Lauren Weedman’s hilarious new book, A Woman Trapped in a Woman’s Body, is 242 pages. Here’s the CliffNotes version: “I simply longed to be a close friend of his,” she writes about an ex. “So if he ever felt too sad he could call me and hear about my life and feel better about himself. It was a gift I liked to give many of my beloved friends.”
The Indianapolis native (and adopted daughter of civic leaders Sidney and Sharon Weedman) gives and gives and gives some more in the book, which is perfectly subtitled “Tales from a Life of Cringe.”
Weedman writes about the way she unintentionally sabotaged her career as a correspondent on The Daily Show: Her dating life as a teenager (which included “the first gay soprano in the history of our high school’s show choir, as well as other accomplished closeted homosexuals”). Leaving period stains on her boyfriend’s sheets at Indiana University. Her failed marriage and subsequent doomed relationship with a widower. And more.
She leaves readers thinking either “What is wrong with this woman?” or “Man, she needs a hug.” She also keeps you laughing. Hard. Like the story of the guy who asked her to pull his hair during sex. She tried to oblige, she writes, but he had so much gunk in his hair that her hands kept sliding out.
“I know I can perform those things onstage,” Weedman said in a telephone interview. “I tell those stories. But I was worried in writing the book that the humor wouldn’t come through.”
The book has made enough impact already that Fox optioned five stories about her living with the widower and his teenage son to be the basis of a sitcom, which she’s now writing. She also has a small part in an upcoming Eddie Murphy movie called NowhereLand (“I played his assistant – I think I have three lines”) and is performing a solo show called Bust.
She hopes eventually to perform in Indianapolis, which wasn’t included on her book tour. Until then, you’ll have to settle for this interview.
NUVO: The way you describe your experience at The Daily Show, it sounds like you were fairly manic and Jon Stewart was completely freaked out.
WEEDMAN: That’s what the story is in the book, but that wasn’t my only experience with the show.
After it was excerpted in The Stranger (Seattle’s alternative paper), I got some e-mails asking, “Wow, is that what it was like?” Then I did a blog search on myself. Big mistake. People were like, “What a bitch! I would have fired her too. What a wreck.” As if I couldn’t see that myself.
I thought it was hilarious. You get your dream job and what do you do? Many of my interactions with Jon were bad because I couldn’t get it together. You know how when you’re off with somebody and you try to make it better, but it just gets worse? You just have to leave him alone. And I didn’t leave him alone.
But I condensed it into what I thought was a funny, horrific sequence of how I undermined myself. I guess he’s kind of an introverted person, except when he’s on camera, and I just couldn’t believe that’s who he was. So I continued to be like, “Hey!”
When I first read The Daily Show story out loud, I realized the audience got really tense and they felt uncomfortable because they love him so much. They want to be on my side and laugh about it, but I’m talking about someone they love way more than they’re ever going to love me. So I decided I’m not reading it out loud anymore.
What I wrote there is completely exaggerated but based on a bunch of truths. I don’t mean to make Jon sound bad. I’m trying to make him sound victimized. Which I do.
NUVO: So how long were you there and what really did happen?
WEEDMAN: I was there for a year (2001). There were a lot of great things – anything where I was in the field and got to do a field piece, anything where I was away from the office.
But I could not figure out how to fit in. You have to be a reporter. You have to act like a reporter. There was one version of what they wanted. They were always telling me to be like Stone Phillips, which is what Stephen Colbert does, and nobody can do it as well as he can. It wasn’t the best fit for me as an actor.
It was an awesome year, the greatest job I’ve gotten. People still introduce me when I’m doing solo theater as being from The Daily Show. Ironically, that’s not my best writing and acting. My best writing and acting is everything I’ve done that’s not The Daily Show.
NUVO: I read the book and I had the overwhelming urge to give you a hug.
WEEDMAN: Because you feel sorry you me. I know.
I was in Vancouver on some TV show like Wake Up, Vancouver. Every interviewer who’s read the book either approaches me feeling a tiny bit superior to me or they’re like, “Oh, my God, you wreck.” This woman, when she introduced me — she’s already treating me like I’m mildly retarded — I sit down in my chair and the first thing she says is, “I’m here with Lauren Weedman. If you want to feel better about your life, READ HER BOOK.” I started laughing when she said that and I started to say something. She says, “Can I ask a question? Could I get a question in?” OK.
She was feeling like I reveal so much of what a mess I am. I didn’t know that was such a big deal. I thought that was relatable. And it is to some people.
NUVO: So many times I thought, “Wow, you make things much rougher on yourself than they need to be.” But it’s not like you’re not aware of that. You make it quite clear in the book and you own up to it.
WEEDMAN: To me, that seems human. That’s my human experience, I guess – revealing everything that went wrong.
NUVO: Some people might be uncomfortable revealing all that about themselves.
WEEDMAN: For me, it’s harder not to reveal stuff. Even when I’m out to dinner with someone and I’m telling a story and I can see I’ve just made them uncomfortable, I’m like, “God, I don’t know how to tell this story any different.” To me, that’s how you can connect with people.
I try not to be psychotic, even though I sound that way in the book. Then again, I have been getting e-mails from people who read the book who said, “I’m insecure too. What are you doing? I’m going to a psychologist. How do you combat it?”
Maybe when I have children, if I do, I won’t want to embarrass them. I don’t have anybody I worry about. That’s the only way I can think of to tell a story. I guess that’s because I like reading those kinds of stories.
I did have a moment when the book came out and I wanted to take all the books back. I got a little panicked when people started asking about The Daily Show and whether I was worried about any backlash.
The story I feel the worst about is the one about the guy with herpes. Because I kind of attack how dumb I thought his friends were. His name is changed and I changed details around him, but he’ll know it’s him.
NUVO: But the way he told you he had herpes, after you’d already had sex, the guy was a jerk.
WEEDMAN: The thing is, you can always justify that he deserved it. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart used to give us this talk about “who do we go after?” Like: Who can we mock? He would say you can’t go after people’s religion. But if they’ve done something wrong…. Like, we were allowed to make a tobacco lobbyist look like an asshole.
Yet I had moments where I would do that to a tobacco lobbyist where I would feel like I don’t know if I can play that role in society. Because this guy was also in a super bad place in his life. He admitted to us while we were interviewing him that he’d just gone through a divorce. Granted, his life was falling apart because he’s evil, but I didn’t want to make fun of him. I didn’t want to be the bully, even though he deserved it.
I didn’t write that about the herpes guy to say, “Ha, ha, I outed you.” It should be a funny story. These should be comedic essays.
NUVO: You mentioned you didn’t have anybody who you worried about reading the book, but have your parents read it?
WEEDMAN: No. I first reread the book after it was published to remind myself what’s in it and who could be mad at me. My mom’s mentioned in it, and it seems kind of harsh on her — because that’s how I felt about her at the time. I wanted to tell the stories how they seemed at the moment. And I’m portraying myself how I was then – thinking I was better than everybody, living in Europe. But then, through the adoption story, you see good stuff about her.
But no, they have not read the book. If they have, they haven’t said anything to me. I dedicate to them and I say, “Please don’t read it.” And they’re the kind of people that actually would go, ‘OK.’”"