Boosler on Kaufman: Funny, Sweet, Bright

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jim Carrey has received critical hosannas for his brilliant portrayal of the late Andy Kaufman in "Man on the Moon." But don't expect stand-up comic Elayne Boosler to catch the biopic at the nearest multiplex.

"Oh, why would I? Of course not," said Boosler, who met the then-unknown comic in 1973. "I think the accuracy of the movie can be summed up with 'My name isn't even mentioned.' We lived together for 2 1/2 years in my apartment in Greenwich Village and we were best friends until he died [in 1984]."

The Brooklyn-born Boosler, who's appearing at the Irvine Improv tonight and Saturday, was a singing waitress in a Manhattan comedy club when Kaufman walked into her life. The naturally funny Boosler made her own stand-up debut later the same year, when the club owner tapped her as a late-night fill-in.

"Andy was definitely responsible for me pursuing this," Boosler said by phone from her home in Studio City. "I don't think I would have stuck with it without knowing him."

Describing Kaufman offstage as "just the funniest, sweetest, brightest person," Boosler remembers being blown away by his eccentric act.

"The minute he stepped onstage, he was far and away different from everybody," she said. "The people were just wrung out afterward. That was just the best entertainment you could ever be put through."

Boosler recalls Kaufman telling her that the best show is one in which audience members feel as though they're "sitting in their living room with you and you're friends, and you have to break down that fourth wall and really just reach out to people."

"The most important thing I got from him was 'Never give up.' "

Boosler's two-night gig at the Irvine Improv is a rare club appearance for the veteran comic, who has performed primarily in theaters the past eight years and has drastically curtailed her road work.

"People say, 'You haven't toured as much as usual lately.' "I say, 'You haven't seen me a lot lately because I bought a computer and I spent the last three years trying to print out an envelope.' "

Actually, Boosler spent last winter on a 40-city tour, working up a new act for her next cable TV special. There is no extended road trip lined up this year, but she's still working on her act a couple of times a month and adding material every time out.

She's not sure when the cable special, her eighth, will be taped.

"When I get it finished, then I'll shoot one," she said. "I always shoot them first and sell them afterward."

Boosler has the distinction of being the first woman to star in a one-hour comedy special, "Party of One," for Showtime in 1986. She financed it herself after being told that no one would watch a woman do an hour of comedy.

Of the special, a New York Times critic wrote, "How refreshing, a woman who doesn't have to tear her own skin off for our amusement . . . an attractive human being simply standing there being funny, the first to feel she doesn't have to be a grotesque."

Boosler has always avoided being labeled a "female" comedian. She said she refuses to participate in group articles about female comics or appear in female comic "round-up" shows. As she used to joke, "I'm just a human being trapped in a woman's body."

For Boosler, succeeding in stand-up comedy is the same for any comic, male or female.

"You have 10 seconds to be funny, that's it," she said. "If you're good, you work. If you're not good, you don't work."

Boosler spends much of her time writing TV and movie scripts and occasional satirical pieces for George magazine and other publications. But while she's cut back on stand-up, she enjoys it as much as ever.

"The whole thing is the writing," she said. "As long as you stay fresh and stay interested, it's fun. It's only stale if you stay doing the same act."

And her act is constantly evolving.

"It's just different every night," said Boosler, who doesn't write her material in the traditional sense.

"It seems written, but I wouldn't know how to sit down and write a joke. I've never been able to write for stand-up."

Her act basically comes together when she's standing in front of an audience. She may read or hear about something in the news that day and start talking about it onstage that night--always with a tape recorder running.

"The hardest part is playing back your show," she said. "There is so much on there you had no idea you said. If you're a spontaneous act you think, 'Where did that come from?' Most pieces start with one sentence. You realize that's a good, funny basis. You go back next time and use the part that worked and talk more on the subject. It just builds."

Boosler always has her antenna up for what's new.

"To tell you the truth, I try to make the act like a newspaper," she said. "It's like every section of the paper: hard news, trends, styles, sports, weather and politics."

And because her show is "live and different every night," she said, "when you leave the show, you feel you're up-to-date. You feel exactly as if you've flipped through the newspaper that day."

In the last couple of weeks, she's touched on the millennial New Year's Eve celebrations around the world. Take South Africa:

"They always drag [Nelson] Mandela back to the prison where he spent 27 years for all their celebrations. New Year's Eve, there he was again watching the fireworks. Don't you think he said to the government, 'Can't we do it from Planet Hollywood this time?' "

Boosler, now in her 40s, is single. Early in her career she'd joke, "I can't get married. I can't fake sleep for 30 years."

So how is she coping with single life today?

"At this stage," she said, "I'm so tired of dating I just hand guys a resume [and say], 'If anything interests you, there's a number down at the bottom."

*

Elayne Boosler, Irvine Improv in the Irvine Spectrum, 71 Fortune Drive. 8:30 and 10:30 tonight, 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday. $25. (949) 854-5455.

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