Gothamist Profile 11-05
Kimberlee Auerbach, Writer/performer
- Kimberlee Auerbach
- 33 years old
- "Born in Stamford, Connecticut, then moved to Plantation, Florida, then to Atlanta, Georgia, then to Tulsa, Oklahoma, then to Short Hills and Essex Fells, New Jersey, then to Manhattan, then to Westchester where I lived at home with my parents during college. When I was 23, I moved to San Francisco, California by myself, ate too many burritos and got caught in a bizarre lesbian love triangle, so I moved back home, which just so happened to be in Stamford, Connecticut! Full circle. And no, I’m not an army brat; my dad just liked f—king with us." Now lives Upper West Side.
- Writer/Performer, her one-woman show Tarot Reading: Love, Sex and Mommy premiered at the Fringe Festival in August; also works on the live desk at Fox News.
What makes you decide that you want to talk about your most personal insecurities in front of large groups of people?
That's actually very easy for me to answer, oddly. Because my mom was sexually abused as a kid and threatened by her mother to never speak to her again if she ever told anyone, and I watched my mom be voiceless in her marriage with my dad. It inspired me to live without shame, and I didn't want to have any secrets or things about myself that I couldn't talk about; I wanted to be free and open in the world. I know I connect with people when they're being honest because I usually find something of myself in that, and so it's also a way for me to connect with people. I feel more alive, more connected on this earth.
Why on stage though? As opposed to just people you know, groups of friends …
I used to be an actress, and went to Tisch School of the Arts [at NYU], and I've been performing since I was two. But I didn't like becoming other characters; that wasn't my thing. So I think it kind of developed. I started writing, and then I was telling somebody the idea I had a long time ago for my show, and he said, "You should go check out The Moth." I went to The Moth, and it stole my heart -- this idea that people could be linked through their stories. They'd have these themes, and everyone would have this different kind of story, and I just thought that was kind of cool. It created a tapestry of sorts. I volunteered, and I would go to the professional shows, but there wasn't anything else like The Moth slam. And then I kind of got out of it for a while, maybe two years, and they had implemented [the slam] as part of their organization. I went to my first one, I told a story and I won.
What was that experience like? Winning your first time out?
It was amazing. It was right after … I had been in this abusive relationship, and after that I was dating a guy who said he was getting a divorce, but I still could never get through to him after seven. That really started to bother me so I broke up with him after two months. I thought, "I'm not doing this to myself anymore. I'm not going to be in something for two years and not be able to get out." So I was having dinner with a friend, crying hysterically, and I said, "I'm going to do [the Moth slam] tonight," and it was really empowering and liberating. It was like I took back the night for myself. And winning was just the best feeling in the world. It really was one of my top experiences in life.
Your one-woman show Tarot Reading is very personal and essentially your real journey towards self-acceptance. How real is the Kimmi we see onstage? Do you think you're being completely yourself? In some of the previous press you've done, you come across as a very strong and confident person, but in Tarot Reading, the person who's onstage is insecure scared Kimmi finding herself. Which is the real Kimmi?
Sometimes I don't express my strength as much on stage. I've noticed that in my writing too. It's much easier for me to write about my weakness than my strength. I think what's not there on stage is that I am a therapist to most of my friends, and a really really good listener. There's something very quiet about me too, and that obviously wouldn't come across on stage because up there, it's just me.
Something that the dramaturg I worked with told me was that the audience wants to go with you on the journey. They want to believe that you have grown or changed or had some kind of epiphany along the way. Make it present, make it active, make it happen. It will be so much more interesting and dramatic.
There was a lot that I had to not know in the show that I already know as the 33 year old writer Kimberlee. So dramatically, I let the stories shape my understanding. That was a device; that was a construct. I think for dramatic purposes that worked. So I went from the insecure, kind of weak Kimmi to a stronger one because I couldn't start there; there'd be no journey.
Is there any part of your life that you won't explore onstage? Anything that you won't talk about in a show?
I gave my mom the script and gave her veto rights, so she knew everything I was writing, and there were certain things she wanted me to take out. And Eric, my boyfriend, is a very private person, so even though I talked about things we did together and my feelings in the relationship, I would never divulge his personal stuff.
But you still discuss plenty about your relationship. Within the show a family member or you are often asking, "Is he the one? Are we getting married?" and then the show ends without those questions really being resolved. Did that make Eric self-conscious at all?
What's very funny is that he directed it, and his joke is, "If you're going to talk about it, I might as well be a part of it." The question for me is not, "Is he the one?" but do we want the same things? Are we on the same page? And is it going to be at the same time. We're trying to figure that out.
For me the show is more of a spiritual journey. At the end, it's not about getting the thing you want so much, but about being OK with who you are in the present moment and being OK with this life. Just trying to go for things. That's the thing I felt so proud about. I mean, I got some good reviews, and I got great response from people. I had women email me saying, "You changed my life. You really inspired me." And that was really beautiful and wonderful. But to manifest a dream, to do something that I had wanted to do for so long, whether it was good or bad -- like some nights I didn't know my lines -- but to produce it and to write it and to put it all together while having a full-time job … I was so fucking proud of myself. I had such a sense of peace and satisfaction in a way that I had never had in my life. And it wasn't so much about what's going to happen now; am I going to be a star? It was the doing that made me the happiest.
What kind of reactions did you receive? Were you surprised by how many people actually took the time to write to you or come up to you after the show?
I think I was really happy more than surprised. I'm the type of person who would reach-out myself, so I don't think it surprised me. I know I was really balls-out and honest, and everyone was saying that I was brave. So I get why I would connect with people. At one of the Moth slams, I didn't get a great score, and I had worked really hard on it. I was devastated and didn't perform for six months after that. Then I told a story at a Moth outreach event. It was at a women's shelter and I told my story about getting out of an abusive relationship. I had these women crying and relating. It wasn't about a score or money or anything. It was connecting. And I thought, "Wow, this is what it's about." It doesn't matter if I'm special or important. It's about just being a human being. So I felt the same about this show. I had one bad bad bad … BAD review. And it didn't really matter. This isn't going to count compared to someone emailing me saying, "Thank you so much. You expressed something that I couldn't express."
The show is structured around your visit to a Tarot reader. You read yourself. How much of the world of Tarot or astrology do you actually believe in and follow in your daily life?
Well I've been reading Tarot cards for 10 years. I don't believe they tell the future. I created the character of Iris [the Tarot reader in the show] to have the same philosophy: that it isn't about looking into the future but looking into yourself. I believe we project our meaning onto everything, whether it's Astrology or Tarot or I Ching or whatever. Like if you and I were to talk about a relationship problem, we'd talk about it in the same language and in the same way as we'd talk about it with anyone else in our lives. Whereas if you have a Tarot card, and I tell you what that card means and what position it's in, you're going to try to figure out how that relates to your life, and by trying to figure out how that relates to your life, you might see your life in a different way.
What got you interested in them?
My sister read them for a while. She was older, and when I was in high school I would go to her apartment late at night and we'd read them. She had the "Mother Earth" deck, and that was really fun. Then she got married on an Indian reservation in Washington, and I bought "Healing Earth" deck, and I just started to read them all the time. I was addicted to them. Especially when I was younger, I did think they would tell me something I didn't know. I just had no way of trusting myself, so I would look at the cards and think, "Well, maybe there's some answer," and then as I grew-up, I realized that there wasn't. But that was its own little journey to not give something else power over me.
Your performance at the Fringe Festival brought interest in potentially turning the show into a memoir. Since so much of what makes your show relatable comes from your persona and presentation, how difficult has it been to translate these stories into a non-performance-based medium?
I'm having a very hard time with it, but it's also a great, fun challenge to try to think about what I need to convey. I think my humor still comes across. I've had some people read my script and my writing and laugh out loud, so I think some things still come through. There's definitely something that people get from me just in looking at me or by my presence. They see things in me. I don't have to explain who I am. In writing a book, I have to show who I am in the details, in what I say, in what I do. I have to find the character revealing moments of my life.
But right now, it's more about fleshing out scenes and smells and feels and not assuming too much. It's just a different kind of craft and skill which I'm learning. It's fun.
How do you plan to expand what is currently just a 60 minute monologue? Are you just going to add more stories?
No, I think it would be fleshing out all of the stories, like the stuff with my brother and my mother and the triangulation -- I touched on that [in the show] for maybe two paragraphs, and those are really full, complete stories, so I have the chance now to really go deeper into my childhood and the stories themselves. But also not overwriting; still keeping mind of a quick pace and my rhythm. So that's the challenge, and I'm working on it.
And is it going well?
Yeah, it's going really well, and I'm getting help from people. That was the fun thing about working on the show. I had so many people help me. I was so sensitive. Years ago, my Dad always said to me, "You could be anything you want to be in the world, but you're too sensitive. The world will destroy you." I wanted to prove him wrong, and I didn't want to be that way. It's still a hard struggle for me everyday to try not to care about what other people think. What shifted for me is that the project means more to me than my feelings.
On your website you tell your story of scoring an audition for The View when Lisa Ling left the show. You sent the producers candy bars …
My boyfriend did that. He's great with Photoshop, and he's really creative, and together we collaborated, and he did all the candy bar labels. And they loved it -- it's what got me an interview.
Do you think you would have had a better chance at the gig if you had been on a reality show like the two finalists, Rachel Campos (The Real World) or the eventual hire Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Survivor)?
Oh, no. They wanted someone much more conservative. I'm sure that wasn't the only reason -- they might not have liked me -- but I think they were looking for someone who wasn't from New York. I think they were looking for someone who was more conservative, and someone about to be a mom. Elisabeth just had a child. So I think that they were really trying to cater to a different demographic.
Was that as far as you went, the one meeting you got after sending the chocolate? Did they get back to you at all?
Yes. They were very sweet. The executive producer really liked me and said to keep in touch. I ended up taking a workshop with Joy Behar, and she was really lovely. The executive producer wanted to know how attached I was to being on air; he seemed to think I was really clever. So I think if my answer had been, "I'm not attached to it at all," then maybe I could have had some kind of future with them, but that wasn't the case.
If somebody saw you perform or your reel of hosting segments and auditions, loved what you do, and told you that if you have an idea, they'll put you on the air, can you imagine some sort of dream show you'd like to host?
I think if I had figured that out, I'd be doing that. Really. Because I'm the type of person who does what I want to do. I always go for it. I have a mini-DV, and I think I'd do it. I think that's been my question to myself. I was very clear about this one-woman show, and I worked on it for so long. And this book seems right to me, and I'm really excited about embracing this new process. My on-air stuff, I still think I'd be great on-air, and I think I have that thing that's connected, but I don't know. I used to think it gave me a sense of specialness, but as I say in my show, I've lost that. I've lost the need to feel special from some outside source.
You met your boyfriend Eric off of JDate. This being an online forum, can you talk about your online dating experience? Obviously it worked for you.
One of the reasons I did it is because I was at a job I had been at for a long time, and I wasn't going to date anyone at work. All my friends had serious boyfriends or girlfriends, and my world was getting smaller and smaller and smaller. I think also, if your circles are so small, the one person you meet that's slightly attractive and interesting, you put so much pressure on that instead of realizing that there are a lot of people in the world and lots of opportunities and chances for you. I had known a lot of people who had met husbands and wives through online dating, JDate in particular. But for me it wasn't about going to find a husband. It was about taking it less seriously. So I lined up five dates in one week, and I was lucky. Eric was my second or third date. Literally it was just one week. But I know other people who were on it for months and they went on 30 JDates. I was really honest in my profile about all my stuff, and I didn't try to be lighter than I am or less insecure. I said something like, "I'm trying to get better about taking care of my own needs." I was very myself. And so there are a lot of guys who would look at that and say, "Oh my god. Nightmare!" They wouldn't want to deal with someone who is going to want to talk about her feelings so much or whatever. But Eric found me.
Things to know about Kimmi:
What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
I’m not a snob, but I don’t salvage shit off the street. I didn’t even know people did that until I met my boyfriend Eric. The first time he ever invited me back to his apartment, I had to squeeze past two tables, four chairs, five lamps and several paintings, all of which he had found on the street within a three block radius of his apartment in the East Village.
Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
Is a taxi considered an establishment?
Gotham Mad Lib: When the ____________ (noun) makes me feel ___________ (adverb), I like to _____________ (verb). (Strict adherence to "Madlib" rules is not required.)
When the Subway makes me feel like no one in the world can hear me, I like to sing out loud.
Personality problem solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
I actually had to move to California to realize I was a true New Yorker. I thought I’d mellow out once I got to San Francisco, but I was like, “Get it together people!” When I moved back to New York, I felt normal again. Being part of such a frenzied beautiful mess relaxes me for some odd reason.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
My apartment is on the 15th floor overlooking the Ansonia and Level Club, two of the prettiest buildings in NYC in my opinion. I like to just sit on my couch and look out my window. It makes me feel safe.
There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
Three years ago, I dated a guy who thought he might be gay, but wasn’t sure, so we kept it to kissing. One summer night, Mr. Might Be invited me to see his office in the Chrysler Building. I wasn’t sure why he wanted me to see it until he opened the glass door next to his desk and escorted me out onto a small corner deck with an enormous stainless steel eagle gargoyle jutting out overhead. It was raining, but I didn’t mind getting wet. The lights of the city were twinkling, the buildings were standing erect the way I wished he would, and lightning flashed across the night sky in bolts as we kissed and tried to find a spark between us.
-- Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei
Kimberlee Auerbach is currently adapting her one-woman show Tarot Reading: Love, Sex and Mommy into a memoir. (We reviewed it in August.) To keep tabs on her progress and future potential performances of the show or appearances around town, please visit www.kimmiland.com.
-- Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei