LOS ANGELES — If Laraine Newman recounted only her experiences as an original “Saturday Night Live” player — a storied ensemble that included Gilda Radner and John Belushi — she’d have plenty of memoir material.
But she has other adventures to share in “May You Live in Interesting Times,” from the quirky — she studied mime in Paris with Marcel Marceau— to the questionable, including a teenage encounter with musician Johnny Winter.
Wherever Newman’s newly released audiobook memoir takes us, it’s got humour, heart and is unfailingly kind to others, even those whom she recalls were at times unkind to her. But she’s candidly tough on herself, whether describing her drug addiction as a young woman or merely a brief, wretchedly embarrassing encounter with a music legend.
“The fact that I farted in front of Prince” should be motivation enough to listen to the book, Newman said, her lilting voice striking a wry note. “And that’s just one of the wonderful moments in my life.”
Newman, who turned 69 this month, is in a good place to look back. She’s been sober for decades and is busy doing voice acting for a variety of projects, including “Despicable Me” films, “American Dad!” and “Doc McStuffins,” along with occasional screen roles. She’s proud of her children Hannah and Spike Einbinder, both working actors.
Revisiting the past, Newman said, allowed her to celebrate beloved “Saturday Night Live” sketches from her 1975-80 tenure and lift the curtain on their creation. In an interview with The Associated Press, she discussed her approach to the Audible Original book, the “SNL” track record with women and a Coneheads sketch highlight.
Remarks were edited for clarity and length.
AP: When writing the memoir, which includes encounters with celebrities from Fred Astaire to Robert De Niro, did events seem even more remarkable in retrospect?
Newman: The book’s gone through many reasons for its existence. But ultimately what I came to was the fact that, ‘Hey, I was there for that.’ ‘Oh, I lived through that, I had a front row seat to that.’ Even though it is very much my personal life, it’s also the privilege of having a front-row seat at a lot of the pop culture movements in our country.
AP: What do you hope listeners take away from the memoir about you, about life lessons?
Newman: I’m the last person to impart any kind of life lesson. But the one thing that I really wanted to do, because I’ve never seen this in biographies before, is to really lean into the fact that I experienced a lot of failure. I think that people wrap their biographies up in a pink bow, and it’s important to acknowledge that you can live with a lot of failure. You’ve just got to keep going.
AP: Your favourite moment on ‘Saturday Night Live’?
Newman: There are so many of them, but the one that immediately comes to mind is about food. We were doing the Coneheads and there was a part where we eat fiberglass insulation and it was made out of rice paper and cotton candy. I was thinking, ‘This is a great job.’ But there’s so many moments, just pee-in-your-pants stuff.
AP: ‘SNL’ was long criticized for failing to showcase women and include people of colour in the cast. What’s your perspective on that?
Newman: With regard to our shows, we had 13 writers — three women, 10 men — and it was a meritocracy. No matter what people say. Lorne (Michaels, the show’s creator) was very egalitarian with what went on the show. It was what was funny. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, who was in it. But the sensibility that the show gained with Tina Fey as the head writer….It became more female-centric probably because they had a lot more female writers.
AP: You said you had to learn to be a voice actor. Have you found unexpected satisfactions in the work?
Newman: There’s a thing where you’ll be in the (recording) booth and on the other side of the glass, you see the people in the control room, and it’s the writers and the director. And when you do a take and you see everybody in unison, their heads snap back and their mouths open and they’re laughing, it’s so rewarding. And if you do a show where the whole cast is there, it’s like a radio play. There are just no more encouraging, supportive people than the animation community.
AP: What do you watch on TV now that makes you laugh?
Newman: I don’t watch a lot of comedy. You ask most people in comedy, they watch crime dramas. I’m going to just say that right now, and I’m no exception. Crime dramas and horror.
Lynn Elber, The Associated Press