Bootleg Betty Press
The De-Briefing Of Eric Kornfeld – Ten Questions Plus One
By Mister D
Mister D: My oh my, I never thought Eric and I would get this finished. We originally met and talked about an interview back in 2004 -2006….well it was somewhere in between there. Whatever long term memories I have left are embedded somewhere deep within my ass and as Bette once said, “please don’t make me go there.”
Anyhoo, this interview took so long (emailing back and forth), not because I’m a deep Diane Sawyer with all these important questions. No, it’s because I’m lazy and Mr. Kornfeld…Korny as I call him…..well, he has no time. A writer of his caliber doesn’t have a lot of time to be hobnobbing with a site named Bootleg Betty with an insane host called Mister D! Let’s just be honest. This guy is in demand.
Eric Kornfeld is a writer, actor, song parody-ist, stand-up, and we will probably be adding the titles producer and director in the future. He has worked with Rosie, Ms. Caroline Rhea, Judy Gold, and our own Divine Miss M, Bette Midler. He wrote and co-created “Kiss My Brass” with Bruce Vilanch, and now he has become the main writer for Bette’s smash Las Vegas show at Caesar’s Palace, “The Showgirl Must Go On” which begins its second leg Tuesday, June 24, 2008.
I’d like to say that Mr. Kornfeld is one of the nicest men I’ve met in show biz and in real life. He’s a gentleman, sexy to boot, and if only I were single, well he’d be the luckiest man alive….now it’s time to de-brief Mr. Kornfeld!:
1. What was the catalyst for you to go into the field of stand-up/comedy writing? What were you doing before comedy?
I was an actor — well, a chorus boy, really. I had just gotten my Equity card in a summer tour of BEST LITTLE WHORE HOUSE, starring Edie Adams, who I remembered from Cigar commercials when I was a really little. What happened was — every night the cast would go to a piano bar and take turns singing and I evolved into the MC. I was always a funny guy and I ended up holding the show together and getting lots of laughs. By the end of the tour, Edie pulled me aside and told me she’d been married to the comic genius Ernie Kovacs, which I knew. I knew he was in early television but didn’t know as much about him as I do now. Anyway, the stand up scene was taking off and she said, “You’re a comedian. You have the mind and the timing of a comedian, you should go into that field.” Or something like that. So when I got back to New York and started auditioning again, I was available for unemployment for the first time in my life. That was when Unemployment was really a drag to collect. You had to go in person every week and stand in lots of lines. One day I wrote a bit about Unemployment and started going to “open mike” nights at comedy clubs and performing it. It was my first bit. In less than 2 years I was on Star Search and started making my living as a comic, touring and even writing for other comics. Then I got hired on the Rosie O’Donell show and that was the beginning of my life as a writer. I did stand-up and wrote for a while but soon more writing opportunities opened up and I stopped performing. Shortly after that I got my first job for Bette.
2. Who would you say was your main comedic influence (s)?
Growing up, I thought Steve Martin was the most talented person I’d ever seen. I loved his albums, his TV appearances, his movies, his books. I also worshiped Woody Allen. Then in college, I discovered the Marx Brothers and Groucho and I thought he was a real comic genius. While I was doing stand up, I read a book by Joan Rivers and thought she too was hilarious. I wasn’t as aware of Bette until THE ROSE and her subsequent rise as a movie star. But I thought she was brilliant in DOWN AND OUT and RUTHLESS PEOPLE. Then I rented her concerts and HBO Specials and discovered what a natural comedienne she was.
3..Can you explain to the readers of Bootleg Betty how you first came to the attention of Bette Midler?
A buddy of mine, director Scott Barnes*, called because he was directing Bette at the Javits Center for the Goldman Sachs holiday party. It was a huge event and they were making a huge donation to NYRP. This was the winter of the year of her sitcom, which I wanted to work on. Scott asked me to send some Wall Street jokes. I worked the entire Thanksgiving weekend on the jokes and got the gig. They called me to come to rehearsal. I showed up and saw Bette — tiny and wearing glasses — on her cell phone. She looked at me and said, “Is that your computer?” referring to the case I was was carrying. I said “Yes” and the rest, as they say, is histerical.
*Scott Barnes was Nancy Lamott’s director, manager and dear friend. He had a lot to do with her great success as a cabaret star.
4. You mentioned you worked with Rosie, but I also know you worked for Caroline Rhea on her talk show. And of course now youâ€™re working with The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler. Do you prefer working with women? Compare and contrast their working styles.
Bette, Rosie and Caroline are all very creative talents. They are not just performers but writers, directors and producers as well. They know how it should look, sound and play. I’ve known Caroline the longest. We were comedians together back in the day and we have been friends for over 15 years. She is one of the nicest celebrities you’ll ever meet and she does so much for the gay community. If there is a Pride event in your town, there’s a good chance she’s been there. Actually I just worked on a game show pilot with Caroline for Logo. It’s hilarious and I hope they pick it up. She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever known and does so much of her own writing. We bounce a lot of stuff off of each other when I work with her.
I met Rosie when I started on the Rosie O’Donnell show and we had pretty standard ways of working there. Pitch ideas in the morning, then work on her monologue stuff, usually based on what she wanted to talk about. She’s a writer too and she always knew how to make something the funniest it could be. She made every idea better.
Bette is a funny, funny singer and entertainer. With Bette, I’ve had the opportunity to write lyrics and work on big concepts for both KISS MY BRASS and THE SHOWGIRL MUST GO ON. I’ve gotten to see big ideas through. Writing a show from the opening number to the final bow. I’ve learned so much about my 2 favorite things, music and comedy. If I hadn’t worked with Bette I may have never had the idea to write my own musical, which I’m working on with composer and Rosie bandleader, John McDaniel.
I’ve also written for comedians, Judy Gold (one of my best friends), Lynn Koplitz, Patty Rosborough, John Pinette and Buddy Bolten. I do work with women primarily. They “get” me and I “get” them. Three fierce women I would love the opportunity to work with are Christine Ebersole, Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood
5. Can you clarify what you and John McDaniel are working on? Just curiosity.
Yes. John is one of my best pals. Besides writing our musical, THE TITANS, we’ve written several pop songs. We recently sent one to Dolly Parton.
6. Can you take us through a somewhat typical day of working on a show like â€œKiss My Brassâ€ and â€œThe Showgirl Must Go On?â€
Well, every day is a little different but we start back into rehearsal for SHOWGIRL this Monday in LA. We’ll work at Sony Studios for 2 weeks, then Bette returns to Caesar’s and starts her second month of shows on June 24. This is her first time back after almost 3 months off so we have a lot to do. It’s not just getting back in the swing. We are making some slight changes and adding a song!
The first thing we’ll do is work on the Delores chunk of the show. In this show, Delores is the middle piece and we have 22 girls in wheelchairs. The showgirls and musicians have been doing other things since March 23 so getting that on it’s feet again (or should I say “tail”) is a big deal.
I’m also “freshening” the script with some new current events and pop culture references and we will try them in different places and see what we (Bette and the creative team) like the most. It’s always great to see what the band laughs at.
While we’re in LA, Bette will also tape a performance with ALL the showgirls and the Harlettes to be played on The View. She will also appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. So everyone will be involved in rehearsing those performances as well. Since almost everything Bette does includes music, choreography and comedy, our creative team works pretty closely on almost everything. Everyone weighs in, you know?
I usually get to the studio by 10:00 AM. Bette shows up at 11 most days and we leave at night when we’ve gotten through the rehearsal schedule for the day. We have a lunch break and everyone has dinner together at 6. Run throughs with the full band are usually the last thing we do. They begin after dinner and depending on “starts and stops”, go to 8, 9 or even 10.
7. Not to blow smoke up your ass, but it seems to me that comics, whether stand-up and/or writers, are extremely smart, logical, and quick-witted. Iâ€™m talking top of the line writers like myself, Maher, Carlin, Seinfeld, Kornfeld. Etc. Now seriously, donâ€™t you have to do a lot of reading, watching TV, combing the internet for your writing material. Can you basically run us through the comicâ€™s mind and tell us what you have to go through to come up with such a vast amount of material? For example, what papers, books, shows, processes like mind mapping, etcâ€¦
The short answer is yes. I try to glance at the NY Times every day but it’s hard. Here we are in LA
for 2 weeks getting the show on it’s feet, adding changes, etc. and there are just not enough hours in the day. Things like PEOPLE and US WEEKLY are a must. (BTW, catch Bette in US Weekly this week with lots of “our” hilarious costume captions. Classic Korn-man). And of course I rely on the Internet.
Anyway, a good example right now is — the other day McCain made the gaffe of admitting he’s computer illiterate. I’m hoping it becomes a big joke so we can refer to it in the show so I’m keeping my eyes and ears peeled. Last night, none of the late night hosts (Dave, Jay, Jimmy) mentioned it. BTW, catch Bette on Leno this Friday night, and you’ll see how we get some of the show jokes into her answers to Jay’s questions. That’s one of the things I help her with.
As far as “…what I go through” — I am a comedy writer so I do have a talent for this but one always needs information, especially when dealing with politics, current events and pop culture.
8. When youâ€™re working for Ms. Midler, are you allowed to work on side projects as well?
Yes. For the year we put the show together, I was “exclusive” and it became impossible to do anything else — even pee or take a nap. But now, when I’m doing fixes and changes, the tour book and/or the web site, I have time to freelance.
9. Since Mister D has no future, many of us are curious what the future holds for Mr. Kornfeld? Or Korny, if you like?
Well, I’m hoping Caroline Rhea’s game show, GAYME NIGHT, gets picked up by Logo. I’m the writer on that. I’m also working on an off Broadway show called, MY SINATRA as well as my own big, Broadway musical with my writing partner; composer, John McDaniel.
10. Last but not least, whatâ€™s your favorite Bette Midler song and movie?
My favorite Bette movie is FOR THE BOYS because I love the score. It’s great music for her. I LOVE the scene up front, with STUFF LIKE THAT THERE right into PS, I LOVE YOU, when all the soldiers shine their flashlights on Dixie, wearing nothing but an officer’s jacket. Classic Bette.
11. And one more for the road: Lame question, but I wanted to know how you relax????? 🙂
The old fashioned way — with drugs and alcohol. Actually, I go to the gym a lot and I draw all the time. I draw on everything.