EBWW faculty member Nancy Berk spends her days interviewing celebrities — everyone from James Earl Jones and Dolly Parton to Buzz Aldrin, Deepak Chopra and Cheech and Chong — all for Parade.com and her popular podcast Whine at 9.
“I love that within Kathy Kinney is the vulnerability that allowed us to embrace the headstrong, lovable Mimi, and that Mimi Bobeck’s sassy attitude gave Kathy Kinney a big shot of strength to shoot for her dreams and help others reach theirs, Berk wrote in a March 24 piece.
“I don’t think that everybody has to go to full warpaint, which is what Mimi wore you know, but for me, it certainly helped balance who I am,” responded Kinney, who became “the queen of her own life.” Listen to the podcast and read the interview.
With Roy Blount Jr., who has two dozen books under his belt, Berk chatted about chickens, tambourines and writer’s block.
“I would say about every second minute I’m at a loss for words,” conceded Blount who described his writing and rewriting to Berk as a “tortured process of striking words, revising and replacing.” Read the interview here and listen to the podcast.
What advice does the prolific writer have for those trying to express their creativity? “You have to find those little details,” Blount said, and “realize the comic potential.”
In 2015, Berk interviewed comic Wendy Liebman, a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent (Season 9) who’s performed on Leno, Letterman, Fallon and Kimmel. This week, Liebman is traveling to Dayton, Ohio, to teach a stand-up comedy boot camp and emcee a stand-up comedy night at #2016EBWW.
In 2012, best-selling author, screenwriter and essayist Amy Ephron joined Berk on her podcast to discuss the paperback release of Loose Diamonds…and Other Things I’ve Lost (and Found) Along the Way. She’ll talk about her life as a writer in a keynote address at this week’s EBWW.
And for those heading to the Erma workshop this week, you can catch up with the Bombeck family in person — and you can listen to them share their memories of Erma in a podcast and Parade.com feature story.
In Berk’s Parade.com piece, Matt Bombeck, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, concedes, as a child, he was clueless about his famous mother’s profession. “Someone asked what she did,” he remembered, “and I said she was a syndicated communist.”
— Teri Rizvi
Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and executive director of strategic communications at the University of Dayton.
As the youngest of six kids, I was farted on a lot. At least once a week, one of my brothers would sit on my head and let one rip. Eventually, I learned to recognize the warning signs — the glint in their eyes, the snickers, the less-than-stealthy movements — and I’d scramble behind the couch before a stinky butt made contact with my face.
As you might imagine, growing up in a large family taught me a variety of survival skills. Both of our parents worked, and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., the house turned into an after-school-special version of Lord of the Flies. Allegiances formed and reformed, depending on the day’s battle. Duplicity and creativity were crucial in order to persevere.
I developed hiding strategies and evasive maneuvers, in addition to gas-avoidance tactics. While I was not the fastest or the strongest, I was the smallest so I could hide just about anywhere and devour the best snacks. If I wasn’t hungry, I would stash the food for later. It took expertise to effectively conceal the nacho-cheese chips. My favorite food-hiding spot was the bathroom cabinet, behind the toilet paper that nobody ever put on the roll. To think my evil plans would have been foiled with just one ounce of responsibility.
Our bathroom wars were not isolated to food and toilet paper. With eight people vying for the toilet, I was forced to pee in the sink on more than one occasion, though I figured this made me a problem solver. That tendency towards flexibility benefited me in other areas as well. There was only one coveted frozen pizza left? No problem, I’d eat it for breakfast before anyone else got their paws on it.
But life wasn’t all theft and deception. I learned the power of teamwork. With a partner, one of us could act as lookout while the other stole enough cookies for the both of us. We’d toast our victory with milk, never once considering the release our personal gas supply as a weapon.
Now that I’m older and have children of my own, I’m grateful for these life lessons forged from strife and sibling rivalry. Especially when I hide in the closet eating dessert for breakfast.
One time the entire family walked in on me, brownies in my hand, my chin covered in chocolate crumbs. I channeled my best-actress skills and said, “Oh hey. Would you like some protein bars with spinach and tofu? They’re delicious.”
Both kids turned away in disgust, and my husband gave me a conspiratorial wink. Thank goodness he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. He must have been afraid I’d fart on his head.
— Kathryn Leehane
Kathryn Leehane is a writer and humorist living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two children and a ferociously snuggly pit bull. Along with inhaling books, bacon and Pinot Noir, she writes the humor blog, Foxy Wine Pocket, where she shares twisted stories about her life as a mother, wife, friend and wine-drinker in suburbia. She is a contributing author to several anthologies, and her essays have also been featured on Redbook Magazine, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and more. You can follow Foxy Wine Pocket on Facebook and Twitter.
Mah jongg is not a game for the faint of heart. I should know. I have the battle scars to prove it.
For one thing, beginners can’t just jump into a group of mah jongg players. Every week the clubhouse in our active adult community is filled with women sitting at card tables playing mah jongg. These women have been playing for years and grew up watching their mothers play.
I am not one of those women. My knowledge of mah jongg comes from reading The Joy Luck Club.
I was told, “You have to take lessons.”
So Stella took on the task. She agreed to teach me and my friend, Gayle, how to play. For three weeks we went to the clubhouse and Stella patiently explained the rules of the game. The set consists of 152 tiles and four racks. A National Mah Jongg League card issued annually lists 50 combinations of winning hands.
Stella didn’t need to look at the card. She had it all memorized in her head. Gayle and I took turns studying her card and looking bewildered. We were trying to figure out the suits. Craks, bams and dots swam around in our minds. Dragons, flowers, winds and jokers, too.
Stella showed us how to build a wall of tiles in front of our racks. We learned the Charleston. Charleston? Isn’t that what the flappers did during the Roaring ’20s?
Somehow we muddled through. We even won a couple of hands. Most of the time my head was splitting. I needed a long walk or a glass of chardonnay after these lessons.
One week Stella forgot to show up. She knew the card by heart, but she couldn’t remember our lessons. This is what happens when your teacher is 90 years old.
Now it was time to join the big league. However, Gayle and I had a problem. We needed to find two more women to play with us. The first two women who sat at our table were beginners just like us. They thought they knew it all.
“Yes, you CAN use a joker in a pair!” No, you can’t. My head was splitting again.
Next time an experienced player approached our table hoping to play. She sat down, played one game and then announced, “I can’t play with you. You’re not fast enough.”
Another woman asked, “Do you even know what a hot wall is?” No, we have no clue. She abruptly left.
Finally, Gayle and I found our foursome. All at the same level. Eager to learn. Eager to enjoy.
Maybe too eager.
“Shh,” the women at the next table scornfully hissed. “You’re making too much noise!”
— Natalie Cinelli
Natalie Cinelli is a freelance writer who has had articles published in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and American Baby magazine. She wrote a humor column, “In a Nutshell,” for the Suburban News in Reading, Massachusetts. She also worked as a lifestyle editor and columnist for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
In just a few days I will be happily surrounded by a hoard of smart, funny, wisecracking women (and a few less men) whose mission to the naked eye is to inspire each other. This crew is already preparing the newbies — those who have never stepped foot into such a swarm of knowledge, camaraderie and good old guffaws — by sending a warning that they may wet their pants from hysterics. We are not your normal workshop attendees. We are humor writers swooping in from various parts to attend the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
For me and for many others, Erma was and will forever remain the Streisand of humor columnists. As a teen who loved to write, I was enamored by her humorous view of life as a woman whose identity was firmly and unabashedly connected to marriage, motherhood and carpools. Back then I had nothing in common with Erma, but even so it was a dream of mine to draw readers by so easily exuding that same style of wit and wisdom.
At EBWW an enthusiastic assortment of talented professionals will graciously and openly share their knowledge. We, as workshop participants, are privy to their most relevant advice and their little tricks as if they’re telling a secret to 350 pairs of ears. They embrace us all — the closet writers, those stretching out their writing limbs to find a home for their work, and the newly published seeking to refine their skills for the next challenge — with tremendous support. And then they make us laugh our butts off.
We each find our way to Erma in various ways. Maybe a friend who previously attended this invaluable conference recommended it. Possibly you follow a particular speaker who will present a session. Or, like me, desperate to connect with like minds, you googled, “I want to be Erma Bombeck.”
At noon on the day of registration, when I would have normally been glued to my computer ready to lunge at the sign-up page, I was on a flight between Budapest and Delhi. Deciding it was too difficult to try and somehow register was not an option. A few weeks prior to the trip I stuck a check in the mail after begging my sister in Kansas to Get Me In That Workshop No Matter What. She hunkered down at her iPad and managed to push through until her mission was accomplished, making up for all those times she tortured me when we were kids (she tells it a bit differently).
How you get there isn’t what matters most. It’s that a part of you feels like you’re coming home. Once you’ve experienced EBWW in all its glory, it’s almost impossible not to start planning for the next one.
I’ve been waiting for two years to get back to my people. Thanks to Erma and the unstoppable, dedicated crew that reverently carries on her message, there’s a place for us.
— Janine Talbot
Janine Talbot has been writing since before her eighth grade teacher accused her of plagiarizing a poem she wrote. She has published locally in guest editorials, and her lyrics received honorable mention in American Songwriter Magazine’s Lyric Contest. At 50-something and experiencing the empty nest (i.e., a spare bedroom with a desk), she is diving into the blogging world, sharing her stresses about her long-distance daughters, a spouse who lives for SpongeBob marathons, a blind golden retriever and a cat she swears screams “Now” at feeding time. She blogs here.
“I’m leaving,” I announced.
“I want to go with you,” my four-year-old said. I shook my head. He clutched my leg.
“Where are you going?” the six-year-old asked. I told him.
“No, really,” he said in a peeved tone, “Where are you going?” His stare conveyed a perceived lack of authenticity. He’s going to make a fine boss some day, ferreting out feigning employees from the sincere.
“I’m going to the spa,” I repeated.
The four-year-old clutched my leg even tighter. “Spooky,” he pronounced my mission.
The spa was tranquil. The music was soft. The paraffin mask was pleasant warmly. The masseuse tugged gently on my shoulders to work out the kinks. His pulls did not include the yell, “Go, yeehaw.”
I left with my limbs loose and my mind free.
Travel time included, I was gone less than three hours. The house I returned home to was not the one I had left. My husband looked sheepish. “You should have seen it 15 minutes before you got here,” he said.
Serenity is short-lived.
Children, I have discovered, have only one problem. They were born with an internal homing device, location you. I wake to find a face perilously close. “Why were your eyes closed?” the puzzled soul asks, concern lining a face that sleep should. Or there’s the issue of the bathroom. An inquiring mind will yell through the door, “What are you doing? Can I come in?”
They say karma is the reaping in this life of what was sowed in a former life. There’s a much less philosophical explanation. History repeats itself. Karma is having been on both sides of the bathroom door.
Parents, they say, should model healthy behavior for their children. But the act of doing almost anything with your children is unhealthy. Whoever said that everyone is a critic was referring to kids. “Mommy, you’re not doing it like her,” I’m told, a child pointing to the woman planking effortlessly on the screen. Of course that woman can smile while doing Pilates — her children aren’t home.
Or there’s the issue of reading: “You were reading that book yesterday. Do you read slow?”
But no parental act is subject to more child commentary than a parent trying to consume her daily bread. Inmates guard their food less than parents do. It is a universally accepted truth that when mom or dad attempts to move morsel to mouth, they will be hounded.
“Ohh, that looks good.”
“Can I have a bite?”
“ But I finished mine. Just ONE bite. PLEEE-AASE.”
Almost anything you say to a child on the topic of your food makes you sound unreasonable and small.
“No! You cannot smell my food.”
“Because it’s mine!”
The days are long, but the years are short. Life gets broken into bite-sized pieces. The mouthfuls are small, but the crumbs are sweet.
— Jessica Dacharux Graham
Jessica Graham is a lawyer, a writer and a legal storyteller. Her favorite stories are the ones she tells about her family. She writes many of those stories at In Pursuit of Loud.
I felt feisty, fun and a fabulously festive in my new dress festooned with fringe. The long strands covered body parts that needed to be hidden after years of neglect, gravity and buttered scones, but the swaying material allowed gratuitous glimpses of legs that once rivaled the gams in pinup posters hung in greasy automotive shops across the country. I was one hot grandmother.
I loved my new outfit and eagerly prepared for a night at an elegant soiree. The first trial came when I attempted to pull on a coat to keep me warm against the winter chill. As I wiggled into my wrap, the fringe on the sleeves of the dress snagged, bunched, and clumped until I resembled an irritated pig wrapped in twine. Stray strands knotted around my neck and hiked the back of the dress over my butt. This was not a pretty vision, and I began to feel less glamorous.
After waddling to the car, I proceeded to the party where I encountered more challenges. Removing the coat revealed a tangled mass of disheveled strands that seemed to be embroiled in a fight-to-the-death battle. I clawed at the material in a desperate attempt to untangle the hairball that was consuming my outfit. Once adjusted, I walked slowly so I wouldn’t disrupt the delicate free flow of the garment. Static cling became the new enemy. At any given moment, a rogue fringe would leap out and adhere to the pants of a tall handsome stranger. At least my dress had good taste.
The evening progressed nicely, and I enjoyed gushing compliments about my dress. I assumed the worst was behind me and celebrated with several glasses of fine Cabernet. After a few hours, the wine needed to exit the body, so I sashayed to the restroom. This call of nature became a cry of the wild.
I proceeded to gather the fringe in a ball around my waist so I could sit and assume the position. It became apparent that wasn’t any chance to control what seemed like a million independent and defiant strands, and the wine didn’t help my concentration. By the time I finished my duty, I realized there was one more dilemma. One hand was needed to secure and employ the necessary toilet paper.
I shifted the wad of fringe to one side and attempted to secure it with one hand while I fumbled for the paper. The effort was futile. After achieving contortions only accomplished by professional gymnasts in the circus, I managed to drop the paper on the floor and the fringe fell into the toilet. I momentarily lost my mind.
Not one to give up easily, I grabbed more paper, finished the flush, and jumped off the comedy commode. Liquid dripped onto the floor from wet stripes of sorry, violated fringe so I grabbed sections to squeeze out the excess moisture. Soon my hands, my dress, and the entire bathroom reeked of toilet water. I washed and dried my hands, took a deep breath, and joined the party, dripping all the way, leaving a raked pattern of fringe droppings on the carpet.
I left the party and hurried home, jumped into my dowdy but fringe-free jammies, poured a glass of wine and relaxed in comfort. I may donate the dress to charity and allow someone else to enjoy its charms. But, for a brief moment in time, I felt festive and fashionable and those sweet memories will last long after the humiliation is gone. As for future fashion choices, I’ll avoid the fringe element of society.
— Elaine Ambrose
Elaine Ambrose is an award-winning author of 10 books, and her blog posts are published on several websites including The Huffington Post, HumorOutcasts and Midlife Boulevard. Her latest book, Midlife Cabernet, won the Silver Medal for Humor from the Independent Book Publisher Awards program, and Publishers Weekly claimed the book is “Laugh-out-loud funny!” Foreword Reviews wrote that the book is “an Erma Bombeck-esque argument for joy.” She is a speaker at the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Read about her books and blog at www.elaineambrose.com.
One Easter a while back, I decided that I was going to create the Easter egg hunt of all Easter egg hunts for my 3- and 5-year-old daughters.
I spent nearly the entire day before purchasing and stuffing plastic eggs with candy, money and small trinkets. With the aid of a crudely drawn map of our two-acre yard, I meticulously plotted and hid each little treasure. I could hardly wait to see the girls’ excitement as they searched for their Easter eggs.
The next morning, my wife and I led the girls out into the yard and gave each one a huge empty basket. I explained to my wide-eyed daughters that the Easter bunny had hidden Easter eggs all over the yard for them to find.
“What’s an Eeeter egg?” my younger daughter asked.
“You know, like an egg that a bird lays…only the Easter bunny brings it!” I answered, amazed that she didn’t know what an Easter egg was. “You’ll know when you find one.”
So, with a mixture and excitement and a touch of confusion, off they went in search of their Easter treasures.
After about 10 minutes, my wife and I walked over to check on the girls’ progress. As I approached my younger daughter, Natalie, I asked, “How many Easter eggs have you found, baby girl?”
“A whooooole bunch,” she said, holding up her Easter basket.
Looking inside the basket, I was surprised to see that there was not a single egg in her basket. Instead, there were several round rocks, a bottle cap and what looked like the pelvis and legs of an apparently long-dead rodent of some kind.
“Oh, no, baby girl, those aren’t…”
Just then, a blood-curdling scream came from the other side of the yard. My other daughter, Hannah, came wailing and running full speed from behind the shed, still clutching her Easter basket, which contained what looked like a football-size, egg-shaped hornet nest. My wife, who had gone to check on her, was fleeing in the opposite direction, swatting the air frantically.
Like a flash, I took off on a dead run toward Hannah, who was screaming in horror and from the pain of being stung. Snatching the hornet basket from her hand, I veered away from her and threw it like a grenade over the hedge that framed our property.
But there was no time to stop and check on poor Hannah. Instead, my next concern was my wife, who was very allergic to bees.
It took a few seconds of sprinting to catch up to her in the front yard. She was screaming and swatting with all her might at a single bee that was swirling around her head. Not knowing what else to do, I began following behind her, swatting as well and smacking her on the head every time the hornet made an attempt to land.
In her flailing panic, she fell to the ground and began to flounder like a fish stranded on the shore. I feared that her being a stationary target would make her more vulnerable to the attacking insect, so I began to drag her by her shirt collar, which ripped.
“I think it’s gone,” she managed to say between panting and sobbing, but I didn’t have time to even think about her words when a police car came sliding into the driveway, and two officers jumped out with guns drawn. I could only assume my neighbor across the street had noticed the commotion and called them — the very neighbor who had been less than friendly to me ever since my “trees are easier to burn standing, than after you cut them down” incident.
So there I was, red-faced and panting, standing over my sobbing wife, who had collapsed on the ground with a ripped shirt, and my hand raised high in the air ready to smack her on the head if the devilish hornet returned. Hannah, the one who had found the Easter hornet nest, was standing not far away, crying loudly. Her lip and the area around her left eye were swollen surprisingly large from what I could only assume were hornet stings. I had no idea where Natalie had gone to.
“Get away from her, you sick bastard!” one of the officers yelled with a great amount of contempt in his voice.
“No, no, Officer! It’s not what it looks like!” I said, realizing how bad the situation must appear.
“Did you do that, too?” the other officer asked, nodding toward Hannah, whose eye was almost swollen shut and her lip nearly as big.
“NO, I was just trying—”
“Hey!” the second officer interrupted. “Aren’t you the idiot who decided to burn his trees down last summer?”
But before I could even begin to explain the logic in the tree burning, Natalie trotted out from around the corner of the house and over to the two gun-holding officers. Smiling, she looked up and said, “My daddy says we can find Eeeter eggs,” and with that, she pulled a piece of hardened dog poop out of her basket and held it up as if to offer it to the officer. His gaze of contempt grew even more intense.
“It’s not what it looks like!” I pleaded, not even sure where to start. “We’re going to an Easter church service!” (I’m not even sure why I thought that would help, but I was desperate.)
Finally, my wife had calmed down enough to begin explaining the situation herself, and a questioning of my daughter Hannah eventually revealed that a hornet had assaulted her. I’m not sure they believed that I had actually hidden Easter eggs, since neither girl had anything in her basket other than rocks, a dead animal, a hornet nest and dog poop, but I could live with that.
In the years following, Easter baskets were sitting next to the girls’ beds, already filled, when they woke up in the morning. The girls didn’t like talking about the Easter bunny any longer. They had reasoned that he was a bit like Santa, and if you had been naughty in the previous year, you would not find Easter eggs. Instead, you would be attacked by bees, and the police would come and point their guns at you.
— Jon Ziegler
Jon Ziegler is a husband, father of two girls and a tree trimmer who started writing as an outlet for what he calls “creative madness.” He’s the author of Single Family Asylum.
The Easter Bunny broke into our house the other night and left a pink, blue and green Easter tree in our living room.
The tree is about 2 feet high and decorated with bunnies, Easter eggs, carrots and other cute critters.
My first thought when I saw the thing was, “What the hell is that doing here?” I must have also said those words out loud as well because my wife, Madeline, got kind of defensive suddenly.
“That’s an Easter Tree,” she said, explaining the meaning of all the cute things hanging from the tree’s pastel limbs. “The Easter Bunny must have brought it.”
While my wife may have thought the idea of a furry marauder sneaking into our house in the middle of the night, skulking around while we lay sleeping was cute, the image brought shivers to my spine.
You see, I do not have the same warm and cuddly childhood memories of the Easter Bunny as most people. Mine are quite horrifying.
The Easter Bunny monster
When I was a kid, the Easter Bunny was just a mythical creature that most kids believed would bring them chocolate candy and eggs on Easter. Except in my house.
When I was 5 years old, I naively asked my older brother, Stan, how the Easter Bunny came into being. My brother told me that the Easter Bunny was created as the result of an unauthorized government experiment with atomic radiation that changed the molecular structure of a common rabbit so that it grew to gigantic proportions, was able to fly and breathe fire.
“You know, just like Godzilla,” he said, passing on this bit of wisdom to his little brother.
Attack of the bunny monster
Ever since that day, I have lived in fear of the Easter Bunny.
Weeks before Easter, I would imagine a 60-foot-tall Easter Bunny coming to attack our little town, trampling its homes and street cars under furry rabbit feet while lobbing 8-foot Easter eggs like mortar shells at our municipal buildings.
I would have nightmares where I’d wake up from a deep sleep and there would be this giant pink eye peaking in through my bedroom window at me.
My brother didn’t help. Before bed, Stan would terrorize me with stories of giant bloody bunny tracks being found in the field beside our house. He also told me how someone’s pet collie was discovered encased in a 5-foot-high pile of bunny droppings.
Then, to make matters worse, a Hollywood horror movie came out called Night of the Lapin in which civilization is attacked by giant mutated bunnies who munch on unwary humans. My brother took me to see it and told me it was a documentary.
He once had a friend show up at our house with the sleeve of a bloody shirt ripped off and his arm missing. The two of them told me a giant rabbit had bit his arm off. I didn’t even catch on when his friend grew his arm back the next day. My brother just said the arm growing back was a result of the atomic poisoning in the rabbit’s blood.
Easter parade of horror
And why shouldn’t I believe my brother about the Easter Bunny? He’s the same person who warned me about vampires, werewolves and zombies that lived in our neighborhood.
I lived in terror at the expected coming of the Easter Bunny. I couldn’t understand why other children where so happily looking forward to his annual visit.
My fear was so great, I once passed out when my parents took me to an Easter parade and a giant bunny balloon appeared from around the corner. I avoided Easter egg hunts in those days like the plague, imagining the wanton devastation a berserk 60-foot Easter Bunny could reek on innocent children lured to an open field in the quest of Easter eggs.
There was a way to protect yourself. My brother told me that the way to stop an Easter Bunny attack was to hang crucifixes made out of blessed palms in my widows and walk backward for seven days. So, while other kids were out frolicking in the sun the week before Easter, I spent my childhood warding off giant Easter Bunny attacks by braiding crosses and tripping over things I couldn’t see because I was walking backward.
I guess I had forgotten these things over the years, blanked them out from my conscious mind until I saw the Easter Bunny tree sitting in my living room. All of the terror of my youth came flooding back to me as I began inching away from the Bunny Tree.
“What’s wrong?” my wife asked. “Don’t you like it?”
“No, it’s fine,” I said, walking out of the room backward while looking over my shoulder. “I just have to go braid some crosses now.”
— Myron Kukla
Myron Kukla is a Midwest writer based in Holland, Michigan, Tulip capital of the world. He is the author of several books of humor including Guide to Surviving Life: A 3,487-step Guide to Self-Improvement and Confessions of a Baby Boomer available at www.squareup.com/store/myronkuklabooks. Email him at myronkuklabooks.com.