Following the release of his acclaimed memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger, Gene Wilder sat down for this revealing interview with playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Here, Wilder looks at the struggles behind the laughter, candidly discussing his battles with neuroses, illness, and bereavement. Indeed, Wilder the comedian and Wilder the depressive are two sides of the same coin: His earliest comedic experiments followed his mother’s heart attack, at which point a doctor told the eight-year-old Wilder, "try to make her laugh". Wilder’s discussion of his relationship with Gilda Radner, her death from ovarian cancer, and his own battle with lymphoma, take on added poignancy: Wasserstein, much more animated here than the stoically reflective Wilder, was mere months from her own untimely demise due to lymphoma.
This event took place on March 22, 2005.
Want more? Listen to titles from Gene Wilder.
Also, check out Wendy Wasserstein's Heidi Chronicles.
©2005 92nd Street Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association; (P)2005 92nd Street Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association
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Despite some glaring flaws (which fortunately do not mar the other interviews in this otherwise excellent 92nd Street Y series), this is a worthwhile listen. Gene Wilder speaks very slowly and deliberately, in a way that causes the listener to realize that he is mostly unintentionally funny, that he's right when he insists "I am not a comedian," and that every beloved character he'll be remembered for is essentially himself. The stories he tells are fascinating and memorable. I won't soon forget his mother's doctor's warning to Gene when he was a little boy; what he learned about comedy from watching early comic actors; his encounter with Cary Grant; his first few meetings with Mel Brooks; his reminiscences re: working with the great Madeline Kahn; and why he ended up moving in with Gilda Radner, even though she made him feel claustrophobic and trapped.
The only drawbacks: Wendy Wasserstein's obvious speech impediment (I looked her up on YouTube to verify my initial diagnosis: Yep, tongue thrust resulting in interdental production of bilabial consonants), and her INCREDIBLY poor performance as the emcee, interviewer, and conductor of the ridiculously ill-considered and ill-planned Q & A in the final 30 minutes of the session. Believe it or not (and I found it so hard to believe that at first I thought it must be some sort of poorly executed joke), Wasserstein actually reads aloud what must have been HAND-WRITTEN QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE--questions which she had apparently never seen before, and which she STRUGGLES, OFTEN UNSUCCESSFULLY, TO DECIPHER AND MAKE COHERENT--and then Gene Wilder (clearly becoming as impatient and bored as the listener after awhile) struggles to answer these incoherent rambling questions. Eventually his answers become terse and far briefer than the questions themselves. For example, in the most obvious sign of interviewee fatigue I've ever heard, in answer to a question about whether he feels that many contemporary comedians lack subtlety, he responds simply, "Yes." Then, in the penultimate question, on a topic that clearly interests him (How do you know when you're really in love?), he himself, probably from sheer exhaustion, becomes rambling and nearly incoherent in his painfully unlistenable response.
My rating: Three and a half stars. If you listen, be sure to STOP WHEN THE Q & A STARTS.
Being an advid fan of just about anything Gene Wilder says should potentially disqualify me as a critic with any objectivity. However, quite the contrary. Having listened to everything I possibly can actually puts me in a very good position to make comparisons and I can honestly state this conversation with Wendy Wasserstein is pure gold! Wendy's questions are the perfect catalyst to bring out the quintessential GW. His wit and style takes you through much of his life from the brilliant karma he and Richard Pryor stumbled upon in Silver Streak to the intensely wonderful love he shared with Gilda Radnor. You laugh and cry and feel good doing both. You simply do not want it to end.
Gene Wilder has been a beloved actor in movies I've been exposed to in childhood and later. To hear him speak with candor about his weakness for Gilda, his joys working with Mel Brooks, and his discernment of where his true talent lies was a joy.
If you buy this, don't buy the other one with the same picture: the only difference is a minor detail and the presenting intro.
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