We have always been a fan of funny lady Brett Butler. From her stand up comedy, to 5 seasons of Grace Under Fire, and her latest 2 season run on Anger Management with Charlie Sheen. Brett invited us to sit down with her and do some thinking back.
Brett Butler Q&A
1 - What was it like growing up in Alabama as the eldest of five sisters? Were there lots of elbows in the bathroom?
BB - 1 - Sure it was crowded but here's the deal: My little sisters were - and are still - dear, interesting people. In a way, it feels like I've had a baby on my lap forever. Maybe that's why I never cared much for dolls: Between sisters and cousins, real babies were everywhere.
I don't recall elbows in the bathroom but this might tell you how treasured private space was: We had this great big soft rocking chair and used to claim it when we were watching tv, even getting dibs if we had to leave the room. One night I must've gotten my spaces confused because I was in the bathroom and someone jiggled the doorknob. Before I could think, I cried out, 'Seat saved!'
Maybe you had to be there but it took a while to live that down.
2 - What was it like appearing on and writing for fellow country girl Dolly Parton on her variety show "DOLLY" in 1987?
BB - 2 - Writing for Dolly was my first WGA job. It was thrilling. I was hired mid-season when they were revamping the staff. The show started out in ratings trouble and stayed that way. I think they were trying to put a round peg, etc. But what was right about the show was simple: Dolly. I was only there for 13 weeks. She was a legend and I was a baby staff writer, so there wasn't much interaction between us, mostly just a lot of staring on my part.
Dolly wasn't just a legend, she was gorgeous, kind and funny as hell. Her ad libs were great and I could never figure out why the network cut them from the program.
The other staff writers were long time veterans of variety show writing - mostly the NY/LA kind. They were great to me but had to correct me all the time. They'd say things like, "It's a sketch, honey, not a 'skit'." Either way, I wasn't cut out to write variety.
I got to meet childhood idols, too. Hell I wasn't even thirty yet - I was still IN my childhood! I recall being thrilled to meet Bob Hope.
Here's what I took from Dolly that still impresses me : When she was singing, even in rehearsal, she'd make eye contact with everyone and it was like she was singing just for you. There were some big dog producers and talent on her show and I watched them when she sang. She had the same effect on them as she did me. She's flat out a superstar: When she was on, there wasn't anything else happening in that room or in the rest of the world. It's a hell of a thing to see up close.
3 - Were you more at ease onstage doing your stand up? Or more at ease on the sound stage week to week when you started Grace? How was that transition?
BB - 3 - I love stand up. And it's nothing like your own show. Moving to a job where you share the stage and have other people write for your character is, at first, flattering and exciting. Then you realize that the very thing that got you your own show is the same thing that you have to keep in check when you're playing a character.
I didn't ad lib to piss anyone off. I did it because I have the attention span of a gnat on meth. That and I was good at it. Then there are the times that you know you're a part of a much bigger thing than telling jokes. I remember the first line that was written for me and Grace at once even if the writers didn't know it. It happened in one of the first shows.
Grace sits next to a woman and notices she has a black eye, a real shiner and asked what happened to her. The woman said, "I ran into a door." Grace's response was, "I used to tell people by husband was cleaning his fist and it went off."
The laugh was huge and then rolled back around into a bigger one. If any of us wondered if we could do a comedy about a woman who had domestic violence in her past and then moved on, we felt like we could do it then. I owe a huge debt to my bosses Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner and the show creator Chuck Lorre for taking my act and giving it a new life with a real family. That made it bigger than stand up in some ways.
We are loving you for the past 2 seasons on Anger Management. How did this successful comeback come about?
BB - 4 - I love how you phrased this question! I do not think of it as a comeback and if others do, there's a good chance that I underestimated just how far I fell when my own series ended. Look, I got that job on AM for one reason: Charlie Sheen wanted me on it. And I was happy to be amid a bunch of terrifically funny actors who could all be the center of their own show. The AM writers had to work to accommodate me and they did so very gracefully. No pun intended.
I know it's not really answering your question but I would like to say that
it's only been a few months since the show wrapped its 100th and final episode and I miss getting to work around Charlie. Even though I'd been around a block or two between my time on Dolly and working on AM, I had superstar awe all over again.
The only thing that outshines Charlie's largesse is his complete originality. I suppose you could say Charlie was playing a version of himself like I did with Grace. And in his case, there's a lot more than meets the eye in his case. And yes I know - that's saying a lot.
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