Carol Leifer 88 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Mention the name Carol Leifer in Hollywood and most people will respond with: "I know her. Isn't she that Jewish comedian that's worked with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David?" The answer would be yes. She's also on a first name basis with Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, Garry Shandling and Bill Maher, comedic heavyweights who have all praised Leifer's first book, When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win.
The stand-up comedian and Emmy-nominated writer, who has written for Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live as well the Academy Awards (yes, some of Billy Crystal's best jokes have come from Leifer), has come out with a humorous and poignant book that tells people to embrace their age and to grow old gracefully.
Given that Leifer is 52 and lives in Hollywood, the woman should receive a bravery award. Forget about terrorists. Embracing your age in Tinseltown and then writing a tell-all book about it is far more terrifying to Hollywood types than any potential encounter with a terrorist. Yet Leifer remains loud, proud and unapologetic.
Speaking by telephone from her Hollywood home before embarking on a whirlwind publicity tour, Leifer reflects on the decision that prompted her to write the book. "It was one of those pivotal moments," she recalls. "I saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium [in 1966], which is an absolutely amazing memory to have. Over the years I've talked about that moment and of course it blows people away. I mean, I got to see the greatest rock band of the 20th century, but lately people have started saying, 'Holy moly, how old are you?' and it made me think if I lie about my age, then there goes that memory, and another memory, and another."
That's when Leifer says she realized that it's necessary to accept who you are, "because who we are is all our stories and memories and we need to embrace that rather than living a lie."
Listening to Leifer speak, it's clear she's undeniably happy to embrace her age and the life she has lived. Her enthusiasm for being true to herself rings true in her voice and in her writing. In her book, she shares with us her comedic roots - courtesy of her father who loved to tell jokes and listen to old comedians and who recently died - and the extraordinary changes that came about in her life after the age of 40.
"Most people, and particularly women feel as if at 40 their lives have already been formed and in a certain way it's all over," Leifer explains. It's reflected in the opening of one of her chapters where she writes, it starts around the age of 45, when the only time people say you're young anymore is if you drop dead. "That's why I really wanted to share my [life] story," Leifer reveals, "because the most amazing things have happened in my life since I turned 40."
Those things include meeting her soul mate, Lori. What started out as Leifer's "need for a lesbian fling" turned into a realization that she was in fact gay. By the time Leifer met Lori, she had been married and divorced. She's now been with Lori for 12 years. Other milestones that occurred after 40 included Leifer's reconnecting with her Judaism (both she and Lori had joint bat mitzvas), adopting their son, Bruno, and becoming an "animal person." The couple has seven rescue dogs, although Leifer confesses until she met Lori she never owned a pet or wanted to.
"I hope my story can inspire people so maybe they can feel that the greatest part of their lives can be after 40 or even 50," Leifer declares. She adds that it's important for her to heed her own words, confessing that when she and Lori initially adopted their son, she was concerned that she would be around mothers young enough to be her own daughter. "But then I realized no one gives a crap how old you are except for you."
Being a mother, she adds, has also helped her reconnect with her Jewish roots. "Our son goes to a Jewish day school and to hear your three-year-old do the hamotzi is such an intense, amazing and kvelling experience," she says. Especially, she adds, because her father grew up in a very strict Orthodox home and resented his upbringing and education, although she notes he had "a very Jewish soul." As a result Leifer's own childhood was culturally Jewish but with very little Jewish education. "My father's education was so intense and restrained, so to see my son experience Judaism in such a joyful way is amazing."
It also helps, she adds, that she and Lori were bnot mitzva. "We have a great relationship with our cantor and our rabbi and really feel part of the community. Until my 40s, I was just 'holiday Jewish' going to shul on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur but not knowing what I was reading or saying. That's why we wanted to be bnei mitzva and have that journey as adults."
Despite the serious life lessons Leifer includes in her book, there's plenty of humor. She skewers those who believe in putting bumper stickers on their cars, along with some important life lessons, including some barbs at the Hollywood lifestyle: On collagen injections: Your lips are not supposed to be the flotation devices for your face in case it capsizes.
Her comedic background, she says, comes from listening to her dad tell jokes and hearing old comedians on the record player, along with being a self-confessed I Love Lucy nut. She believes wanting to be a comedian is "hardwired in your system," and is grateful her parents were supportive of her career choice.
Leifer confesses she has not yet been to Israel, but it's definitely on her to-do list. "My dad always said, 'You've got to go to Israel, it's the only meaningful trip to take,' so we're definitely overdue. Our son is three and it's still a nightmare traveling with him, so we'll have to wait."
Still, Leifer says she has family in Ra'anana who keep begging her to visit. "They're such anxious hosts," she says, laughing. "But I know that when I go to Israel I'll be writing about it for sure, because it's going to be such a transformative experience and I can't wait."
For now though, she's off to promote her book. "I really hope people will read this book, and feel better about their age," she says. "There's a lot of laughs in the book too, but I know that at 52, this ride ends, it's a pretty quick one and if you spend your time obsessing about how old you are and bemoaning the fact, it's a waste of time. So I say l'haim! Live your life, love it, because it's brief and sweet."