Celebrities to Poke Fun at Peers by Reading Their Autobiographies Aloud
UPPER WEST SIDE — It all started with Vanna White.
Back in 1998, writer and actor Eugene Pack was flipping through the "Wheel of Fortune" star's autobiography "Vanna Speaks!" and laughing to himself when an idea for a new comedy show hit him.
"I started reading out loud how hard it was to flip the panels on 'Wheels of Fortune,' said Pack, who is based in Los Angeles. "I thought if you just read this simply in front of an audience, it would be hilarious."
From there, Pack created an award-winning show with a simple concept — celebrity autobiographies read aloud by celebrities themselves. The show caught on quickly, eventually resulting in a 2005 special on Bravo and leading to performances as far away as London and Sydney, Australia.
On Jan. 13 at 9 p.m., Debbie Harry, Sherri Shepherd, Mario Cantone, Rachel Dratch, Alan Zweibel, Scott Adsit, and Pack and Dayle Reyfel, who helped develop the show, will perform.
Then, on Jan. 17, Dratch, Pack, Reyfel, and Zweibel will be back, joined by Tony Danza, Ralph Macchio, Richard Kind and Jackie Hoffman.
To keep the material fresh, new performers — often big names — get involved and new autobiographies are sampled.
"Every week a whole bunch of autobiographies hit the shelves," Pack said. "We try to find the ones that have some irony or humor."
The next round of autobiographies will include books from the boy band One Direction as well as pop stars Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus.
"The humor comes not only from what’s written, but from the person that’s reading it," Pack explained, citing Tony Danza reading from Justin Bieber's autobiography about searching for a TGIFriday's in Mexico while on tour.
Pack can pull in well-known celebrities because there's not an overwhelming amount of preparation needed to read right from the actual books on stage, he said. Other celebrities are often in the audience cheering on their friends, too, Pack noted.
Back in the small, no-frills green room at Stage 72, "it’s so fun to see everyone either reunite because they haven’t seen each other in a while, or they’re a huge fan [of someone]," he said of past performances at the venue.
Over the years, some of the stars have even had their autobiographies read from or have been featured in other people's autobiographies — all in a spirit of fun, Pack added.
"No one has honestly ever said this is mean-spirited," he said. "We don’t read anything where somebody is talking about something really upsetting or addiction or something sad."
In addition to solo readings, the entire cast participates in a mash-up of different autobiographies that touch on the same theme, such as diets or sports. And out of these exchanges comes a crackling energy, Pack said.
"Once that audience is packed, there’s nothing like it," he said. "It’s spontaneous, it’s in the moment."
Tickets start at $35 plus a two drink minimum and are available at www.SmartTix.com or by calling 212-868-4444.