off, super-family-oriented communities. It was a little scary, and it’s nice to live in a more open society now.
Side note: we had our son’s Bar Mitzvah in an Episcopal church (shows you what kind of Jews we are) by the Rabbi of the congregation at the women’s prison in Chino, California. Actually, I’ve written about my experience attending a Bat Mitzvah in a women’s prison. It was the first time I’d been to a Bat Mitzvah where I was sitting next to someone with a tattoo that said, “SUICIDAL FREAK.” That was a first.
We’re really excited to have you at the TC Jewish Humor Fest!
AG: When it comes to humor, Judaism gives you so many opportunities to make fun of it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
Annabelle Gurwitch will be a featured speaker at the Jewish Humor Fest this Thursday, January 22nd at 7:30pm at the St. Paul JCC, as part of the Twin Cities Jewish Book Series. I highly, HIGHLY, recommend her book, and her appearance at the Fest is not to be missed. Buy tickets in advance for $12, or $14 at the door. Thanks to Ms. Gurwitch and the Sabes JCC for setting up this interview.
email me at [email protected]