Just because it’s easy to shoot fish in a barrel doesn’t mean it’s not fun. With “Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words,” creator (and participant) Eugene Pack, Rachel Dratch and a full complement of New York’s funniest read excerpts from, yes, celebrity autobiographies, aiming at barn door-sized targets from Burt Reynolds to Ivana Trump. Some bits are cleverer than others — a dramatic reading from Mr. T’s memoirs is handicapped by the suspicion that the man himself probably gets the joke — but overall, the performers seem to have had no trouble finding personal reflections both awesome and hilarious in their self-indulgence.
“I will be reading from the early poems of Suzanne Somers,” beams Andrea Martin, mysteriously omitting the “if you don’t do what I say” that usually follows this declaration. Sure enough, the verses are everything you could have hoped or feared: “If anyone has any extra love/Even a heartbeat/Or a touch or two/I wish they wouldn’t waste it on dogs.”
Eat it, Elizabeth Bishop.
Somers is probably the worst stylistic offender, but she’s hardly the looniest. There’s Neil Sedaka, for instance, who lists everything he ever ate in one memorable section (amusingly dragged out by Pack himself), and there’s noted woman of letters Star Jones, who confuses even reader Bruce Vilanch with her geographically uncertain tales of “downtown Hollywood.”
As one might suspect, given the Vilanch/Jones pairing, a lot of this show works because none of the hapless writers’ self-portraits look much like the actors giving them life. Will Forte milks the disparity for all it’s worth as Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, earnestly explaining that Heather Locklear “wasn’t the kind of chick I could take back to the van like Bullwinkle, or have group sex with like Honey.” Locklear wanted a bad boy, explains the clean-shaven, happy-looking Forte, who reads the f-word like he’s afraid his mother will hear.
In fact, “Celebrity Autobiography” works best when the jokes are on the performers as well as the writers. Martin really appears to be enjoying Somers’ awful poetry, Forte really looks uncomfortable describing Tommy Lee’s sex life, and when Dayle Reyfel frankly claims Marilu Henner’s lust for Danny DeVito as her own, audience members start to hyperventilate.
The show climaxes with a couple of dueling banjos-style movie-star breakups, as the actors read from competing accounts published in different vanity projects, including Burt Reynolds’ “My Life,” Reynolds’ former flame Loni Anderson’s “My Life in High Heels,” and Reynolds’ P.A. Elaine Blake Hall’s “Burt and Me: My Days and Nights With Burt Reynolds.” Is there anyone who hasn’t published an autobiography?
“Celebrity Autobiography” lives or dies on the strength of its performances, none of which can come from anyone too well known. So Pack and his producers have kept the cast stacked with a not-too-starry, not-too-plain balance of comics, keeping a pointed emphasis on jokers who are both funny and funny-looking (sorry, Bruce).
As long as the Mondays-only show keeps talent this impressive on its weekly roster, it should lead a long and happy life.