ARUN RATH, HOST:
Another book we missed this year is a memoir from one of my favorite women in comedy - Andrea Martin. Like a lot of people, I first encountered Andrea Martin on the wonderfully weird Canadian sketch show "SCTV," where she played a ridiculous range of characters, from Indira Gandhi singing "Don't Cry For Me, Rawalpindi" in a musical parody of "Evita" to her completely made up character, the obnoxious Edith Prickley.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCTV")
ANDREA MARTIN: (As Edith Prickley) Hello, ladies - Prickley again. You know, every meal can be a picnic if you just get off your buns and get back in the kitchen where you belong. (Laughter).
RATH: In her memoir, Martin says that in the 1970s, comedians were treated like rock stars.
MARTIN: It was not like it is now, where there's so many more opportunities for women - particularly, in comedy and because of all the other improv groups. You know, Second City was kind of the only improv group that was happening. Now there's The Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade and ImprovOlympic, which is a great breeding ground for young comedians. And they go on to "Saturday Night Live." But then, in the '70s, there really wasn't that kind of place. So comedians were - I don't know - much more rare and, I think, just like rock stars. They were really celebrated.
RATH: And even more rare were female performers because I think around that time you could probably count your hand the number of women doing stuff like you. And two of them - you and Catherine O'Hara - were on "SCTV."
MARTIN: "SCTV," yeah. (Laughter).
RATH: Was it hard? I mean...
MARTIN: No, it wasn't hard. You know, I've never - people have asked me that over the years - what was it like to be - I don't know - blazing a trail in comedy? And I think my God, I wasn't remotely blazing a trail. I was grateful to be even walking on a trail. I mean, there was Phyllis Diller and Imogene Coca and Joan Rivers and, oh, my gosh, "The Honeymooners" - those two women on there. I mean, you know, there were a lot of women in comedy before Catherine O'Hara and I did it, but now there's so many more opportunities.
It wasn't hard. We were a collection of very close friends. We bonded, and Catherine was a very prolific writer, so she covered me. I wouldn't say I was so prolific writing, but I loved the acting portion of it, so I think we all covered one another. Yeah.
RATH: And do you feel like it's substantially better? I know one of the things that you write about in the book is that there's still that thing about when women reach a certain age - you know, the kind of roles that they get offered or don't.
MARTIN: Yeah. Look, I'm a character actress. If I were an ingenue and I was - my career started with the way I looked or how sexy I was or my body - you know, then maybe the older, I got the more difficult it would be. But I've been an actress all my - I've been a character actress all my life. And I write about, in the book, you know, I'm not the girl that gets to make out with Ryan Gosling in a scene. I'm the housekeeper who comes in on Ryan Gosling, and then I do a spit take and then trip over his underwear and knock my head on the door as I walk out on all fours. That's my part, so I think there's longevity.
RATH: So you think that by being characters like - I don't know - Edith Prickley or other kinds of - that kind of lets you get around those issues?
MARTIN: I think there's - you know what I really think? That if you're funny, I don't think age has anything to do with it, honestly. I mean, look at Maggie Smith, for goodness sake. She's in her early 80s, and, you know, she's a brilliant comedienne. And Betty White and - oh, my gosh, I'm sure there are other people that I can think of. But I think - I - no, and you know what? I'm still excited and enthusiastic about work. So I think that if you have enthusiasm, curiosity, you still like to make yourself laugh - I think that's part of it. Can I make myself giggle at what I do? Then I think there's a career out there for me. I really believe that. I have no intention of retiring.
RATH: You write that of your character roles, all of them come from your childhood.
MARTIN: Yeah. I think, you know, Edith Prickley was born with the help of Catherine O'Hara. We were doing an improv scene at Second City. And we went backstage, and I grabbed this leopard jacket and leopard hat that Catherine's - belonged to Catherine's mother. It was a faux leopard outfit from the '50s. And I put it on and came through the door on stage. And Catherine said, you must be Mrs. Prickley, and I said, that's right, dear. Prickley's the name, comedy's the game. (Laughter)
And I'd never, ever done the character before. And I thought where's that coming from? And I realized it's coming from my background - very loud Armenians. And so I think that's - it's a part of my heritage - I think somebody, you know, assertive and confident, and also a part of who I am - not all of who I am, but certainly a part of who I am - yes, that kind of confident fearlessness.
RATH: Who's your favorite character of all the ones you've played?
MARTIN: I think the easiest one to play is Edith Prickley, but I have to say I love all of them, honestly. I - you know, I did them for a long time. And there's always a characteristic or trait about them that keeps me laughing still, and it keeps me excited about doing them.
RATH: Andrea Martin, thank you. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.
MARTIN: You, too. Thanks so much.