Wendy Liebman ’83 has learned a lot during her career as a stand-up comedian, as she wrote in the spring 2000 issue of Wellesley magazine. She has become "the Queen of the One-and-a-Half-Liner," a master of "the throwaway line" and "the subliminal afterthought," "a smart and canny comedic architect" with a "time-release punch line." She was the American Comedy Awards’ best female stand-up comic for 1997, has had her own half-hour HBO special, is a regular on "The Late Show with David Letterman," and was the very first comedian to appear on "The Rosie O’Donnell Show." So, for us workaday folks looking in on her star-studded Hollywood existence, that one line in the middle of her life-lessons list—"Dreams really can come true"—is worth remembering.
Liebman has been a performer pretty much her whole life. When she was growing up on Long Island, she and her sister would put on plays in the basement of their home and invite the local kids to watch. In high school, she starred in school plays.
At Wellesley, Liebman majored in psychology and continued performing. But after graduation, she entered the nine-to-five world as a secretary at Houghton Mifflin Company and planned to pursue a career in psychology. And then, one day, some mail in her building was delivered to the wrong apartment.
The mixed-up delivery contained a catalog for the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. "I stole the catalog," Liebman later told the Boston Globe. "I signed up for a course on stand-up because I thought those comics looked like they were having fun on ‘The Tonight Show." At the end of the semester, she started signing up for open mikes at comedy clubs in the Boston area.
For the next six years, Liebman moonlighted as a comic. "I kept my secretarial day job," she often explains, "though I would call in sick a lot. I would say I had ‘female problems.’ My boss didn’t know I meant her."
Then, in 1990, Liebman got her big break. She won the regional Johnnie Walker Red Comedy Competition, becoming the first woman to go to the national finals at the Hollywood Improv in Los Angeles. Though she didn’t win the national award, her consolation prize was even better: The talent coordinator of "The Tonight Show" liked her performance and invited her to be one of Johnny Carson’s guests for the following week.
Soon after that, Liebman left her day job behind and moved to Los Angeles. "After all," she told the Radcliffe Quarterly at the time, "I can’t not move out there. I’m 30, and not getting any funnier." She’s been a fixture on the national comedy scene ever since, in clubs and on campuses across the country as well as on television. Her credits include "Politically Incorrect," "The Daily Show," HBO’s "Women of the Night," VH-1’s "Stand-Up Spotlight," and lots more. In 1996, she covered the Emmy Awards for HBO, and in 1998 she starred in her own "Pulp Comics" special on Comedy Central.
So how does Liebman like the life of a glamorous performer, her Hollywood dream come true' In reality, she says, all the touring can get pretty grueling. She’s not home very much—but when she is, she gets to see that Best Female Stand-Up Comic award, which she keeps in the shower. That makes it all worthwhile.
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