Laughing for a good cause

Laughing for a good cause

Alan Zweibel, who went from penning one-liners for Borscht Belt comedians (at $7 a joke) to winning five Emmys, six Ace Awards, and two Writers Guild Awards for his work in television, says being a comic has its downside.

"It’s a curse," said Zweibel — TV writer, screenwriter, playwright, novelist, and former deli clerk — who claims that he was funny even as a child. "You have two sets of eyes. One set lives, and the other comments. One goes to the ATM and drives in traffic, the other sees all the absurdities…. It can make you psychotic."

Alan Zweibel

The award-winning writer grew up in Woodmere, Long Island, and now (after years spent in Los Angeles) lives in Short Hills, where, he said, he is "back in the fold of our tribe." On Sept. 16, Zweibel will do a benefit performance for the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of North Jersey in Wayne.

Zweibel was discovered by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels at age ‘4. According to the comedy writer — who said he became bored providing material to older Catskills comedians — he took all the jokes they rejected and went on stage in New York to deliver them himself. Michaels saw his act at the New York club Catch A Rising Star and recruited him to write for the new late-night show he was putting together. It was a fortunate choice, both for SNL and for Zweibel, who wrote for the program from 1975 to 1980.

The comic said he is lucky to have been associated with great actors throughout his career. "Good actors can make your jokes better," he said. And while Zweibel, whose writing credits include "It’s Garry Shandling’s Show" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," did not single out any one comic creation as his favorite, he admitted that there were some things he wished he hadn’t written. In fact, said the longtime television writer, "there are entire TV series I’m sorry about."

During his years with SNL, Zweibel became "best friends" with comedian Gilda Radner, who died in 1989 of ovarian cancer. "She was the godmother of my three kids," said the writer, who, together with Radner, created the memorable SNL character Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Zweibel — who wrote the Tony Award-winning Broadway show "700 Sundays," starring Billy Crystal, as well as Martin Short’s new Broadway show "Fame Becomes Me" — is working on a feature film adaptation of his best-selling book "Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner — A Sort of Love Story."

He said that in supporting Radner through her battle with cancer, he gained significant personal insights into the healing power of laughter. "You have to try to keep laughing," he said, noting that he "does a lot of fund-raisers for Gilda’s Club and other health-related organizations" and that during these public appearances, he screens related footage "to show her spirit and how she battled."

Zweibel, author of the comic novel "The Other Shulman," is particularly proud of his children’s book, "Our Tree Named Steve," which won a Junior Library Guild award. The book, he said, is based on a true story and conveys an important message.

When one of his daughters was young, said Zweibel, she could not pronounce "tree" and called the family’s beloved tree "Steve." On one occasion, when his three children were away from home, the tree was damaged in a storm and fell down. Zweibel said he wrote to his children to tell them what had happened, and to prepare them for the tree’s absence.

And, he added, "By the time they came home, we had made the tree into a tree house."

"Even though it was in a different form, it was still there," he said, drawing a parallel to losing a person you love. Even if they are not physically there, he said, they can still be with you.

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