|THE LITTLE JEW THAT COULD: SIX FEET UNDER'S JILL SOLOWAY.|
|Jill Soloway has an unusual Hollywood pedigree she became a writer and co-executive producer on Six Feet Under because of a dirty story she penned called "Courteney Cox's Asshole." Prior to that, Soloway could be found whipping up plays such as The Real Live Brady Bunch, Not Without My Nipples and The Miss Vagina Pagaent.|
|Not dirty enough for you? Don't
worry, there's plenty of hilarious sexual insights, political diatribes
and tips for would-be screenwriters in Soloway's autobiographical first
essay collection, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants: Based on a True Story
(the tiny ladies in question are her and her best friend).
Soloway's also a fixture on the LA literary scene, having created comedic storytelling night "Sit n' Spin," where many of her essays originated. Soloway's books feature blurbs from Alan Ball, Andy Richter, Aimee Bender, Jonathan Ames, Sarah
Silverman, and Nancy Friday, among others. But what really sets Soloway apart is her unique, spot-on sense of humor mixed with political acumen, all of which she trains on herself, her people (the Jews), celebrity and pop culture, with side trips for bathroom hoverers, her sister Faith, why she hates dogs, and the most hilarious footnotes you'll ever read.
BT: Your new book, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, is a collection of essays that was originally titled "Why Jews Go To The Bathroom With The Door Open," which does gets its own chapter. I thought you were kidding about selling the book with that title but I looked it up and it's true (I can only imagine the cover art). Why DO Jews go to the bathroom with the door open, and what was your writing process like? Did the concept and content change as you were working on it?
JS: I think some Jews go to the bathroom with the door open. But I hear a lot of people do, non-Jews as well. And there are a lot of Jews who shut the door. My wildly generalizing statements allow for my
||comedic ranting, but they shouldn't
be investigated too closely, as most won't hold up under scrutiny.The book
evolved quite a bit as I was writing it. We started with about five Sit
n Spin pieces (one was "Why Jews go to the Bathroom with the Door Open").
Then Amy, my editor, told me to send her a list of twenty things I've always
wanted to write about. We wove things together and dovetailed similar ideas
and themes and out came the book.
BT: You mention in the acknowledgements that many of the essays had been read and performed at Sit n' Spin. How has reading them aloud in public honed your style? Is that a necessary component of your work?
JS: Hearing your work in front of an
audience is a great editing tool. You can feel when you're up there if the audience loses interest. It's like this big hollow feeling of the outdoors rushing into the closed little space of the black box theater. You suddenly have the feeling that you're no longer telling the audience a story, you've jumped into your head and are watching yourself read something boring. Then you know that stuff is crap. Whenever that happened during a reading I would come home and cross out sections.
BT: I found Tiny Ladies incredibly powerful and political. It's not every day you read dead-on, funny, and also profoundly intelligent Jewish feminist pride books without a trace of preachiness or academic language, and yet you invoke Andrea Dworkin and talk about starting a modern-day Herland called Lesbo Island. Where have all the Jewish feminists gone, and since when did it go out of fashion for feminists to be funny?
JS: I don't know if it's out of fashion or not, but I would love for there to be more feminists, particularly funny ones. Funny Jewish feminists, sure. I'll take 'em. Margaret Cho and Janeane Garofolo are funny feminists. Jewish, funny, not funny, I just want people to start talking about feminism again. I want to engage young women in questions about whether we own or give away our power through the scantily-clad ass and the French manicure.
BT: You use some interesting vocabulary in Tiny Ladies, from "hoor" to describing Dink as your "husfriend." Do you like making up new words or spellings? What are some others you've come up with?
JS: I love making up words. In our house we grew up in we were constantly making up words. We do it now in our house. Slight misspellings were always big, like asking for Klim instead of Milk and waiting for someone to figure it out. A new word I made up a few days ago that I love is Asaply. It's like quickly. Or the verb version of ASAP, which has become a word.
BT: The piece that "started it all" for you is your story, "Courteney Cox's Asshole," which you said you wrote to make your friend Becky laugh. Is there more to the story? What prompted it, and did you expect it to take off the way is has? Also, has Courteney read it, and if so, what does she think?
JS: At the time I wrote it I'd just met a woman who had never had an orgasm and it just planted in my mind as a quite uncomfortable and somehow comedic state. I changed it to someone who forgot how, which also seemed possible.
I had no idea at all the story would be so popular. Again, like The Real Live Brady Bunch, doing something to make Becky laugh became the thing for me. I should just hang around with Becky all the time. By the way her name is Becky Thyre and she is one of the funniest people on the planet. She played Bettina's daughter on Six Feet Under, and she was a regular on Mr. Show. I'm making her read one of my chapters aloud with me at Barnes and Noble in LA on Sep 20th. LA People! Come to Barnes and Noble and see how funny Becky is.
I don't know whether or not Courteney has read it but if she has my deepest hope is that she has a sense of humor about it.
BT: How does it feel to be a celebrity in your own right? Do you want to be able to walk down the street and be recognized? Has it happened, and if not, what will you do when it does?
JS: You know, it's fun to imagine that I could be widely recognized for my efforts, but it's just not realistic. These are books we're talking about. If I sell 15,000 that's a huge amount. Millions of people watch Big Brother and I doubt any of those people get recognized.
I read something that Owen Wilson said about being recognized. (Look how I quote Owen Wilson like he's Thackeray or something). He said he felt that going out and being unknown and lonely and anonymous in the world was what felt off to him. When people started waving and calling, "Owen! Owen Wilson!!!!!" he felt like things were in order. It's possible I may be like Owen Wilson in this regard.
BT: I'm going to be honest and admit that for a long time, I considered Los Angeles somewhat of a literary wasteland. So what exactly is the LA literary scene like? How does it interact with official Hollywood?
JS: I would say that there's no really obvious literary scene but there is this spoken word/salon scene. We don't all have books yet that we read aloud from--although many of us are starting to. Brett Paesel, Liz Warner, Hilary Carlip as you mentioned--all have memoirs coming
| out. But we've all gotten
into this thing that is part theater, part reading. It's very much a community.
BT: Another true confession I don't really watch TV, and have only seen one episode of Six Feet Under. Anyway, I understand from pretty much everyone I know that Six Feet Under has been absolute, stay-home, must-see TV. What do you think accounts for the show's popularity, and what's been your favorite part of working on it?
JS: Six Feet Under to me is beautiful for it's absolute realness. There's an ethos in network television where the hero is always very clear good guy, bad guy. This is our hero and these are the obstacles that come up against him as he tries to do whatever, dislodge the bomb or find his kidnapped child. Six Feet Under actually nearly everything on HBO has that very ambiguous anti-hero thing. The antagonists are internal. The villain is life. The villain is self. The forces that come in from the outside as a challenge to the protagonist waver from being good to bad to both to neither. This is a very odd experience for the average TV watcher but also what I think makes these shows feel so much like life.
BT: What's it like to work on a show that people have such strong ties to? People were WAY into SFU. How does that affect how the show was made? Does having blogs and fan sites and such intense speculation/dissection providing instant and anonymous feedback make any difference?
JS: Fansites are always interesting. To be very general, blogs seem to be positive about the show as they aren't anonymous and often have a method of contact-e-dress, while fansites will be negative. On fansites they have what feels to them like a big group standing around, they are part of the jeering townspeople. Something about being in the big group encourages bile. It's so easy to find people who dislike what you wrote. Reading those is something I'll indulge in or not depending on how strong I'm feeling. At the moment I'm not reading them.
Having so many people love the show, though, was and is very satisfying. Besides what I mentioned above about how the ambivalent characterizations of humans made it so instantly relatable, there's also a lot of fulfillment in seeing how Six Feet helped our culture process death. For example, on a micro level, it made the funeral intake procedure something very familiar to people, which made it a lot easier for a lot of people to deal with, from what I'm told by both funeral directors and civilians alike. On a greater level, the show created with its portrayal of conversations with people who've died a new model to think about instead of this prevailing idea of ghosts. The show might have even made room in a lot of peoples' consciousness for a different understanding of the relationship between the living and the dead.
BT: You include a FAQ at the end of Tiny Ladies to answer those pesky questions about how to break into the business. Instead of answering politely, as you do in the book, what do you wish you could say to people who pelt you with advice-seeking queries?
JS: Just that there are no shortcuts. You have to be compelled to write and want to do it, and do it, whether or not anyone says you can or should. So many people write in much the same way I masturgoogle. I used to do this as well. Write something, turn it in, wait for someone (agent, producer, editor) to say, "You are good! Yes! I love you!" Or even, "You suck! Stop writing!" I used to write manically and then print it up and hand it to someone anyone to get a response. Sometimes they wouldn't read it at all, or not for weeks. Taking your writing out of other's peoples' hands I think is a good step. Don't wait for people to tell you what to write, just write, write, write.
BT: You're working on the movie version of the sorority girl exposé Pledged, which is appropriate since you had a sorority rush horror story. How's the movie going and what can we expect from it? Are sorority girls meaner than Mean Girls?
JS: The movie's going great. Just turned in the first draft and working on the next one. Not sure how it will eventually end up. Just tried as hard as I could to make it an accurate portrayal of how college felt, even though I wasn't in a sorority. I tried to relate to sorority girls rather than objectify them.
BT: Having written everything from fiction to essays and memoir, to plays, movie screenplays and for television, do you have a favorite medium?
JS: Memoir is the easiest, but the collaborative nature of the TV writer's room is the most fun day-to-day life. I lie awake imagining the people I would hire if I get my own TV show and how much fun it would be to have a writers' room with them. It's just this insular, insane, group therapy, hysterical nest of people disguised as work.
BT: Who are your Hollywood role models?
JS: I love Kathy Najimy. She's a beautiful strong kick ass feminist. I would like to look like Nigella Lawson. I like what she looks like. Nicole Holofcener, Sophia Coppola, Miranda July. I wanna be like them, write and direct my own movies. Kathy Bates is pretty cool. She directed episodes of Six Feet Under and when she directed mine I drooled all over her like a puppy. Had a giant girl crush on her, just wanted to marry her.
Jill Soloway reads tonight at 7:30 at Barnes & Noble, 189 Grove Drive in Los Angeles along with Six Feet Under actresses Jennifer Elyse Cox and Becky Thyre.
Rachel Kramer Bussel writes the Lusty Lady column for the Village Voice and is the editor of the anthologies Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z, vols. 1 and 2.