Wendy Liebman

Wendy Liebman

Comedian Wendy Liebman opens up to Paul about anorexia, pedophile teachers, exploitive therapists, the need to entertain and perfectionism.   Oh, and some good old-fashioned fear!   Wendy has appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, HBO,  The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and Comedy Central Presents.




Episode notes:

Be sure to visit the website for Wendy Liebman .    She has a new DVD coming out soon, entitled Playmate of the Year*(*as voted in kindergarten).


Episode Transcript:

Wendy Liebman
Episode 14

Paul: Hey, before we get to Episode 14 in the Mental Illness Happy Hour,with my guest Wendy Liebman, a couple of notes. Please visit the website mentalpod.com. There's a forum, there's a survey that I drew up that helps me get to know who you guys are. There's a blog that I write, which I think is worth reading despite what my Catholic head tells me. You can support the show financially through a donation. Another great way to support us, if you don't want to do that, is you can go to iTunes and give us a good rating. That increases our ranking and helps drive viewers to the site, which I think is a good thing. I want to apologize – there's a little bit of an audio annoyance occasionally with this show. I didn't have the levels set quite right and sometimes it gets a little funky. So, nothing earth shaking but I do apologize about that and hopefully the next time it will be a little bit better. And, I think that was... oh, I want to thank Stig Greve, who was a listener who emailed me and said, 'Please let me help redesign your site. I'm a professional web designer.' And I want to thank him for taking care of that... free of charge. What a great guy. So thank you Stig. And thank you to Martin Willis for helping out with the show also. Martin was instrumental in helping get this show off the ground. And thank you guys for all your great feedback. I really enjoy hearing from you guys and, so please continue with that. And, as you know, I like to kick off the show with a quote or something pithy and here's a thought that occurred to me a couple of months ago. That's right, I'm going to quote myself – [laughs] how annoying is that. But, the thought occurred to me that 'nothing degrades the quality of my life like obsessing about the quality of my life.'
[show intro]

Paul: I'm here with Wendy Liebman and I'm so glad that you could make it. We don't know each other very well. We've met a couple of times. But we've never sat down and had a really in depth conversation. I'm sure most people know who you are—are familiar with your standup. For those that have been living under a rock, Wendy has done every stand up television show imaginable. She was the winner of the 1996 Female Standup of the Year award at the Comedy Awards. Been on The Tonight Showeleven times? Ten times?

Wendy: Letterman, nine times.

Paul: Oh, Lettermannine times. Tonight Show?

Wendy: Tonight Showabout four times.

Paul: About four times? But you got to do it with Johnny and Jay, which I'm so jealous of. And, the fact that you’ve done Letterman, which I'm jealous of. You had your own HBO half hour. You are one of the comedians who, to me, is rare in that your act is clean, it's accessible, and yet it's original. And the other thing I think you should be proud of – you probably aren't because you're probably a self-hating comedian like most of us [Wendy laughs]– is that somebody could do an impression of you. And, that is the sign that you have your own comedic voice, to me.

Wendy: Somebody did on Twitter or Facebook.

Paul: How did that feel?

Wendy: Well I think she tweeted it. Well, I watched it and thought, 'Wow, really? That's what [laughs] that's what I sound like?”And then other people said – they went from the spectrum – 'she sounds exactly like you’ to ‘she sounds nothing like you.' So, I couldn't really tell.

Paul: Which did nothing to calm your nerves.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: It's so funny. When we go into that dark alley of self-analysis, it's so fraught with pitfalls because we think we're going to get some thought or opinion that's going to calm us down. But nothing ever really does. It seems like it's going to be, you know, water on that fire of 'we're not enough,' but it almost is always some type of gasoline that just makes us want more or a different opinion. Are you like other comedians?—or maybe I should just say like me in this respect. If somebody compliments you, there’s a pretty good chance that instead of taking that compliment to heart, you’re just going to think to yourself, ‘well, they don’t know.’ ‘They’re obviously not very well informed because they can’t see all the stuff that’s wrong.’

Wendy: I guess I’ve gotten better because I can take a compliment now, I think.

Paul: That’s good.

Wendy: But, it’s not that I feel sorry for them, but...does that make sense?

Paul: [laughs]

Wendy: But I...[laughs]

Paul: Perfect sense. Perfect sense.

Wendy: But I...think maybe I pulled the wool over their eyes too.

Paul: Yeah. You were saying that you hate your body. What do you hate about your body? What do you think would make you happy if was different about your body.

Wendy: Well, I was anorexic when I was younger, and probably when I was 16 through 18.—

Paul: Let’s talk about that.

Wendy: —so that’s a good thirty—I’m 50 now. I’m bad at math too. So, many years ago, and—

Paul: So you were anorexic when it was...

Wendy: Vogue?

Paul: [laughs] It was vogue. You contributed to its popularity, Wendy.

Wendy: Well, I was in the ‘I Love Laraine Newman’ school of comedy. Um—

Paul: Laraine Newman, who was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live and who looked thin on TV, which adds 15 pounds. But, everybody was doing coke on Saturday Night Liveback then, so you know—

Wendy: I don’t know that, but I mean I’ve met her now, and it’s kind of weird to have met some of my idols.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: But anyway, I was anorexic and so—

Paul: Would you just control how much you ate or were you making yourself throw up as well?

Wendy: A little of both. But it was more anorexia than bulimia. And, I think honestly, I have to think about it, that all these years I was just trying to stave off becoming curvy. [laughs] Without getting too in to it—

Paul: Becoming more like a woman.

Wendy: A woman, right, so—

Paul: You don’t want to look like that. When you’re a woman, you don’t want to look like a woman, Wendy—

Wendy: No I don’t—

Paul: —because then men are going to be attracted to you.

Wendy: I would rather have a boyish figure. [laughs]No hips, no breasts, grass is always greener, right?

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: But, I covered it all up on stage because I, as you said, I don’t want people—I don’t want men being—I want them listening to the jokes. Although, maybe it wouldn’t matter. Maybe I should just go for the cleavage.

Paul: So, let’s talk about the bulimia and the anorexia. What—was there anybody that you let know this is what was going on with you? Did anybody become alarmed? How did you get out of it? These are all questions I have.

Wendy: Well...umm....yes. My family knew and so they sent me to a therapist—or, I went to a therapist and she told me I was anorexic and I—

Paul: And you are—how tall were you and what did you weigh at this point?

Wendy: I probably was 5’1”. I’m 5’2” now. And I probably weighed...86. Probably [laughs]… Exactly.

Paul: Right. 86.5

Wendy: Yeah. 86 pounds. So I was never “hospitalized skinny” but that is pretty skinny.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: And, um—

Paul: You went halfway, you slept on a cot.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: Your family couldn’t commit.

Wendy: [laughs] Exactly.

Paul: Right. Uh—

Wendy: But to this day, still on my tombstone—“finally skinny enough.” My husband said ‘no way, no way, no way.’ I have been told by therapists that I was self-medicating by starving myself. I was probably depressed and I was making it so that I didn’t have to be conscious of that.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: So I would be distracting myself, which is probably what any neuroses is? I don’t know, even though I studied psychology, I don’t really know.

Paul: Right. Does anybody really know what and why we do stuff? I mean, I think we have theories about it but it’s such a grey area. It’s such an inexact science. You were depressed.

Wendy: Yeah.

Paul: Describe that. Describe what that felt like then. Your depression, when did you first think you felt depressed?

Wendy: Well, I don’t remember feeling depressed in high school because I was always so hungry. So I was always thinking about food.

Paul: Really? Really?

Wendy: Mmhmm. Yeah. I was always—

Paul: So you were literally starving yourself.

Wendy: I was.

Paul: This wasn’t just a ‘17, i want to fit in a different pair of pants- I’m going to go through this thing for a couple of months.’

Wendy: No, no. This was anorexia.

Paul: Yeah, when did that start? When did you first consciously deny yourself food even though you were hungry?

Wendy: I just remember being either a sophomore in high school—yeah, a sophomore. And it was somewhat competitive, which is what comedy is to me as well. I mean, not only—it’s like healthy competition, comedy is. Whereas starving myself was unhealthy, self hatred, competition. I was still better at it than my peers. [laughs]

Paul: Did you ever get to a point starving yourself where a switch went off and you said, ‘Ok, now I’m there. Now I can relax. Now I’m at that weight.’

Wendy: No, I will never be at that weight. Because, as I said, even when I was at my skinniest in my 40’s, I didn’t like the way I looked. So—and I thought I was too skinny looking then. So it’s never right.

Paul: It’s never right. That’s an excellent way of putting it because there’s this phenomenon…especially, to me, where it’s most pronounced is in people like Michael Jackson, Howard Hughes, people who have solved the problems that most of us obsess about, which is ‘I don’t have enough money, my financial future isn’t secured.’ They get that secured and then the brain just creates problems for itself. ‘Oh, the bugs are going to get me.’ You know, ‘I’m not going to live to be 200.’ I think unless we’re grounded and we’re really working on ourselves, the brain is always a step ahead of us in terms of coming up with something that it convinces us we need to fix to become better. We need to remedy in some way. Does that make sense?

Wendy: Yeah. And even at 50, there’s not—I don’t think there’s a day that I like the way I look in clothes or naked [laughs]. So um—

Paul: And that’s, you know, this—I’m not just saying this because you’re my guest, but you’re an attractive woman and you’re healthy and—

Wendy: Thank you.

Paul: And, it’s—it’s just—

Wendy: I’m getting there, though.

Paul: You are. What are you doing to get there? Are you in therapy?

Wendy: Well, I’ve been in therapy for so long. I have an honorary couch [laughs].

Paul: By the way, at Wendy’s website she has ‘A List of Things I’ve Learned Doing Standup Comedy.’ And when I read this list I smiled because I was like, ‘I’m gonna enjoy having Wendy on because she obviously is an introspective person.’ Which I think most artists are. But it’s obvious that you have done some looking into your soul, and probably had to have experienced some sadness and some, uh, depression to arrive at these conclusions. Because most people don’t arrive at some of these things you have written down because life was going their way.

Wendy: Figure out your hair.

Paul: Figure out your hair. Yeah, why don’t you just say some of them instead of me reading them?

Wendy: Well, I really think that figuring out your hair is a big part of figuring out who you are. And, um, knowing what to wear.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: I’m pretty comfortable now.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: I think just being comfortable is key because—

Paul: Being comfortable is what?

Wendy: Is key.

Paul: Ok, yeah. Well, talk about figuring out your hair thing. Because maybe I don’t understand it. Uh, is there a glibness in that? Or is that true 100% honest?

Wendy: I think it’s 100% honest.

Paul: What if you can’t get your hair to how you like it? Are you fucked?

Wendy: No, but just being conscious of your hair is—

Paul: Isn’t it something, though, that most people think too much about? Or you don’t think so?

Wendy: Umm, I guess maybe I should reword that. It’s being comfortable with your hair. Because it’s always changing.

Paul: Yes....yeah.

Wendy: And—

Paul: That makes more sense

Wendy: Ok, yeah. Be comfortable.

Paul: If you can be comfortable with your hair, it’s easier to be comfortable with the rest of your body, and your appearance.

Wendy: Yeah, I’ll change that.

Paul: Ok.

Wendy: Thank you!

Paul: Do I get an editing percentage then?

Wendy: You do. And I think a friend of mine is going to illustrate these.

Paul: Choose—I think that’s a great idea. ‘Choose words carefully.’ I highly agree with that one. The biggest problems that I run into in dealing with people is when I don’t choose my words carefully. And, so many times I think life is so much easier if we can just take a breath before we speak. And try to be diplomatic in what we have to say. And it doesn’t have to sacrifice the feeling behind what we say. But there’s so many different ways and, especially with the internet, things can be interpreted so many different ways. It’s one of the reasons I think the internet is such a dangerous place to look for validation because there’s no nuance in the printed word, or at least it’s very difficult—

Wendy: I know you can’t even put italics in, like, your tweets.

Paul: Right, which is why I wind up over abusing the smiley face. ‘Cause I’m so afraid somebody’s going to misinterpret something I intended to be humorous as a cutdown.

Wendy: I’m nodding.

Paul: Yeah...what?

Wendy: I’m nodding. I didn’t...I want your...yeah...

Paul: Yes, ok. So, what are some of the other things from the things you’ve learned doing standup comedy?

Wendy: Um, you know I’m saying, ‘Don’t take the obvious for granted.’ ‘Remember to breathe and stand up.’ Like, I think a lot about—laughing is breathing. And, you know they all say that ‘laughter is the best medicine.’

Paul: Right.

Wendy: Except if you have a hernia. [laughs]

Paul: [laughs] Which I’ve had three of.

Wendy: Really? Oh. Ow.

Paul: Miserable. Yeah. But let’s get back to, um, talking about the—you’re anorexic as a teenager and so you discovered that it wasn’t—that the target weight, the target look was an illusion. That there was no ‘ahhhhh’ moment that you were gonna get to. How long did it take you of struggling with your weight to realize that?

Wendy: You know, I think I will just always feel fat. But, um—

Paul: We’re gonna take our picture together so people are going to see be able to see that you’re not fat.

Wendy: I’m not fat. Well, what’s interesting is, as I said earlier, it was just a way to kind of self-medicate and anesthetize myself, from really dealing with myself.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: In the same way that I do now by—I starve myself of sleep.

Paul: What’s that about?

Wendy: So, I’m like an anorexic sleeper. Like, you’ll see my online at four in the morning.

Paul: Really?

Wendy;             Yeah, and you know it’s gotten worse.

Paul: Do you want to sleep and you’re not doing it?

Wendy: Well, I sleep during the day a lot. And today was the first day where, you know, I wake up with one of my stepsons at 6:30—

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: —to wake him up. And today was the first day that I stayed up. Like I don’t usually stay up. I usually go back to sleep a couple of hours.

Paul: So, how many hours a day do you usually get of sleep?

Wendy: Anywhere from three to twelve.

Paul: Oh wow, so you’re all over the map. You’re like a manic depressive with sleep.

Wendy: I’m a bipolar sleeper [laughs].

Paul: Yeah. Have you ever been diagnosed as bipolar?

Wendy: No, I’m not bipolar. Just a bipolar sleeper. I guess I used the term wrong. But I’m a—

Paul: No, but I know what you’re saying. Have you been diagnosed with having clinical depression or any type of depression?

Wendy: Um, some kind of depression. That’s why I’m medicated. But, um—

Paul: What do you take, if I can ask?

Wendy: I take Effexor, which I want to say—you know you asked me, um—

Paul: Do you snort it or shoot it?

Wendy: [laughs] Pills.

Paul: Yeah. I did Effexor for a while.

Wendy: And how did you ever go off of that?

Paul: I had problems waking up. I had a really hard time getting up in the morning. It worked for a couple of years for me. And then I just, I could not get up before noon. And, uh, so my psychiatrist said, ‘Well, let’s try something else because every person reacts differently to meds and one person’s side effects are not necessarily another person’s.’ And so, I had to try about eight different meds before I settled down the ones that I currently take. And they have the minimum of side effects.  But there’s still a little bit of side effects. My libido is not what I would wish it to be. But, so yeah I had to switch away from Effexor. But the thing that struck me most about Effexor was what an analgesic it was. It, um—and I had heard that people with chronic pain sometimes are prescribed—

Wendy: Really?

Paul: —antidepressants because of their analgesic quality. And I broke my ankle clean playing hockey, I mean clean break, and sat in the emergency room for five hours completely comfortable.

Wendy: Wow.

Paul: I mean, it hurt if I put weight on it but I sat there for five hours and was convinced that it was not broken. And the doctor came in and he said, ‘You must be in agony.’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You broke your ankle - clean!’ And I was like, ‘Wow!’ Because I didn’t take anything.

Wendy: Because of Effexor, you’re a superhero.

Paul: Yeah. But uh—

Wendy: Well, I’ve tried many of them. And Effexor seemed to work the best. Although I went off of it twice - you’re not supposed to. I did it slowly, like one bead at a time.

Paul: Right. Did you get those little electricity kind of headaches?

Wendy: I did, but I did it so slowly, Paul, that I actually weaned myself off. My psychiatrist was floored. But then four months later, I hit a place where I had never gone before. Like, even way before I even ever started taking medication.

Paul: Yes, yes.

Wendy: And it wasn’t pretty and I never wanted to go back there again. So, I just started taking it again. And not just, I mean this was a couple of years ago.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: So, what do you take? Can I ask? Now I’m interviewing you.

Paul: I take three things. They’re kind of old school. I take Wellbutrin, Buspar, and Celexa. And Effexor is kind of, from what I understand, would be like those three pills in one. The thing I like about taking the three that I take is it allows me to dial in the amount of each one—

Wendy: Right.

Paul: —so that I get it where I want it. But I have shared this before on the podcast, but I did the same thing. I went off them last summer and felt fine for about four to five months and then it was like I went off a cliff. It was just—tired all the time, depressed, my face was pale, couldn’t go to the bathroom. Literally, to not go to the bathroom for eight weeks—had to get colonics. Just a lot in my body shut down. Shut down. So, I know—

Wendy: Wow—

Paul: I know that feeling. So, I said, ‘You know what?’ I guess I gotta be on these things for the rest of my life. And then part of me was like, ‘Well, is it because I went on these things that now my body has stopped producing them, and I’m totally fucked and I have no choice?’

Wendy: Right, that was my concern.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: But I went to this place where—I’m not a paranoid person, I never have been, I never was. When I went off that medication, I had just seen Fiddler on the Roof and I just started feeling like this um, Jewish—that people hated me because I’m Jewish.

Paul: Oh, that’s real.

Wendy: [laughs] Well, you’re right. You see, it goes back to that German Jew thing, right?

Paul: No, I’m kidding of course. I’m not downplaying anti-Semitism, obviously there’s a lot—

Wendy: But it was more than that, it was more like I was feeling like I was in a shtetl somewhere in the woods. And, I was—

Paul: What’s a shtetl?

Wendy: I don’t even know. it’s like a farm, I think, like in Russia [laughs]. I don’t know, somebody will look it up and correct me.

Paul: A farm where a lot of complaining is harvested.

Wendy: [laughs] So yeah, so I go, ‘Well, like a diabetic, I’m going to have to be on this pill or some pill forever because I don’t want to go to that place again.‘

Paul: That’s the analogy that I’ve used on the show—

Wendy: The diabetes—

Paul: The diabetes thing because we lack a chemical in our brain that allows us to function like a normal person, it’s not a chemical that makes us euphoric. It brings us up to normal and gives us a chance. That’s how—

Wendy: Right

Paul: —it was explained to me by my psychiatrist. And that is how I look at it because—yeah, I’d love not to have to take anything, you know I think, ‘What happens if there’s, you know, a war or the supply of these things get cut off? What am I gonna do?’ And that scares me.

Wendy: That’s definitely scary, but even more than that, I always think, well what is it doing to my organs? And, I mean, I don’t have any children, so there’s no offspring that I have to worry about.

Paul: Well, one of the things I asked you to do was give us some snapshots, some slices of your life that you think have made you who are, for better or for worse. Things that were either kind of profound or painful or embarrassing.

Wendy: Mmhmm.

Paul: Give us some dirt, Wendy.

Wendy: Um, ok...well, embarrassing, which one?

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: I don’t know if this is painful or embarrassing but it’s pivotal.

Paul: Mmhmm?

Wendy: I remember being really—maybe five or six, and there was this show on television in New York called The Birthday Party Show.

Paul: Mmhmm?

Wendy: And it was local kids and if it was your birthday, you could get on the show and it was a half an hour and it was like Captain Kangaroo.

Paul: Yep.

Wendy: So, I remember saying I wanted to be on the show and my mother said, ‘Oh, Uncle Norman knows somebody’—or Uncle Irving. One of my uncles knows somebody on the show.

Paul: Hmmm

Wendy: So, Uncle Morton. [laughs] So that night, I tried to go to sleep—maybe this is the beginning of all my insomnia. Tried to go to sleep and couldn’t fall asleep because I was so nervous that my mother had called Uncle Morton and I was gonna have to be on the show.

Paul: Wow.

Wendy: So I asked to be on the show and then I was nervous the whole—it’s even more complicated than that.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: So I get up, and I go into my mother’s room and she’s like, just putzing around, folding laundry or something. And I said, “I decided I don’t want you to call Uncle Morton.” And she said, “Ok, I won’t.”

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And I was so pissed at her that she hadn’t called Uncle Morton [laughs].

Paul: [laughs]Wow! Wow Wendy, that is—thank you for that slice because—

Wendy: [laughs] wasn’t that awesome?

Paul: That is gorgeous. That is gorgeous and, to me, intimacy is based in being comfortable with imperfection, accepting not only yourself but somebody else. And being comfortable with being—that you’re not gonna be judged by that person. But, to me, being terrified of responsibility is usually a sign that my perfectionism is—has got its teeth in me, and that I think people aren’t gonna love me if I can’t do this perfectly. And I think—I think that that starts from this idea as a child that I’ve got to be—to get my parents’ attention, to get my dad in particular, his attention, I’ve got to be special. I have to separate myself from the pack. And, yet, by separating ourselves from the pack, what we’ve done is we’ve made ourselves alone. We’ve—it’s this double-edged sword of—yes, your ego’s gonna get the stroke that you get to stand out. But, you’re also no longer one of many and you lose that feeling of being connected to other people.

Wendy: That’s so interesting that you said that—

Paul: Does that make any sense? Was that long winded and rambling?

Wendy: No that totally made sense, and I was comparing that—or I was thinking how—when I went off medication—

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: —I had the impulse to get off of Facebook and, like I—

Paul: Shut it all down.

Wendy: Yeah, I—

Paul: Shut it all down.

Wendy: —didn’t want to be exposed or involved, and I’m like such a Facebook and Twitter whore. That, like that’s unimaginable to me now—

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: —that that was my thought. So, yes, that makes total sense. You’re isolating yourself even further.

Paul: You want to control because—if I can’t be perfect on this thing I want to shut the whole fucking thing down. Because I can’t have it on my terms. But, to me, intimacy is about being comfortable with things that aren’t on your terms. And trusting ‘cause trust to me is at the core of intimacy, not only with ourselves but with other people. Is—being willing to be vulnerable to...to...you know, the most valuable friendships I have have been the ones where I’ve stuck my neck out and trusted and to me, that feeling I get when somebody catches me. You know, to use a phrase—

Wendy: Mmhmm.

Paul: That’s such a deeper friendship than the one where it’s based on me trying to impress you to get you to love me.

Wendy: Right.

Paul: And I think comedians, a lot of our path in life has been thinking this sick thought that if I can just impress people enough, I will feel loved, safe, and taken care of. And it’s a dead end alley, impressing people.

Wendy: For me, it’s if they don’t hate me [laughs]...then I’ve won.

Paul: [laughs] Budget grandiosity. Grandiosity on a budget. Talk about that for a little bit.

Wendy: Well, what you were saying that the ego—I’ve said this to my therapist before—that I get depressed when I can’t feed my ego.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: Like, when I don’t know how—

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And um—

Paul: And I think that’s a great thing because it forces you, then, to find a solution that isn’t ego-based. Because I think all ego-based solutions ultimately are...are just dead ends. And they whip us up into a frenzy.

Wendy: Like what?

Paul: Well, I highly recommend this book called, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It’s a book that changed my life. And he helps you identify when the ego is at work. And he helps you find solutions to be at peace with yourself that aren’t based on the ego. That aren’t based on impressing people or achieving things. But just by being, by being present and accepting things you don’t have control over. And that’s what I think—the biggest gift sometimes you can get from the universe is to not get what you want.  To not get what your ego wants. Because what the ego wants is almost never healthy for us. It’s candy. You know, the ego wants fame, the ego wants recognition, the ego wants material stuff.

Wendy: My ego wants crackers. [laughs]

Paul: [laughs]

Wendy: That’s never good for it. But this is what’s interesting—

Paul: Uh huh?

Wendy: —because I think people have a way of trying to work things out for themselves.

Paul: Mmhmm?

Wendy: Even if they’re not aware. Because this is what I did. So, when I turned 50—when I was 49 I decided for my 50th birthday, I was going to record my first DVD.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And, it’s as I said, Playmate of the Year, As Voted in Kindergarten,  and I invited people that I’ve known for 46 years. And my parents, who’ve known me the whole time. But I mean people from kindergarten, people from...that I met, like recently, new friends, my dentist.

Paul: Even the people from kindergarten you had a falling out with and hadn’t seen for 46 years?

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: So you invited all these people?

Wendy: From New York, from Florida, everybody descended upon LA. It was the night of my life—

Paul: And where were you gonna tape it?

Wendy: It was, I did it already at the El Portal theater in North Hollywood.

Paul: Yeah, yeah!

Wendy: And, what I realized was I called it The Birthday Party Show.Paul: Mmhmm?

Wendy: Just randomly.

Paul: Right?

Wendy: But, it was like I was in control of this. I was making up for not being on that Birthday Party Show when I was six.

Paul: Not being on what Birthday Party Show?

Wendy: Well, the Birthday Party Showwhere Uncle Morton was gonna—

Paul: Oh, that one! Oh, cause that’s what it was called was the—

Wendy: The Birthday Party ShowPaul: Oh, right, right, right.

Wendy: So, in my mind—

Paul: Wow!

Wendy: —just subconsciously I started calling it The Birthday Party Show,like not even connecting that I was here to make it right...after all these years.

Paul: Wow...

Wendy: I know, goose bumps right? So, when I realized that’s what I was calling it. So...you know it’s morphed into other things and it’s not called The Birthday Party Show, but it’s how it—

Paul: And did you have this realization before you did the show or after?

Wendy: I did, before. And, I wasn’t in complete control anyway, so in the end, yeah it was still—I’m still dissatisfied with it, I could have done more work on it, I—

Paul: Of course, you’re a perfectionist.

Wendy: Yeah.

Paul: And, if you can step outside the perfectionist/producer shoes, how do you think it went?

Wendy: You know? Live, it was amazing. And, it was edited by the most phenomenal guys. They did Animal House, and—

Paul: Wow.

Wendy: I know, I got these amazing guys to do it. ‘Cause they’re friends of friends.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: They made it look great. I still watch it and hide [laughs] under the bed.

Paul: Yeah, ‘cause you’re watching it with a perfectionist’s eyes—

Wendy: oh my god—

Paul: —not someone who loves you and accepts you just as you are.

Wendy: I mean, the irony is I invited people I knew—

Paul: Mmhmm?

Wendy: —because I went off on a limb. I would say things like, ‘What I Learned Doing Stand Up Comedy.’ I got philosophical. I said things like Steven Wright might say like, ‘What do oysters think the world is?’ You know, like, I—I wasn’t just my normal self.

Paul: That’s great! So you expanded, you took chances!

Wendy: I did, and I could only do it because there were people—I knew everybody in the audience. Except for two people in the front row. They were friends of friends. But, I just remember looking down going, ‘Who the fuck are you?’

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: Because I invited everybody.

Paul: Right, so how many people were in the audience?

Wendy: About 300.

Paul: Wow!

Wendy: And ummm—

Paul: And people will be able to buy this DVD at some point?

Wendy: Yes, it’s not out yet ‘cause we’re working on the extras. You know, like the—

Paul: Well, check out Wendy’s website wendyliebman.comand I’m sure—

Wendy: Yeah, I’m sure there will be a link.

Paul: Let’s go back to the—

Wendy: More questions?

Paul: Oh yeah, let’s do the list that you made. I asked you to take this survey and you jotted some stuff down.

Wendy: My sister and I have talked about this. We don’t remember—like we feel blank.

Paul: Mmhmm?

Wendy: So, I think yeah, we were both kind of depressed and just, I don’t know if it was bored or just feeling—it wasn’t feeling unloved. Just—

Paul: You know what? I—my feeling is that you don’t have to be abused or terribly neglected to feel—to have some type of scarring. Because kids are so needy. And your expectations are so childlike and grand. It’s almost impossible for an adult not to let that child down. And not—

Wendy: Right...

Paul: —and not to have it kind of hurt us. And I suppose that’s just part of growing up and life. But that doesn’t make it go away. That doesn’t make it—

Wendy: Do you have kids?

Paul: I don’t. I don’t ‘cause I’m afraid I would be like my dad, that I wouldn’t give them the attention that they would need. I think I’m too selfish.

Wendy: Well, I never had kids of my own. Well, I can’t have kids according to my lease, but I never had—

Paul: [laughs]

Wendy: —I never had kids of my own. I actually know I could have kids but it just wasn’t in my cards. But I think I was kinda like you, I think I thought—well I thought I was gonna be a bad parent.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And so now I’m a step-parent and—I’ve commented somewhere, I think I’m a bad step-parent.

Paul: Why?

Wendy: Well being a step—

Paul: Thank you for saying that, thank you for saying that by the way. Cause that’s a really hard thing to admit. Not only to yourself, not only to another person, but to admit on a podcast. So thank you for—

Wendy: Well...I’m not completelybad.

Paul: No, you’re shit.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: Let’s agree. You said it. It’s committed to tape.

Wendy: I...

Paul: Wendy Liebman is the worst stepparent in the history of the universe. You heard it here on the Mental Illness Happy Hour.

Wendy: [laughs] It’s just that I have a lose-lose situation in that I have the responsibility for my stepsons and no authority.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: And so I’m constantly wondering what my position is.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And I’ve raised them for 12 years.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: But I think I’m bad with one of them—

Paul: Mmhmm

Wendy: —because I...don’t speak his language. Maybe that’s what it is.

Paul: He’s Iranian.

Wendy: [laughs] Yes. No, he’s—both of them are like really, ultra smart, which is scary when you have kids because they’re smarter than you are.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: But, um, I get very angry with one of them. So, in that sense I’m not a good stepparent. My other one I said, ‘You turned out really well despite me.’ And, you know, I think I have brought joy to them and a sense of humor. That’s not genetic. Because they’re both really funny and their dad is really funny too.

Paul: How long have you and their dad been together?

Wendy: 12 years, so yeah...I’ve been married for eight but I moved in pretty much right away. And, yeah...that’s been my hardest challenge and I go, ‘Well, what’s the lesson that I’m getting from this?’ Cause I feel —I think you mentioned it, that everything’s there for a reason. I’m there to learn patience. And...yeah.

Paul: Yeah. So, and to me, I think that’s one of the most difficult things is to put effort into something, having no clue as to what the results are going to be. And that is, to me that’s the definition of faith and trust is to do that. That’s the definition of selflessness is to do it just for the sake of doing it. And, trying to get out of that headspace of, ‘How is this going to turn out? Is this going to backfire on me?’

Wendy: There’s no right or wrong.

Paul: No, there isn’t. There isn’t. Let’s let’s try a game I started. I have a lot of fears. I’m a fear-based person. And, I thought it would be fun to play this game where we just trade fears until—

Wendy: Okay?

Paul: —somebody doesn’t have any left. So I’ll start off.

Wendy: Okay, ‘cause I’m not that fearful a person. Ok, but I’ll—

Paul: Then I’ll probably kick your ass at this.

Wendy: Ok. Alright.

Paul: I’m afraid that I’m grandiose and my future’s not gonna be what I picture it to be.

Wendy: I’m afraid that I will end up a bag lady.

Paul: [laughs]

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: I’m afraid...I’m afraid that I’m going to not work and not be able to afford my mortgage.

Wendy: I’m afraid that one of my followers will...kill me.

Paul: [laughs] That’s a good one. God damn, you’re good.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: That should have almost had like the Sergio Leone western...

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: [whistles]

Wendy: I don’t know who—

Paul: Yeah, oh no!

Wendy: —I just think that at some point somebody’s going to—

Paul: Wendy, you do not have to explain—

Wendy: —turn from fan to fanatic.

Paul: —to somebody who has streaks of fatalism and grandiosity. You know...

Wendy: Ok

Paul: I am afraid of a dirty bomb.

Wendy: I am afraid of my cooking.

Paul: Your cooking?

Wendy: Yeah [laughs].

Paul: Umm...I am afraid that somebody who is dangerous is going to start listening to this podcast and make it very complicated. Make my life complicated.

Wendy: I am scared that...something will happen to one of my stepsons—

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: —and I’ll never be able to be happy again.

Paul: Mmhmm. I’m afraid that this pain that I have in my back is only gonna get worse and I’m gonna eventually be bedridden and have to take pain pills and lose my sobriety.

Wendy: Hmmm. I’m—

Paul: That was a fucking good one.

Wendy: That was a really good one. [laughs]

Paul: That was a bazooka.

Wendy: [laughs] I’m afraid that I always—well, that I’ll develop lung cancer from smoking cigarettes for years and years.

Paul: You smoke everyday?

Wendy: I don’t smoke now.

Paul: Oh, but you did?

Wendy: Yeah, I did for years. I haven’t smoked in years but—

Paul: Yeah

Wendy: —I still am gonna have a little hole cut in my throat at some point. Even though I’ve been assured that it’s just allergies.

Paul: That would be a good look.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: You’ll manage to—in your typical Wendy Liebman style, you know just delivering a joke. [funny voice] ‘I went to a restaurant last night.’

Wendy: But that’s so interesting about your back because I had a bad back and I got into a bicycle accident and I broke my pelvis. This was five years ago.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And, it corrected my back problem.

Paul: Are you kidding me?

Wendy: 99% - I still feel it like, every once in a while, but it was to the point where I had gone to the doctor to see if maybe they could do surgery on my back.

Paul: Wow.

Wendy: And then I broke my pelvis, so I do think the universe works in, like, really fucking bizarre—

Paul: It does.

Wendy: —mysterious ways.

Paul: Let me bring up my next fear. I’m afraid that I don’t—that I’m wrong about the universe having a benevolent side and I’m just kidding myself and that there really is no higher power, God, whatever you want to call, out there. And that I’m just a douche for thinking it.

Wendy: [laughs] Well, at least you have a lot of douche friends who think the same thing. Right?

Paul: [laughs] Right.

Wendy: Plus, there has to be something else.

Paul: I don’t think there has to be something else. I think, I’m 99.9% sure, but I’m a little skeptical of anybody that says there is absolutely, without question, something out there. Because I don’t like how most of those people handle themselves. Because I think they’re not open minded. I think any—Mother Teresa questioned whether or not there was God, at a certain point.

Wendy: Right, I remember that.

Paul: And it’s like, if she can...shouldn’t everybody? At some point?

Wendy: I’m scared of flying.

Paul: That’s a pretty normal one. That makes sense to me. I’m—

Wendy: No, I mean flying the plane.

Paul: [laughs]

Wendy: I mean actually flying. No, I’m scared of flying.

Paul: I’m afraid I’m gonna see—oh, I’ve done this one before but I’ll do it again. I’m afraid I’m gonna see my animals or my wife have to suffer.

Wendy: That’s a pretty normal one, though.

Paul: Let me finish—when I beat them.

Wendy: Oh...wooo, that’s the grandiose talking.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: It think I’ve run out of them.

Paul: Good! I win! Oh no, I would have to come up with one more to win. I’m afraid what I just said made me sound like a pompous ass. There. Now I’ve won.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: And I’ve won with an ironic thump of the chest.

Wendy: That was ironic.

Paul: An ironic thump of the chest. What...what other things do you have on—

Wendy: Well, I have other pivotal moments but—

Paul: Well, let’s get to those.

Wendy: Um...ok well I guess my—it’s so funny because I have two men in my life that —one was a teacher, one was a therapist and they both really did a number on me. They sort of mind raped me.

Paul: Really?

Wendy: Yeah, and um...it’s so funny ‘cause that movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels...

Paul: Mmhmm?

Wendy: The names of the protagonists or antagonists are Benson and Jameson, and those are the names of the two scoundrels.

Paul: Really?

Wendy: [laughs] Yeah. So, I do a joke about one of them in my act, which makes me feel better.

Paul: Mmhmm?

Wendy: And I’ve done it on national television, so in a way that—it’s almost like you never know who your victims are gonna grow up to be.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: Because this teacher abused me, used me, I don’t wanna get—go into it any more than that because that’s 25 years of therapy.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: But I did say on Lettermanthat in high school I had a typical high school romance. I was a cheerleader and he was on the…faculty. Um, go Mr. Jameson before the cops catch you.

Paul: Wow!

Wendy: So, I got to do that as my vengeance, or vindication—

Paul: Yeah, yeah

Wendy: —or I felt vindicated after having done that.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: And I think it actually—I had tried to get him kicked out of the school district.

Paul: Uh huh.

Wendy: And unless I was gonna sue anybody, nobody was gonna do anything. And so, that was the closest to suing anybody that I was gonna do.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: I got to say that and it got back to him, and—

Paul: Mmhmm. And how old were you. What year in high school were you when this happened?

Wendy: I was a senior.

Paul: Ok.

Wendy: Yeah.

Paul: And had he—did he have a reputation for this with other girls? Or did this kind of take you by surprise?

Wendy: Um, he was the cool teacher.

Paul: Sure.

Wendy: And with Mr. Jameson—he also opened my mind to a lot of things. He was my English teacher, and he would play classical music and on my drive over here, I heard Eroica, which is Beethoven’s third symphony, which he turned me onto and so, it’s the good and the bad.

Paul: Yeah, but—I think that’s an interesting thing though, you know. I’m not saying this guy is a pedophile, but obviously inappropriate. I think we can agree—

Wendy: No, he’s a pedophile.

Paul: Ok. Um...that’s how they get what they want, is they have to be charming.

Wendy: Right, he preyed off of me and so he looked for somebody who needed attention.

Paul: Mmhmm. Yeah.

Wendy: And was—liked being in the cool—I liked that the cool teacher really liked me.

Paul: Yeah, and he could probably spot your neediness across the room.

Wendy: Right. And, you know, the more I talk about it—because I started a Facebook page ‘People Who Have Been Abused By A Teacher at Roslin High School.’ And there are a couple of people on that website- I mean on that Facebook page.

Paul: What is the Facebook page? So people can...

Wendy: It’s called ‘I’ve Been Abused By—’ I actually have two groups ‘cause I started one just generically: ‘I Was Abused By A Teacher In High School.’ Because I’m not the only one. And, the other is ‘I Was Abused By A Teacher at Roslin High School’ so, um—

Paul: So if they go to Wendy Liebman’s Facebook page, they can—

Wendy: I don’t think it’s connected.

Paul: No?

Wendy: Yeah. No, you know it was originally but I don’t know what happened. So, um—and there’s not a lot of activity on it, that page.

Paul: But there might be—

Wendy: Yeah!

Paul: —there might be after this. There might be two people after...three people who listen to this podcast.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: Um, if they are having trouble finding that and then they want to find it—

Wendy: Email me.

Paul: Through your website.

Wendy: Through my website or my Facebook page, even though they can’t friend me on Facebook because I have like a limit, they can write to me a message and—or write on my page and I—

Paul: I think that would be a really helpful thing for people because, as you compare your stories, I think you’ll begin to see what a mold these guys probably fit into—and girls, because there are also female predators as well.

Wendy: Yeah, but the guys don’t seem to mind.

Paul: Ah, you know, I...I take...I take exception to that because I think there are—while there are circumstances where that might be the case, there is a manipulation behind the sex that they may not come to realize they resent until later on—

Wendy: Later on.

Paul: And they’ll begin to see how they were—the adult was disingenuous with them in a lot of ways to get what they want.

Wendy: Yeah, the authority was—

Paul: Was abused.

Wendy: They used their—

Paul: They did.

Wendy: And so the same thing happened with a therapist who, even though he knew all about what I had experienced with this teacher, was too intimate. He never crossed the line physically but, as I said, raped me psychologically. And—

Paul: Can you be more—

Wendy: More specific?

Paul: —specific.

Wendy: Led me to believe that he wished we could be together.

Paul: What?!

Wendy: On many more than one occasion.

Paul: What?!

Wendy: I know, and just—

Paul: Oh my god, here’s this kid who is—

Wendy: Well, I was an adult at this point.

Paul: Ok, but still, this vulnerable person no—

Wendy: Right.

Paul: Ughhh.

Wendy: And so, again—oh this is interesting. So, the reason that I went to this guy initially was because my therapist had to go on maternity leave for nine months or some bed rest thing—eight months. So, she referred me to this other...this other therapist. And so, I went to him.

Paul: To the creepy guy.

Wendy: But he wasn’t creepy.

Paul: At first.

Wendy: At all, until—well, I didn’t ever think he was creepy because I—that’s what I wanted. I—you’re supposed to fall in love with your therapist.

Paul: Right.

Wendy: But I wanted, um, something—

Paul: But your therapist is supposed to discourage that.

Wendy: Right. Oh yeah. And so...I saw him for about four years. And even though she had come back, but I was now—

Paul: Mmhmm

Wendy: —engaged in this therapy.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: But then when I went back to the woman, um...I wrote to him and I said, ‘I won’t sue you, but I would like an apology.’

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And, he wrote back and he wrote—this is like after cashing thousands of dollars of [laughs] checks from me over the four years, he wrote to me, ‘Wendy Lieberman.’ And—

Paul: Really?

Wendy: And that was more shocking than anything else.

Paul: Wow.

Wendy: Like, that he didn’t even know my fuckin’ name. I know, and so I never sued him. I did write to the American Medical Association—or the American Psychiatric Association. They said that he had already, um...unjoined himself ‘cause he—

Paul: Really.

Wendy: Yeah.

Paul: He knew he had a problem.

Wendy: Yeah.

Paul: He was a psychiatrist or psychologist?

Wendy: Psychiatrist.

Paul: Wow. And how damaging that must have been to somebody who was a perfectionist and struggling with being vulnerable to begin with. You know, here comes this, this feedback that, ‘Yes, you cannot trust the world. Look what happens when you open up.’ And yet, the message that I want people to get is, ‘Don’t give up. Keep trying.’

Wendy: Well, there are so many good therapists.

Paul: There are so many good people.

Wendy: And I just happened on that one [laughs].

Paul: Yeah. Right.

Wendy: So—

Paul: Thank you for sharing—

Wendy: —he’s fat now.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: He’s fat now.

Paul: [laughs]

Wendy: [laughs] I ran into him at a Starbucks. He didn’t see me but—

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: That, uh—

Wendy: Did I, did I open up too much?

Paul: No!

Wendy: Ok, alright.

Paul: No, this is what I—

Wendy: I’m an open book.

Paul: I love.

Wendy: I’m an open Kindle. This is interesting too—like, I’ve thought about how I starved myself of sleep so I’m not nourishing my soul.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: Because if food nourishes your body, maybe sleep nourishes your soul. So I’m not nourishing that, so maybe I need, like, more spirituality in my life.

Paul: I don’t think you can ever have too much spirituality, you know—

Wendy: I mean, I really like that part of the 12 step program where we all held hands. Like, I liked that. Also, I mean I don’t go anymore, I should, but I just haven’t been. I liked, um...I liked holding hands and feeling that there was—I guess in most of my life I feel like people are always asking something of me.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And that was one place where I felt energized, like I was getting the energy.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And I guess the only other place is in therapy.

Paul: Yeah, but there’s something, to me, about spirituality in a group level that is incomparable to anything else because it takes away the feeling of being alone and being hopeless, unlike anything else. And—

Wendy: Well, that’s while I love Tweeting and Facebook, which is sort of my addiction now—

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: because I feel really connected, even it’s to, like somebody that I don’t know and kind of think they’re corny—whatever [laughs]. It’s just having that connection, and had I had that growing up—

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: —my life would have been different, I think.

Paul: Yeah.

Wendy: But, just like you were saying, when there’s a group of spirituality there, it’s almost like being in a comedy club where you can laugh by yourself, that’s healing, but laughing with 200 people, it’s exponentially healing.

Paul: Yeah, especially if it’s about something that’s really deep and painful. And you realize, ‘Wow, other people feel the way I do.’ There’s a release in your soul that I’ve never experienced anyplace else. That when I’m in group therapy, you know, or it’s just a group of like-minded people and we’re getting together. Like I get together once a week with a group of guys and we talk about our feelings and there’s a release in it, in letting go of all of that stuff—

Wendy: Plus, you ovulate together.

Paul: [laughs] That’s right. Our erections all start happening right around the same time.

Wendy: Ooooh!

Paul: [laughs] There’s an image for you.

Wendy: [laughs]

Paul: Well, Wendy, I want to thank you for opening up and talking about some stuff that might not have been easy but I can guarantee you there—somebody is, and probably more than one person, is going to hear this and feel less alone. Maybe get the courage up to ask for help or at least start opening up. And I enjoy it because it’s another chance for me to get to know one of my fellow comedians a little bit better. And for me to feel less alone and be reminded that there’s so many people out there just as scared and as imperfect as I am, but beautiful in their—

Wendy: Individuality.

Paul: —individuality.

Wendy: You know, one of the things I say in What I’ve learned Doing Standup Comedyis you are equal to every one, you’re idiosyncratic and unique. So you’re all of those things.

Paul: Yeah, well thank you so much for coming to do this and is there—

Wendy: My pleasure!

Paul: —Is there anything you want to plug before—

Wendy: No, just that, you know I have a friend who was just struggling with whether or not she should go on medication.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And she really was averse to it, like really didn’t want to take it and she’s kind of like a health nut. But, she is grateful that she did.

Paul: Mmhmm.

Wendy: And so I’m not advocating the use of antidepressants but it’s something people should consider if they’re in a place that—

Paul: Yes, don’t rule it out if you’re not getting better.

Wendy: Right, because she just could not find a way out.

Paul: Yeah. And who knows, 25 years down the road we may be completely wrong, but who wants to throw those 25 years away so you can find out—

Wendy: Right, like I always think, if my grandmothers had had Prozac, they both would have been a little more functional and prolific.

Paul: [music] Well, thanks...thanks Wendy. And if you’re out there and you’re listening and you’re stuck, there is help and just remember you are not alone. Thanks for listening.