COMEDY Wendy Kamenoff stands up for art of storytelling
Kamenoff paid her dues by warming up studio audiences during show tapings.
By LISA FERGUSON
LAS VEGAS SUN
Everyone has a story to tell, and Wendy Kamenoff has made it her business to help them extract every last detail.
The actress/comedian is also a teacher. She leads several classes for writers and performers in the Los Angeles area. One of them, called Tasty Words, is a "spoken-word salon" that marries live music and storytelling to stand-up comedy.
Another workshop, titled Solo Writing from the Soul, is described by Kamenoff as "an intensive, sort of soup-to-nuts" program designed to provide the necessary tools to those interested in penning their own one-person stage shows.
It's a subject the single mother of a preteen son knows something about: The Cherry Hill, N.J., native performed during college at New York University, where her 1982 senior thesis was an autobiographical, one-woman show called "Sweatpants."
"It never occurred to me that you could just get up and tell your stories and people would laugh and there was something to that," Kamenoff recalled of discovering her comedy prowess, during a recent call from her Santa Monica, Calif., home.
Soon after, she began working the Big Apple comedy scene and eventually took to the road for gigs at clubs and college campuses.
"That's what I love about stand-up: It is interaction with the audience," she says. The process is similar to acting in a play when "you're giving and taking with that other performer."
"In stand-up in a comedy club, the other performer in a scene is the audience ... Their line in the script is to laugh -- they just may not know it. But if they miss their cue and they're not laughing, then you've gotta send something else out, you've gotta change your next line."
For a time, Kamenoff -- who has appeared on television's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "All My Children," among other shows -- played the road with her former husband, comedian Steve Mittleman, performing a comedy show titled "Breakfast with The Mittlemans" at venues throughout the country.
In 1986, Kamenoff moved to Southern California and found work warming up studio audiences during tapings of sitcoms including "The Tracey Ullman Show," "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Mad About You," a gig that she says challenges one's multitasking abilities.
Besides keeping show-goers laughing between takes, she explains, "You're telling them what's gonna happen in the next scene ... and, 'The exits are over there, and the bathrooms are over there, and everybody turn off your pagers and cell phones.' That's the job."
In the early '90s, Kamenoff penned and staged another one-woman show, "Undressing New Jersey and Other States of Mind." In it, she portrayed a dozen characters from her past.
"That was kind of a coming-of-age story about [how] there is life beyond the mall," which touched on many of her personal milestones: "First cigarette, first kiss, leaving home for the first time, going to the big city of New York -- kind of looking at things in my life."
Kamenoff is working on what she calls the "second half" of "Undressing": another one-woman show titled "Call Me Every Five Minutes," a portion of which she's scheduled to stage in L.A. in late August.
The story was inspired by the 2002 death of her close friend, comedian-writer Judy Toll, who worked behind the scenes on "Sex and the City" and the 1988 flick "Casual Sex."
Its premise "is all about how sometimes it takes death to wake us up to our own lives," Kamenoff explains. She intends to also turn the piece into a book and a feature film.
Meanwhile, the 44-year-old is gearing up for the January publication of "You've Got Meal" (Champion Press), a tome about the trials and tribulations of dieting, which she co-authored with longtime friend Elisa Trolin Owen.
Kamenoff anticipates scheduling a handful of stand-up dates early next year to coincide with a tour promoting the book.