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Turning Over a New Leifer
Carol Leifer, stand-out, stand-up comedian and a roar of a writer/producer for "Seinfeld" -- upon whom the hyped-up heterosexually bent Elaine Benes is somewhat based -- has come out with the paperback of her book, When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win, and, with it, come out of the closet as well.
OK. Root, root, root for the other team.
The king is dead; long live the queen? That's the rooting section for "An Evening With the Queer Queens of Comedy," laughs provided by Leifer, Poppy Champlin and Dana Goldberg, and playing a one-night stand on Aug. 19 at the Keswick Theatre (www.keswicktheatre.com), in Glenside.
All right, she's not Elaine: "That's a misconception; Jerry [Seinfeld] told me when he and Larry David were creating the show that he wanted a character who was a friend he had already dated," says Leifer. "But the connection is very overblown: First, I'm a good dancer -- and I don't push people across the floor."
Get out of here! And another myth-take? Her comedy at the Keswick isn't dedicated to just lesbians and laughs ("The act is not different at all"), but imagine the shock when this erstwhile heterosexual came out after decades of dating men (Paul Reiser and Seinfeld among them), and a marriage, and decided to keep it gay.
What would Davy Jones say?
Leifer, 54, laughs. Unbeknownst to Jones, "I had a huge crush on him when I was younger, and I think he would be surprised that I turned," she says of the former Monkee.
She's a believer -- and no monkeying around herself: Leifer has been in a solidly committed relationship with love Lori Wolf for a while -- the past 14 years -- and they are raising a child they adopted at 10 months, Bruno Leifer-Wolf.
Forget about Davy Jones and his locker of memorabilia -- what would her parents say?
"My father actually said" -- and she writes about it in her warm, wonderful and very funny book -- " 'Disappointed? I'll tell you when I was disappointed. When you married that shagitz!' " he said of her ex-husband, who was not Jewish.
"For Jewish middle-class parents," she says, "when they knew Lori was Jewish, it was a plus-plus. They loved Lori."
Jews and gentle jabs at life, it all makes for a heady hilarious stand-up. But then Leifer has stood up for Judaism for a lifetime -- although, like her link to lesbianism, real interest came later in life when she was able to declare: "Today, I am a woman!"
Hear her roar: "My father grew up in a strict Orthodox background, and it soured him" on religion. His perspective apparently pervaded young Carol's.
But in recent years, she has gotten more serious about it all; six years ago, the star of many a one-woman TV special knew it was important to share the stage with an even higher power than one who grants Emmy Awards (she has been an Emmy favorite; Leifer is up for another one this month as a writer on "The 82nd Annual Academy Awards").
From beaming on stage to brachas at the bimah, Leifer celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in 2004.
Scroll down to a rite that felt right at 48 than for someone who, 35 years younger, might have mixed up the mourner's kaddish with kiddish ("It sounded like they were talking about one of my favorite foods: 'The Yish Kebab, the Shish Kebab.' ")
"I hadn't had a formal Jewish education, and as Jewish as I feel in my bones, I wanted to go to temple and not feel so lost," she explains
She could have gone anywhere, but she went to Lori's temple. "And we did it," she says of herself and co-Mitzvah maiden Lori, "at the synagogue where she grew up as a kid, and our rabbi won't stop hoching us until he marries us."
The Big Picture
For a comedian whose big picture already involves frames of reference to TV, stage and lit work, this religious reconnect reframed it all: "It gave me the bigger picture of what it means to be Jewish -- that we're part of our own big chain."
Chain, chain, chain, chain of ... Jews: Yet Leifer has always felt linked to her people's past. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? She was firing up latkes.
As for those Jews who cross the line ... Having a Chanukah bush? Bush league, she affirms.
"Christmas," she writes, "is a party we're just not invited to. Gentiles don't run out to celebrate our holidays, so why should we celebrate theirs?"
"I mean, how many non-Jews do you you know who are just clamoring to celebrate Shavuos?" Or take a shine to Shemini Atzeret.
And she's especially cross with one group. "The worse offenders are Jews for Jesus; it's an oxymoron. That's like vegans for Burger King."
This queen of comedy knows from her vegan burgers, however. Have it her way? "I recently became vegan because I felt that as a Jewish lesbian," she has said, "I wasn't part of a small enough minority. So now I'm a Jewish lesbian vegan."
And a damn funny one. Where's the beef? In her writing and delivery. And of all the hechshers she's received over the years -- including appearing on David Letterman's shows by the dozens -- she may be proudest of the fact, she tells me, that her book "was approved by the Jewish Book Council."
Maybe she could counsel others on Jewish life; what with cell phones and the near disappearing act of pay phones, who else could connect so comically than one who recalls "the long-distance trick," calling person-to-person from a pay phone, asking for yourself so your parents know you're safe and sound?
Sound familiar? "It's really a two-sided Jewish trick," she avows, because it involves saving money and says quite a bit about protective Jewish parents.
Of which she is one. "I have my Mama Bear thing going" about son Bruno.
And she has her dog-day afternoons as well. Leifer is actively involved in the Philadelphia area with the Main Line Animal Rescue; its founder, Bill Smith, is a "dear friend."
"Carol put the word 'comp' in compassion," says Smith. "She's donated free tickets to numerous events for our auctions. Carol has long used her extraordinary talent to promote the humane treatment of animals."
Indeed, this veteran comedian raised $15 thousand for the group by auctioning off her tickets to the finale of Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice."
But then, she didn't have a seat at the table. Indeed, Leifer was no reality-show lifer; she was the first voted off the TV hit this past season.
C'mon, would they really have chosen a wise-acre feisty Jewish female comedian as winner two years in a row? (Joan Rivers won the previous season.) "It was a shandah for the Jews," she clucks, tongue-in-chicanery.
She may have gone down for the count, but then the wrestler Goldberg, she explains, took her place as the only other Jew competing.
The first to go, but she goes with the flow. "I'm proud that I opened my mouth," she says of her open-and-not-shut policy of lip service. "And Donald Trump is such a mensch -- he lived up to his word and donated anyway to my cause" at MLAR.
Leifer has her own ideas about survival of the fittest -- and funniest. "If I could leave you with one fact about our tribe," she writes, "it would be this: Jews have the lowest incidence of suicide among all religions."
What? Ever attend Friday-night family get-togethers where the candlesticks are considered lethal weapons, and the arguments and disagreements make for a dinner death wish?
Nevertheless, "my only hunch would be," reasons Leifer of that low statistic, "that in our deepest, darkest moments, there's this small voice that's like, 'Oh, my God, I hate my life! I can't believe it, I don't want to go on!'
"Then, after a heavy sigh, hope springs eternal -- 'Oh, look! Cake!' "