Elizabeth Beckwith: Putting the ‘functional’ in ‘dysfunctional childhood’

By | September 24, 2009 at 11:38 am | No comments | Interviews, News | Tags: ,

Elizabeth BeckwithThe natural kinship between comedy and therapy is almost always acknowledged, but never directly explored by either comedians or the fans who fund treatment for their neuroses. Enter Elizabeth Beckwith, a long-time vet of the stand-up stage who, on Oct. 6, will release her first book, Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation.

A native of the neuroses capital of the world, Las Vegas, Beckwith has appeared as a guest on Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Late Late Show, and was honored as one of Variety magazine’s “Ten Comics to Watch” in 2001. Behind the scenes, she’s proved the mightiness of the pen by scoring a TV writing deal with Twentieth Century Fox. And, of course, there’s the book. Checking in with Punchline Magazine, Beckwith waxes nostalgic about childhood traumas, the cute nerd niche, and white chick neuroticism at its finest.

Obviously, Raising The Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation isn’t really a parenting book, but would you like the parents that do read it to take some advice away? Have you, as a parent, heeded your own wisdom?
Yes, in the midst of my jack-assery, I think I accidentally stumbled upon some great, old-school parenting secrets. When I reflected back on my upbringing, it occurred to me that my parents never really forbade us from doing anything. There was never any “laying down the law,” with them. They basically just gave us tons of support and encouragement and rather than telling us we weren’t allowed to do things, they pointed out all of the assholes who did do terrible things.

By doing this they created an environment where we felt like we had all the freedom in the world, but at the same time, we lived in fear of being like all the assholes that my parents were so clearly disgusted by. So we usually did the right thing. I think that’s a style of parenting that most modern parents are terrified of, but I think the simplicity of it is pretty genius, and I wouldn’t mind ushering that mentality back in.

I try my best to heed my own crazy advice. It is tough because the book is really based on how I was raised, and this style of doing things came naturally to my parents. It was just who they were. I have to try a little harder to make it seem natural. But I’m getting there. I am constantly asking myself, ‘What would my mother do in this situation?’ Usually the answer involves pointing out how disgusting other people are.

Like when we see litter at the park, I make sure to tell my kids, ‘How disgusting! What kind of pigs left this here? What the hell’s the matter with people?’ At times my comments may seem a bit antiquated, since I am channeling my mother, but that’s okay, I stand behind them. I am trying to change the world, one ‘floozy’ at a time!

(original air date: Dec. 17, 2001)

Why do you think stories of childhood dysfunction are inherently funny?
Childhood is a time of such heightened emotions. Every little incident feels like it’s either the greatest thing in the world or a total, earth-shattering nightmare. At least, for me it was that way. I can remember coming home from first grade, throwing myself on my bed in a dramatic heap and weeping because the boy I liked had the name of a different girl painted on his face on Carnival Day.

It was like, ‘Why go on? What’s the point of all this?’ I was six. I think it’s easy for a lot of people to get emotionally invested in stories of awkward childhood experiences because there is a part of us that always remembers what those moments felt like, and the distance of years has proven the once painful memories to be hilarious.

As a stand-up comedian, what is your ultimate goal?
Other than the love and adoration of countless strangers? Hmm. I would like to do shows where the majority of the audience has come to see me, not just a comedy show that I happen to be on. Isn’t that what we all kind of want? I mean, don’t get me wrong, winning people over is fun, but an audience full of people who are already in love with my sensibility would be nice.

Do you see yourself as having a role to play in the emerging genre of smart, nerdy female comedians? (Like Tina Fey and Jessi Klein).
Is this because you’ve seen me in my glasses? I would be honored to have a role in that lineage, I’ve never really thought about it in those terms. I love smart, nerdy comics, male or female.

Is personal neuroticism really the best tool at the fingertips of any good comedian?
Only the ones who are actually neurotic. Manufactured neuroses makes me uncomfortable. I love to watch someone on stage with honest neuroses, because the thrill of live comedy is all the more thrilling when someone might self-destruct at any moment and that tension is fueling their performance in a really honest way.

Plus, I can relate to neurotic people, so I tend to find them funny. I have always been a huge fan of Richard Lewis, and he is brilliant at using his neuroses in a way that is honest and hilarious. But, some of my favorite comics aren’t ones who I think of as “neurotic.” I don’t think of Bill Cosby, or Chris Rock, or Jerry Seinfeld as neurotic (at least in the broadest sense of the word), and they seem to be doing just fine with their hilarity. So, I guess to answer you question, if you’ve got it, use it, but don’t force it if you don’t.

To buy Elizabeth’s book, click the image below.

For more info on Elizabeth and to check out her book tour dates, visit her official site at elizabethbeckwith.com.

About the Author

Emma Kat Richardson

Emma Kat Richardson is a Detroit native and freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in xoJane.com, Bitch, Alternative Press, Real Detroit Weekly, 944, and Bust.com. She’s enough of a comedy nerd and cat lady to have named her Maine Coon Michael Ian Cat. Follow her on twitter: @emmakat.

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