'May You Live in Interesting Times' — Laraine Newman Certainly Has Newman was a founding member of the improv group The Groundlings and an original Saturday Night Live cast member. She's voiced dozens of animated characters and has just published a new audio memoir.
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From SNL To SpongeBob, Laraine Newman Chronicles 'Interesting Times'

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From SNL To SpongeBob, Laraine Newman Chronicles 'Interesting Times'

From SNL To SpongeBob, Laraine Newman Chronicles 'Interesting Times'

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In her new audio memoir, Laraine Newman dishes quite a bit about what it was like to work with fellow "Saturday Night Live" cast members like Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd.


LARAINE NEWMAN: Danny was the only guy on the show I was ever romantically involved with.

DETROW: During her four decades in show business, Laraine Newman has worked with everyone from Richard Pryor to SpongeBob SquarePants. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In her new audiobook, Laraine Newman gives us a glimpse behind some of "SNL's" most famous sketches, like the time she and "SNL" writer Al Franken watched Julia Child's cooking show on TV.


NEWMAN: The sight of Julia's big timber fingers next to Jacques' petite digits was really funny. On top of that, she'd cut one of her fingers, and it was bandaged. Al and I were laughing so hard, and it inspired him to write one of our classic sketches where Danny played Julia Child cutting her finger and bleeding to death.


DAN AYKROYD: (As Julia Child) Now I've done it. I've cut the dickens out of my finger. Well, I'm glad in a way this happened. You know, accidents...

BLAIR: Newman wasn't necessarily happy living in New York working on a show where everyone competed fiercely for airtime. She was in her early 20s, prone to self-sabotage and missed her friends and family in Los Angeles. And yet she played some of "SNL's" signature characters, like Connie Conehead...


NEWMAN: (As Connie Conehead) Attention parental units, I am splitting now to interact with my human friends at the shopping plaza.

BLAIR: ...A parody of an intrepid reporter on Weekend Update and perhaps most famous of all, the Valley Girl Sherrie.


NEWMAN: (As Sherrie) I got to tell you that I'm really super sorry, but I cannot accept this title.

BLAIR: Newman first created Sherrie in 1968 before she got to "SNL." She's always been fascinated by dialects, and she's a really good listener.

NEWMAN: My twin brother was a surfer, so he encountered a lot of people from the Valley. And also I had a very good friend named Sybil (ph) who was from San Francisco, but for some reason, she kind of had that dialect - and just kind of people around, you know, town who spoke like that. I noticed that it had a glottal L. There was a drop out of the L, so words like probably would be prolly and I-N-G endings would be E-E-N.


ELLIOTT GOULD: (As character) Sherrie?

NEWMAN: (As Sherrie) Oh, God, Vito, I think you're blocking.


BLAIR: At age 19, Newman was a founding member of the comedy troupe The Groundlings, which has become a launchpad for numerous "SNL" cast members. Newman says The Groundlings started because a group of actors wanted to learn and practice improvisational theater, the art of acting out a scene without anything but a prompt from the audience and each other.

NEWMAN: It is about cooperation. It's about adding, and I always like doing that. I always like supporting a situation. If I could say anything about myself in the context of improv, it was that I could move the scene along, and I could add information.

CHARLIE ADLER: The world had a crush on Laraine.

BLAIR: In addition to having a crush on Laraine Newman when he was younger, Charlie Adler is a voice actor and director. He also teaches a class on voice acting, which Laraine Newman signed up for.

ADLER: I saw her name and I thought, say what?

BLAIR: Adler remembers she was very pregnant with her second child and yet ready to work. He thought it took guts for someone who'd been a star on "Saturday Night Live" to show the kind of vulnerability you need to learn a new skill.

ADLER: And I just thought it was miraculous - and I still do - that Laraine has that capacity. Her ego had nothing to do with anything. She was just wanting to learn something that was important to her, very important to her, by the way, which she was born to do.

BLAIR: Adler hired Newman to be the voice of the mother in the Nickelodeon series "As Told By Ginger."

ADLER: And I couldn't believe what was coming out of her. She blew everybody away.


NEWMAN: (As Lois Foutley) As the leader of your natural habitat, I just came by to tell you that it's time for dinner.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What are we having?

NEWMAN: (As Lois Foutley) Human carnage - what else?

I love doing that character. She was kind of, you know, the crusty but benevolent, you know, person. She's kind of gruff, dealing with (as Lois Foutley) how badly her feet hurt at the end of the day soaking in a foot bath.

ANDREA ROMANO: She has so many different voices in her.

BLAIR: Andrea Romano is a recently retired casting director of animated movies and TV shows. Newman has voiced dozens of different characters for her projects over the years. In "The Adventures Of Puss In Boots" for DreamWorks, Newman was cast as the talking cow Pajuna. Romano says the producers wanted Newman to give the cow a Scottish accent.

ROMANO: She just wasn't feeling comfortable about the accent, so she went off and worked with a dialect coach week after week after week and so well that her Scottish accent is totally believable and something she can just kind of fall into now. But I love the fact that she's not above, you know, asking for help or taking classes or going back to whatever roots she needs to to do the work.


NEWMAN: (As Pajuna) All right, everyone, I need you to concentrate. Hold hands and focus on the thing you want most of all.

BLAIR: In her memoir, Laraine Newman says her career has been, quote, "modest but steady and extremely fulfilling" and that she makes a terrific living at a job she adores. But it has not been easy. As a young adult, she struggled with drug addiction.

NEWMAN: No matter how bad off I was in terms of drugs - and I was really bad - every day, I would wake up with the thought that maybe today could be better. And I didn't want to - I mean, part of me wanted to die, but a part of me really didn't. And the moment of clarity was when I had a very bad audition and I was speaking to my agent about it, and he said, yeah, they called me. They were worried, you know. And I realized that this last avenue I had into the world, that door was going to close if I didn't do something. So I checked myself into a chemical dependency unit on April 28, 1987. It worked. It really did work. It does work.

BLAIR: Even though Laraine Newman says her mother told her and her siblings you can do anything you want except for show business, entertainment seems to be in the family DNA. Newman's older sister is a musician and former TV comedy writer. Her brother is a musician, and now her two children are following in her footsteps. Her nonbinary child, Spike Einbinder, is in the HBO comedy "Los Espookys" and her daughter, Hannah Einbinder, does stand-up. Laraine Newman's new audio memoir is called "May You Live In Interesting Times," and she certainly has. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


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