Hi guys. My name is Carol Leifer, and I'm a four-time Emmy nominated comedian writer and performer who's worked on shows including Late Night with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, The Ellen Show, and Modern Family. My book is part-memoir, part self-help book about how to succeed in any business like I have for almost 40 years. It's called How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying and it's also in audiobook form, which you can get here for half-off for a limited time. The New York Times Book Review gave me a fantastic review.

I'm looking forward to taking all of your questions, and Victoria will be helping me today, so ask me anything!


Update I would love to stay, but we got a late start and I'm going to do the Sklar brothers podcast in Hollywood! I really enjoyed doing this even more than I anticipated, and that regular people ask even better questions than professional journalists, trust me.

Comments: 143 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

madamgeek49 karma

a lot of female television writers have talked about the sexism they have experienced. has that been an issue in your career, and, if so has it changed over time or is it different working on different shows?

CarolLeifer103 karma

I think there will always be sexism in the comedy world, because we're still very much in the minority. But I have always seen being female as a tremendous advantage in my comedy career, because you need to take what makes you different and use it to your advantage. I've especially tried to do that in my comedy writing, especially with shows like Seinfeld and coming up with ideas that men wouldn't pitch, for example, Elaine thinks the Korean manicurists are talking about her behind her back in Korean. It's doubtful that a man would come up with that idea. So take your femaleness and brandish it!

T-town0444 karma

Thanks for doing this, I’ve often heard you referred to the “real Elaine”, but I’ve never heard any specifics, care to share any? I know sometimes life imitates art far more than art imitates life, so have you ever said or done something and then thought wow, that’s something Elaine would say or do?

CarolLeifer97 karma

I think people make the Elaine connection because I dated Jerry many many years ago, and we have stayed friends since. And he has mentioned that I was a bit of an inspiration in coming up with the character when he and Larry were creating the characters, but then I've also heard Larry David mention a couple of other women as his inspiration for Elaine. But as far as direct comparisons go, look: I'm a very good dancer, I don't push people halfway across the room when I'm surprised, so there you go.

IReplyWithSeinfeld25 karma

1) Did you ever have a storyline you fell in love with that Jerry and Larry put the kibosh on? I know they have kiboshed before.

2) I heard Patrick Warburton brought the house down at the Face Painter table read. Is this true and/or were you there?

3) Do you have a 24 cancellation policy??

CarolLeifer54 karma

1) Another excellent question! There was a storyline that I really wanted to do when I worked at Seinfeld, you know so much of the ideas there were inspired from real life and I knew that if I pitched something and it happened in real life I would have a bit of an edge. So at the time, fanny packs were really popular, and I remember wearing my fanny pack under a t-shirt one day, and wherever I went people were exceedingly nice, letting me go in front of them in line, letting me go first wherever I was, and then I realized at the end of the day my giant fanny pack under my t-shirt made me look pregnant! So I always thought it would be a great Elaine story if she started to use that, the fanny pack, as a way to make her day in New York a lot less taxing, you know - getting the first taxi because she looked pregnant, getting concert tickets first because people saw her standing in line, and I think they always liked the notion of it but it never became an episode. So I love those ideas about Seinfeld because nobody has fanny packs anymore, so it really was specific to the time (except dweebs who wear fanny packs).

2) Yes, I was there, and Patrick Warburton did kill at that table read. It's something that I love about doing television, when you read the script aloud and kind of stars are born, you know? Patrick really hadn't done much before Seinfeld, and when he came on the scene he just killed. Another actor like that is a little actor named Bryan Cranston, who played Tim Watley, the dentist, and was another person who really killed it at the table read and at the tapings.

3) Not sure what you're asking?

Tielpearce9324 karma

Hi Carol. Despite what many have said, I loved your season on SNL's writing staff. So many great writers that year: you, Smigel, Swartzwelder, A. Whitney Brown (another comic I admire) Terry Sweeney and his partner Lanier Laney, etc. Why do you think it got so ill-received? PS love the book.

CarolLeifer41 karma

Thank you! That's a really good question. The synergy at SNL was very strange that year. Lorne Michaels had just come back to the show after a 5 year absence, and there was a brand-new cast that included such diverse talent as Robert Downey Jr, Joan Cusack, and Randy Quaid. I don't think the show ever found its legs that year, because the stars have to be in alignment with the writing, the cast, and the people overseeing it, and it just never quite gelled that year. So it just goes to show you that you can have the best ingredients for a stew, and put it in the oven, and it can come out inedible.

Tielpearce93-16 karma

Unrelated follow up questions: do you know I am the same Tiel Pearce from Facebook? And also, will you go on a book signing tour?

CarolLeifer8 karma

Yes, I will definitely be going on a book tour, just check back to my website when we have confirmed all the dates and it will be there.

Stereohead10120 karma

Is there a joke or concept from Seinfeld that in retrospect you would want to change or modify if you had the ability to go back in time?

CarolLeifer37 karma

I don't think there's anything I would change about Seinfeld. The great thing about Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld having the final pass on every script there is the writers - we all completely trusted their judgement. They knew Seinfeld, the show, better than anyone, and we left our drafts in their trusty hands to decide what felt authentic and what wasn't. My only regret, and I talk about this in my new book, is that when we shot the Marble Rye, Kramer's horse Rusty was eating a costco sized can of Beefaroni, and the prop man gave me that empty can as a souvenir, and when I moved, my movers threw it out thinking it was just an empty can.

MissMalynn17 karma

Who was your favorite celeb to work with? Least favorite? Why?

CarolLeifer54 karma

I would probably have to say Frank Sinatra, because I opened for Frank Sinatra in my standup days, and I tell this story in my book, because the lesson from that was from the deepest valley of your career can come the greatest moment. And that was what happened with me - I was working with an agent that promised me the moon, and I wound up doing at Ground round restaurants on the New Jersey turnpike, and I kept asking him where the great gigs were, and he kept promising me to open up for Frank, and at that point I was like "Frank who? Frank Stallone, because nothing is happening here?" and finally he got me to open for Frank Sinatra, and he was such a gentleman, and it's very rare when you interface with greatness like that.

As to the worst celebrity I've ever worked with, you'd have to be a dummy to think I'm going to answer that question - because as I talk about in my new book, it's really important to be nice in business, because when you say bad things about people it gets back to them and it screws YOU over, so who did it really help?

bhalp117 karma

You've written for a variety of platforms; talk show, sketch comedy, sitcom, what is your favorite and what are the challenges of going from one to another?

CarolLeifer18 karma

It's hard to say which is my favorite type of show to write for, because I really love doing it all. Sitcoms obviously have been my bread and butter, but I've also written for the Academy Awards seven times, which is the most of any female writer. And I love it when I get the opportunity, because there's nothing like the Oscars. It's still the greatest show on earth, even though there are 3 billion other award shows. And I'm still as star-struck as anybody else when you meet Sandra Bullock or Micheal Douglas, my heart is still in my throat for a few beats before I get comfortable. I'm just like anybody else that way.

ChickenHubben16 karma

0 for 4 with Emmy nods. In your heart of hearts, how pissed are you?

CarolLeifer25 karma

Well, I really look to Susan Lucci as an inspiration, because I don't know how many times she had to wait, but if you're patient, good things do come. And it took me 22 auditions to get on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and I talk about that in my book, so I can wait anybody out.

physicalred14 karma

What's the single most valuable quality (aside from being funny) for a new person to possess in a comedy writers' room?

What's a damaging quality?

CarolLeifer43 karma

I think the best quality for a writer to have (and I talk about this in great detail with my new book) is "the easy hang." And it's something that Larry and Jerry used to describe writers they wanted to hire. You can be as funny as anybody, but if people don't like hanging out with you, if your personality is a drag, you're not going to last very long in a writer's room. So I always advise people to work on their personality skills along with their comedic skills.

As an agent once told me: "Don't be an asshole, because if you are, they will fire you and hire someone else who isn't." And that's applicable to anybody in any field.

thisismyusernameOK13 karma

Hi Carol, I love when you go on the Stern show, it seems like you and Howard have a cool relationship.

Any suggestions on how to 'make it' in comedy in 2014? I perform weekly, get a lot of "Hey man, hilarious!" - and I write, and submit stuff to shows, but I'm not sure if I'm doing it right.

I know there's no 'answer' but a little advice from someone like you would be amazing!


CarolLeifer25 karma

Look, I know that the idea of this reddit session is to promote my new book, but seriously, my entire book is all about answering your questions - specifically in one chapter, what I talk about is my advice (and this is advice you will only get from an insider like me) is that when you like a show, or there is some kind of creative endeavor you want to be part of, my advice is always to get in there on the ground floor - get a job as a runner, as a production assistant, or something like that. Because I have seen so many people over the years climb the ranks from just starting in at the lowest level. So if someone wants to say, write for The Big Bang Theory, my advice would be just to get any kind of job there, and I would think that's the smartest job anybody can take. In terms of standup, there's no way around it, you have to suck to get good. You have to get onstage a lot. So however you can get onstage, that is how you will become better and funnier.

el_crunz11 karma

Hi Carol - what's your favourite Seinfeld episode, and did you have any part in writing it? Also, how cool is Larry David?

CarolLeifer21 karma

My favorite Seinfeld episode is The Marble Rye, it was an episode that I am credited with but I always say this with a grain of salt because Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld re-wrote every episode of Seinfeld themselves, so the episode you see on TV came from their pens last. But it was a really fun episode because we shot it at Paramount Studios, we spent about a million dollars to shoot the episode (which was an OUTRAGEOUS amount of money at the time to spend on an episode) and Kramer drove the cab in that episode, Elaine dated the saxaphone player who had so much oral sex with her that it ruined his saxaphone playing, it was really a blast.

bhalp111 karma

I always had interpreted the Elaine as it was his inability to satisfy her shattered his confidence and that is why he couldn't play the sax. Was I just way off base with that?

CarolLeifer14 karma

No, I would say that was a pretty apt description of the entire plot point. Thank you for summing it up so beautifully.

stealthfiction11 karma

What's the funniest joke you know?

CarolLeifer40 karma

That is a hard question. I would say there is a joke in my act that I do and have done for years that is always a guaranteed laugh (thank God) and it's about how my father who was an optometrist used to joke about how optometrists make lousy lovers because the whole time they're in bed with a woman, they're asking "better like this or better like this?"

I can always count on that joke when I'm in a pinch.

hellohobbit11 karma

How does the writing process for an episode begin? Does someone pitch an idea and the writers go with it, improvising dialogue and actions until it fleshes out? How does a writer pitch an idea to other writers? The behind the scenes dynamics of TV shows really interests me. Would love to hear more about the process that we never get to see. Thanks!

CarolLeifer20 karma

In my new book, I talk in great detail about pitching at a television show and what it entails. And I talk specifically about the Seinfeld ideas that I pitched that made it into becoming an episode, and basically the ingredients are

  • Something relateable
  • Something in 2-3 sentences that would get a laugh (in my case from Larry and Jerry)
  • And from their perspective, something they'd never seen on television before

Those are the 3 key points to beginning the episode of a television show. It really comes down to one big idea, and you take it from there.

olliesanderson10 karma

I know this may sound rather obvious, but it intrigues me nonetheless.

In shows like Modern Family, after the actors have been cast for their respective roles, do you have to tailor your scripts to the actor somewhat, or do you purely focus on the character you created and hope that they can maintain the fit for the role?

CarolLeifer16 karma

Well, the wonderful thing about my job is that as a comedy writer you really just need to focus on the writing because when you work on a show like Seinfeld or Modern Family, you know that when you hand your material over to the actors, they are so good that they are going to make it even 100% better. I love when you give the raw material to amazing actors like Julie Bowen, or a Michael Richards because you know that when they are done with it, it's only going to be even better than you imagined.

thombudsman8 karma

If you could change one thing about the comedy writing business, what would it be?

CarolLeifer18 karma

Hmmm. I would have more comedy writers be more of the network execs. Because I think it's tough sometimes when you go into pitch to an exec who you know doesn't have the faintest clue about comedy and it's frustrating to pitch to people like that who you know are pretty clueless. So I wish some more comedy writers would moonlight as network executives, because I'd sure look forward to going into that room and pitching to them!

lagmonst3r8 karma

Loved you on Howard recently.

While I am a huge Seinfeld fan and know most episodes word for word, the early episodes do not seem to be standing up well. But once you get to the sweet spot of your tenure and beyond, the episodes are some of the most enduring TV of all time. Can you provide any insight on what was going on to make the later episodes so amazing? It doesn't seem like it was Larry leaving?


CarolLeifer12 karma

I can't really speak for - it's hard for me to look at Seinfeld objectively, having worked there, I know that there are people who love the particular section of episodes you're talking about, but then there are people who love the early ones the best, and it's really so much a matter of personal taste. I just know that when I was there, it was the best writing job I could ever have had. I don't think I'll ever have one as near perfection as that one in terms of four cast members who were lightning in a bottle, and the partnership of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, which I compare to the partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the comedy world.

Megain_Studio8 karma

Whose idea was it to do this IAmA, yours or your publicist?

Are you a redditor with an anonymous account as well as this one or is today your first time visiting on the site?

CarolLeifer22 karma

It was actually my idea! I heard or read about Betty White's interview, and I loved the idea of people being able to ask anything they want in real-time, and that is still exciting to me. I think it's from being a standup , I like being in the moment with an audience. Can I ask why you ask that?

I didn't know you could have an account! I've just read the transcripts before off the internet, so now that i know that, I can become a redditor.

hottertopic7 karma

Hi Carol, thanks for joining us! Do you have any top tips on how to get into writing?

Have a great day!

CarolLeifer11 karma

I hope I kind of answered that before, in terms of whatever show you like or would like to write for, to try to find a job at that show on the bottom rung, but not to be evasive of your question, but really my entire book is all about that - how to not only get into showbusiness, but also how to score in ANY business. I've been doing what I've been doing for 37 years which even when I say it myself is still kind of staggering to me, but there's a reason for my success and I feel like in my book I really wanted to share not only the really good things I've done along the way and the smart things but also the boneheaded things that I wouldn't want any of you to do.

beernerd6 karma

You had me at "audiobook". Did you narrate it yourself? If so, how was the recording process?

CarolLeifer10 karma

Yes I did! It was a lot of fun. I like to read my own books aloud because also, being a standup comedian, I like to kind of tell my own jokes in the book, in my own style and way, so it's not something that I would have wanted to leave to someone like James Earl Jones. The recording process is a bit challenging, because anytime you make any kind of verbal misstep, you kind of have to do the whole sentence over again. So it's a little bit like having a test at school, and it can be a little nervewracking because you want to make sure that you don't mess up so you don't have to keep doing it over, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit because I like to tell my jokes with my own inflection in my own way.

beernerd5 karma

You have to admit, James Earl Jones would've been pretty funny.

CarolLeifer7 karma

Yes, the next time I have laryngitis I'm going to hire him.

beernerd6 karma

What is your trick to curing writer's block?

CarolLeifer12 karma

I am one of the few lucky writers who have never experienced a major bout of writer's block. And I think it's because I always live my life, part of me is always in the moment, and part of me is always outside of myself looking for a comedic moment to exploit. Like sitting at my house here, we have this beautiful avocado tree, and unfortunately it hangs over to our neighbor's house, so we have this beautiful tree but all the fruit is over on his side. And when I think about that, I think well that is the start of a good funny story for some show. Especially if you don't get along with your neighbor. That makes it even more interesting. So I always keep my eyes and ears open for anything that could make a funny sitcom plotline.

NorbitGorbit6 karma

in fred wolf's book, larry david worked out some deal where they cut out an agent fees -- would you recommend doing that as well?

CarolLeifer8 karma

No. I wouldn't. Agents are really helpful, especially at the beginning of one's career. I think they only start to get cut out when someone has reached this amazing level of fame where they can kind of create these sort of unorthodox deals. I still don't know anyone who is able to cut their agent out of deals, that is some slick maneuvering.

chooter5 karma

Who are some of your fave female comedians?

CarolLeifer12 karma

I love Wendy Liebman, she is one of my favorite comedians, I adore her. I love Amy Schumer, I think she is so fresh and sharp and funny, and then there's a woman on Last Comic Standing whom I love called Erin Jackson.

And I love Kathleen Madigan too, she's one of my favorites.

ChickenHubben5 karma

Greg Fitzsimmons has eluded to Ellen Degeneres being a nightmare to work for. Why do you agree with that? Examples please.

CarolLeifer22 karma

Why do I agree with that? Wow, you should work for the government. I worked with Ellen, I co-created her second sitcom with Mitch Hurwitz, who created Arrested Development, and it was another example of great auspices I feel on all fronts but never quite found its niche. I don't know anyone who works harder than Ellen DeGeneres. And I'm sorry that the sitcom never really found its wings.

lost_socrates5 karma

Hi Carol, In your experience would you say catching a break or making.the jump to paying gigs is more talent, who you know, luck, or a combination of both.

Also, in todays digital world, how would you suggest going about getting exposure when there are so many outlets for funny people and their work to be displayed ?

Thank you in advance. Keep up the good work.

CarolLeifer10 karma

I do think it is a mixture of everything. But in the end, I do think it comes down to hard work. I do have a chapter in my book where I talk about how I once auditioned for a TV pilot, and Barry Levinson the famous director was directing the pilot, and being such a comedy fan, I did about 10 minutes in the audition room about all of his projects that I loved and knew all of the minutae about them. And I feel like I did score that job, I talk about this in the book, because I had the extra added edge of being such an uber fan. But in the end - and this many years in the business have shown me - there is no substitute for hard work or stick-to-it-ness because there is so much failure out there. You have to be your own biggest fan, and keep on keepin' on.

Frajer5 karma

What was your favorite SNL sketch or tv episode that you wrote?

CarolLeifer10 karma

I think my favorite would probably have to be "That Black Girl." it was a sketch that I wrote along with a couple of other writers that starred Danitra Vance, who was the first African-american female cast member. And it was a take-off of Marlow Thomas' That Girl. And I also wrote a sketch called "Mafia Greeting Cards" for Anjelica Huston, who had just been in Prizzi's Honor, and that was a real fun one too.

Tech-Mechanic3 karma

Hi Carol, I'm a 46 year old dude, newly single, no kids.

But, after being tied down for 10 years, I find I've got no game left with the ladies.

Now I know you have at least 15 years to go before you reach my age but, in your estimation, what are women in their 40's looking for?

How can I get my groove back?

CarolLeifer7 karma

Wow, well, you got my age all wrong that's for sure! But I'm very flattered. I think that the best thing a guy in his 40's should aim for, and what women are looking for, is a sense of authenticity, and a real sense of humor. I think if you are yourself, and you can be playful and funny, women love that. And my only other tip would be that (and I talk about a lot in my book) is "good manners never go out of style." Whether it be on a job interview or a date - always pick up a check, always open a women's car door, everything old is new again.

bellekid3 karma

How hard is it to interweave the various storylines when writing for Modern Family? I'm a huge fan of the show and am always impressed at how all of the main characters seem to get similar amounts of screen time each episode.

CarolLeifer10 karma

Yes, that really is very remarkable over at that show. Again, the episode I wrote at Modern Family included stories from real life such as - my episode was called Two Monkeys and a Panda. Mitch and Cam create a storybook for their adopted child, and that came from real life as my partner and I have an adopted son, and Jay and Gloria argue over where their final resting spot will be, in the ground or in a crypt, which is something that my partner and I have also bickered about, but the real genius of Modern Family is that Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd, who are the Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld of Modern Family, also know how to service all of the characters where it feels equally distributed and everyone has a decent storyline.

orangejulius1 karma

Who is your favorite for winning the world cup? Portugal seems to have choked completely in the first game against germany - do you see them coming back to get out of the group, or will the US / Ghana advance with Germany?

CarolLeifer15 karma

Wow you must have mistaken me for someone sitting at a sports bar!

ChickenHubben1 karma

*Were you as mad about Paul Reiser as Helen Hunt was?
*When was the last time you were in East Williston? *Lake Success, worst shopping plaza on Long Island or what?!

CarolLeifer5 karma

Oh yes, I talk a lot about Paul Reiser in my new book. He is the reason I got into the comedy business at all. Because we went to college together, he was in my theater group, and became my boyfriend, and he was the funniest person I had ever met, and he told me about these comedy clubs in NYC that had these open mic nights. So I often teased Paul that if I had never met him, maybe I would not have found my way into standup comedy!

That's a really great question. East Williston is where i was born and grew up, it's a little town on Long Island. My mom sold her house there, I think it is about 6 years ago, so the last time I was there was 6 years ago to help her pack and say goodbye to the house I had spent all those years in since i was born. And I love Long Island and surprisingly, Long Island has come up with an astonishing amount of comedians. I dunno, maybe it's something in the water!

Lake Success was a little too far out for me to drive to. Roosevelt Field was my mall of choice.

[deleted]0 karma


CarolLeifer6 karma

Someone's been reading my Wikipedia page...and don't believe everything you read.