From hookers to lawyers, or from “hot pants to long pants,” as she describes it, Annabelle Gurwitch’s career has run the gamut. Best known for her stint on Dinner and a Movie, Gurwitch’s latest project is Fired. She recently sat down with us to talk about her new book and her career.
Where are you originally from and what was your childhood like? Where do you call home now?
I’m originally from Mobile, Alabama. I grew up in a lot of places around the country, mostly Miami Beach. I moved to New York when I was 18 to go to NYU, lived there for about 10 years and now I live in Los Angeles.
What was my childhood like? Gosh. Having moved around a lot, this is the thing that drives people to show business. People who grew up in lots of different cities and had to adjust or in my case, not talk for a year because you had a southern accent and you moved to Delaware and that was embarrassing. I’m just another one of those people who ended up in show business because I have a short attention span.
We were doing some research on you and according to IMDB; you were a writer for Thundercats in 1985. How did that job come about and what was the experience like writing for a classic Saturday morning cartoon show?
My original interest when I moved to New York was in theater and I did a lot of avant guard theater and when you collaborate with people, you do a lot of writing with them too – writing and performing pieces together. So I was always interested in writing and one of my best friends, who was one of the producers of Supersize Me, she had a job for Telepictures and I think we wrote one or two episodes of Thundercats together and that remains on IMDB, which makes me laugh so hard because we were in college and we didn’t know what we were doing. But I loved that show.
What episode of Thundercats did you write?
I’m going to really be embarrassing myself if I tell you I remember the exact episode we wrote, which was about how the Thundercats’ souls were being captured in their sleep and they were being held hostage and made to do things against their will in their sleep. It was their dream selves that were being held hostage and they had to find a way to save their dream selves. This is a very big pot smoking enduced type episode that we wrote from my years of smoking pot.
At least you have something to show for it.
Yes, a Thundercats episode to memorialize my interest in the dreams and occult … and pot smoking.
You’ve also appeared on a number of big name TV shows, including Miami Vice, Murphy Brown, Tales from the Crypt, talk about some of your experiences on those shows and which one you enjoyed working on the most.
That’s very funny you should ask that because this week I’m shooting an episode of Boston Legal and I’m shooting it with Candice Bergen and actually the episode I did of Murphy Brown with Candice was my first job I did in Los Angeles. I was just writing this piece for the LA Times about how I’ve gone from hot pants to long pants. As an actor, you find yourself in different stages in your career. For many years, I played prostitutes. I was a prostitute against my will on The Equalizer. I liked being a prostitute on Miami Vice. I was a prostitute in the 19th century in a movie called Where the Hell’s That Gold?!!? And then, I was everyone’s secretary. I was Candice Bergen’s secretary, Betty White’s secretary, you name it, I “secretaried” it. And now I’m in my lawyer stage. Right now, I’m in the movie Shaggy Dog being an attorney and I’m in Boston Legal as an attorney. It’s really fun. Actually, I like being the boss.
Most people probably remember you as the host of Dinner and a Movie on TBS. How did you get that job and what was it like being a part of that show? Do you have any favorite moments from your time hosting that show?
We did that show for such a long time and Paul Gilmartin and I spent so much time together that literally I would pull his ear hair out as we’d stand on the set, he was like my second husband. You get very close. One year, we gave up deodorant together; you know what I’m saying? You get too close. I also was pregnant with my son when I was on that show and I went through a lot of very big moments in my life.
We had an enormously great time doing that show. When we first started doing the show, nobody knew what we were doing at TBS and we really were under the radar, which is a really fun place to be on television. We just did whatever we wanted. Of course, as the years went on and the show was very successful for them, we got more oversight. But, I’ll tell you, those early couple years when really and truly people in Atlanta just didn’t even notice us, that was terribly, terribly fun.
Probably my all time favorite show we did was with Dave Foley from Kids in the Hall on the show. He was in a movie that I can’t even remember now where he had one line. He came on and he did this whole sketch about how he had the back story for his character with the one line and how his character was based on a French film about this character. We made this sketch where it was a take off of the French film, it was just completely ridiculous. We really took it to the end of what you could take it. The Dave Foley episode of Dinner and a Movie was my all time favorite. If I could only remember the movie that it was – but that was sort of beside the point.
We think that’s what was interesting about that show – the movie was secondary to everything else that was going on.
It was like doing a long form improv, but we always had something to fall back on, which was the movie and the cooking. The show was really about Paul and my cantankerous relationship, which was really true. We used to fight all the time, but in a way that’s enjoyable – not like “I hate you” fight, but we just naturally had so many different points of view from each other that it was just really fun because we just literally disagreed with everything that came out of each other’s mouth. I think that’s fun to watch and it’s really fun to do.
Be honest, do you consider yourself a good cook? What is the best meal you can prepare?
Oh no. Oh God no. I’m a burner. I have one style of cooking. Like I said, I’m originally from Mobile, Alabama and I fry things – all I do is fry. I fry steak, if you were at my house, I would fry you. I’ll eat anything fried.
We know you have also contributed to the I Love the 70s and I Love the 80s shows on VH-1. Do you get nostalgic looking back at those eras or do you just shake your head at some of the fashion choices and trends?
I love doing those shows because unfortunately, I have a lot of experience in the 70s and 80s and it is really fun for me, I don’t know if it’s fun for viewers, but it is really fun when you go to the studio and you get to talk about things like bellbottoms and halter tops and then the 80s and early Madonna videos and Cindy Lauper. It’s just really fun.
You’ve said that the idea for Fired came after you were fired by a “cultural icon.” Why did Woody Allen fire you from his off-Broadway production and what made you decide to start sharing that story with others?
I had never been fired because someone, at least to my knowledge, didn’t think I was good in something before. I was pretty crushed. It was really that experience that got me really interested in this whole topic and honestly, I just became really passionate about the topic. People started telling me their stories about being fired and then the whole project just snowballed with people in the entertainment business telling me their stories, then people at NPR, people started sending me their stories and then when I started doing these stories with other comedians and actors as a live show, people were coming up to me and telling me their fired stories. It’s a crazy thing that’s happened. I’ve become this sort of confessor; people love to tell me their stories about being fired now. I love their stories.
I just think it’s really interesting. I think we’re living in a time where everyone has to reassess this whole paradigm of work. People thought they were headed towards one kind of career – one job, one company – and this is so not going to happen in our lifetime anymore. Everybody lives a freelance life now, basically. You can just find yourself with the company that you’re working for just completely going under very quickly or you can find yourself outsourced or, like me, you can actually get fired because you weren’t good at the job or you’re in the wrong job. It just happens so often that I think it’s a great time to share the whole experience.
We know you have also been working on a Fired documentary and you recently released a book. What are your hopes for the future of the project? Is their another direction you’d like to see it go?
I’m not sure. I’m hoping that my book will do for other people what it has done for me, which is giving people who have been fired or anyone in the workplace some solace, humor and perspective. I’m hoping that when the documentary comes out, my aim for it was really to be a jumping off point for discussion about where we’re heading as a society because I think more and more the working middle class in America is really baring the brunt of the change in industry right now, the way that companies are having trouble competing in the global market. Just from what my understanding is, a lot of it has to do with our decision as a society to not provide the same social nets that other companies in other economies that we are competing against provide. Who, in the end, is suffering? Not usually the CEOs and stockholders, but the lowest working people.
Have you given any thought to a solution?
Not being an economist, I do think that someone that I do admire, Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary, he’s written a lot about that and I do include in my book a piece by him and also an Op-Ed he wrote in the New York Times about that very issue about what he would envision as a new reemployment plan for the American worker. He’s much more informed and someone who knows how to implement change. I’m trying in my small way just to add to one of the platforms he has to talk about the future of the American worker.
Do you have any favorite stories that have come out of this project?
Well, Robert Reich’s story is one of my favorites because he was fired from the Solicitor General’s office when he was working there in the Reagan administration. He was an attorney and he was asked to argue in front of the Supreme Court to get rid of the first, fourth, seventh, eighth and ninth amendments to the Constitution and he just couldn’t bring himself to do that. As he says in the book, and I love this, he says, “When you’re fired and you have a university degree, they don’t usually say you’re fired, what they say is, ‘Maybe you should look for something else.'” And they know what they mean and you know what they mean and they know that you know that they know that you know exactly what they mean and it means you’re fired. When you think about someone like that getting fired, it gives me hope that I can go on.
On the other side of the coin, there is a story in my book by Paul Feig about being the Ronald McDonald of Toledo, Ohio. Paul was the creator of Freaks and Geeks. His story of working in the world of kid comedy, he says, “the world of kid comedy is a seedy Babylon,” and just his description of putting on the clown suit and making children cry, it was just fantastic.
In my book, I have a lot of writers that you don’t normally see published or have never been published – writers from The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, just really great shows that you just don’t get to read. That to me was like a really big thrill, that I could put them in a book.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
My original dream in life was to be an art patron in the mode of Peggy Guggenheim. For some reason, I thought I was going to inherit a lot of money and be an heiress. I have no idea why I thought that. It just couldn’t be further from the truth.
The closest I got to that is, I was married before my husband now to an artist. I do really love painting and I was in the movie Pollock, which I loved doing because I was really interested in his life.
My husband now, my writer husband, started painting a few years ago and my son paints and I live surrounded by canvases. I love that and I don’t think anyone knows that about me except my close friends.
We’ve got one last thing for you here. We’re going to do a word association. We’ll just throw out a name and tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.
Dinner and a Movie.
She’s still around?
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, April 2006. To find out more information on Fired, check out the official website.