Episode 9: Annabelle Gurwitch
They talk about Annabelle’s chaotic upbringing and their seven years together as co-hosts on TBS’ Dinner and a Movie. They talk about how much they hated each other and how their depression and anxiety fueled it. Annabelle talks about the loneliness she felt when all she cared about what show business. She dishes on what a dick Paul can be to work with, and the pain she went through being fired by TBS and Woody Allen.
Paul: I am here with, uh—boy let me, uh, let me go through the list of accomplishments that this wonderful woman has done. She’s a contributor to The Nation. You’ve seen her on Real Time With Bill Maher. She has a book out called You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up she co-wrote with her husband Jeff Kahn. I know her as my original co-host on Dinner and a Movie from 1995 to 2001. Annabelle Gurwitch, I’m so glad you could come do this.
Annabelle: Aw, it’s so sweet to see you. You know, it’s funny ‘cause, um, the book that Jeff and I wrote—my husband and I wrote about marriage—people used to think that we were married because we fought so often—
Paul: On Dinner and a Movie.
Annabelle: —argued on Dinner and a Movie.
Paul: And what a sad statement that is about the state of marriage. ‘You guys seem to hate each other, are you married?’
Annabelle: But in a way, you know, you can also think of that as affection—actually most psychological studies show that the worst thing in a marriage—and you can extrapolate that to be in any relationship is actually self-censoring. Now, not that you should say anything or say hurtful things—
Paul: Or say some of the stuff we said to each other.
Annabelle: Say some of the things we said to each other.
Annabelle: But the, you know, but the idea that, you know, that you can argue is actually really important to a good relationship, it’s how you actually—how you conflict resolve, because by not—I mean, they’ve done these studies that show that by holding in things, emotions, feelings—this is actually, for women’s health in particular, this is really damaging, so you know…
Paul: Yeah. I think it transfers directly into a goiter if I’m not mistaken. If you pop a goiter, you actually hear the voice of somebody yelling what they really wanted to say to their loved ones—
Annabelle: I have inner goiters.
Annabelle: I have inner goiters, they’re—yeah.
Paul: Well let’s—I don’t really know where to start. I kinda want to start from what your life was like growing up before I met—let’s start there, and then we can have some background before we get into our relationship and Dinner and a Movie because depression played a big part in why we didn’t get along, but we’ll get to that later. Tell me about what it was like—you grew up in a fairly chaotic, uh, kind of environment
Annabelle: Well I don’t think you and I have ever talked about this but, I mean, it’s no secret that just about everybody who goes into show business is going in to get fixed in some way, you’re like ‘fix me, I wanna join this—some other family—
Paul: I wanna be loved.
Annabelle: I wanna be loved—
Paul: I wanna be recognised.
Annabelle: Recognised. Or, you know, or you are someone who feels at home in chaos—
Annabelle: In rejection.
Annabelle: In insanity.
Annabelle: I mean, it’s all these things. For me, I grew up all over the country; my dad is a entrepreneur / gambler, and we—
Paul: Can you be a little bit more specific about that.
Annabelle: I’m gonna be very specific about that. So, you know, my dad was in many, many businesses. He’s a guy who has truly had some great successes and horrible failures. He’s kind of an amazing person if you’re him.
Annabelle: He’s such a character. He did everything from insurance, real estate, at one point he distributed soft-core porn films. He had art galleries, he had, um, tax shelter businesses, he had fast food restaurants. I mean, you name it, he—silver mines, I mean, just huge schemes.
Paul: Now, what would—would he become bored with these things or would he run the wheels off them and they would collapse?
Annabelle: No, and you know he still does this by the way, and he actually has—he’s doing some kind of amazing thing with cancer research right now. He raises—he’s an independent banker, and he raises money for these projects, and some have been very successful and some have been huge flops and this is his life’s passion and it was a very chaotic and unstable environment to grow up in, though.
Annabelle: And so we lived all over the country and we were rich and we were poor and so, hence a career in show business.
Paul: Right. So describe what that was like and you’re rich one minute and you’re poor the next minute.
Annabelle: Well, you know, the important thing I think that it left me with is this sense that the bottom could fall out at any moment, you know.
Annabelle: And just a tremendous amount of anxiety.
Annabelle: And what I turned—I now see as one of the reasons why I turned—why I started in theatre, I turned to that because, when you’re in a play you go into a world that has very clear boundaries.
Annabelle: You go to the same lines every day. You know exactly what kind of structure you’re in, and so there’s a great safety in that. You know who you are. You know—there’s also so much adrenaline that you—it sort of takes care of your actual anxiety and gives you performance anxiety but it’s a different kind that I always found very, uh, safe. I found the stage very safe because I knew what I was gonna do and, particularly, when you’re doing a play, you’re doing the same lines all—it’s like ‘oh, it’s security.’
Paul: Yeah. And the other thing that’s nice about doing a play is that you’re being rewarded for pretending to be somebody else.
Annabelle: Well, see that’s the thing—first of all, I’ve always wanted to say, I’ve always thought for people with great anxiety it would be very therapeutic to go into an experience and to join a local theatre, to have that experience of doing a play, it is truly a salve for anxiety. It really—because you’ve got a director who tells you what to do, it’s a way to experience for a couple of hours a day at least a certain kind of safety.
Paul: Especially I think if you don’t expect anything to come out of that result—if you don’t expect to get famous from doing this play.
Annabelle: Well, that’s, okay, that’s the difference between business—and we’re talking about, there’s different components to—
Paul: We’re just talking about the creative element of being in acting.
Annabelle: Right, the creative element of being into theatre, which was originally what I got into it for. I wasn’t, you know, when I started out, I was never thinking about how to earn money, I just didn’t—it was not—I was just so driven, also to join another family, you know, theatre people are kooky and mostly also crazy or suffering some sort of other delusion—whatever, they want you join their family.
Paul: Which is really freeing if you come from a—
Annabelle: They’re very accepting of differences.
Paul: Very accepting. They’re encouraging of you being freaky.
Annabelle: Right. Right. Right. And so, you know, typically theatre environment included gay people, very neurotic, you know, people. People like—
Paul: Lots of nude hot-tubbing.
Annabelle: Right. Right, right. Just the sense that you could join a family, that what I wanted to—and I started out in theatre in New York, I worked with these very strong directors. I worked in companies with a director who told me what to do, and they were very like father figures, but a father figure who was involved in my life and in a way that was very comforting and I loved It. I—that was just, I—
Paul: Did you become attracted to him?
Annabelle: No, not like that, no, uh-uh—
Paul: ‘Cause a lot of times that you find someone that you feel safe with and then you sexualise it.
Annabelle: No, I didn’t, and I’m still close with the man—Richard Schechner—who was the head of the performance studies department at NYU. I so—
Paul: Wasn’t he like a founder of some seminal—
Annabelle: Yes, founder of the Performing Garage and The Performance Group—seminal person. He spoke—he was the director, he was the head of this department at NYU and I walked up to him and I said ‘I need to work with you,’ and I think he agreed ‘cause I was cute.
Annabelle: But for me, I was looking for this, um, person to tell me what to do and to be in this group and it was like a cult in a certain way, like, do you know what I mean, like, you—
Paul: Well, we were taught about him in my theatre program at Indiana University that he was one of the founders of experimental theatre in the 60s.
Annabelle: Oh yeah, his writing is still amazing, and it really—it, you know, that was a great experience now—you know, why you seek out, why you go into show business, that once you get into the business, you, you know, it’s just exactly the opposite and it’s this, you know, crazy amount of rejection, rejection, rejection. Uh, you know, I—
Paul: So, and then it becomes—
Annabelle: That’s the opposite and then you get addicted to that.
Paul: Yes, and you live from result to result—
Paul: Being a soaring high or a crashing low—
Paul: And it kind of becomes your drug, this feeling of, uh, if this can be a success—you know for me as a stand-up comedian, if I wrote a great new joke , I was on top of the world. If I had a bad show, I was a piece of shit.
Annabelle: Right. I didn’t see this though when I first started, like, what attracted me, you know—I was very unconscious like most people, even though I had gone to therapy when I was very young, I just didn’t see that, I didn’t see what was—
Paul: But you knew what felt good and what didn’t. What excited you and what didn’t.
Annabelle: Right. And yet, even though it was so hard, I also, I guess I had really— I thrived in that environment of, um, of, uh, competition and stuff, and the thing I didn’t realise was happening until much later was I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was in my early 20s because I was so competitive, that I just couldn’t think about anyone else, I was—and I was so desperate, there was a certain point when I was around 19, my family ran out of money, I had to drop out of college, I didn’t know how to live, so, I mean, this is what I did basically: I, um, made a schedule for myself—I had a call, ‘Annabelle, you’re on your own,’—so I made a schedule for myself which included things like—
Paul: They called you and said you’re on your own.
Annabelle: Yeah. I mean, very nicely, like, my parents loved me. My parents really loved me, they’re just who they are.
Annabelle: Just, you know—
Paul: But they couldn’t come up with money they didn’t have.
Annabelle: Right, exactly. So, I decided I’m gonna be an actress, and I’m on my own and I can do this, and, like, my schedule every week was things like read the Voice—the Village Voice on Wednesdays, read Backstage on Thursdays. I mean, I was just desperately trying to come up with a plan, you know.
Annabelle: I did extra work, which is the most soul-killing work—background work in films, because you’re really a number and—
Paul: Oh, I know.
Annabelle: But, I convinced myself that I was gonna be discovered in there—but, I mean, I was, I worked and I, you know, ended up getting an agent and I worked at—I got, Richard Schechner hired me to do a play with Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Paul: Wow, that’s a huge break. Huge break.
Annabelle: That’s very big luck. And then I started making commercials, worked in a soap opera, I mean, I just was dogged, I was desperate.
Annabelle: You know, necessity is the mother of invention, I did not stop, and I didn’t have very many friends because I was so completely in my own universe.
Paul: Yeah, ‘cause I think people can also sense that, that person who is—brings an angle to everything, and there tends to not be that, um, being present, you know, you—I’ve met people in show business that are so obsessed with getting ahead that they can never just be.
Annabelle: It was really unattractive.
Paul: Yeah, it’s—
Annabelle: I had to make a lot of amends over the years. I really have, and I’ve really changed, I mean—
Annabelle: You know, I try to keep changing because this is my—this is what interests me and it’s the only way I have to be.
Paul: Well, let me ask you this. Is, having made, you know, that change, and so, now you’ve apologised—
Annabelle: I’d say, have making changes. I, you know—
Paul: Yes, you’re in the process of—obviously, in the process of making changes. Have you found more comfort in just being who you are, recognising that—
Annabelle: Well, that’s the thing, you know, I’ve always said, ‘it’s really hard work to be me,’ because I’ve always felt, between my anxiety, my depression, my desperateness—
Paul: Don’t you think everybody feels that way though?
Annabelle: I actually feel like I have, you know, clinical—I mean, now I do, I take medication, I mean, let me just say, I take medication, I meditate, I have to exercise.
Annabelle: I have to do a gratitude list every day, I do a 12-step program, there’s nothing that I have to—I have to do a lot of stuff, but, actually it’s so much easier being me than it used to be because massive amounts of failure have led me to humility and another way of living that I try to do every day, but, um, it was so hard to be me because I was—every morning I was having this uphill battle just to get my head together so I could go out in the world—
Paul: Describe what that’s like when you wake up in the morning. What were your thoughts? What was the feeling in your gut?
Annabelle: Okay, well, first of all, in my 20s if I wasn’t employed in a—if I didn’t have a place knowing I was going to, I did not know how to function, I was just lost. I just didn’t feel like I should eat, I mean I just didn’t eat, I didn’t—I couldn’t—
Paul: Didn’t feel like you should eat because you would gain weight or because you didn’t have the money?
Annabelle: No, I wasn’t worth it. I mean, I couldn’t, you know—
Annabelle: I just didn’t, I didn’t know how to make a—take care of myself. I actually didn’t—my parents didn’t teach me those kind of skills, they were just not—
Paul: That generation really, really wasn’t good at it.
Annabelle: Well, you know, listen, my parents did the best they can. I don’t have these—
Paul: We talk about that on this podcast all the time.
Annabelle: It was like this benign neglect kind of thing.
Annabelle: And they were many great things about that by the way, there was a lot of independence. We were just like, ‘see you at home for dinner.’
Annabelle: Or ‘get your own dinner,’ or whatever but—and my kid who’s 13—
Paul: Say hi to the man in the van.
Annabelle: [laughs] And that happened, but we didn’t know it, you know.
Annabelle: And that never happened to me, but, uh, my kid doesn’t have that, you know, my kid has like—good and bad, there’s less independence for kids now, but, um, I really didn’t—I just had so much anxiety, I had to write these journals every single day, you know, like, I was doing a lot of self-help stuff—I was in a cult in my 20s.
Paul: Tell me about that.
Annabelle: Um, I—you know—I have a little sort of mixed feelings about—I’ve never really talked about this before because it’s, um, I’m alternately—it’s sort of humiliating—
Paul: That’s awesome.
Paul: That’s awesome for me.
Annabelle: Thank you, and also I have a lot of unanswered questions about this whole experience of my life—so, I had followed my high school boyfriend to New York to go to NYU, and he had met someone—this was very big in the 80s—who was a channeller.
Annabelle: Who channelled the sort of new age kind of stuff, and it was very, this like, very, um—you-create-your-own-reality-Louise-Hay kind thing, and he was someone who became a father figure to me ‘cause I was always looking for a father figure at this time of my life—
Paul: Your boyfriend or the cult leader?
Annabelle: The cult leader.
Annabelle: Who was, let me just say, a very, very wonderful, lovely man. This cult, I just wanna say, it never involved money, it never involved, uh—
Paul: Did it have a name, the cult?
Annabelle: No, it was just a group, that we were—a family
Paul: Was it communal living?
Annabelle: Uh, no. He happened to be a wonderful gay man who lived in the West Village who was a classical pianist but also a channeller, a medium. And we would all get together every Friday night and he would channel this, you know, entity.
Annabelle: Um, and then, we were—he considered me like a daughter and I considered like a father.
Annabelle: And we had many past lives together. At that time I believed that sort of thing.
Annabelle: And, um, and actually I took care of him when he was very sick with AIDS which was how I ended up in California because when he actually died, it was so heartbreaking for me I couldn’t stay in New York any longer.
Annabelle: And I moved to California, it was just such a huge heartbreak, and I was about 27 at the time, and it was just such a huge, huge heartbreak seeing him be sick, and that was the time we had to mix up azt in bowls and them spoon it to him—
Paul: Oh, wow.
Annabelle: And he was just—it was just such a terrible experience when he died, and, um, you kow, he was a person who truly loved me and accepted me and was a great father to me—
Paul: But was he a little crazy?
Annabelle: No, the thing is was that—
Paul: Then why do you—why are you call it a cult?
Annabelle: Well, because we all believed that this entity really existed—I took his advice without question, and sometimes it was actually kind of good. But we also believed that there was spaceship coming to take us away at some point.
Paul: Oh, now I know.
Paul: Now I know. And that didn’t make him crazy? That doesn’t qualify someone to be crazy?
Annabelle: See, this is the thing, I—
Paul: ‘No, he didn’t play with his poop, he wasn’t crazy.’
Annabelle: No, see, this is where I feel conflicted even saying that out loud because he was a great person, there was never any money—he never charged anyone any money for doing these readings for you, these psychic readings and these healings. And—there was never any money.
Annabelle: There was never, like, ‘you have to be a part—,‘ there was never like ‘you’re gonna die if you’re not in this,’ it was common go-as-you-please. It was nothing like that. But a lot of weird people were in this group—a guy who was known as Rabbit, I can’t remember what—
Paul: It sounds almost like if Costco had started a cult.
Annabelle: You know what, it was—it was something of the 80s, it was a new age kind of movement.
Annabelle: I don’t wanna—it wasn’t—I mean I also went to ashrams, and I was going everywhere looking for a family, looking for someone to tell me I was ok.
Annabelle: You know, so I was—I had met Bobby Muktananda when I was 16 at his—
Paul: I’m gonna pretend I know who that is. Oh, love him. Love him.
Annabelle: He was a siddha yoga meditator—
Paul: His first three albums were awesome.
Annabelle: Yeah, yes. And I used to meditate with them and, I mean, I used to go to Gurumayi’s ashram, and then I was an Nam-myoho-renge-kyo person—I was kicked out of that form of Buddhism because I challenged something—
Paul: And because it’s unprintable.
Annabelle: Yeah. No. I was actually—this was when all the people working in Broadway in the 80s were chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you were told to chant this—it’s really the opposite of Buddhism, it’s a Buddhism that’s the opposite of Buddhism in my opinion because you’re chanting for something, right, which is like the opposite of—
Paul: Instead of surrendering to what is.
Annabelle: Surrendering to what is, right, so everyone was chanting for parts in Broadway shows and they were getting them because the people who were hiring people were also chanters, so it was this whole world and I—and the thing was I said nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the singular, um, phrase that we will have to spread this through the universe, and I was like, ‘well, if there are other beings in the universe, don’t you think they have their own special things?’ And I was kicked out.
Annabelle: So I was kicked out of Buddhism. But I was going to every one of these kind of things. I was just so deeply wanting someone to tell me that I was okay.
Annabelle: And that’s also what the kind of reinforcements you get when you get a job in acting and—‘oh, I’m joining this family, I’m joining—’ and I actually believed that everyone I worked with was gonna be my best friend, was going to salve that hole that existed, um, you know—Carlos Castaneda, who I used to read at the time but I haven’t read in years, but I remember that, you know, his writings about the spiritual—the soul—there was image I remember he used to talk about which was, like, the egg, and, you know, people who were unevolved spiritually had, like, a hole in the middle of them and I always felt that whole, you know, and I was looking to put things in it—
Annabelle: From the outside world, and show business can seem to be that thing, people loving you—
Paul: It seems perfectly egg-shaped, doesn’t it?
Annabelle: It’s certainly egg-shaped—
Paul: And it’s not—
Annabelle: It’s not going to fill you and take care of you and make you feel like you’re okay.
Annabelle: And then, you know—
Paul: And I think the illusion is, is it feels that way temporarily but then you want a bigger egg.
Annabelle: Right. Right, right, right. Well, the hole gets bigger—
Paul: You see somebody with a bigger egg and you’re like ‘why can’t I have that egg, that’s a really nice color egg.’
Annabelle: Right, also it’s like Stephen Hawking’s idea of what happens in a black hole, that things go in the black hole become spaghettified, like, it just destroys things, so every time you put something in that hole, it only goes crazy and weird and not the way you thought—it doesn’t come out the other—
[Annabelle’s phone rings]
Paul: That’s okay
Annabelle: Sorry about that. Um, it doesn’t actually—maybe it’s show business! Maybe there’s a part for me somewhere—
Paul: By the way, you know what I always think of when I hear that ringtone?
Paul: ‘I don’t know how to program my phone. I don’t know how to—,’ ‘cause that’s the original ringtone that comes with it.
Annabelle: Yes, that’s me. My entire knowledge of technology is on and off buttons. I just use things and I am like chimpanzee.
Paul: So, you moved to LA. You had this hole in you that you felt that you needed to be filled, and I think so many people can identify with that—
Annabelle: Yes. And I got married immediately, like, the minute I moved out here.
Paul: I forgot that you were married before you were married to Jeff.
Annabelle: Right. And that was another, kind of one of those things that I did, so—okay, I’ve never admitted these things before, not even in my books that I’ve written or any other—
Paul: What is that noise? Was that an airplane?
Annabelle: That’s an airplane
Paul: Something almost sounded like a big giant’s belly gurgling.
Annabelle: Yes, like, mine. Because my stomach is turning because gonna say these things. So, what happened was before my friend died, my friend who was my father figure—
Annabelle: He told me that I was going—oh, there’s a really big stomach-churning loud plane flying through our microphones.
Paul: That’s alright. Just super interested in what you have to say
Annabelle: So he told me that I might meet someone at a party, and he described this person as being blonde and, I think, foreign—
Paul: Who was telling you this?
Annabelle: My friend Van Zandt, that person who died who was—
Paul: Oh, okay, right.
Annabelle: Possibly a cult.
Annabelle: So, um, he said—and he had an accent—he told this sort of way that we would meet, I would be sort of cornered at a party and this could be the person who would be, like, the person in my life or something. So, I’m at a party with Lisa Edlestein of House, it was her 20th birthday party, and a blonde guy sort of corners me in this corner area—he’s British, and I agree to get engaged and marry him that night because I had been told that I would meet this person. This is what I file under things you do in your 20s.
Annabelle: The truth was—it’s so embarrassing, the truth was Van Zandt was dying and I was terrified to be in the world again.
Annabelle: And I—and this ended up being my first husband, who’s a lovely person, Nicholas, he, uh, and he—for his own reasons would do this, I mean he was a painter, British, he had his own reasons, it’s sort of like a, you know—
Paul: Did he have the felt things on his elbows of his tweed coat?
Annabelle: Yes, he did.
Annabelle: No, no he didn’t. He was more like this, um, you know, punker type of person, but beautiful—very beautiful kind-of choir English-looking guy. Very wonderful painter, that night he showed me his paintings and I fell for that. And he’s a very talented guy, he’s back in England now, um, and I was just desperately again, you know, wanting someone to hang on to and I had already planned to move to California, but I really don’t think I could have done it without knowing someone was coming out there to meet me, I mean, this is the kind of desperate thing I did in my 20s, and kind of desperate thing I want to do if I am not working very hard on myself—
Annabelle: You know, so he later followed me to California, and I started working as an actor pretty quickly, and I was very lucky and also tenacious, I mean, you know, what is—how do you do this? It was very hard work, I mean, I really—I’m a hard worker, I’ve never shied away from working hard—
Paul: I’ve always envied that. I’ve always envied that quality in you, as, uh—I remember being on the set of dinner and a movie and you were just always busy, you always had people coming by, you always had some project on the side, and I would think to myself, ‘all I have is Guinness in my refrigerator when I go home and that’s what I’m looking forward to—‘
Annabelle: Well, you know—
Paul: And I always felt like such a—I don’t know if loser sounds a little too strong, but I just never had that, that, that drive and always wished I did, and I think when you’re depressed you can’t—it seems like it’s either genetically there or it isn’t no matter how much you try to be someone you’re not.
Annabelle: Right, right.
Paul: You can’t—because I think deal with fear in different ways, it either motivates them or cripples them.
Annabelle: Right. I always thought that, and I mean, I don’t know—there’s things that I don’t know about you obviously, even though I did at times pull the hairs out of your ear, that’s how close in a crazy way we were. I mean, we just spent so much time together—
Paul: I remember you pulling hairs out of my nose
Annabelle: That too.
Annabelle: Which was—that was just for pain though, that wasn’t to help you with grooming.
Paul: That’s right.
Annabelle: The ear was for grooming purposes, the nose was just pain, Paul.
Annabelle: Just to cause you pain. But, um, I always thought—if I think about now that, you know, if we were two people, two different sides of a coin, you affect was depression and mine was anxiety, and so anxiety can be—depression and anxiety can be so, um, helpful in many ways—I mean, look, what great poet or writer, what creative person—depression also comes along with, in my mind at least, contemplativeness and—I mean, so there’s great—every comedian has depression of some sort—
Paul: It really is a double-edged sword.
Annabelle: But anxiety can also be useful, it can really, you know—like meth, a lot gets done when you’re on it and then everything falls apart, or which one of those drugs is at the thing—
Paul: Look how fast the people ran in 9/11.
Annabelle: Yes. Yes, that’s…
Paul: I find one time per show to be really inappropriate—
Annabelle: Wow, yeah.
Paul: And kill the safe feeling that I’ve created over half hour.
Annabelle: That is—that’s dark.
Paul: And that was—that was my place right there.
Annabelle: Thank you. But anxiety can make you a lot—get a lot done, but it can also rob you of enjoying any quality of it, or taking your time to actually do it well. So, I mean, my goal is always to, at this point in my life, to channel that into, um, you know, in a different way. But I have always been a productive person although I think of myself as an underachiever because—
Paul: Most people that are super productive I think do.
Annabelle: There’s just always more to get done.
Annabelle: And I have a lot of—I really do have, um, genuine interests. I mean, even though I was always very self-absorbed, I was always very interested in the world and being a part of, um—and this is one thing I think people don’t always know about people who go into acting, a lot of people, besides the narcissism, and all the things I’ve had and am and, you know—and self-absorption and the wanting to fill that hole—a lot of people who go into show business or acting also are really interested in the world and so that—
Annabelle: Has driven me to want to tell certain stories and be part of projects and wanting to do things and so I, you know, volunteer with the PTSA, and I’m the instrument check-out lady at my son’s school, and just like marching here or doing the project or, you know—once I started writing then, also I’ve never had a dearth of things I wanted to write about, which also was crazy, why do I—
Paul: I loved the thing you wrote that caused a big uproar at TBS. It was about three years in and you wrote an article for Penthouse about, uh, the ups and downs of dating a guy with a big cock.
Annabelle: Yeah, I did—
Paul: And you didn’t tell TBS that it was coming out and so some newspaper called to see what they thought about the article and, uh, it was really well-written and I just remember—
Annabelle: It was very literary. It was a very—you know, why do I have a Carmen—why do I have a Cadillac when a Karmann Ghia fits into your garage? And about how I was getting carpal tunnel from giving my very well-endowed boyfriend a blowjob.
Paul: Right. [laughs]
Annabelle: And, you know, it was artfully written—
Paul: It was.
Annabelle: It was totally not smutty or anything sort of—
Paul: No, it wasn’t.
Annabelle: Totally artful.
Paul: There were some points in it that were graphic but it wasn’t needlessly graphic.
Annabelle: No, it wasn’t—
Paul: It was probably one of the smarter things written in Penthouse.
Annabelle: You know what, that was the first published piece I ever had and, um, I was very proud of that—
Paul: Can people get that online if they wanna read it?
Annabelle: No, but you know what, I think I’ll put it on my website, I’m gonna—
Paul: Yeah you should. Let’s plug your website.
Annabelle: My website in annabellegurwitch.com
Annabelle: If you spell it wrong you even get there.
Annabelle: And if you remember You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, that links to my website and to my Fired! documentary.
Annabelle: That was a big thing in my life.
Paul: Two other things I forgot to plug was Fired! You did the play and then the movie which I enjoyed.
Annabelle: Oh, thank you.
Paul: And, uh, you also have a show on Planet Green called Wa$ted!
Annabelle: Wa$ted! Everything I do has some sort of dark side. Some dark connotation to it, but the Fired! Project, to just talk about for a minute, that to me was a very—I wanna talk about that in relation to two things that you had asked me before we did this. So, I was, um—some people know this, I was fired by Woody Allen when I was working with him and it was this, like, devastating experience, just devastating. And it was a very transformative experience for me because I really was at that moment where—first of all, I wanna say that when I was, I was—not everybody knows this, I don’t really talk about this, I was really fired from TBS, I mean, my contract was not renewed.
Annabelle: And, um, that was so devastating—I was standing in the oncology ward of Ceders-Sinai Hospital, a friend of mine was getting uterine cancer—
Paul: Always a good place to get bad news.
Annabelle: Always a good place to get bad news and I—
Paul: Heap it on, universe.
Annabelle: Here’s what happened, so there’s an executive from TBS who called me, who said—all these messages on my phone, I was like, ‘hey, you looking for me?’ This was the guy, he was rather heavy-set, strange guy—
Paul: Didn’t know what he was gay.
Annabelle: Who didn’t know he was gay. He was there for maybe—
Paul: There seem to be a lot of heavy-set, Southern gentlemen that don’t know they’re gay.
Annabelle: He was only there for—I think after I was let go, he was gone immediately.
Annabelle: Whatever. So, anyway though, he called me and said, ‘hey, we’re not gonna renew your contract—’ cos after six years, seven years, I forget— ‘because we think we can get some press if we hire a new girl.’ I said, ‘what?’
Paul: Why would—first of all, why would he tell you that?
Annabelle: Why would he tell me that? I mean, what am I supposed to say, ‘oh good, oh great, good luck—‘
Paul: Yeah, that’s a good angle.
Annabelle: Um, he had to repeat it to me ‘cause I was just so stunned that he said that, and then—this was the very last thing anyone from TBS ever said to me and so I just said ‘fuck you, your fly is always down.’ I don’t know if you remember that—
Annabelle: His fly was always down. We had, like, a breakfast with him and he’d come to the set and his fly on his pants was always down. This was not my finest moment, I just wanna say, but that’s what came out.
Paul: Yes. Oh my god.
Annabelle: And later on, I kinda thought, well, you know, I don’t know, maybe that was the right thing to say. That, though—it was after I did that—I mean it was devastating, devastating, and I would—you know, it was a devastating moment, but—
Paul: Describe some of the thoughts that went through your head and the feelings you had when you got that news.
Annabelle: Well, you know, you can’t help but replay every single moment of all the years and, I mean, I very quickly went to what did I do wrong, do you know what I mean? And I did plenty of things wrong, but so did many of us there and, I mean, like, any work situation, it’s so complicated but I was—I was just, you know, I just was so completely taken aback.
The—I mean—the floor, it was like the rug was pulled out from underneath me.
Paul: What were some negative thoughts towards yourself that you had?
Annabelle: Oh, ‘I’ve blown it,’ ‘this is it,’ ‘I’m never going to—‘ Humiliation, shame. Shame and humiliation.
Annabelle: Because, I think for anyone who has the other side of it, which is the ability to go out and sell yourself as like, ‘I’m right for this part,’ or to get in front of a camera and have that kind of confidence, the other side is ‘they’re gonna see that I really suck.’ You know, you’re operating with a dual coin or at least I was then, I’ve really tried to—I mean, this was—letting, getting let go from that show, as well as the next thing that happened years later, being fired by Woody Allen, I had to challenge myself of thinking—I was identifying, which goes back to earlier things I said about if I’m not working I shouldn’t be eating—I only had value if I was employed.
Annabelle: So, I totally identified with whatever job I was doing, I didn’t have any value as a person outside of that, so—
Paul: And let’s pause for a second to address that and—I was that way for so long and I can still get into that headspace—
Annabelle: I can if I don’t work on it, I can.
Paul: And working on it, for me, a lot of it has to do with helping other people and getting outside of myself, because if all I’m concerned with is myself, then I attach value—because I’m not building my esteem through, you know, as they would say, esteemable actions, so then what am I gonna base it on—I’m gonna base it on how much money I have, how much people—how popular I am, or other things I have no control over.
Annabelle: Well, for me it was always the work. It was always the being employed, having someone tell me ‘you’re okay, you fit in here, you have a place to go,’ and, um, and I guess, you know, also any kind of status, feeling like I don’t have any value as I can’t just be Annabelle Gurwitch, I have to be me doing something—I have to be recognised and so, you know, the devastation of the loss of not having a job was huge. What happened right after Dinner and a Movie though was I had some immediate work that happened that, um, that was really great, that I’m so proud of, that I wonder if I ever would have done had I not had that situation.
Annabelle: So the things that I’m the most proud of, that I’ve created myself, all happened after that show. And yet, I really needed that pay check too.
Annabelle: And that was, so that was—look, there’s practical devastation and then there’s the devastation of identification but what I wanted to talk about was that, you know, when I was fired by Woody Allen, that was just the most humiliating—the biggest disappointment—
Paul: Were you fired by him or a 12 year old he was dating, ‘cause a lot of time he will delegate that—
Annabelle: Right. No, I was fired in the way that most people get fired in show business, by a functionary. And the functionary happened to be someone that I knew and totally respect, he’s a great guy, he’s the guy who runs the Atlantic Theatre Company who I knew who had to call me and tell me that, and then I—of course, I was told that Woody was going to write you a letter. It’s been about, I don’t know, seven years, five years.
Annabelle: I think it must have gotten lost in the mail ‘cause I haven’t found that letter. Although I did talk to—you know, the funny thing is is I met recently Alfred Molina, and, um, he was fired by Woody Allen.
Paul: Amazing actor.
Annabelle: Amazing actor. He got a letter from Woody Allen.
Paul: He did!
Annabelle: He did!
Paul: Oh, that just—that just fuckin’ burned.
Annabelle: It did, it did. But, here’s the thing, that was a—that was just totally humiliating, ‘cause in a way Dinner and a Movie wasn’t in a sense of the sense of, like, Woody Allen, seal of approval—ultimate seal of approval, you’re okay, you exist as an actor and a person and a human. You were in a Woody Allen—
Paul: At the height of artistic integrity in Hollywood’s mind.
Annabelle: Right. But, the thing is, Paul, the thing that’s always been harder for me is not a crisis, it’s everyday living. I have always found getting up in the morning, getting past my depression or anxiety much harder than a crisis. A crisis is, like, my— ‘I’m home.’
Paul: You’re comfortable there, yeah, you grew up in crisis.
Annabelle: I’m comfortable in a crisis.
Annabelle: So crises are us, you know, I am very—I know how to be in a crisis. I know how to get so—I know how to cry, mourn things, get myself out of it, dig out of it and really, you know, get back—
Paul: You know, this makes sense to me now because I always had a feeling when we worked together on Dinner and a Movie was if there wasn’t a crisis, you would create one.
Annabelle: Oh, thank you.
Annabelle: Oh, did I say thank you or fuck you? I can remember which I just said. Was it fuck you or thank you?
Paul: There was a constant—and I didn’t realise that I was adding fuel to the fire because I—
Annabelle: When you lock yourself in you lock yourself in your dressing room and refuse to come out.
Paul: Did I do that, or you did that?
Annabelle: No, you did that.
Paul: I did that?
Annabelle: Oh my god, yes. Yes.
Paul: What was that about?
Annabelle: ‘Cause you’d have a snit. ‘Cause you—I don’t know
Paul: Oh my god, I totally blank that out. I tend to only remember other people being assholes.
Paul: [laughing] That allows me to, to live on.
Annabelle: I remember both. I remember both.
Paul: Yes. I didn’t realise how arrogant and condescending I was to you until a couple of years in—you and I had a big blow-out about something we don’t need to go into here, there’s other people involved, but they sent us to therapy.
Annabelle: [laughing] Right.
Paul: I I just remember thinking, ‘this is so fuckin’ weird, I’m going to therapy with my co-host.’
Annabelle: I know.
Paul: And we just went one session but we both aired what we had to say and I remember I could sleep after that, and then there was about a year where I only talked to you on—when the camera was rolling. I really gave you the cold shoulder.
Paul: Because I just, I didn’t have it in me to be compassionate—I still hated myself so much. I didn’t have anything to—I couldn’t have compassion for anybody else, ‘cause I was just lost in self-pity, feeling like a victim, worrying about what everybody thought of me, and then after about a year I remember, um, thinking—I started to feel some empathy towards you because you weren’t holding it against me the fact that I had been cold to you for an entire year and I began to start to feel warm feelings towards you, and—and you and I got to this place where—
Paul: Well, why don’t you describe this place that we got to.
Annabelle: You know, I mean, first of all, I wanna say that when we—there were, even—see, the thing is is that you can have chemistry with someone even when you’re not getting along with them and I think we have chemistry.
Annabelle: And why is that? I don’t know. It’s just one of those things, people you have chemistry with.
Paul: I couldn’t stand you in the audition.
Annabelle: I couldn’t stand you.
Paul: I think they saw that and they thought, ‘this will be interesting.’
Annabelle: It was fun. I also—even though I knew that. It was fun because I thought you were very Midwestern, you thought I was very entitled, and—I do remember an early thing though, and it was only—I used to laugh about this to myself later was, like, when we started working together, I had been working on camera for years and you had not.
Annabelle: And you were very concerned about something that is actually very meaningful to me about being egalitarian with the crew and being respectful to them, but you were, like, really look down on me ‘cause I would have people get me water, and many years later you were, like, ‘I think I get that now,’ ‘cause they actually want us in front of the camera and not getting our own—
Paul: They’re adjusting the lighting—
Annabelle: There’s actually a reason why—
Paul: Yes, right.
Annabelle: And I—for years I just silently was—it was like a triumph for me when you realised that. I felt a little bit vindicated for some of your early—
Paul: I think they might as well have just deposited me off a turnip truck when I started doing Dinner and a Movie.
Annabelle: [Laughs] But, see, I had many other—I mean, you know, look, the thing is—it was fun, even though there was a certain—you know, love and dislike can read as the same thing on camera and also when you’re working with someone—‘cause there was a certain element of challenging each other, pushing the boundaries. That is fun to watch and it was even fun to do.
Annabelle: And then there was a time when it can be unproductive, and I think that happens—
Paul: There was lots of times we had to stop, uh, stop down because it got too mean or it was—and it would usually be me being too mean. I was so worried about what my comedy peers thought—
Annabelle: I know, I know. Right.
Paul: That it just—to be honest, I rarely enjoyed myself. If there was a moment that was undoubtedly, comedically really good, then I could relax and be proud of it but the rest of the time I was so worried about what my peers thought, and the reality was my peers didn’t even watch it!
Paul: That’s the reality but when you’re—when you have depression or you’re a narcissist, you’re so wrapped up in yourself that you lose that perspective of what’s really important.
Annabelle: The funny thing is I didn’t have any of that because I just didn’t have—first of all, I didn’t think anyone was watching the show.
Annabelle: Anyone at all. And of course, that was—I have to say, that was one of the things that was freeing for me at least and I thought for you----well actually, it was freeing for us in a certain way which you might not have experienced personally, but when we started that show, people at TBS—no-one was really paying attention to that show.
Paul: Not at all.
Annabelle: The fun thing about being on a very small network, particularly at the time it was very small, except in the South.
Annabelle: Um, was that, you know, it wasn’t like we were on NBC, which, at the time—now, of course, cable is so spread out but—
Paul: They didn’t send executives to watch production of the show.
Annabelle: People didn’t even know what we were doing.
Annabelle: We used to do stuff that was so much fun, and because—
Paul: And we would promote products that we liked because they gave us free stuff.
Annabelle: Right, right, really fun.
Paul: Nobody was watching over us and it was like we were in a basement doing our own show—
Annabelle: But, then—I’m sorry I interrupted you.
Paul: No, go ahead.
Annabelle: But, you know, then, as it happens with many successful ventures, Facebook, whatever, you know, you get into personality things where more money starts to get involved, and also that’s when you get into power struggles between us and that—and personality struggles, and that was, um, really tough—
Paul: Talk about that a little more ‘cause it sounds like maybe I was an asshole again and didn’t realise that I was doing something.
Annabelle: I think you were—well, first of all, I think—ok, there’s many different dynamics but I’ll speak about one dynamic ‘cause it has to do with something that is a real problem for me. So you would lock yourself in the dressing room.
Annabelle: ‘Cause you didn’t wanna do comedy things that you didn’t think were funny. And I, at the time, did not know that I could just say, ‘okay, well, you know, Paul will do whatever he wants to do,’ but the producer at the time would say to me—and it’s not her fault, I agreed to do this—‘go and get Paul out of the dressing room, go and get him to do it,’ and I thought I had to rescue us at all times.
Annabelle: I thought that—well, I didn’t want the show to get cancelled and I thought that you were gonna get us fired—
Annabelle: ‘Cause I thought that we were—of course, in the end, that was on me.
Paul: Oh my god.
Annabelle: And at one point actually, I remember an executive came to tell us they didn’t want us—they wanted us to go back to reading cue cards. You locked yourself in the dressing room and you wouldn’t come out—
Paul: I would do that again, if they wanted us to read cue cards.
Annabelle: Right. And then I was the one who got fired! I couldn’t believe it.
Annabelle: I was—you, you were like, ‘I’m not doing this,’ and I’d be like, ‘well, whatever, I got a kid now, I gotta be—‘ you know.
Annabelle: But the—why did I agree to do that? Because it would only make things bad between us.
Annabelle: Why would I do that? I should’ve just let you work your own thing out and I should’ve said, ‘uh, you know what, I’ll just—it’s Paul’s thing, it’s not my issue.’
Paul: ‘This isn’t my issue.’
Annabelle: ‘It’s not my issue, it’s none of my business and I’ll just wait over here until you guys are ready.’ I thought, at the time, that if this went on that—‘cause, I also thought—there’s many ways to justify this but I thought—
Paul: Isn’t it amazing how this is a perfect example of your anxiety and my depression—
Annabelle: [laughing] I know.
Paul: Completely affecting other people’s lives and it never even occurred to me that I’m wasting the crew’s time—
Annabelle: Well, that’s what I thought—
Paul: Maybe one of them wants to see a kid’s softball game—
Annabelle: Right. Right, right. I thought it was your inexperience in this sort of thing. I thought, ‘he’s gonna get us fired,’ ‘cause I thought at the time we had this little show and it was you and me and I felt like we were, like, totally tied together—and this is also my, you know, my own stuff—so I thought I had to get us back on the set when that was actually the producer’s job.
Annabelle: And, you know, so—
Paul: And I had the feeling that because the show was popular and the executives lived in Atlanta and didn’t know the comedy world, I felt like my job was safe so I felt like I could do that.
Paul: If I thought that they had somebody ready to replace me, I probably wouldn’t have done that, but that was very calculating and manipulating on—
Annabelle: It’s so funny, I never knew anybody who watched the show, only years later I heard people watched it—or like when I would go places, no-one that I knew watched the show.
Annabelle: I never watched the show.
Paul: Well, ‘cause a lot of the movies were crap too.
Annabelle: Right, but I never watched the show, I was just having fun and, you know—
Annabelle: But, so I would go, and I would knock on your door and try to convince you to come out. It was really not good for our relationship at all.
Annabelle: And not good for me because I was so—getting so mad at you. I had to—oh, I’d come home, ‘oh, I had to get Paul out of his dressing room!’
Paul: [laughing] I don’t even remember that.
Annabelle: ‘Paul doesn’t think it’s funny! Paul is the arbiter of funny in the universe,’ and ‘I gotta get him out there, Paul doesn’t wanna do this, we had to wait for him and—‘
Paul: I’m so—let me say I’m officially sorry. I am sorry that I put you through that and—
Annabelle: Well, no—what was I doing? Why did I—I could have said, ‘this is not my job, this is actually your job‘ to the producer.
Annabelle: But, you know, as we all were in this crazy, little co-dependent family, as many kinds of work places get—I mean, this is the thing, this is not, ‘oh, once in a—‘
Paul: Limited to show business.
Annabelle: Show business. This is—every kind of office gets into a thing. ‘I’m covering for this person, why am I doing the work of that person,’ I mean, you get into these things—
Paul: Being a rescuer is such a sick place to go, and if you really think about it, the idea that you’re gonna rescue these things is so arrogant in a lot of ways because you think you have that power but a lot of times the illusion of that power was given to us when we grew up in a family where we provided that illusion, you know, maybe we cracked jokes and our parents got along better, so then we get this kind of inflated sense of power.
Annabelle: Well, I have very big control issues, uh, because I was in charge of everything in my life when I was a kid. I had to figure everything out and—again, let me just say, I don’t blame my parents, they were busy doing their own thing and they did the best—my parents did some fabulous things, they exposed me to the arts in a way that I still think was amazing, took me to see plays, museums, whatever.
Annabelle: Getting dressed, feeding myself—
Paul: The fact that you stole stuff at those museums, that’s beside the fact. You had bills to pay.
Annabelle: [laughs] Any other, like, habits that would have helped me actual live, not so much, but whatever—
Annabelle: Anyways, I had to be, you know, be scrappy and figure things out but that also was—
Paul: You thought you had to be.
Annabelle: Well, I think I actually had to be at a certain point—
Paul: As a child.
Annabelle: As a child. And even as a—when I was first on my own, you know. But, you know, these things just don’t always work at every point in your life—
Paul: Let’s stop there—
Annabelle: And have consequences.
Paul: Yes. Let’s stop there for a second though. I disagree. I don’t think you had to be scrappy, I think that’s the only tool you had maybe in your toolbox, because I’m beginning to realise now at 48 years old that I don’t always have to manipulate and contrive to get my way, sometimes I can just be vulnerable and ask for help and say, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m lost,’ and sometimes that energy—people are attracted to that, it brings out the best in them—
Paul: And then they come to my aid.
Annabelle: That’s the—also, I thought that I control everything, I mean, everything, so, you know—
Annabelle: And I also—this is what attracted me to this, you know, sort of cult was this idea—and this was very pervasive and you still see this and this is the thing that I worry about, you know, when I see other people doing things like reading books like The Secret, or The Laws of Attraction. I understand that all of us want to feel—there’s a difference between doing the footwork and being in control of everything and I think, I mean, the cult that I was in was like, ‘you create your own reality,’ ‘you can make your—anything happen in your life.’ You know, well, no you can’t. You can put the effort out, but you don’t know what result—
Paul: You control your reaction to everything.
Annabelle: Right, and you control your actions but you can’t control the result you’ll get, but I—and, you know, if you have a couple of experiences where you do get the actual reward when you’re young and you think, ‘it works, it works!’ You know, it can really turn on you and it’s such a terrible—it can really cause depression when you—if you believe these things and I do think that some of these books take and, literally, make people feel—can make people feel like they’re not successful, they’re not working hard enough on it, they’re vision board isn’t correct enough—
Annabelle: They’re not visualizing, you know, they’re not saying, ‘I am successful,’ it’s like, okay, there’s you and there’s the world. Now, I’m like, ‘oh, powerlessness is great, because—this is what I was saying about earlier about being a little bit easier to be me, it doesn’t mean my life is any better, the exteriors of my life, but if I just let go of that energy that I am actually making the globe—making the Earth revolve, it is easier, it doesn’t take as much energy to be me and get up in the day—
Paul: But, how’s the world going to keep revolving, Annabelle.
Annabelle: I don’t know, if my mind isn’t keeping it spinning it’s gonna lose its—
Paul: I’m gonna lock myself in my dressing room until the globe starts spinning.
Annabelle: I’ve never known how to not push—
Annabelle: I’ve only known how to push for things to be my way or to push my way to things in life, I’ve never known how to just be and offer and accept, I’ve always had to push and, um, I do think that there—I had to do that because it was the only thing I knew how to do at the time and, you know, letting go of that and changing and learning other ways to do things is my daily practise, so for me—I wanna say practise, I really mean practise—it’s doing things like, and this is my, like, practical list of, like, to-don’t list, you know, which is, like, ‘write that email, then hit draft, don’t send it,’ um, I don’t pick up the phone sometimes when I don’t, you know—or actually to listen to people and try not to have a response right away, just to listen is very hard for me, so I do, you know—someone told me that thing, ‘wait, why am I talking?’ You know or, ‘why am I texting?’ And I feel like every time I get myself in trouble it’s because I’m overreactive—or I don’t wanna say overreactive, maybe my reaction is appropriate, but I’m too reactive in the moment, so the idea of pausing is, um, really a new concept for me so these are, like, some daily things that I have to practise. Also, my gratitude list keeps me sort of focused on not, you know, getting into what I don’t have—
Annabelle: And also, you know, keeping in my own head.
Paul: Did you also notice that you and I started getting along better right after you and I both started taking antidepressants?
Annabelle: Yes, and coincidentally, we got along better then than when we both gave up deodorant together—
Paul: I remember that.
Annabelle: That was a dark period.
Paul: That awful, stinky six month period.
Annabelle: [laughing] Why did we do that?
Paul: ‘This is okay, right?’ Yeah, no, you smell like ass. I watched—somebody put a clip up on YouTube and I watched it and was us in our heyday, and I got really kind of—I think I sent you an email even—
Paul: I got really kind of, uh, sad and melancholy because the first thought that came through my head was ‘it’s all downhill from here,’ you know, ‘it’s been downhill, you’re never going to be popular again, it’s just diminishing retrns and you didn’t appreciate while it was there, because I didn’t appreciate it while it was there.
Annabelle: Well, yeah, that’s why they say things like ‘youth is wasted on the young.’ It’s really, you know, I could give myself a hard time for feeling like I didn’t appreciate things when they happen, but I also think it’s a trick of the mind. I think that even if you do appreciate things while they’re happening, you can still feel their loss later.
Annabelle: You know, and I feel that way about youth
Annabelle: [laughing] 49, I’m turning 50 this year.
Annabelle: And I got really—I actually, this is very, in all seriousness, I got really depressed, um, earlier this year. I just got a major depression. I just—
Paul: Triggered by something or just—
Annabelle: The realisation of turning 50.
Paul: That you’re gonna be 50.
Annabelle: I got it stuck in my head, and I, um, you know—and there’s a certain kind of reality, the truth is, yes, there may be more behind me than in front of me. And, um, this is where I have to challenge myself to, you know, turn off those obsessive thoughts and just say, ‘okay, that’s just the way it is.’ What am I gonna do about it? Am I gonna feel sorry for myself? Am I gonna be a victim to it? Am I just gonna cry, ‘cause then my eyes will look even older than I look now.
Annabelle: Worrying’s going to make me look worse!
Paul: Well, think—and you know what I do when I have that moment where I think of, you know, I’m getting too old, nobody’s gonna hire me. I think do I want to feel the way I felt when I had a young body? Do I want all those thoughts that come along with it, all those anxieties and that emotional ignorance that I had?
Annabelle: No, see a lot of people do that. I don’t do that. I just say to myself ‘I just don’t have time to waste.’ Do you know what I mean?
Annabelle: I can’t go back to that, you now. Just for me, my coping mechanism is just to—you know, actually I got so depressed, and, um, that, um—here is a really low moment for me—now, I have got a kid who’s 13 and what also is—when he was about to turn 13, this was also part of the depression I felt, I felt that he just didn’t need me as much as he did, you know, when he was little and wanted to hold my hand and now he’s like, ‘mom, you chew too loudly.’
Annabelle: And the other night I said, ‘can I read to you, I mean before you go to bed tonight?’ And he said, ‘I’ve heard your voice enough for one night, mom.’
Annabelle: So, I was like—
Paul: Oh, that’s fantastic!
Annabelle: And, um-
Paul: Why didn’t I ever say that to you?
Annabelle: I don’t know why, Paul.
Paul: I thought it.
Annabelle: Ooh, too late!
Paul: So, how did that make you feel when he said that?
Annabelle: Well, this all started to add up to me—feeling like he just didn’t need me, and the truth is he doesn’t need me in the same way—
Paul: But he still needs you.
Annabelle: He still needs me but what he really needs more than anything is me as a role model—
Annabelle: And so this day, I was just having this huge struggle—and also feeling like no-one’s gonna hire me, bla bla bla bla, and I was, uh, I couldn’t stop crying. I was hiding in the dressing room next to the bathroom, ‘cause my son was in the bedroom and I didn’t want him to see me—
Annabelle: Being so depressed. And I was standing in that room so he couldn’t—‘don’t come in, I’m changing,’ you know. I thought, ‘okay, this is not good.’
Annabelle: I gotta just—and I snapped out of it. How did I snap out of it? Meditation, gratitude list, going to, you know, meet with groups that I meet with. Just, I mean—exercise. It took—I just realised, this is—I’ve just gotten to, like, a bottom and it’s really bad.
Paul: And how long did it take you to feel like you got out of it?
Annabelle: You know, it was a couple of months and what I’m most proud of about this is that, um—and this is really hard—and I started doing classes, just going to classes because I needed to have to go somewhere because I was also dealing with unemployment at the time and I needed to have a place to go—
Annabelle: You know, even though I’d sit in the class and cry.
Annabelle: Uh, I mean, I was just really having such a hard time and I’m very proud of the fact that I got out of this depression before I got some, like, rewards of it. Now, since then I’ve gotten some work, some exciting things happened, but that’s not what got me out of the depression. I got out of the depression befor that—
Paul: That’s great.
Annabelle: And that’s the challenge, is to get—is to do the—see I have to take actions, I can’t just think my way into feeling better, I have to take the actions—
Paul: And that’s a really important thing for people to remember that are stuck.
Annabelle: Right. And this is, like, a really embarrassing thing. I have to change the clothes I wear when I get depressed, I’ll be wearing the same outfit every day. And just this really silly thing for women, maybe it’s for men, I don’t know, but I have to, like, make sure that I get up, get dressed, and, you know, just getting up—I work at home—
Paul: I have to do the same thing. I have to make myself shower every day—
Paul: Because I will go three days without taking a shower sometimes and changing.
Annabelle: Right. And, you know, I work at home, I have to be a very self-motivated person so I have to go to my office, so if I go to my office for a little while—I’m getting really dressed up to go out from the five steps it takes from my bed to my office, which is actually 10 steps, into my little office, which is more like—we call it a cloffice, closet office, it’s a closet and office. So, but I have to get dressed up because I felt like I was getting into a thing where I, um, just wasn’t taking care of myself, so it’s like actual—but I got out of that really big depression and the truth is, Paul, I also had to face, ‘yeah, what if people don’t want to hire me anymore?’ That’s a reality.
Annabelle: Okay, that’s a reality for women—
Paul: And it’s not the end of the world, because something else will come along.
Annabelle: And you know what, I’ll figure something out, I mean—I’ve done a lot of things in my life and, um, and I don’t have the luxury of feeling sorry for myself—
Paul: And that, to me, that’s the other great thing I get out of helping people, um, is I no longer then look to how the world treats me to define who I am. I feel like I become defined by how I treat the world—
Paul: And that feels like, um, it sounds kind of corny but the way I treat the world is more meat and potatoes, and the way the world treats me is more like candy or dessert. It feels great when the world treats me great, it’s a quick high but it doesn’t last.
Annabelle: Yeah, well, it doesn’t. I mean, one minute you’re Annabelle Gurwitch on Dinner and a Movie and then you get a call from a guy whose fly is always down and then you’re not—
Annabelle: And so, am I still the same person?
Paul: Right. I think most people that are successful and living with depression have discovered that there’s about four or five things that they have to do on a daily or weekly basis to function well, to keep the, you know, brain moving.
Annabelle: Yeah, I remember when—there was one point—god, Paul, do you remember this? I’m just thinking about this, like, weird symptoms of oddness in personality. You were obsessed with gummy fish—
Annabelle: Swedish fish.
Annabelle: You were downing sugar like, I don’t know—it was crazy!
Paul: Yes! I would buy bags of them.
Annabelle: Bags of it. Bags of—
Paul: And just eat them between takes.
Annabelle: Till you passed out, I mean, you were just like—that was intense.
Paul: I was trying to stuff my gay southerness and—
Annabelle: You were eating a lot of sugar at one point.
Paul: I was. You know that might have been the year I had quit drinking.
Annabelle: Oh, and maybe—
Paul: I bet it was.
Annabelle: Yeah. Yeah.
Paul: ‘Cause a lot of, uh, a lot of alcoholics will substitute sugar for alcohol.
Annabelle: Yeah, I remember, it was, like, sort of it seemed like it was a pivotal moment in your life when you lost a friend. You had a friend who you lost.
Paul: She, speaking of depression—
Paul: Yeah, she took her own life in 2001 and—she had gone off her meds, and was drinking a lot and— I don’t know about a lot—
Annabelle: I saw you change—
Paul: Yeah, it affected a lot of us really, really deeply.
Annabelle: I didn’t even know you had feelings up until that moment—
Annabelle: I have to say ‘cause you were just never emotional. And then all of a sudden you came in, you had said that someone was lost, they didn’t know where she was—
Paul: Yeah, we didn’t find her body for three days, and, uh, and when we finally did, uh, the group of friends that were—it was like The Big Chill, you know, the group of—there was about eight of us that were really close friends with her and they all gathered at our house and everybody was crying and I remember I couldn’t cry. And I remember feeling terrible that I couldn’t cry, and so—and I hadn’t drank in like a year—and so, I had a couple of glasses of wine and then I went in the bedroom by myself because I didn’t want anybody to see me cry and I sat down and I cried, and I felt better but I thought, ‘this is really fucked up that I’m so out of touch with my emotions—‘ This was in 2001—
Paul: So I was still years away from getting any kind help or realising that I had a drinking problem, but, uh—
Annabelle: But I remember that was like it really shook you—
Paul: It did.
Paul: And my wife.
[Helicopter sound is heard]
Annabelle: That was a tough time—there’s a helicopter just to underscore what a—
Paul: And the thing about my friend too was, she was—she gave no signs that she was depressed. She was maybe the best story—her name was Wendy—maybe one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard. Just somebody that was such a bright light and you—when she walked into the room, you wanted to be near her, she was a great audience, a great laugher—
Annabelle: I mean, you know, that just speaks to what we were talking about earlier, a lot of people who are performers—
Annabelle: I mean, who wrestled more with depression, the people we know, the people like Richard Lewis.
Annabelle: I mean, you know, all of these people, these like great comedy greats, so dark. I mean, Richard Prior, Sam Kinison, just the, you know, the demons they were struggling with—
Annabelle: I mean, can be very charismatic. Um, you know, and I think that that’s—people are drawn to you, and then they don’t know necessarily what kind of real pain you’re in.
Annabelle: Comedy is a cruel, cruel mother, you know. It just takes that tit away when the milk is gone and just you’re—
Paul: Comedy’s a dirty whore.
Annabelle: It’s really—yes, it’s cruel, and—
Paul: And you’re lured in by the cheap price but the next day you get VD and, uh, I should crochet this and put it up somewhere, ‘cause this is—
Annabelle: Yeah, you should sell that in your—
Paul: This is pretty pithy.
Annabelle: In your on-air store
Paul: You said this in an interview early on when the show was starting to get a little popular, you said, ‘there’s a lot of stuff on TV and we’re that: something on TV.’
Annabelle: [laughs] I use that later, you can actually hear that line in an NPR piece—
Annabelle: There’s a lot of stuff on TV and we’re in some of it.
Paul: Well, it’s been so great talking with you, getting to catch up on things and be back in this—your house, 13 years after you were pregnant—
Annabelle: I know.
Paul: And, uh—
Annabelle: It’s also nice to talk about these things too, like, I mean, to be able to take a moment now in reflection and talk about things that were, that were the inner struggles we were dealing with—that we are still dealing with—
Paul: Yes. But they weren’t the end of the world.
Paul: And you and I, who hated each other for a period of time—
Annabelle: Oh. Why don’t you just say loathed?
Annabelle: Don’t stop at hate.
Paul: ‘Cause then that sounds like you hated and you’re smart. You loathed.
Annabelle: Oh, anyone can use the word ‘loathe.’
Paul: Where I’m from—
Annabelle: Is there an ‘e’ at the end or not, Paul? Like, just tell me.
Paul: Where I’m from, ‘loathe’ means you went to college—
Annabelle: Oh, okay.
Paul: If you pull that one out—
Paul: And if you show the fact that you went to college then you’re uppity. You’re uppity.
Annabelle: Oh, okay. Well, we don’t wanna be that.
Paul: We don’t. But the fact that you and I enjoy each other’s company today—
Paul: I think is a testament to the fact that you should never try to predict—
Annabelle: [Gasping] The future, yes.
Paul: The future or what other people mean to you—
Annabelle: Right. Right.
Paul: Or demonize them and think that, you know, ‘I’m gonna write that person off forever.’
Annabelle: Right. That’s so true. Yeah we are—we are those people that never would have thought we’d be sitting here—
Annabelle: Unless my hands were around your throat.
Annabelle: And, you know, now I’m so grateful that we have this and also that, you know, we can talk about the things that we go through—
Annabelle: I think that’s really fantastic.
Paul: Yeah. Well it been, uh, it’s been so great catching up with you and seeing you again and—it’s been 13 years since I was in this house, you were pregnant the last time I was here, and I’m just looking at pictures of your boy—
Paul: Whose just had his Bar mitzvah and, uh—handsome looking kid—and, uh, I’m so happy for you.
Paul: And if you’re out there listening, uh, after you go and buy Annabelle’s book, You Say Tomato, I Say—what is it, I Say Tomato…
Annabelle: You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up.
Paul: You can get it at Amazon. If you’d like to support our show, there’s a couple different ways you can do it. You can buy stuff through our Amazon link, that helps support the show. You can donate, um, you can rate us on iTunes. Go on the forum, read the forum, introduce yourself, ask questions, answer questions. There’s a survey, you can take the survey, you can also see what other people—how they answered. I find that really fascinating to go and see—
Annabelle: Mh-hm. Yeah.
Paul: Like, one of the things I ask is what are the most common negative thoughts that you have, things that—behaviors that you engage in that you wish you didn’t, um—
Annabelle: Obsessive thoughts.
Paul: Obsessive thoughts.
Annabelle: That’s why I meditate, ‘cause I’ll just go round and round and round the thought—‘why is Paul locked in his dressing room? Why is Paul locked in his dressing room? I hate Paul.’ Oh my god—
Paul: Wow, we think the same things. That’s amazing
Paul: Um, so support the show if you can that way, if you feel so inclined. And a couple people I wanna thank, involved with the podcast. Uh, Stig, generous guy who donated to the show and is helping us redesign our website. Martin Willis, who is, uh, helping with the website and, uh, you the listener, who have really helped get this thing off the ground and I’m just blown away by the response I get from people. But most importantly, what I want to say is that if you’re out there and you’re stuck, don’t give up hope ‘cause there is help if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and try something different, and just remember you are not alone. Thanks for listening.