Interview with Laurie Kendrick

by Emon Hassan on April 15, 2008

I’d posted my initial, raw, response about The Sopranos finale last year (did a 360 the following day). Quite a few people came to the blog for the first time because of that post. One of them, Laurie Kendrick. I went over to her blog and was bowled over. How can someone be that funny and keep it fresh day after day? We became friends – have yet to meet – and have exchanged many emails and some phone calls; “Hey, E!” from LK, if I were depressed, always got me out of it. She has a way with words that tickles the right parts of my brain. I remember I couldn’t stop laughing for 5 minutes when I’d read a line from one of her posts about her childhood that said something like: “I took a picture of daddy’s friend…” followed by a picture of a pair of man-legs with his pants around his ankles. I’ve always asked myself if LK is many people with one name. How does she get to write so much and still write for several other mediums as a freelancer?

The answer to the last question of this interview will tell you how her mind works at prompt. She’d answered it at first, but only saying what type of post she’d write. I emailed her back at 12:02 pm on April 9th: “…for #15 I was hoping for a spontaneous piece from you…” She replied at 12:13pm: “Sorry, I didn’t understand what you wanted there…” The answer you’ll find below was in my inbox at 12:59pm.

Behold the one and only…LK!

E: What are some of your first memories as a young writer? Do you remember what you wrote first?

LK: I wrote odd little poems for my parents as a child. At age seven I thought I was Longfellow: I was laying down clever iambic pentameter left and right. Then a few years later, as my hormones surged, I discovered two things that would alter my life FOREVER: boys and journaling. I was love sick for my seventh and eight grade years and my journals helped me keep it together. ”

“Keep it together”???? Really, what did that entail at age 12 or 13? My world was coming to an end because I had a zit or I didn’t make the cheerleading squad? Probably, but I remember it hurting a great deal. That said, pain and angst are relative.

Writing in my journal helped me sort things out. I gained perspective and acuity.

I’d spill my nubile guts on anything I could find…pieces of paper, old receipts, book covers, paper bags…whatever. I kept all my secrets in the zippered compartment of a bean bag chair. I’m not sure what happened to that old lump of vinyl and Styrofoam pellets. I believe my mother sold it at a garage sale and yes, my random pieces of journal went with it. Someone now knows about the lengths I went to to keep my mom from seeing the hickey that Mark Martin gave me in the Spring of ’73.

E: Who are some of your early influences? What were you watching, listening to, and reading? Can you give examples of how something has inspired you in a certain way?

LK: I was immediately struck by the flow of Flannery O’Connor. Her voice was great and her style, just slightly flippant. There was a realness to her writing.

I then discovered Fran Lebowitz in college and knew I found my literary idol. If she walked in here right now, I’d genuflect and kiss her damn keyboard. No one…NO ONE writes like Franny, though God knows I’ve tried. She’s incredibly smart and pithy and all of it is tinged with this strange timidity. It’s not blatant; she doesn’t write with an issue fueled pen. She just writers. It’s hard, one would imagine, for the discerning reader NOT to love her bombast.

I know I do.

E: Why do you think Lebowitz’s writing resonated with you?

LK: She’s brilliant; the consummate smart-ass and a class writer. I first read her while still in college; the first few pages and I was hooked. She’s phenomenal. I loved her voice because it so closely resembled the one I hope to have someday. I could never be in her league, but I sure as hell aspire to be one day.

E: How was high school and college life? In a perfect world, those two places nurture talent and encourage originality. How do you remember your own experience?

LK: I loved Jr. High, hated high school and only parts of college were memorable. My parents’ divorce was finalized well into my Freshman year of college, but it had been a very turbulent number of years prior to the actual dissolution of their marriage. It was extremely difficult and emotional and far more so than I’m allowing here. Suffice it to say that emotionally, it damned near killed me.

E: Looking back, what do you think helped you get through that difficult period? Do you think you have an objective take on their relationship?

LK: I’ve always had the damnedest optimism, even in my darkest periods…and there have been many. I always knew intrinsically that old adage, “this too shall pass” and it always did. If I had one complaint, it was the bad times never passed fast enough.

E: What brought you to broadcasting? What has working in television and radio taught you about writing?

LK: I’m actually a very determined person. I was also a very determined child. I remember being emphatically sure about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer. That got sidetracked as I got a little older and was shot by a San Antonio camera crew when my great grandmother turned 100. I remember watching myself on the screen later than night. I was mesmerized. At that moment, history was made: a future TV news anchor was born and so was a tiny, eight year old narcissist.

E: Do you remember what you said when the TV crew shot you?

LK: I was just eight years old. It wasn’t an interview-I said nothing and just a brief shot of me. But it was enough to make me want to be on TV one day. And everybody in my very dysfunctional family ooh’d and ah’d over it. You see, my sisters and I were always praised for what we did; never for what we were.

Decades later, I’d just finished anchoring a newscast and had gone with friends to a restaurant for a late dinner. Once inside, I was barraged by viewers clamoring for my autograph. MY AUTOGRAPH??? It was an existential moment. Then in a flash, I remembered how it felt when that camera crew basically panned the room and caught me on film. Suddenly, I realized that a life long dream came true. I’d been on the air for a year, but I was so myopic in the pursuit of my career that I hadn’t stopped to remember what it really was that brought me to that point. In theory, it was hard work, long hours and a college degree, but it was more than that. It was this incessant need to be loved by anonymous minions. In some ways, my blog is still a component of that.

E: When did you realize comedy writing suits your personality better? Who are some of your comedy mentors and what have you learned from each?

LK: I’ve been told I was always “funny”. Precocious, too. My sister Karol and I watched an inordinate amount of TV. Actually, “watching” is incorrect. We studied it; theme songs, the credits…who did what and as a kid growing up in a tiny Karnes City, Texas my lexicon was a bit different than my contemporaries. I not only knew what a “Best Boy” was, but who performed those duties on the set of “Hogan’s Heroes”.

I knew that Botany 500 supplied Gene Rayburn with his suits when he hosted, “The Match Game”. I understood Walter Cronkrite’s familiar cadence. Yeah, I watched network news as a kid. It fascinated me and so did news makers. I was intrigued by politics and politicians. I actually did an impersonation of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. I’d lower my chin, don bi-focals and utter, “My fellow Uh-murr-kins…” My parents thought it was witty and wonderful and often asked me to perform at their parties. I did and to rave reviews, might I add. I loved the sound of laughter. It was invigorating and affected me like scripture. It still does.

E: Sounds like you had the right ingredients for doing stand-up early on. Had you thought of pursuing that?

LK: I’ve done stand up on several occasions, mainly just to see if I could do it. Well, I did. My last time was at the Houston Improv in May of 2006. It was very well received, but I vowed I wouldn’t do it again. That’s one promise I’ll keep. Stand up comedy ain’t easy. It’s tough and I’m far too thin skinned.

E: How do you exercise your comedy writing muscles? How is it different from any other type of writing?

LK: I write in my blog daily…well, up to six days a week and I also write comedy for a living, so that part of my brain never atrophies. But my mood generally determines the tone of everything I write. That might be true of all tortured wordsmiths.

This is probably quite revealing psychologically, but there are days when I’m completely disconnected from comedy and humor. Comedy is tough. Its subjectivity makes it that way.

Don’t believe me?

Spend an afternoon perusing the million so called “humor” blogs out there. There’s an amazing amount of drivel out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written pablum before myself. We all do. Comedy is rarely consistent. We learned that from Saturday Night Live, Andrew Dice Clay and the awful, awful Dane Cook. Someday I hope he’ll grasp what true comedy is. As it stands, he certainly knows what it isn’t.

E: Many would disagree with you about Cook. They’d probably ask you why you think his comedy isn’t.

LK: Personal tastes. I think Dane Cook is a hack. To explain the “success” he’s had, well, I think either his ego, his mom, or his agent is lying to him.

E: What ingredients make funny? They say comedy is truth. What do you think they mean by that? What’s your brand of humor?

LK: Are you referring to the old adage, “Many a truth is said in jest”? I’ll buy that. I’ve written rather serious posts in which I opined (in no uncertain terms) on various things such as politics and social norms, and was lambasted by negative comments. I could write very same thing with a humorous slant and I get a million hits.

And sometimes, I don’t get a single comment. I don’t know why it’s all so hit or miss. Hot one minute, then a comment ghost town the next.

My comedy could be described as ribald, I suppose. I write what I like to read. I wouldn’t call it vulgar or overtly adult oriented, but it has its moments. Every once in a while the phrase “bunch of baloney” just doesn’t have the same literary “ooof” as “what a load of bullshit”. Creative license in my world, almost always needs its mouth washed out with soap.

E: Was it unfair of people to lambaste you with negative comments? Why is a humorous take on your opinions ‘safer’ when you share them with your readers? Particularly, your readers.

LK: My blog is a humor blog. Ninety-percent of it is based on comedy, but that leaves ten-percent wide open and yes, I try my hand at other genres from time to time. But people are creatures of habit. Some don’t like it when I deviate from the norm and some negative comments and e-mails have been the by-product. I’ll always go for the funny, but I’m a writer and I definitely try to be a multi-dimensional one.

E: You’d mentioned you needed quite a bit of convincing before you entered blogging. What surprised you most about blogging? How has it changed your writing? How do you manage to be consistent and keep it fresh?

LK: I started my blog on March 31, 2007. I had just been laid off from a comedy-based news/talk station in Houston. The format was flipping to all sports and most of the on air staff was summarily dismissed. It wasn’t a positive experience.

At all.

I left that station a shaken woman. I realized that I’d given 25 years to an industry that didn’t give a shit about me. That was disconcerting to say the least. I had to be pushed in to blogging because at the time, my self confidence sucked. But that was short lived. I regained all my footing. I love writing but blogging has been a life altering and life affirming experience for a myriad of reasons.

E: I can only imagine how tough that was to deal with after 25 years. But surely you wouldn’t have enjoyed writing for a sports station, would you?

LK: Timing is everything and when radio summarily dismissed me, it was time to leave. I just didn’t know it until after the fact. So, when I walked out the door, I literally left Broadcasting behind me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–the industry has changed so much. In some ways, so have I. You can’t go home again, so really, in my heart of hearts, I can honestly say that I really have no intention of ever sitting behind a microphone or a studio camera again. At least, not in a host or anchor capacity.

E: What’s a typical work day like for you? How do your blog posts become what they are? What gets you to write about a certain topic? Do you have little rituals or rules for yourself when you write?

LK: I’m inspired by many things. I’ll see something, watch a news report or read an article–see someone or something while shopping and I’ll immediately dissect its CQ: its Comedy Quotient, and I go from there.

Getting started is easy. I sit down and I write. I don’t have any tricks of the trade. I don’t compose an outline first. I write by stream of consciousness. It just flows and rarely do I have an ending in mind once I start writing a post. It just kind of magically appears. I’m lucky that way. I’m also big on endings. I like to end with something meaty.

As for the piece as a while, if it makes me laugh, it’ll make at least the bulk of my readers laugh.

E: What would you advise young writers who:

a) struggle to find a voice:

LK: I found mine in a two-fold process. I’ll risk this sounding like utter braggadocio by telling you that it came when I realiezed I could write. I knew that with my writing, I could make sense of the nonsensical. The second discovery occurred when my teachers lauded me with compliments and when I won several awards in High School and as a professional Journalist. But nothing proves you’ve found you voice knowing that your writing has elicited a response in your readers. I’ve gotten comments on my blog that moved me–not because they were complimentary–but because my post made the reader think or feel something. That to me, is the penultimate compliment.

b) wish to write for broadcast medium

LK: My biggest recommendation here would be to avoid Broadcast altogether, but that’s my bitterness talking. I got into TV and radio 25 years ago. It was a completely different beast back then. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed for deregulation and deregulation has all but killed radio. Technology will hammer in the death nails. And by technology, I mean the advances that have been made in the past 15 years. We now have more options than ever before. Burnable CDs, iPods, music services, satellite, the list reads like a scroll. Purists will always make sure radio remains alive…but not well. The one positive in all of this is that NOTHING will replace our need to read. Only the medium by which we read will change. That gives me hope.

c) wish to write comedy

LK: Comedy is so subjective. But I’m of the mindset that you’re either funny or you’re not. I don’t think the ability to write comedy can be taught. I believe you can learn “theory”, but it’s highly doubtful you’ll garner much of an audience. If my career can be construyed as successful at all ( and that might be debatable to some) it’s because I learned to write for men. I ALWAYS write with men in mind–even my more serious stuff. I use the male sense of humor as my barometer. If you can make a men laugh, you’ll make women laugh. Ironically for me anyway, that rarely works if you reverse it. By writing for men, I’ve learned to kill two literary birds with one stone.

d) face the dreaded writer’s block.

LK: As I said earlier, I often feel major disconnect. I guess that’s a form of writer’s block. When that happens, I shut her down. There’s nothing I hate worse than the tyranny of the blank computer screen. So, when that happens and it does, I get up and walk away. My motivations come from so many places, so usually I’m rarely away from my keyboard more than a day or two. But, I will admit that every time I finish a piece, I wonder if I’ll ever write another one. This might sound weird, but I’ve learned how to operate within that dysfunction. In many ways, my insecurity fuels me. Doubt keeps me coming back. Odd, I know, but it works for me.

E: Why does the male sense of humor also work for female and rarely when it’s reversed? Psychology or biology?

LK: I don’t have an answer for this, other than for me, writing for men, works.

E: What are some of the other projects you’re working on?

LK: I have a book in my head. It’ll be a series of short stories and I’ve even begun dabbling with the concept of play. I also write for several regional magazines and I’m a comedy writer for two Houston radio stations.

E: Have you given yourself a deadline for these projects?

LK: No, I have no time line. I refuse to do that to myself. I won’t contribute to my disappointment if a target dates comes along and I haven’t written a book or a play or won a Pulitzer. The reality is I’m ridiculously optimistic that it will happen. If I envision it, it usually happens. I’ve been lucky…..and driven.

E: You’ve often asked your readers to chime in with their thoughts/take on the opposite sex – I’m one of them. What have you learned about both sexes from those responses?

LK: I’ve learned that there are far more women like me in the world…a broad’s broad… and even after countless quizzes and Q&As, I still haven’t figured out THE PENIS PEOPLE, but I’ll never stop trying.

E: Why are The Penis People so hard to figure out? Are they being asked the right questions? Maybe men are more multiple choice questions and not so much essay questions type.

LK: Nice try, Emon…but uh…NO!! You men are going to have to learn to write and express yourselves. Alan Alda and his band of Mr. Sensitive Pony Tail types don’t speak for you. The crucible that is life consist of options (multiple choice) and communication (expressing of one’s feelings). I’m not going to cut you any slack in future Q&A posts about gender differences.

E: You’re a pretty straight forward person. What 5 things are you dying to tell men and women, each, to stop bullshitting about?

LK:
1. Women must talk less in order to get men to talk more.
2. Say I love you often and for God’s sake, mean it. Insincerity is often fatal.
3. Be sincere and honest. Not to the point where it hurts someone’s feelings but, speak your mind.
4. If you can’t be faithful, then don’t get involved with anyone. If you’re involved and if you think you’re going to stray, terminate the relationship. Infidelity is always fatal.
5. Learn to laugh together. Laughter is the tie that binds.

E: You’ve written about your own relationships. What have you learned about yourself via those relationships? How have they impacted the way you express yourself today?

LK: Heartache has been my biggest motivator. I look forward to the day when it isn’t.

E: How do you mean? What has heartache motivated you to do?

LK: For me, pain is motivation. To write about something that hurts often allows me to connect the dots. I can usually find the source of my pain when that happens and that allows me to ease it. I would like to commission a bevy of noted thinkers in the psychological and behavioral world to discern why creative types have such tortured pasts. Was my past tortured? No, but I knew unhappiness. Heartache, loss, disappointment—you know, life. Some of my misery was my own. I brought it on myself; some of it wasn’t. Sometimes, I didn’t cope with change well. It’s nothing I obsess over, but it’s helped me write on occasion.

For me, pain meant clarity. I think it’s that way for a lot of people. It’s difficult to view the world through rose colored glasses when you’re wincing through tears.

E: (a) Name 5 of your own favorite blog posts.

High School: I Remember When

God Called

I Know How This Day Ends

My Covenent With You

Sounds

The Crisper

Father’s Day

(b) Name 5 writers and/or bloggers you like.

Fran Lebowitz
Eric Spitznagle
Joan Didion
Flannery O’Connor

E: Right this minute, as you’re reading this question, and having answered all those questions above, what do you like to write about? No limits, whatever comes to your mind and however long it is.

LK: I think a lot about my gender.

Women; who we are and just how we’ve evolved in my lifetime alone.

I think there is “a feminine mystique”, but my version varies substantially from Betty Friedan’s. To me, this “mystique” covers many things. It’s our ability to procreate, our ability to love and nurture and how we can emotionally multi-task. I applaud the many roles we have to play and play well.

Yes, I appreciate my womanhood more than I ever have before. And that’s come with age.

As we get older and collagen leaves our skin leaving it far less supple, I think we’re rewarded; compensated perhaps, by being allowed to feel more comfortable in our skin. That’s the trade out. And it’s one thing about aging I really like.

Another thing I’ve learned to appreciate about our gender is our ability to see the subtle nuances that are hidden to everyone else and by everyone else, I mean men.. Women, with very little effort, are able to see what really lies beneath the surface. We might not let on that we know, but trust us….we know.

The one thing I really dislike about our gender how many of us view relationships.
We consistently give undeserving men 769 chances to enter into and remain in our lives.

And we not only embrace them; we cling to them. We become specious lunatics, saying and doing anything to keep them in our midst.

Why?

Why do we women like idiots? Why do we cling to men and situations that guarantee we’ll experience heartache and self doubt? Why do we do this to ourselves?

The problem is the recidivism rate among assholes is through the roof. While it is true that the adage, “once a jerk, always a jerk” doesn’t always hold water, it also rarely leaks.

Do we, as women, intentionally seek the wrong guy with all the right issues because we have this primordial need to nurture and nest, to kiss boo-boos and make everything better? Well, that’s part of it, of course. These things are ingrained…they’re what we do, but are we blinded at times by our own hardwiring?

Furthermore, are nice guys just too emotionally healthy for us???

And after we take their counterparts, these pathetically fractured creatures into our bosoms, do we then become jerks and idiots ourselves through symbiotic osmosis?????

And then do we stay together simply through shared insecurities and mutual inadequacies??

Do issues become the “ties that bind”?

I used to know a woman who dated capriciously. She went from guy to guy–fleeing at the first sign of trouble. I used to think she was flighty and too picky. I even accused her of having commitment issues; that maybe something was emotionally askew.

Turns out, she knew exactly what she was doing. She’s married now and very content with her life.

Here’s why: She knew what she wanted and more importantly, she knew what she didn’t want. She knew what she was looking for in a man, in a partner and in a relationship.

In a conversation once, she made it clear to me–in NO uncertain terms–that if I am choosing to be with a complete idiot, then I’m just as guilty and issue ridden as he is. I was completely on par with his idiocy and that made me half the reason why I was so unhappy.

The conversation continued. Still wading in my shallow pool of denial, I asked her about the human factor–I reminded her that no one was perfect and she agreed….BUT, she said something that made an enormous amount of sense. She admitted that while everyone has problems, the problems she WILL allow into her relationship “would never be big enough to sink the deal”.

Her tolerance has a cap.

Wow! A cap? Limits??

My mind reeled. So, I started thinking—women with issues seek men with issues? Water seeks its own level? I asked my friend about this and she said while that over-simplified things a bit, the answer is YES. By telling me that, she basically held a mirror up to my face and I looked into it long and hard and frankly, I didn’t like the view.

I have since made it my life’s goal to find my tolerance cap.

I’m also learning at the ripe old age of 49 that healthy women–like my friend– don’t have the patience to stay in dead-end relationships. If after trying to make it work and it doesn’t, it’s over. They leave and miracles of miracles, they do so in tact.

Taking crap is a conscious choice.

In a nutshell, we women have to become more intolerant. We need to put up with less and expect more. Mostly from ourselves. I’m at a critical point in my life where I need to discern what I want versus what I need and I need to come to terms with what I’m willing to put up with; which relationship imperfections I’m willing to tolerate and which ones I’m not. Regardless of what I decide..whether I stay or go, I’ll be fine.

And that’s what I wish we women would get through our heads once and for all: we can walk away from a bad situation and we won’t break. We can fall and get right back up again. We don’t have to settle. And we have to learn that self-respect is key to our emotional survival.

So is being realistic.

Love isn’t about fairy tales. There are unhappy endings sometimes. It doesn’t always work out. And it’s not all about sex and shouldn’t be pursued because of what it can do or buy. Love, I think, is the quintessential intangible. It’s the mutuality of emotion and intent and purpose; shared values that yes, even I have to admit, are relevant and the real adhesive in every relationship.

And we have to stop focusing romantic love. There’s so much more to it than that. Yeah, sure it’s lovely and nice and there’s an age old part of our collective psyches which seeks that and always will. But again—we have to be realistic. Romantic love is beautiful and sought after, but extremely confounding. It distorts our view and it’s incredibly porous. It allows annoying little resentments, petty jealousies and smothering to seep through and these are all major contributors to relationship death.

I don’t want that. In fact, I no longer want to make excuses after my feelings have been pulverized for the 19th time that week by saying through my tears, “Well (insert name here) is aloof, cold and emotionally unavailable along with being a selfish, sanctimoniously lying asshole—BUT HE’S MINE!!!!

And so many women sadly, tragically, pathetically feel this way.

Bullshit.

The point I’m trying to make, Ladies is this: if water seeks its own level, then we MUST change our depth charts.

A colleague sent me an article recently which focused on the age old conundrum of good women, bad choices. It included a passage that I thought would be a fitting way to end this tome: Let’s stop wasting time looking for the perfect man. He doesn’t exist. He never has and he never will. Instead, let’s shift our focus. Let’s try creating the perfect love.

Fear not, it exists. It’s a bit elusive, but very real and it’s an emotion that we must create for ourselves first and foremost.

Now those, my Sisters, are words to love by.

————————————-

Well, folks, now you know why I [Heart] LK! I thought I should tell you a little about her professional work because…I want to.

Laurie Kendrick is an award winning writer and reporter based in Houston, TX. In her 24 years of professional experience in television, radio, and print, Kendrick has won, among others, awards from AP and Houston Press Club; The Katy Award for Best Feature; Best Series from Radio and Television Director’s Association; “Best Feature,” Francis C. Moore Award, and numerous others accolades. She is currently working as a freelance writer.

So, folks, America may run on Dunkin’ each morning…but it’s thinking about Laurie Kendrick the whole time.

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