TAMPA — Stand up comic, writer and author Carol Leifer cracked up the sisterhood of Tampa's Congregation Schaarai Zedek's annual Star Event luncheon Monday at the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza.
"You didn't tell me the hotel was attached to a mall," Leifer launched. With a spot of free time to explore, "I was delighted to find my favorite perfume at Nordstrom.
"It's called Tester and it smells different every time you use it."
The four-time Emmy award nominee for Seinfeld, Larry Sanders Show and Saturday Night Live, seven-time contributor to the Oscars awards telecast and writer for Modern Family joked about Planned Parenthood flying her to speaking engagements on Virgin America and poked fun at noodgy Jewish mothers.
She donated the day's sales of her first book, When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win to the women's group, and busily signed copies of her newest, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying. The latter is a collection of humourous essays and common sense advice from nearly four decades in show business, including her own comedy specials on HBO, Showtime and Comedy Central.
She is currently co-executive producer of NBC's comedy reality series, Better Late Than Never, starring Henry Winkler, William Shatner, George Foreman and sportscaster Terry Bradshaw in a bromance that sends the men through Asia checking off their bucket lists.
Leifer returns to town March 12 with Saturday Night Live original cast member Laraine Newman and comedy writer, Rosie Shuster, ex-wife of Lorne Michaels, to dish about the NBC television show. They will appear at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
Her success, she said, boils down to tenacity and DNA.
"You only get good by being bad a lot of times," said Leifer, 59. "Some of my biggest successes come from failures. If I quit all the times I was knocked down, I wouldn't be here."
Case in point: Leifer auditioned for The Late Show with Johnny Carson 22 times over 12 years. No. 22 was the charm. The long litany of Carson rejections may have had something to do with her appearing on Late Night with David Letterman 26 times.
Coming from a historical line of Jewish comedians certainly helps, she said, citing Jackie Mason and Mel Brooks.
"Totally has to be in your DNA."
Her college boyfriend Paul Reiser was the first funny guy to give her a boost when he told her about auditions at the Comic Strip club in New York. And guess who was the emcee that night? Jerry Seinfeld. Then, another open mic audition was emceed by Larry David.
Writers' real experiences are what makes ABC's Modern Family, for which she won a Writers Guild Award, "so hilarious, so relatable," Leifer said.
"The secret to the show is they add the love and emotion to the comedy without feeling treacly and maudlin." For example, she said, on one episode Cam and Mitchell make a storybook to tell Lily about her adoption, just as she and her partner did for their son, Bruno.
"We adopted him at 10 months old from Guatemala, thank God, before Angelina Jolie got there."
Leifer said being female in the male-dominated comedy industry has certain advantages, recalling the Seinfeld episode she wrote where Elaine looks great in a dress she buys at Barneys but can't stand the way she looks in it when she gets home.
"She accuses them of using 'skinny mirrors,' Leifer said. "What guy would know about that?"
Ending on a local note, the self-proclaimed crossword nerd expressed sadness at the loss of iconic Tampa puzzler Merl Reagle. Leifer said she was hoping to see him on this visit but learned of his passing when she solicited his help with a clue on behalf of Henry Winkler's wife.
Soon after Leifer was honored to discover her name was a clue in Reagle's last puzzle.