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Friday, May 18, 2012

Deeper Dish with Judy Tenuta

"Let's get out my accordion! Let's get excited!"

That's how my recent telephone interview began with the one and only Judy Tenuta, who has been entertaining audiences since the 1980s as an accordion-playing comedienne and self-proclaimed "Love Goddess". And what a great pleasure it was to chat with her - and hearing her say "DEEP DISH!" was a hoot.

Judy became nationally known in 1987 in her first HBO special, Women of the Night, co-starring Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone and Rita Rudner. That same year she won the very first award for "Funniest Female Comedy Club Stand-Up Comic" at The American Comedy Awards. And in 1988 Judy became the "Spokes-Goddess" for a series of Diet Dr. Pepper commercials. Since then, she has received two Grammy nominations for her comedy CDs, Attention Butt Pirates and Lesbetarians and In Goddess We Trust, published her first book, The Power of Judyism, played "Madame Judy the Psychic" on the 1997 CBS Saturday morning series, The Weird Al Show, guest-starred on a 2002 episode of the daytime soap opera, General Hospital, and appeared in such films as Desperation Boulevard, Material Girls, Sister Mary and the 1996 cult classic, Butch Camp. She has also always been a strong advocate for the gay community, children and women's issues.

This year Judy has two new movies being released - Going Down in LA-LA Land and Gibsonburg - and she has written a new book called Full Frontal Tenudity (love the title!), in which she offers her own unique take on life as well as some interesting recipes. I am so delighted to have the fabulous Ms. Tenuta here on the Dish to discuss her career and answer a few pop culture questions.

So what do you think of President Obama’s recent announcement that he supports gay marriage?
Oh my God! Now he is the most courageous politician of our time - because you know there could be backlash against that. But I look at it this way - I think he's going to get far more followers from the independents who were not quite sure because it's about equality for civil rights - for everyone. And who could know more about equality for civil rights than a black man? Hello! I thought it was great how he prefaced it with "Hey, I talked it over with Michelle and my daughters who just couldn't understand the same-sex parents of some of their fellow students not having the same rights as every other parent." So I just thought it was great that he stood up and said something. You know how hard it is to get a politician to actually say what he believes. Now I know he believed this quite awhile ago, but if he had even said this a few years ago, he probably couldn't have gotten elected.

Now you are an ordained minister.
Correct! Now see - look how great this is for me. Next thing I need is to open a wedding chapel in Vegas. Get married in Judyism!

Have you officiated any gay weddings?
Yes, I have. I always do gay weddings. First of all people come to my live show and they ask to be married in Judyism - and so I will do that. I was trying to get a little drive-thru right next to Elvis there in Vegas. Wouldn't that be perfect?

Tell me about your new book, Full Frontal Tenudity. What inspired you to write it?
Actually it started with my eating habits. I'm a big snacker - I will do things like have a hot fudge sundae and take potato chips and dip them in it. And my brother and other friends said, "You eat like a stoner. Are you stoned?" And I'm like "No! I have to be coherent and I can't afford to lose any brain cells so, no, I am not stoned." And my brother said, "Well, then you need to have your sassy stoner cookbook", so that's why I wrote all of these little snack suggestions. And this could be whether you're stoned or not stoned - or whether you're just like me! So that's one section of the book. Then I have other very important sections like "Judy's Hollywood-to-English Dictionary". A lot of people say things - especially here in Hollywood - that they don't mean so you have to know what they really mean.

Can you give me an example?
Oh yes yes, I have many! One of them is "Oh, let's be best friends forever" and that means "We'll wave to each other on the red carpet." People talk that way - oh yeah, we have to be friends, we have to see each other and then yeah, good luck finding my number. How about this one - "I'm always on time" which is code for "I'll be 40 minutes late." "I have a three-picture deal" means "I live in a shopping cart." This is a line that guys say to pick up women - "I made a ton of money last year" is code for "I'm filing for bankruptcy." "I have 6,000 friends all over the world" means "I'm addicted to Facebook." "I'm so busy I forget to eat" means "I'm a coked-up supermodel." These are women who usually say this - "I used to be a size 0" means "I have to buy two seats in Coach." "I have to hurry to my photoshoot" means "The Botox is wearing off." So these are some examples and there's a lot more - at least 80 of them.

Can you share some of your favorite sassy stoner recipes?
Indulge in guacamole and chips with a side of mac and cheese while Bill O'Reilly uses Ann Coulter to mix his martini while he's covering the Republican National Convention. Put Glenn Beck on a stick with Pirate's Booty and a Heineken chaser - Glenn Beck on any sharp object would be a must-have for any Democratic get-together. Indulge in Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey with Ruffles potato chips after a break-up with your cheating pig. Indulge in red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and walnuts with a glass of cold milk - and for dessert, tortilla chips dipped in German chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream in celebration of a super sweet Oktoberfest. That's how I celebrate Oktoberfest.

So you actually eat these things?
I always mix things up. Here's another one. After building up an appetite - smoking a bowl with your Homies for those who smoke (I don't) - splurge on super well-done scrambled eggs and bacon atop a Cinnabon - named Sandy who's also a bellydancer.

When does your book come out?
This is going to be an online iBook. The best way for people to find it is on iTunes and then it will go to Amazon.

I saw your new film, Going Down in LA-LA Land.
Did you like it?

Yes, I did.
Wasn't it good? I thought it was quite good.

Now it was sort of a different role for you.
Yes, wasn't it? All the gay men came up to me right away and they go, "Judy, we loved you in that, you were so nasty!"

Now how did you prepare yourself for such a dark role?
I talked to the director, Casper Andreas, about it and then I gave my interpretation - and he really liked it. And, of course, Casper directed me in some ways - and he was great. And I loved the cast. We filmed this a year-and-a-half ago so to be honest with you, I forgot how bitchy I was in it. And then I saw it at the screening and I go, "Wow! I really like that!"

Now was this your first role in which you played such a dark character?
I did a big film with Hilary and Haylie Duff back in 2006 and that was Material Girls. And I had the part of a woman who was paid by their opposing company who's trying to run them out of business to say that I had a skin problem from their make-up products. I'm also a cat lady. And to get the role, they ask me "Do you like cats?" and to be honest with you, I really don't - but I said, "Oh, I love cats" 'cause you say whatever you have to say. Anyway, these are trained cats that they had in the scene - and there were like ten cats roaming all over me. There is a huge difference between trained cats and people's houses that I've been to that have these bobcats that will jump all over you.

So it wasn't so bad then?
Oh, it was fantastic! I loved it!

You have another new film coming out soon called Gibsonburg.
I'm very excited about that. This is another different role for me. I get to play sort of like a stage mom but she's very super enthusiastic about her son who is a high school star pitcher for their baseball team. She goes to every game. She's almost like one of those moms in Toddlers & Tiaras. It was really fun.

Now let’s go back to the very beginning. You grew up in Oak Park, Illinois.
Oh yes, which is also the home of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright so I love to sit in uncomfortable chairs and shoot moose.

How long did you live there?
30 years and then I moved to New York City.

Did you always want to be a stand-up comic and an actress?
No! I didn't know any of that! When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be a teacher and then I found out they make $30 a week and get yelled at all the time, so I said hello, I'm not doing that. I really wanted to do acting - but I started out as an artist. I would always draw and so I got kind of in trouble in high school because during math I would draw pictures. Of course, I passed math, I did well in it - then I decided to go major in liberal arts in college and then I got the acting bug. I went to an acting class and said, "Okay, I'm going to be doing that." And then I decided to do my own show.

When did you begin playing the accordion?
That was at a very young age. I'm half-Polish, half-Italian so I'm always trying to take a hit out on myself. And the accordion is like a prerequisite. It was my Mom's IUD and I popped out wearing it - hello! So I didn't really have a choice. Everybody in my family was required to play. My brothers were smart - they didn't show an aptitude for it - but I was like "Oh yeah, I can play this", and then my mom would lock me in the closet until I could play "Lady of Spain" in the dark.

Do you remember your very first stand-up gig?
It was at the Pickle Barrel on Rush Street - and there was this comic called Tom Dreesen, who's also from Chicago - he opened for Frank Sinatra quite a bit. Anyway, Tom was running a showcase so I first went onstage with my brother Bosco. Because we're so Catholic we did a scene about Jesus turning the loaves and fishes and I was the Virgin Mary - and we got good laughs. My brother was younger and in high school so it was hard for him to keep doing stuff with me so I became a solo act. And I performed all around Chicago - Zanies, The Comedy Showcase, Sylvester's, Byfield's, the Maroon Raccoon, the Comedy Womb - six big places at least.

I read that you performed at Man’s Country, a gay bathhouse in Chicago.
Oh yes, that was great! This was Halloween of 1986 I believe, and my parents really wanted to go to my show. When I first started, they were very practical and my mom was like "You should be getting a degree" - and I'd go "Mom, I have a degree, but I don't want to be a teacher. I want to do this so I have to at least try it." So then I started doing well at it, and they were very supportive. And I never asked them for money - I always supported myself so they couldn't really complain. So it was Halloween of 1986 and I got a job at Man's Country, which is - as you know - a bathhouse. And I said, "Oh, Mom and Dad, I don't know if you really want to go to this because you know it's going to be guys in towels." "Oh no, we want to go" - so they come and they really had a good time, but I was worried about it. My mom afterwards goes "Oh, that's so sweet the way you do your jokes and then they roll on top of each other. Your jokes made them fall in love".

Is it true that your first professional acting role was in Deep Throat Part II?
I was like twelve and I was in New York City and my friend and I had parts as extras - we were secretaries. In our scene we were just supposed to sigh in the office when our boss walks by. So that was it - we were just little extras. And then we went to the bathroom - and hello! Linda Lovelace was in there! "What are you doing here?" "Well, I'm doing a scene with a dog." NICE! Okay, well, that must be a different movie. Oh no, that's the same movie. She was on a totally closed set so we didn't even know. I was just starting so I said okay, well, whatever. At the time it was called The Diamond Capers because I guess it was something about them looking for diamonds. And then later they changed the name.

Did you go see it in the movie theater?
Oh gross! No! I've never seen it. I don't even know if I'm in it still.

Did you enjoy your appearance on the daytime soap, General Hospital?
I had a great time - and I remember that day very well because it was somebody's birthday in the cast and they had a big birthday cake and, boy, was that good.

Would you do another soap if they asked you?
Oh my God, I would love to.

Are you a soap opera fan?
I love Susan Lucci. She's very sweet. She said to me, "Judy, I never want to be enemies with you because I know that you will make fun of me." And I'm like "Oh no, I could never say anything bad about you." I love her! And by the way, she's like a little chicklet - teeny tiny - she's like about 5'1" and 98 or a 100 pounds.

If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
Suck up to everyone who's famous. Suck up to them because really the only way you get good parts is by being friends with people who are famous. And, of course, study your craft - which I did. But you know I should've become best friends with Phyllis Diller or somebody.

You are friends with her.
I love her. I love Joan Rivers. I love all of them. By friends they mean "Please don't bother me - unless we're on the red carpet."

In high school I was:
A shy delicate flower.

My favorite comfort food is:
Mashed potatoes.

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
Okay, this is going to sound weird - The Flintstones. It was a toss-up between The Flintstones and The Jackie Gleason Show. Oh no, wait, you know what I love more than that - Dean Martin! The Dean Martin Show - loved that.

Today I never miss a television episode of:
I love The Good Wife and Desperate Housewives. Anything with "wife" in it.

Three of my favorite movies are:
Erin Brockovich with Julia Roberts. Terms of Enqueerment - oh, I'm sorry, it's called Terms of Endearment with Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger. I like so many movies, but I'd have to say Something About Mary.

If I was asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
A cross between Ryan Reynolds and George Clooney with a little Bruce Vilanch thrown in.

If I could have anyone in the world – living or dead – be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe and W.C. Fields.

What’s next for the Love Goddess?
I have my book coming out - Full Frontal Tenudity. And I'm working on a new special, getting that ready, and then I want to work on a film for one of my characters, Slutvinka. And I love going to charity events. I love doing benefits for children, women and, of course, the gay community.

Thank you, Judy, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish. To learn more about Judy Tenuta, check out her website at You can also become a fan on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


dj Buddy Beaverhausen said...

Great interview; loved it!

indigoprince said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Those videos were great along with the interview. I still remember sitting with my family watching her on Comedy Spotlight laughing our asses off. I was just thinking about Judy the other day for some reason and it was great to see her again and find out what she was doing lately.

Anonymous said...

I am a flight attendant and I had her on a redeye from LA. she was so funny and I almost married her on the spot! SHE is so personable and I hope she stays happy and healthy for the rest of her life! She is a wonderful human being in every sense. Love Judy!

Marc said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Glad you all enjoyed my interview with the fabulous Ms. Tenuta.