Photo credit: Dana Patrick
Wendy Liebman is no rookie in Comedy. Part of the scene for 32 years, her hard work has allowed her to curate a successful career that has landed her numerous HBO specials (two half-hour spots, and an hour-long special, Taller on TV, in 2011), as well as specials on Comedy Central and Showtime, not to mention a finalist spot in season 9 of America’s Got Talent, and countless late night talk show appearances (Fallon, Kimmel, Letterman, Leno, and Ferguson to name a few). All of these have accolades and appearances have contributed to her being in comparisons to the likes of Rita Rudner and Burlington native and comedy legend, Steven Wright.
“I grew up watching Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, I Love Lucy, Flip Wilson…and a little bit later, I started loving comedians like David Letterman, Joan Rivers, and Garry Schandling,” says Liebman. “Before I started doing live stand-up, Barry Crimmins was the first live Comedian I saw. He was on stage at Stitches smoking a cigarette, and all I could think was ‘I wanna do that!’, she continued. “Then I took a class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, in the 80’s (Titled “How to Be a Stand-Up Comedian”) and then I just started doing comedy full-time after that class.”
It was while taking that class and simultaneously working for Radcliffe [Institute for Advanced Study] at Harvard’s Bunting Institute that the Wellesley graduate met, and forged a friendship with Kip Tiernan and Fran Froehlich, the founders of Community Works, a Boston-based organization dedicated to fundraising for community-based and social justice-centered organizations, and which also has their 9th annual Share-a-Laugh comedy benefit show coming up on June 2nd at Emerson’s Paramount Theater, headlined by Liebman herself.
“Those two women are like saints to me,” she says. “Fran and I kept in touch, and when I moved out to Los Angeles, we thought it would be great to do a benefit for Community Works,” she continued. “As with any charity, you aren’t always sure about where your money is going, but because I trust the founder, I know that the money is going to help the organizations that Community Works is the umbrella for. I know the money is going to get to the sick, the poor, the homeless, and the elderly.”
For Liebman, the idea of doing a benefit show isn’t just a fun idea, it’s also been ingrained her for many years, as a way to get the most out of her career.
“I just feel very strongly, especially at my age, that giving back is such a big part of life, and I do a lot of benefits, but this one for Community Works is the one I started from scratch,” says Liebman. “Somebody told me very early on in my career, that the best thing to do for your career is to do as many benefit [shows] and free shows as you can, because you make connections that you wouldn’t normally make,” she continued. “And just aside from the connections, it feels really good, too. That’s the part of it that you can’t quanitify.”
While Liebman doesn’t feel that “picking favorites” is really necessary when it comes to which of the organizations helped out by Community Works needs the most help (“Everybody needs a little help right now”), she does feels that there are certain issues that we to continue talking about, like the opiate and heroin epidemic.
“That issue has crept into my consciousness so much lately,” admits Liebman. “I don’t know if it’s because of politics, and it being brought up at town hall meetings, but I’ve been thinking a lot about opiate abuse, I have friends from high school who have lost children to it, and it seems like it’s such a growing epidemic,” she continued. “Either that, or it’s just being talked about more. Every decade has its cause, it seems, but this is a real, serious issue and it’s time that we focus our attention on that right now, and figure out how to eradicate drug abuse and opiate overdoses.”
“I remember the first time I saw a homeless person,” says Liebman. “I was, like, five years old, and I could not wrap my head around it! And now I know a lot of people are losing their homes because of income, but a lot of homelessness is also due to mental illness, and I think we need to reform the prison systems, which have a lot of inmates with mental illness…Oy! I wish I had all the answers,” she continued. “I actually wish I were a little smarter, so I could come up with solutions. But this is one solution that I can come up with, and that’s raising money for Community Works where I know money is going to go to the right places.”
“I think the community that comes to this show every year is a community that is working towards more solutions.”
Wendy Liebman has worked hard over the last three decades, so you would think it would start to wear her out, but her performances are reflective of her time in the business, and like a fine wine, get better with time.
Tickets for the Share-a Laugh Benefit on June 2nd at Emerson’s Paramount Theater are still on sale!