If Laraine Newman had made more interesting plans for the summer she was 23, the history of Saturday Night Live and its original cast, The Not Ready for Prime Time Players, would have been different. Luckily for fans of Connie Conehead or Sherry, the ditzy Valley Girl, which are among the characters Laraine, 69, made famous, she flew east to New York City in 1975.
“A lot of people were offered the show but they turned it down,” this native Los Angeleno exclusively tells Closer. “I was pretty young and I wasn’t doing anything else, so I went.”
Much has been written about those golden early years when Laraine and the cast, which included the late John Belushi and Gilda Radner, made TV history. Now, Laraine’s telling her story her way in a new audio memoir, May You Live in Interesting Times, available on Audible.
Keep scrolling below for Closer Weekly‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Laraine Newman!
Congratulations on the memoir. What prompted you to tell your story now?
I actually started it on a family vacation when my kids were 7 and 11, and now they are 25 and 29! But it was always something I promised myself I would do.
How did you decide what stories you wanted to share?
Well, I thought the way I grew up in Westwood Village was interesting. Our parents weren’t in the business but my sister went to school with Jan and Dean and Tommy Rettig, who was on the series Lassie. Then we moved to Beverly Hills in the ’60s and I went to school with movie stars’ kids — which was kind of a Less Than Zero experience. I was also a real fans of music, so I got to see The Beatles twice, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin. Fundamentally, I thought I had grown up in interesting times — literally, because so many cultural changes happened in this country and I was front row.
What was the Los Angeles comedy scene like in the early 1970s?
There was a burgeoning scene. Before I knew Al Franken and Tom Davis, I saw them at The Comedy Store. I also saw Jay Leno when he still had long black hair … I was a founding member of The Groundlings. It was originally an improv workshop. Tim Matheson [Animal House], Valerie Curtin, who was Jane Curtin’s cousin, and Pat Morita [The Karate Kid] were in the workshop, too.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a performer?
I didn’t. I knew that I liked to pretend, but my mom said to her four kids: “I don’t care what you do, as long as you don’t go into show business.” I never imagined I would be an actor. In Beverly Hills, you see people who had been on a series and then aren’t. It was heartbreaking — these people who felt somewhat ashamed that they weren’t working. So whenever I did anything, it was just for the love of it.
Lorne Michaels saw you with The Groundlings and asked you to join Saturday Night Live. How long was it before you knew it was a hit?
We really didn’t get a sense of the success of the show until well into the first season. Gilda and I would be walking down the street and people would yell lines to us that we had said the night before. That was pretty exciting.
Was early fame a positive or negative experience for you?
It’s mixed. I had no business sense and I didn’t know how to really make the most of that opportunity. But at the same time, I really enjoyed the work. It was hard, but it was hard for everybody. I only learned that years later when I talked to people. Everybody was having a hard time.
Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell yourself?
Yes. First, keep all your written material with you so it doesn’t get stolen. Also, develop a better work ethic. I don’t feel like I studied my lines as well as I should have. I would have told myself to be 1,000 times more focused. Also I’d wear my contacts because I could never see the cue cards!
Was it hard to go back and relive old memories while writing the book?
Sometimes it was very depressing, but other things were wonderful, like describing the adventure of doing the show at Mardi Gras and how everything went wrong. There are behind-the-scenes things that happened with me and Gilda that nobody has ever heard. I have a lot of fond memories, like the first time we ever did a Passover Seder. It was a last-minute thing and the only restaurant at 30 Rock was called Pastrami and Things. So we ordered our religious meal from there!
How did you survive the tough times?
I’ve always been an optimist. Sobriety plays a big part in it, too. Being sober and the things you learn in AA have really kept me functional and grateful. If you’re grateful, it’s a piece of cake after that.
What put you on the path to sobriety?
I had a really bad drug problem since I was 13. It’s so funny how people write about addiction saying people couldn’t handle their fame so they picked up drugs. No. People usually have a problem to begin with. I was no exception. But I had this epiphany. I knew I wanted to live.
Over the past 20 years, you’ve become a very successful voice-over actor. What do you like about it?
Voice-over actors are the nicest people you will ever meet. They are the kind of people who will go to an audition and recommend someone else. That’s the kind of camaraderie there is. Plus, I love the process of seeing a drawing and coming up with a voice for it. It’s just so fun. I love it.
And you’re a mom, too!
Yes, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I love that my life is not about me. I love watching my children pursue their passions and I love seeing the kind of people they are. They both do stand-up and they’re both on HBO shows. They are very talented and I’m very proud.
Are there any words that you live by?
You know the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town?” They say “be good for goodness sake?” That’s what I live by. Be good for goodness sake. Not because you’re going to heaven or hell, but because that is the kind of world you want to live in. Just be good, for goodness sake.
— By Louise A. Barile, with reporting by Katie Bruno