Elayne Boosler is famous for her feisty humor. She’s also known for her love of animals. In 2001, she founded Tails of Joy, a non-profit that she runs and that has saved thousands of animals and made life better for thousands more.
For two evenings – March 29 and April 18 – Boosler will perform Comedy with a Cause at Stage 72 to raise funds for animal rescue with 100 percent of the merchandise sold benefitting local rescue organizations.
Boosler, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, now divides her time between New York and Los Angeles. She’s clearly happy to be performing her show in New York for a cause that’s near and dear to her heart. “I love that I get to play Stage 72, on 72nd off Broadway, and it’s only nine Duane Reades from my apartment; that’s one block,” she said, demonstrating her off beat comedic touch.
Boosler is a show biz survivor and groundbreaker. In 1986, she became the first female to get her own one-hour comedy special on cable when Showtime aired Party of One. Her 40 year career includes, in addition to her many live standup performances, five Showtime comedy specials, which she also wrote, and two movies for Cinemax, which she both wrote and directed. In 2012, she performed for the U.S. troops in the Middle East and Africa. And, in 2013, she wrote and narrated a piece for piano, cello, clarinet, and comedian, called Rescue – A True Story. It made its world premiere with the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra on October 6, 2013.
When did she first recognize her gift for comedy? “I laughed all the way through school, which means I didn’t learn anything, so I had to be funny to make a living later on,” she said. “I had no idea of becoming a comedian, and I had no skills. So I was fired from every job; the ‘a’s’ and the ‘b’s’ and then I got to the ‘c’s.’ all the way to ‘comedy,’ and I wasn’t fired, so that was it.”
Along the way, Boosler was fortunate to find amazing mentors. “When I was starting out at Catch a Rising Star in the early ’70′s, there weren’t many women comedians, and all the young guys there were incredibly loving, helpful and supportive – from Richard Belzer to Richard Lewis, Freddie Prinze, and Jimmie Walker,” she said. “But, my true mentor, for my life as well as comedy, was Andy Kaufman. I owe him everything”
In her upcoming book, Big Fun, Boosler talks about her adventures with many of these comic comic greats, including, besides Kaufman, Belzer, Lewis, and Prinze, Jay Leno, Larry David, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin (above), Rodney Dangerfield and many more.
Many of those featured in the book are entertainers she admires. “I love the beauty created by Lily Tomlin, and the incredible groundbreaking hilarious sensibility of Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Totie Fields and Rusty Warren,” she said. “I always loved Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Jackie Mason, Phyllis Diller, and now I enjoy watching Maria Bamford, Wendy Liebman, Paul Rodriguez, Chris Rock, Joan Rivers, Jann Karam, and Kira Soltanovich.”
With so many notable performances, which ones stand out? “I have to say, finding myself on the stage of the London Palladium performing for the Queen of England, and then again for a Live Easter Special, was wonderfully surreal,” she said. “Lenny Bruce’s `The Palladium’ bit kept running through my head, forcing me to laugh at myself. I was in China in December, and making salesgirls laugh was perhaps the most gratifying of all; total language barrier and still funny. The most exciting show I ever did was for President Clinton at the White House Press Correspondent’s Dinner, and then again for the president and congress at Ford’s Theater. You always think if you bomb they’re going to audit you for the rest of your life. You sit on the dais with them and have dinner first, the president, Hillary, Al Gore, Tipper, and me. I felt like the SAT sample question: What does not belong at this table?”
Balancing her two passions – comedy and animal advocacy – comes easy to Boosler. “The other twenty three hours of my day, when not doing standup, are spent rescuing animals,” she said. “Comedy is a wonderful way to connect with people and their love for animals, their pets, getting the rescue word out, and fundraising.”
Boosler’s love for animals began when she was very young and had a dog, a boxer, as a pet. “I read an article where the top executives in America attributed their success to having had a pet as a child; it made them responsible, loving, generous, and less ego centric,” she said. “A pet is the best thing you can do for a child. My dog was really all I had in those days, that’s where the love came from. And he’s still a great password.”
Her non-profit favors smaller animal rescue organizations and she explained why. “The more I traveled for comedy, the more I realized that three little old ladies in Ohio save more animals per year than the bloated, money wasting, Humane Society of the United States,” she said. “I vowed to start helping the smallest, neediest rescue organizations across the country and beyond, who do great work but don’t have fundraising infrastructure. I formed my non-profit, Tails of Joy, and since we are all volunteer, and I underwrite costs, every single penny that comes in goes out again to help animals everywhere.” For emphasis she added: “Please, avoid the huge bureaucracies, always give locally.”
Boosler talked about her own future plans and those for Tails of Joy. “I’m really excited to be back in New York City doing comedy,” she said. “I’m finishing up my book, Big Fun, about the second golden age of comedy, the early ’70′s. It’s one funny story after another, as we can all use that these days. I am also finishing another book of amazing stories about animals called Elayne Boosler’s Tails of Joy. I love to write, I have lots of stuff up at Huffington Post. And I’d like to go back to China, get more laughs, and get dogs off the menu. In a perfect world, Jay Leno would donate one of his million dollar cars, out of his hundreds of million dollar cars, to Tails of Joy, and we could save millions of lives and help millions of needy people care for their animals. Until then, Tails of Joy is answering every request we can for our ‘Little Guy Grants,’ and I would hope to keep raising enough money to start an anti-dog-fighting billboard campaign, and to have scholarships to train people to work at city shelters with care, compassion and outreach.”
For more information about Elayne Boosler’s New York appearance, visit Stage 72’s website.
For more information about Tails of Joy and to shop to support animal rescue and advocacy, visit the website.