Posts Tagged interview by Amy Steele


“A real road comic works in cities that even mapquest doesn’t know.” —Oni Perez

“I should call myself four market Norton. I’m great in Boston and Cleveland. I do good in Phillie, New Jersey.” –Jim Norton

“I’ve been living out of a suitcase for over a decade.” –Nikki Glaser

“There’s something about drunk women. They love me.” –Alonzo Bodden

Several years ago, filmmaker Jordan Brady put out the documentary I Am Comic which illuminated the realities of being a stand-up comic.After being offered an out-of-state stand-up gig, he decided to make I Am Road Comic in order to document the costs of doing a road gig. He teamed up with his friend Wayne Federman and they traveled to the site. Interspersed throughout Federman and Brady’s experience on this stand-up gig are interviews with a variety of comics about life on the road. The success of I Am Comic allowed Brady a larger pool of comedians from which to cull interviews this time around. Since making I Am Comic, Brady’s met a lot more comics and could bring different voices and representation from the comedy world to the screen in I Am Road Comic.

I spoke with Jordan Brady by phone last week. We’ve been twitter friends for a while since I watched/discovered I Am Comic. We started the conversation by talking about interviews by phone vs. Skype. I said I was hesitant to interview a band on Skype because I didn’t want anyone to see me and the delight that Jordan is, he replied: “I’ve seen your avatar, you’re a pretty woman. Why don’t you show it off.” Very sweet.

Amy Steele: After doing I Am Comic what made you decide to do I Am Road Comic?

Jordan Brady: The success of I Am Comic led comedians that book shows—there’s this new trend that comedians often book their own nights at bars especially—they brand their own show. They mistakenly thought I was an active stand-up comedian because of I Am Comic. When I was asked to do a show. At first I said “no, no, no I’m a filmmaker now.” They said, “just come and do a set.” Finally I said yes. They booked me and I said I don’t have 45 minutes. I figured it would be a great documentary.

Jordan Brady Headshot

Amy Steele: So you were a stand-up a long time ago.

Jordan Brady: 20-something years ago I stopped but I’d started as a stand-up comic when I was 18 and did the road for 14 years. Colleges. Even though I knew this would be a good story of being on the road and I would take my good friend Wayne Federman with me, I knew it wouldn’t be the crux of the documentary. The meat of it would be the newer guys like TJ Miller, Marc Maron. The people that have rose to prominence in the last five years. People like Doug Benson and Marc Maron I’ve know for 30 years but TJ Miller, Maria Bamford, Jen Kirkman I met by going to clubs and they said they loved the movie. I Am Comic paved the way for these interviews in I Am Road Comic.

Amy Steele: What was your goal in making this? What’s the difference between I Am Road Comic and I Am Comic?

Jordan Brady: Economics was the difference. I was squeezing 80 comedians into 80 minutes. This time I wanted to approach it gorilla-style, as just me and a camera. Me on the road. I had to film it and also remember my comedy material.

With I Am Road Comic I wanted to specifically point out low-level road comedians and how you have to be so cost-effective. The only thing I knew was I was going to keep a tally of the expenses. For a gig you get a couple hundred bucks per show which is decent money for a bar gig. As soon as I had to buy a plane ticket I would only break even.

Amy Steele: How did you decide who to interview and how did you get people involved?

Jordan Brady: Less people because I realized if I had less people they’d get more screen time. I wanted to get more in-depth. There were a lot of old white guys in I Am Comic and I think the world has seen its share of old white comedians. I tried to get more females and I tried to get more minorities. A comic is a comic whether they’re a man, a woman, straight, gay, black, white, Puerto Rican. I don’t delve into that.

But I wanted younger hipper guys who are more relevant. Doug Benson and Marc Maron put out a couple of podcasts every week. I wanted to talk to comedians who were more personal in their material rather than jokey jokers. I wanted comedians that were honest in their material and their comedy was based on life experiences and based in reality. Some guys are road warriors like Alonzo Bodden. I think he works 45 weeks a year. Nikki Glaser is kind of a throw-back to the old-school road comics. There are only two guys who are famous for being comedians—Louis C.K.—but it took a television show to make him famous. Jerry Seinfeld played himself on Seinfeld. But until they had a scripted vehicle on television it’s hard to make it as a comedian.

It takes a series– and of late podcasts– to put people on the map. And radio is still big in the Midwest. If I had a thesis it was how relevant was the road to being a comedian today. The fact that Seth Milstein took a bus for 16 hours to perform his first road gig—and he wanted to be in a documentary—the answer was yes.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: author Laura Lane McNeal [Dollbaby]


Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal. Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. Historical fiction. Hardcover. 337 pages.

“New Orleans was like that. A live-and-let-live attitude was ingrained into the fabric of the city; no one cared who you were or what you looked like—you had a place and everyone respected that.”

Laura Lane McNeal’s debut novel focuses on several generations of women looking out for one another and learning about each other in 1964 in New Orleans. Ibby grew up in Portland, Oregon. After her father dies in an accident, her mother drops her off at her grandmother Fannie’s grand old house in New Orleans. A bit of culture shock for this girl. Ibby expects her mother to return for her but it soon becomes clear her mother never planned to return for her daughter. Ibby settles in with Fannie and her black caretakers Queenie and Dollbaby. Queenie cooks and her daughter Dollbaby cleans and sews clothes for Fannie and many others. They also watch over Fannie as she’s prone to suffering breakdowns. Ibby’s never seen black people before moving in with her grandmother and she learns to adapt to this new, diverse environment as best she can. She comes to live with Fannie in 1964 as a wide-eyed twelve-year-old and by 1972 she’s seen and experienced enormous changes and grown into a smart, confident teenager.

“Ibby put her hand on the gate to Fannie’s house and wiped the sweet from her forehead. She remembered when her mother had dropped her off for the first time. The house had seemed so ominous and uninviting. It gave her a much different feeling now, like that of an old tattered blanket: it wasn’t much to look at, but it made you feel safe just the same.”

Fannie’s bottled up her past and every so often it bubbles over and causes her to need institutional tune-ups. Her long kept secrets slowly unfold among the walls of this old mansion with its locked rooms and mysterious history. Actively involved in civil rights protests along with her brother, Dollbaby envisions a brighter future for her daughter Birdelia. Ibby grows up under the care of these women. At first she’s unsure about her living situation but grows to care deeply for all these women and their unique perspectives on life’s challenges. Told from the perspectives of Dollbaby and Ibby—an insider and outsider point-of-view, it’s a wonderful, meticulously researched novel about creating your own family and support systems wherever you end up. McNeal includes details about eccentric and curious elements that make New Orleans such a vibrant, unusual city.

McNeal grew up in New Orleans where she received degrees in marketing and journalism. She ended up working in banking, later earned her MBA and worked in advertising and as a freelance writer. After Hurricane Katrina, McNeal decided to reinvent herself and focus on something she’d always wanted to do: writer fiction. For three months, eight hours a day while her son was at school she wrote the novel’s first draft. She work-shopped the novel at literary festivals with several editors. When her agent sent out the full novel to five or six publishing houses she received offers from all of them.

I recently spoke to Laura Lane McNeal from her home in New Orleans.

Amy Steele: I read that Hurricane Katrina inspired you to write a novel. How?

Laura Lane McNeal: I had gone to a small school in New Orleans that was very art oriented. They had this shelf of books of authors who’d gone to that school. I studied journalism but I always wanted to (write a book). Life got in the way. I got married, had kids. Katrina hit and the first time in our life we had mandatory evacuation. Someone called us and said your whole house is flooded, the whole city is flooded you can’t come back to the city. We drove up to North Carolina because my parents were there in a small town. We got an email from my kids’ school that schools were closed indefinitely and enroll in school wherever you are now. We stayed up there for five months.

My life had been ripped out from under me. My husband had to return to New Orleans because he’s a lawyer and was working with the oil companies. I didn’t know where he was half the time. I’m sitting in a foreign place watching the news of what’s going on down here. There’s talk of the rebuilding the city or that you can never go back. It was a strange feeling. I decided if I was going to start my life over I was going to do what I always wanted to do and that was writing fiction. I was going to write about New Orleans as my way of preserving the city basically. Once our house was redone, I started taking writing classes at Loyola. Everyone who lives in New Orleans knows it never changed. For hundreds of years. Well now everything had changed.

author Laura Lane McNeal

author Laura Lane McNeal

Amy Steele: Why did you want to write about the 60s in New Orleans?

Laura Lane McNeal: I decided to go back to the 60s which was a changing time in the United States to capture what was there. It was kind of my love song to the city. To put it down on paper for eternity.

Amy Steele: What kind of research did you do?

Laura Lane McNeal: I researched the novel for two years and I was taking writing workshops. I’d written another book, a political thriller, and that’s how I got my agent. I decided I better hurry up and write this novel.

Amy Steele: How did you get the idea for Dollbaby?

Laura Lane McNeal: I wanted to write a classic novel. Southern gothic. Gothic meaning that there’s some kind of eerie aspect to the story. I wanted to write in third-person I wanted to write a classic novel that wasn’t vampires or Dystopian that was based on human relationships. I went back and read a lot of classics from the 30s. It started out as a story with the old house and the cuckoo grandmother and secrets in locked rooms. I don’t know how I can up with the dolls. I think I had just read PD James’ book Children of Men where these women had dolls in baby carriages because they couldn’t have children of their own.

I just picked 1964 at random because I remember the 60s were a very turbulent time. LBJ was getting ready to sign the Civil rights act. It was Freedom Summer in Mississippi. There were sit-ins at the counters and there was a lot of tension. I decided it had to incorporate everything socially that was going on at the time. That’s when I decided I was going to write from two different perspectives. From Ibby’s perspective and from Dollbaby’s or it would’ve been one-sided if I hadn’t done that. I wanted to include the five women’s different views and that’s how I chose to write from two different views.

Amy Steele: The voices of Ibby and Dollbaby sound like who you imagine them to be. How did you develop their voices?

Laura Lane McNeal: When my editor bought this book she said ‘I hate the name Dollbaby. It sounds tawdry and it’s not marketable.’ But you come down here and go to the grocery store and it’s “here’s your change baby.” Whatcha doin’ doll? It’s normal everyday life. New Orleans is 70-80% black. It’s just a way of life. When my editor came down for a conference last September when she got off the airplane the first thing someone said to her was ‘welcome to New Orleans baby.’ There are lots of different accents down here. This has always been a port city. There’s so many different cultures here—what I call a gumbo culture. It’s just all mixed up and together. After Katrina everybody wanted to talk about what it was like growing up and I listened. When I was developing the characters I was trying to incorporate all those different voices.

Queenie is the status quo, not wanting things to change. Dollbaby and her brother are fighting for change. Birdelia is expecting change. Ibby is an outsider and not knowing what to make of it. Fannie you think she doesn’t know what’s going on but she does and she does what she can. And Ibby not knowing what was going on around her and learning about it along the way. That’s why I wanted to make the character that way. New Orleans is a live and let live city.

Amy Steele: It’s really women-focused. You have all these women taking care of each other with no men around. Queenie’s husband is around but not that much.

Laura Lane McNeal: You can find family where you least expect it. Really the heroine of the novel is Queenie because of everything she undertakes and goes through. She says “you always gotta dance even when there’s no music.” Even after Katrina everyone has their joie de vivre. The French settled here around 1722 and around 1750 instead of giving over this territory to Canada they did a secret treaty with Spain. The French didn’t even know they had taken over. When the Spanish came in they tried to put a ban on all the French. Said we’re outlawing dancing but the French were screw you we’re going to dance even if there isn’t any music. The point is you have to celebrate life no matter what comes your way.

Amy Steele: What do you hope people take away from the novel about New Orleans?

Laura Lane McNeal: A lot of times when people write about New Orleans it takes over the story. I tried to stay away from the clichés. I wanted to stay away from The French Quarter. The wanted me to write about the French Quarter so that’s why I wrote that scene where Fannie takes Ibby to get the perfume. New Orleans is basically a character in itself and I didn’t want it to overshadow the story. I wanted to tell a side of the city that people didn’t know. That’s why I had it set up that way.

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purchase at Amazon: Dollbaby: A Novel

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meet Laura at book reading/event:

Thursday, September 11 – 6:00 PM
San Francisco, CA
Liquake Benefit: Viva La France
Dolby Chadwick Gallery
210 Post St., Suite 205 San Francisco, CA 94108

Saturday September 13 – Noon
Baton Rouge, La
Barnes & Noble at LSU
100 Raphael Semmes, Baton Rouge, La
Tailgating Book Signing at Barnes & Noble LSU

Wednesday, September 17 – 7:00 PM
Houston, TX
Blue Willow Bookshop
14532 Memorial Drive

Friday September 19 – 12:00-2:00 PM
New Orleans, LA
Tulane University Book Store
Talk and Signing

Wednesday, September 24 – 7:00 PM
New Orleans, LA
E. Cordes Book Club

Sunday, September 28 – 4:00-6:00 PM
New Orleans, LA
Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Juleps Party

Wednesday October 1 – 7:00 PM
Metairie, LA
Jefferson Parish Library
4747 West Napoleon, Metairie, LA
Talk and signing
(504) 889-8143

Thursday, October 9 – 7:00 PM
Sausalito, CA
Why There Are Words
Literary Reading Series

Saturday, October 18 – 10:00 AM-5:00 PM
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Museum of Art Book Club Day in association with the Women’s National Book Association
1 Diboll Circle, New Orleans, LA (City Park)

Monday, October 20 – 7:00 PM
New Orleans, LA
Tricia Hall Book Club

Tuesday, October 21 – 6:00 PM
Destrehan, LA
St. Charles Parish Library in association with the Friends of the Library Author Program
Talk and Signing

Wednesday, October 22 – 7:00 PM
Portland, OR
Annie Bloom’s Books
7834 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland OR 97219

Thursday, October 23 – 11:00 AM
Metairie, LA
Metairie Literary Guild

Saturday, November 1 – 10:00 AM-5:00 PM
Baton Rouge, LA
Louisiana Book Festival

Wednesday, November 5 – Time TBD
New Orleans
Stewart Clan Book Club

Friday, November 14 – 7:00 PM
New Orleans, LA
Patron Party
New Orleans Book Festival

Saturday, November 15 – 10:00 AM-5:00 PM
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Book Festival
City Park, New Orleans

Wednesday, November 19 – Noon
New Orleans, LA
Margo Phelps Book Club

Saturday November 22- Sunday November 23 – Time TBA
New Orleans, LA
Pirates Alley Faulkner Society
Words & Music Festival

Thursday, December 4 – 11:00 AM
New Orleans, LA
Le Petit Salon (Private)

Monday, December 8 – 1:15 PM
New Orleans, LA
Sally Suthon Book Club

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: author Melissa Jones

One of my favorite books of 2010 was Emily Hudson by Melissa Jones. She’s been kind enough to answer some questions.

Amy Steele: Why did you want to write a book based on Henry James’ relationship with his cousin?

Melissa Jones: I have always been interested in Henry James’ work – particularly his attitude to his heroines. I did already know of Minny Temple’s reputation as James’ muse, but when I read Lyndall Gordon’s biography, she came alive for me – not as a tragic sacrificial image but somebody of immense life and energy who had the misfortune to die young.

Steele: Henry James has written some strong and memorable female characters. Why do you think he was successful in writing women?

author Melissa Jones

Jones: He was successful because he was a great writer. I think he was also very much in the thrall of women – but at the same time wary. The distinctive way he evokes and then punishes women in his fiction seems sinister to me and denotes a kind of obsessive/carnivorous interest.

Steele: What attracted you to writing historical fiction?

Jones: It was Minny Temple’s story – I tried not to think of it as historical fiction or I would have lost my nerve. But I have always been a tremendous fan of the nineteenth century novel: the plots are so gripping and the period was one of immense change.

Steele: How did your writing process differ from your previous works of fiction?

Jones: I read the biography and at first thought of adapting it for the screen. But then the idea began to change from a straight translation of a true story and took on its own life. The inspiration was James and Minny Temple, but the themes are both contemporary and historical, I think. Once it was established in my mind I tried to write as I had the other books.

Steele: What was the greatest challenge in writing a work of historical fiction?

Jones: To avoid pastiche while feeling true. I wanted it to be believable but not overly concerned with style and of showing off research. The story was the most important thing.

Steele: What type of research did you do before writing the novel?

Jones: Having read so many nineteenth century novels (some in themselves, historical for their time) I felt I had a solid grounding in the way the world worked and how people spoke and behaved. I backed this up with online research and trips to the Cambridge University library – but a lot of that came up while I was in the process of writing. The book is a work of the imagination primarily.

Steele: Some novels of historical fiction contain too many extemporaneous details. How did you edit what to include and what not to include in order to fully develop the characters and to allow the story to move along at a reasonable pace?

Jones: I agree that ‘period detail’ can often do nothing but show the author’s knowledge: so I tried to follow the example of actual nineteenth century novels and concentrate on the story. Once the parameters were established I focused on the plot and characters and hoped that the reader would ‘see’ it as I did. No character ever sees themselves as part of history – they are just living their lives and that is what I wanted for Emily.

Steele: What do you like best about your character of Emily Hudson?

Jones: Her courage. Not only to be forthright and to battle her illness, but to learn from her mistakes.

Steele: What characteristics of Emily’s do you feel are most unique?

Jones: Her irreverence. I read Minny Temple’s letters and I think people always think the inhabitants of the past were somehow different from us and all terribly proper – she wasn’t at all. That was why she got in such trouble, obviously, but it is a very refreshing and I think moving part of Emily that she is so determined to be ‘true.’ Today it is also easy to be confined by convention.

Steele: It’s interesting that you include a close relationship between Emily and her doctor that she sees about her consumption. What interests you about TB back then?

Jones: TB was not only a brutal killer but a shameful condition – seen as a stain to those who bore it. Little was known about how it was contracted, or how to cure it, except with rest. For Emily it is a kind of hidden badge of her ‘otherness’. I am also interested in it because I think it was a huge part of the nineteenth century psyche – that terror of imminent death. (The same was true of the cholera and influenza epidemics.)

Steele: Emily is such a strong feminist for her time and nearly any time. What type of challenges would a woman like Emily have faced in upper-class England or Boston in the mid-19th century?

Jones: I think the main challenge was of self-determination without money. While that is also a great challenge today, many women can make their way in the world unimpeded by such obvious disapproval. I don’t think Emily would see herself as a feminist – she just couldn’t help but be herself, and that was also to do with her upbringing.

Steele: I liked that Emily Hudson is historical fiction but doesn’t read like a classic. How did you keep the tone contemporary while still adding plenty of historical elements to the story?

Jones: I wanted the narrative voice to be a bit more modern than the voices in the letters – that was part of the reason why I used both, so the reader could have that ‘looking over the shoulder of the heroine’ feeling. I also felt that a character rarely sees themselves as others see them so it was useful to show the letters in contrast to the scenes. I do not know really ‘how’ I did it (!)

Steele: What inspires you to write?

Jones: I am compelled to write as all writers are, I think.

Melissa Jones website

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