Throughout history an amazing amount of fuss has been stirred up by redheads. Eric the Red, Frederick Barbarosa, Lucille Ball--people like that. Julie Brown, it seems, is right in that line.
For nearly a decade, through stand-up comedy, TV, films, records and video, Brown has built up a fanatically loyal fanship that has followed her through each stage of her career.
The problem is that along the way she's had more than a few famous people seeing red: Whitney Houston, Tawny Kitaen, Madonna, Aaron Spelling.
Kitaen and Houston were just a few of the stars Brown managed to rankle during her stint as host of MTV's now-defunct "Just Say Julie." (Brown says she later bumped into Kitaen, actress and ex-wife of Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, and they hit it off so well they almost did a show together.)
Whitney Houston--repeatedly identified as "Whiney" Houston during a "Just Say Julie" segment called "PMS Day"--was said to have been a bit less uncool about how Julie treated one of her videos: During a PMS fit, Brown pulled the video out of the VCR and doctored it with a sledgehammer.
Madonna was cool or uncool, according to which stories you hear, regarding Brown's "Showtime" special "Medusa: Dare To Be Truthful," which, according to the Village Voice, was "a funny, fake documentary spoof of an unfunny fake documentary."
Brown thinks Madonna "must have seen the humor in it. I mean, we're alike in a lot of ways. And people have told me I look like her in a lot of places."
Anyway, she says, "My attitude is once you get a publicist, you better get a sense of humor too."
Aaron Spelling, in Brown's opinion is being really uncool over a recent episode of "The Edge" that spoofed "Beverly Hills, 90210," produced by Spelling.
"I'm like, totally off the hook for this one," says Brown. "I was in it, but I didn't write it, so they can't kick me around for this." Nonetheless, Spelling is steamed--probably because "The Edge" parody also lampoons a role played by his daughter. "Between this and 'Medusa,' I've become an expert on parody laws," Brown says.
A good thing, because it isn't likely that Whitney Houston or Aaron Spelling or anyone else is going to get Julie Brown to tone her act down. When you get past the hair and shopping mall mix-match clothes and Valley Woman accent, there's a hard edge to Brown's humor.
The Valley schtick isn't developed from repeated viewings of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"; she's the daughter of Irish-Catholic parents ("though there's some Mexican in there somewhere") and grew up in the San Fernando Valley, attending Van Nuys High School, alma mater of Marilyn Monroe and Robert Redford. Her roots are in show business; both grandfathers worked for movie studios and her parents met while working for NBC.
Brown studied at San Francisco's prestigious American Conservatory Theater and paid her dues with years on the stand-up comedy circuit. "It was a fun time," she says of her "Atomic Comedy" review. "But stand-up people are too manic. I can't be around them today. I'd rather spend time with writers."
Over the last few years she and her writing pals, Charlie Coffey and Terrance McNally, have worked in almost every available medium. Among their work are her signature tunes, "I Like 'Em Big and Stupid" and "The Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun." One of their songs, "Earth Girls Are Easy," was developed into the Geena Davis film of the same name in which Brown co-starred.
"Just Say Julie" gave Brown a chance to bring all of her talents to a show that, in the words of one critic, "is the kind of thing Pee-Wee Herman might watch after the kids left the Playhouse."
The Julie Brown who hosted was, in the star's words, "a small-time, jealous, wanna-be celebrity." It was a persona out of which she could skewer rock stars as well as herself. The show brought some new things to TV, including a host who ignored TV's unwritten rule that attractive women shouldn't be funny. It also brought a more irreverent look at the music industry than might be expected from a network whose staple is what amounts to three-minute commercials.
"What was great about the show was that I was free to say how stupid all these celebrity-interview shows were. I mean, a lot of these rock stars are morons, and they get these worshipful interviews from TV people who are even dumber than the rock stars because they think the rock stars are cool."
Brown reserves her admiration for pop stars who don't take their celebrity seriously; Sheena Easton, "one of the coolest and nicest people in music," enjoyed being lampooned so much she sent over a box of chocolate kisses with a note that read, "Dear Julie, you bitch. Are you going to let me be on the show?" Easton, of course, guested on MTV where she appeared in a sketch roasting Julie Brown.
Brown's cult status is now buckling under the strain of broadcast exposure, as well as the upcoming release "The Opposite Sex," where she plays "Courtney Cox's kind of weird best friend."
"The Edge" was developed out of a pilot she did for NBC, which network executives "seemed to like a lot, but then they tested it for, like, some middle-aged women from the Midwest and they all got offended and said, 'Like, what is this?' "
Several months later the project evolved into a Fox network property and a show with the power to anger Aaron Spelling. "Oh, I'm sure this'll pass," Brown says. "I'm sure Aaron Spelling will wake up one day soon and realize he's a good sport after all."
"The Edge" airs Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.