Comedian and writer Carol Leifer has something serious to say in her new book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying.
Why listen to a comic? First, it’s important to remember that with show business, the accent is on “business.” If Leifer could make it in that unforgiving industry, she may be able to help others make it anywhere.
Second, she has legitimacy on the topic. In her 37th year in the industry, Leifer is an Emmy-nominated writer for shows including Seinfeld and a string of Oscar ceremonies, has starred in five cable comedy specials, and is co-executive producer on Lifetime’s Devious Maids.
Third, it’s more fun to read a how-to guide with anecdotes about Jerry Seinfeld, Bryan Cranston, and Frank Sinatra than one without them. Even the jacket blurbs are a kick.
“Funny and sage. A great read. I even loved the parts that weren’t about me” is Paul Reiser’s comment on the book, just published by Quirk Books.
And from filmmaker Judd Apatow: “The best memoir of the year (not written by the victim of a horrible crime).”
Leifer, who wrote the best-selling book When You Lie about Your Age, the Terrorists Win, was initially approached to write a straight-ahead memoir.
“But the theme that kept popping up was ‘Wow, what I learned from this experience,’ or the takeaway from another,” she said.
For example, it was a thrill to perform on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. But the valuable background: It took 12 years and 22 auditions for her to get there.
“So much of success in any career is tenacity and persistence. After 18 auditions I could have said, ‘No, thanks, I’m not showing up for audition No. 19,’” she said.
But she did. She also hung in with a manager who vowed he would book her to work with Sinatra but instead had her playing restaurants on the New Jersey turnpike. She complained to him, he reassured her, and she worked the unglamorous jobs.
“Then it turned out he knew Jilly Rizzo (Sinatra’s close friend), and he got me to open for Frank in Vegas,” Leifer said. “That was another lesson to share: Keep your head down and keep working hard, and you can have the greatest moment of your career out of the deepest valley.”
Other tips Leifer gained from the school of hard knocks:
● Don’t take a “no” personally because that “will destroy you,” she said. “There could be a lot of reasons for being rejected, and it could be that it’s unfair, but you just keep sailing forward.”
● Be a person that others want to be around. In hiring new writers for Seinfeld, Seinfeld and Larry David looked for what they called “the easy hang.” As Leifer sees it, “It doesn’t matter how talented you are if your personality is a drag.”
● Always impress the top boss. When she worked as a writer on Saturday Night Live, Leifer failed to bond with Lorne Michaels and focused on pleasing her direct supervisors, including Al Franken. “Well, the No. 2s liked me great, and at the end of the season I wasn’t invited back,” she said.
● Emulate the approach of Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) to seeking work. When Leifer told him how much she fretted before, during, and after auditions, he set her straight: “You’ve got it all wrong. I prepare for the audition like you wouldn’t believe, I give them my best shot, and when I leave it’s gone.”
“He controls what he can control, and the stuff you can’t,” forget it, she said. “That’s the big tent pole of my book, and that’s a perfect example of it.”
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