San Francisco Chronicle, June 3
Comedy review: Imperfect parents share a laugh
Reyhan Harmanci, Special to The Chronicle
The crowd at Cobb’s Comedy Club on Monday night was markedly different than most. For one thing, it was largely women. For another, all of the shiny, carefully highlighted hair and hip tunic shirts bespoke a certain well-heeled sector of the Bay Area. The event was “Afterbirth: Stories You Won’t Read in a Parenting Magazine,” a night of storytelling organized by Los Angeles resident Dani Klein Modisett, who published an anthology of not-so-perfect-parenting tales with the same name.
The performers were a mix of locals (writers Ayelet Waldman and Rodes Fishburne) and showbiz regulars. “Sex and the City” producer and writer Cindy Chupack was on hand, with a very funny essay about trying to get pregnant as a 40-year old bride. “I’ve always wanted to have a baby in five years,” she deadpanned. “For the past 25 years, I’ve wanted to have a baby in five years.” The night picked up on a recent literary trend: telling imperfect-parenting stories as an antidote to the “helicopter” moms and dads and the rule-packed playgroups.
Waldman read an essay from her recently published collection, “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace” – there was a table at the entrance selling some of these tomes – that dealt with her pre-adolescent daughter’s inevitable sexual life and reflected back on Waldman’s own teenage years. Dan Bucatinsky, an actor and producer of HBO’s “The Comeback,” told a hilarious story about comparing he and his partner’s lives with a pair of gay friends in Northern California who had no problem casually bragging about their frequent, hot three-way action. Cut to his home life, as a parent of two young children, wiping noses and changing diapers.
“I blame my kids,” he said, pausing. “I’m so tired, too tired for a two-way or even, frankly, for a one-way. I’m just not that into me.” Organizer Modisett opened the night saying that she began collecting stories for “Afterbirth” by posing the question: “At what moment did you know your life had changed as a parent?” But as the evening demonstrated, it’s never one moment. It’s an endless stream of moments. The crowd lingered after Modisett wrapped up the show with her meditation on being a 40-something new mother. Clearly, the experiences shared by the storytellers were of the First World variety: The industry around parenting, motherhood in particular, requires deep pockets. Not everyone can afford multiple doulas or fertility witch doctors. But for the health of the parents, the grimy – or at least sticky – underbelly of their lives needs to be exposed more often.
With ‘Afterbirth,’ parents take a humorous look at the daunting task of raising kids
Dani Klein Modisett edits a collection of humorous 37 first-person essays.
By Susan Carpenter May 28, 2009
For most adults of a certain age, life is divided in two segments. There’s the sleep-around, devil-may-care craziness one experiences before becoming a parent . . . and the sleep-deprived, filthy-housed lunacy that ensues afterward.
It’s this post-conception period that is exposed in “Afterbirth: Stories You Won’t Read in a Parenting Magazine,” a collection of humorous 37 first-person essays edited by Dani Klein Modisett, founder of the long-running Los Angeles spoken-word series of the same name.
Circumcision. Public urination. Bullying. The contributors to “Afterbirth” — including Los Angeles authors Christie Mellor, Christopher Noxon and Brett Paesel, as well as Hollywood writers and actors Lew Schneider, Andrew McCarthy and Mo Gaffney — don’t shy away from any of it. (All of them first performed their pieces as part of “Afterbirth’s” live shows.)
Emmy Award-winning writer Dana Gould, a father of two daughters, recounts how parenthood destroyed his interest in porn: “Look at all these DVDs starring someone’s daughter!!!” he writes. Emmy-nominated TV producer Marta Ravin sees a pile of spilled baby formula on her shiny granite countertop and thinks, “The last time I was looking at a mound of white powder on a shiny surface, it was definitely cocaine.”
With humor rather than earnestness, “Afterbirth” plumbs the emotional and diaper-filled depths of procreation. Featuring tales of adoption and infertility, highlighting struggles with breast-feeding and (allegedly) collapsible strollers, the pieces here skewer the fantasies of parenthood and do it with hilarious candor.
“All of this stuff is real,” says Modisett, a Los Angeles-based comedian who founded the Afterbirth spoken-word series 5 1/2 years ago. “What I consistently hear is, ‘It’s real but it’s funny,’ or ‘It’s funny because it’s real.’ There’s a sense of total identification and relief that you’re not alone.”
Modisett’s stories — about forgetting to have a baby, as well as miscarrying a baby and dealing with the hormonal insanity of infertility treatments — exemplify what she asks her contributors to write about: the relatable and emotionally charged moments that separate life’s before and after, distinguishing the carefree singletons from the dutiful balls with chains.
Modisett, 46, had her first child before her friends joined the parent trap. She felt alone among her peers, so she created Afterbirth to help get through it — to know there was laughter amid the difficulties and joy “on the other side.”
The mother of two young boys, ages 6 years and 22 months, Modisett is still getting through it. And she hopes that “Afterbirth” will do the same for others, by offering stories that remove the preciousness from parenting and, as a result, the pressure to do it perfectly.
“I’m an idiot. What am I doing having a kid?” asks comedian and “Afterbirth” essayist Johanna Stein, posing a rhetorical question that resonates with many entertainment industry professionals who’ve chosen to have kids later in life. “My circle of friends can all relate to that. Like last week, I was gathering all my roaches and consolidating them into one joint and now I’m a parent?”
Stein, 41, was working on a pilot for a Disney television show when she and her husband had a daughter, Sadie, 2 1/2 years ago. The joy of her birth was tempered by the realization that their breast-fed daughter was starving.
“I had this hands-free pumping bra, and I was typing out the story while pumping and weeping,” Stein says of the time she spent writing “Spoiled Milk,” a bittersweet essay on lactation specialists with names like Binky, and a galactagogue (i.e., milk-producing) diet of oatmeal and Guinness beer.
“I really believe anything is a tragedy or comedy depending on your angle,” Stein says. “One minute you’re waking and baking and watching Victoria Principal infomercials, and the next you have this life. For me, the crystallizing moment was the night my kid pooped up my back in our bed. I was like, what just happened? You’ve moved into a new phase of your life and either you look at it as a tragedy and you mourn, or you go, this is funny.”
Stein and her (mommy-centric) views are only half of the equation. In “Afterbirth,” dads — who are usually much less heard in stories of modern parenting — get equal play. Almost half of the essays are from men.
Actor-writer Todd Waring writes about dropping the F- bomb on his teenage daughter, while “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, a father of four boys, is chagrined to realize that he’s exactly like his dad, “with the hairy forearms and disciplining other people’s children and eating your Halloween candy while you sleep.”
“The gender lines are a lot less rigid,” says former “That ’70s Show” executive producer Mark Hudis, who demonstrates his gift for cynical husband-and-wife banter in the essay, “The Gay Straight Dad.” “In the 1950s, Dad went to work and Mom stayed home, and now if Dad doesn’t have a full time job, he’s taking care of the kids and he feels emasculated, so he’s going to write about it or shoot himself in the mouth.”
Lucky for Hudis’ wife and 2-year-old son, he’s chosen the former route. He also hopes to keep performing once Afterbirth resumes its live L.A. shows in the fall. Currently, Modisett is touring for the book, with planned stops (featuring contributing parents/writers) in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
“What makes it consistently thrilling is what I call the reality theater aspect of it,” Modisett says. “These are real people. When you see the courage of these people actually speaking these words, it’s mind-blowing.”
Tales From the Tot Seat
Comedy Spills From Kidding In ‘Afterbirth’
By Barbara Hoffman April 21, 2008
Those seeking stories about the wonders of childbirth and the joys of parenting might want to skip “Afterbirth,” a “Vagina Monologues” for the stroller set.
Performing it are actors and writers reading true (and truly hilarious) pieces: about fussy eaters, pot-smoking in-laws and how, just when your formerly helpless infant has turned into an interesting teen, he’s suddenly too busy to talk to you.
All told, there’s not a sentimental story in the bunch – which is just the way the comedian who conceived the piece wanted it.
Striking Writers, Loving Parents
By Scott Taylor, Special to The Times
At the staged-readings show ‘Afterbirth,’ the burning issue of the season finds its way into the usual family tales.
As children giggle and jiggle through shopping malls, bending their parents’ ears with their holiday wish lists, one cannot avoid Andy Williams’ cheery chestnut: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
But for Hollywood screenwriters who are parents, this season’s feelings are decidedly more mixed.
That was apparent at Saturday night’s special “Support the Writers Strike” edition of Dani Klein’s “Afterbirth” staged-readings show in Hollywood, where, above the belly laughs and poignant parental yarns, angst and anger hovered like a chilly specter.
“Afterbirth” was launched four years ago when Klein, a writer and actress, desiring a creative and social outlet after choosing children over career, sought input from other parents who have raised their children in Tinseltown….
…stories range from humorous to heart-rending to reflective…
…By the end of the evening, much of the somberness of strike talk had been deflated by laughter and camaraderie.
“…The poignancy peak of the evening was provided by Dan Bucatinsky, an actor and an executive producer of Lisa Kudrow’s HBO series, “The Comeback,” who wove a tale about the anxious path he and his partner had traveled recently regarding a life-threatening operation for their 2-year-old daughter. But true to form for the evening, the saga ended in laughter…”
“…John Eisendrath, a writer and executive producer of “Alias,” hilariously described the trials and tribulations of impregnating his wife: “We lived ovulation cycle to ovulation cycle. Ovulation sex has about as much variation as walking the picket line… “
…Mike Rowe, a writer for the animated “Family Guy” and “Futurama,” also spoke of his sons: “You wait until your sons are old enough and then you have the greatest father-son bonding moment of all, and that is when you watch ‘The Three Stooges’ with them for the first time.”
Manager-producer Eric Gold had never performed at “Afterbirth,” but this was the second time that he came to watch and listen. These readings “are great because you can see talented writers incubate their creative process in a different way,” he said. “It’s a joy to see.”