Bestcast asks podcasters to discuss the three most memorable episodes of their podcast. Note: Ties are allowed/encouraged.
The podcaster: Writer, author, performer, cat-owner, and redhead Julie Klausner was a mainstay of the New York comedy scene well before the 2010 release of her well-received memoir, I Don’t Care About Your Band, which chronicled with wry, self-deprecating humor the romantic travails of her 20s. In early 2011, Klausner launched her kibbitzy, addictive podcast How Was Your Week, a venture that combines interviews, intimate monologues, and plenty of dish. Think of it as coffee talk with your wittiest, most delightful girlfriend.
Episode #5: “The One With Joan Rivers”
Julie Klausner: Joan Rivers is someone that I had written for a couple of times in the past, someone who is so completely generous and kind and comfortable when you first meet her. You really do say, “Oh my God, there is this living legend,” which I’m sure she hates being called because it implies age. In her documentary, she says something like, “Don’t say ‘legend’ or ‘icon’ or anything that insinuates that you might be on your way out.” When I first met her, I remember just being obviously impressed with the fact that you’re in the same room with someone who is so wildly important and famous. And those two things are so very different, but she’s both. Beyond that, I just remember my job at the time was to write for her, and I had to get over that as quickly as possible.
The A.V. Club: What kind of writing did you do for her?
JK: I was to, like, throw her jokes, on the set of her reality show. She likes to have a writer there to kind of toss her lines, even though she usually does all that herself. Most of the time you’re just there to stand by. Then you’ll throw her something, and she’ll say, “Oh, that’s very funny,” and she’ll use it. That was on one of her reality shows, and then I wrote for her on another occasion. I think I did two of her reality shows, one for Joan And Melissa and one for How’d You Get So Rich? And then she took me with her to her Letterman appearance. I was in a limo with her. It was her first Letterman appearance after years, too. I just remember her being really honest after the interview about how David didn’t like her, and everyone around her said, “Oh, no, he liked you, he liked you.” And I was the only one who said, “Yeah, I could see that.” [Laughs.] She’s nobody’s fool. No one is resistant to flattery, but at the same time she’s been doing this for long enough you don’t need to mince words.
I think Joan Rivers is such an untapped legend that people just don’t appreciate, because they grew up with her on QVC, or they grew up with her on E!, or they grew up watching her do the things that in their minds the more prestigious comics wouldn’t have taken or done. It’s so unfair, because the longevity, the span, and the range of her career is so impressive, and she is so good at what she does that I admire her to no end.
So I had that relationship with her. Also, she’s a big fan of my friend Billy Eichner. She’s a big supporter of Billy. In fact, I remember when I was in the room she did her pre-show interview on Letterman, and she didn’t end the phone call without saying, “There’s this kid named Billy Eichner, and I’m going to bring his DVD.” And the producer’s like, “Yeah, right, great, thanks.”
But she was willing to do an interview with me. I sent her assistant the questions in advance, and I went up to her house and she met me in her living room. She had just finished exercising; she had just come off the treadmill. She only had eye makeup on, and she had her sneakers and her black workout clothes. So great, honestly. I have nothing snarky to say about Joan Rivers’ appearance. We should all be that happy with how we look on camera, frankly.
She just sat with me. She gave me a half-hour of her time, I asked her the questions, and she was completely honest and funny and a combination of the two. I felt kind of like Terry Gross. She really does go back and forth between, like, “Oh here’s a shticky answer, and here’s the real answer.” She’s really generous with both. She’s not going to bore anybody, but at the same time she is going to be honest. So, yeah, it was just another one of the generous things that she’s done for me, to sit down with me and talk on my podcast.
AVC: What was it like to be in a limousine with Joan Rivers headed to The Late Show With David Letterman?
JK: I felt so lucky that I was in the catbird seat for what I had acknowledged at the time was a real comedy milestone, her return to late night. She’d brought some of Edgar’s [her late husband’s] ashes with her in a compact. She smeared [them] under [Letterman’s] desk as soon as we got there and said “Edgar, we’re back.” She made a couple of jokes about how she was banned. And he was like, “You weren’t banned,” and she said, “I wasn’t asked. You didn’t call me. You didn’t ask me to come.” She talked about Johnny [Carson].
After, when we were done with the appearance, I asked, “What was it like being back here?” and she said something like, “Oh, you mean at the Ed Sullivan Theater? Oh, I was on Sullivan.” Oh, fuck, that’s right. Letterman Schmetterman. She did stand-up when the Ed Sullivan Theater actually had The Ed Sullivan Show. When you think about the span of her career, she’s seen everybody come and go, and she wouldn’t still be standing if she weren’t really good. Because everything she has against her, being female blah, blah, blah, she’s still here despite all the odds and she’s sharper, smarter, more with it than people I know who are a fraction of her age. Age has nothing to do with it.
AVC: She’s seen so much tragedy. Louis C.K. pointed out that in her documentary, whenever she faces a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, she doesn’t despair, she just says, “That was really difficult.”
JK: Also, she used it. I mean she made a Lifetime movie with her daughter about her husband’s suicide. That’s not what most people do. But thank God she did. Thank God there’s somebody that uses film and television to go through what she’s going through publicly. There’s an honesty to that. There’s an honesty to the advertising work that she does, to her commerce, to her taking every job because you never know when the next one is going to come. You can look at that as desperation or you could look at that as the pragmatic way to exist as a minority in this business. She’s absolutely remarkable, and I do hope people give her more respect.
Episode #56: “Jam Ghetto”: Sharon Needles, Whitney Jefferson
JK: Oh, Sharon Needles. As soon as we saw the première episode of that season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which I think has been the best season to date, she popped out as being this star in a way that you had never seen on TV in a mainstream way. Her drag really was the new drag. She talked to me about growing up with Marilyn Manson. And that was really interesting to me, because I’m about 10 years older than her—oh, who the hell knows how old the drag queen really is?—I’m about 10 years older than she claims to be. I met Sharon after someone at Logo approached me and said, “I love your show, and if you ever want to interview one of the queens, just ask.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, absolutely. I would love to talk to Sharon.” And so they had me come to a photo shoot that she was doing, and I spoke to her in between takes. She got very real very quickly, which was something I did not anticipate. She was really quite… I want to say “earnest,” but she was comfortable being honest.
I asked her about her fame, and I was a little reluctant to do so because fame is such a slippery, subjective thing. But she interrupted me, and she was like, “I’m really famous.” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, I guess you’re right.” [Laughs.] She talked about how fame isn’t an emotion, which Patton [Oswalt] later said, “That was really profound. I wouldn’t normally listen to a Sharon Needles interview, but I thought that was really interesting that she identified that.”
AVC: What does that mean? That fame is not an emotion?
JK: Well, just that once you reach it, it doesn’t control how you feel. I think it was interesting that Patton came to that, because he’s famous and I’m not.
AVC: You’re not un-famous.
JK: Well, thank you. I’m going to high-five my cat. Pardon me. [Pause.] Aaaand, I’m back. I imagine that what that means is once you reach a certain level of success and you’re known, it doesn’t fix everything. There’s not a direct route to your feelings once you’ve reached that level, I suppose.
Then she started crying, and I thought she was doing a bit at first. She talked about how so many kids come up to her and say, “You mean a lot to me.” She began to talk about it in the context of being overwhelmed by it, but she ended up being really touched by it and then the next thing you know she was drying her eyes. I remember thinking she was joking at first and realizing she wasn’t. Then [I was] just sort of staying with her and listening to her and hearing her and waiting for that moment to lead to another. But I was really moved that she let me in as much as she did.
AVC: On the show it seems like you’re attracted to these larger-than-life, self-constructed figures, and with Sharon Needles, her whole persona is completely constructed. She’s totally self-created.
JK: Yeah, I’m fascinated by that. That’s incredibly appealing to me. Whatever that says about my own aspirations, femininity-wise, I’ll leave to the completion, sentence-wise, of anybody listening. But I do think that there are over-the-top types that are attractive to me, and to be able to connect with them the way that you’d ideally want to be able to connect to any person once they stop performing for you, or if they actually express a desire to be there in the moment instead of asking, “What’s this for? Let’s get this over with,” is something I definitely aspire to. Let’s find the humanity behind the performance. [Those are] my favorite celebrities. Frances McDormand is my favorite actor. I don’t know if that’s relevant. [Laughs.] But she’s a person who plays people. In other words, not everything has to be an over-the-top Broadway musical to get my attention, but it certainly helps.
Special Minisode: David Rakoff
JK: I miss David every day. I was blessed with the dumb luck to have known him briefly and to have worked with him. He was one of my dear friends, but I can’t imagine that I was one of his, because he has so many friends and so much love in his heart. He was just able to be close to many people. I don’t want to invoke The Giving Tree because I think that’s so sappy and nobody wants to be the stump. And he wasn’t. He stood alone, but he never tired of being generous. He never said no. He would read your screenplay and give you feedback. He would meet you any time for food. He would always pick up the phone. It was a friendship that is patently irreplaceable.
I went to a wedding a couple of weekends ago, and this really remarkable man married two of my friends, and I remember thinking, “God, the only person I would ever entrust to marry me, to impart wisdom in front of a crowd, would be David.” He was near rabbinical in his wisdom and heart. And he was just funny. A lot of people say, “It’s so rare to find someone as kind as they are smart.” I know a couple of people like that, but none of them are even a fraction as funny as David.
[For the podcast episode], David had me over to his apartment after he had gotten his surgery, and his arm was not working. He would never complain. He would just sort of work around it, and he and I just had a conversation on the couch. It was almost like that would be what we would do if there were no microphones, but, actually, that’s not true. It wouldn’t be what we would do if the mics weren’t on, because he would have asked about me. It wouldn’t have been a one-sided conversation about his book.
But, it was a good opportunity for me to talk to him in depth about his book—his most recent book, not the novel I have yet to read, and I kind of don’t want to read it for another year, because then that means that he’s gone, you know? But Half Empty was, I thought, not only the greatest book that he had written, but just the most incredible book that I had read in a really long time. And I was able to talk to him about it because it had just come out in paperback. I was just really lucky to have that opportunity.
AVC: Putting out the episode was a way of capturing a part of him for posterity.
JK: I hope so. It was just a fraction. It’s so imperfect. I wish that he hadn’t been cut short. He had so much more to say. He was just getting started. I published the entirety of it just to make it seem like we still had more time left, but we don’t. I miss him every day. I really, really loved him, and I never met anybody like him. And I think… To avoid being overly sappy, I think God wanted him back for some reason that we don’t understand. He just needed him for something beyond our grasp.
He was also the only person who made me understand the old Beatles lyric, “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” because that guy had as much love as he gave. I just have never, ever seen another instance of that.