The Funny Women Interview: The Soloway Sisters

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Two funny women interviewed each other about their lives. They also happen to be sisters. They were raised like twins, best friends, by a hovering, yet distracted Jewish mother and a drama-and-opera-prone psychiatrist father.

[Ed. note: Below are excerpts from Faith and Jill Soloway's interview in Freud’s Blind Spot (available for purchase November 16, 2010). Their interview is so good, so rich and funny and heartbreaking at times, that I know what Elisa Albert, the editor of the book, means in her introduction when she asks, "What wouldn’t I give to be a Soloway sister?" In fact, when the Soloway sisters and I got in touch about a Funny Women interview, Jill said: "Yes, this sounds good. I like the idea of an interview with us. Maybe all three of us could talk on the phone, and you could record it? It could be like a three-way with those lezzy sisters they always have showering together in Playboy." I responded: "Yes, I really like this idea of a three-way with lezzy sisters showering together. I might quote you on that." And now here we are, with one alteration: I did not interview them; they interviewed each other, which is the one thing better than a three-way with lezzy sisters showering together. --Elissa Bassist]

The women:

Faith 45, mother of one, a lesbian, left L.A. for Boston about ten years ago. Her life is about comedy musical theater and teaching inner city youth, and she is writing in red font.

Jill, 44, mom of two, straight, eighteen months younger, lives in L.A. as a TV writer, and is writing in the more traditional black font.

***

Faith asks Jill

Faith: What was your real honest response when I announced my gayness?

Jill: I think I was in my early twenties. We were at Anne Sather’s restaurant on Belmont. I was eating a delicious pancake, I believe. Mom had already prepped me with, “Faith has something very important to tell you,” so I’m pretty sure I wasn’t expecting you to tell me you had lupus.

Faith: What is it you like about hetero sex?

Jill: I have a new baby so I guess the answer is nothing. Ask me what I like about sleep, and I’ll go on and on. That I’m totally naked and I love the feel of my sheets. That I just got this new body pillow that I can put between my knees and boobs at the same time. That I can do it from 8 at night until 8 in the morning and it never gets boring.

Faith: Why do you like to fem it up? Nails, waxing of brows, etc.?

Jill: I really don’t. I hate putting on makeup and looking like a lady. I always feel like I’m in drag or like I look like a real estate agent. I like doing my nails because the cute little chiclets of perfect color give me some odd feeling of control. But it has to be a non-ladylike color like green or white or pink. I couldn’t have red fingernails if you paid me. If I didn’t wax my brows I would look like dad.

Faith: Is it obvious to you that I am jealous of your creative and financial successes, or do I hide it pretty well?

Jill: Is it obvious to you that all I want is for you to move to L.A. and try making TV with me so that I can share it with you, or do I hide that pretty well?

Faith: At what age did you stop caring that you didn’t know how to ride a bike?

Jill in high school

Jill: Never. It still drives me crazy. And embarrasses me. WHY ARE YOU TELLING EVERYONE?

Faith: Did you know I feel incredibly guilty that I told you that you had a bad voice?

Jill: You should. I actually think you and dad shaming me about not being able to sing did a lot of damage to my spirit. That is, for a rich Jewish girl who didn’t have a hell of a lot go wrong in her childhood. It’s not like I was Precious or anything. I feel bad complaining.

Faith: Why do you think you’re a writer?

Jill: When I write, I lose time. I’m happy in a way that I have a hard time finding in real life. The intimacy between my brain and my fingers and my computer. . . . Yet knowing that that intimacy will find an audience . . . it’s very satisfying. It’s like having the safety of being alone with the ego reward of being known.

Faith: What was the voice that told you to follow that?

Jill: No voice really. I was always just compelled to make up stories. I did it naturally as a child. Remember how I cut people out of the catalogs and made up lives for them?

Faith: When did you know you were a good writer?

Jill: I think when I wrote “Courtney Cox’s Asshole” and two editors of two important literary magazines wanted to publish it at the same time. Until then I thought all of my talent came by way of collaboration, either with you or with our groups o’ improvisers.

Faith: Do you believe in God?

Jill: I do, actually.

Faith: Why do you think we both enjoy reality TV so much?

Jill: I think regular, written TV is boring. It’s from one person’s brain to us. One very direct and singular story. Whereas when I watch Real Housewives, I’m watching five women interact with one another unimpeded by traditional notions about the way female protagonists usually act.  Plus it’s SO REAL. The New Jersey housewives, Atlanta, it’s THEM. The fact that a segment producer has told them what to do doesn’t bother me at all. It’s like watching first-time actors improvise. They do it so badly, you can see right through it, and they don’t know how bad they are at it, and they don’t know how many layers of themselves they are inadvertently revealing, and it’s so satisfying.

Faith: In the business of TV and film, how would you describe your learning curve?

Jill: I learn every day. I constantly struggle with trying to be both powerful and effective and kind and well-liked. And spiritual! I try to let things happen, trust others, be there to witness, allow things to take their natural course. And guess what? You can get sorta fucked believing in good things like that in a business setting.

Faith: Who was your first kiss?  And where?

Jill: You!  In the bathtub.

***

Faith in high school

Jill asks Faith:

Jill: Do you think we watched too much TV?

Faith: Yes. I still fight the addiction. My daughter knows one of the reasons she likes staying with me is she watches way more TV with me. Just this morning we had the TV on in the background and were playing balloon toss. Harlie, my ex, hates television, would never have it on as ambient noise. I’m pretty proud of myself, because I have public radio’s Celtic Twilight on as I write this. But our family used used used TV like a drug. I still do and am trying to put myself through my own twelve-step program with it.

Jill: Okay, moving away from that time frame, this next chunk is just going to be about your lesbian-ness.

Faith: Lesbian Chunks? Did you really have to word it that way?

Jill: At what age did you know you were gay? We all had crushes on our girlfriends. How did you know you were different?

Faith: I think I wanted to be a boy. I rode around topless on my bike knowing that people might think I was a boy. I was always the dad when we played house. And I made out with my girlfriends in these games and couldn’t wait to. I think I knew I was gay really young. Like, ten.  But then I did move through really falling for boys. I really liked my seventh grade boyfriend Jacques Sandburg. I remember loving him. I did connect to a lot of boys and loved them.  Loved their souls.  In high school I loved Robin Brown and Chris Clemente. But in high school I also had the kind of secret pining for other girls. Never my friends, always on-sideline girls; friends of my friends. And when I was younger through high school, huge crushes on my female teachers and camp counselors. I remember a certain camp counselor at the Hyde Park JCC who actually made me feel weak.

Jill: I think I remember you characterizing your childhood as depressed because of this feeling. Is that true?

Faith: I’m sure. It added to my feeling that I couldn’t relate to the norm.

Jill: Did struggling with your sexual identity define your childhood?

Faith: I’m sitting here staring at this question because it probably does, but I don’t know what came first: my shyness, my fear, or my gayness. I knew other girls my age in high school who were out and doing their gay thing. But I had a fear of them, and of being ostracized even for admitting these feelings.

Jill and Faith, first collaboration

Jill: Did I make you a lesbian because I was so cute? Was I your first love?

Faith: Yes. You still are, and always will be.

Jill: Did we know any gay people as children?

Faith: No women that I can remember.  I think there was a Reverend at the church where we all practiced for Community Theater.  As I got older, any lesbian that I met or knew made me not want to be a lesbian.

Jill: Do you remember when I was cutting school and stalking bands? Were you worried for me?

Faith: Never worried. Again, just slightly jealous that you had these experiences. Though when I was older and we went to Jamaica, I only slept and hung out with the islanders to hang out with you. I never liked the adventure, and in fact, it scared me. It felt like none of this stuff ever scared you.

Jill: Do you believe in God?

Faith: I believe in our need as humans, to recognize that in order to help and heal, we need to look outside of ourselves and harness our goodness. But I don’t think I believe in one God-like entity.

Jill: What does the word Soloway mean to you?

Faith: I believe it is Russian for nightingale, right? Solovechik?  But I like to think of our last name as meaning the one way or our certain way of doing things. Or “the chosen.”  You pick.

**

To read the interview in its entirety, purchase many copies of Freud’s Blind Spot: 23 Original Essays on Cherished, Estranged, Lost, Hurt, Hopeful, Complicated Siblings, edited by Elisa Albert (published by Free Press).

In addition to the darling Soloway sisters, you’ll own original essays about all kinds of brothers and sisters by: Steve Almond, Daphne Beal, Nat Bennett, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, James Cañón, T Cooper, Lauren Grodstein, Nellie Hermann, Joanna Hershon, Nalini Jones, Etgar Keret, Victor LaValle, Vestal McIntyre, Jay Baron Nicorvo, Mary Norris, Eric Orner, Peter Orner, Angela Pneuman, Margo Rabb, Edward Schwarzschild, Robert Anthony Siegel, and Rebecca Wolff.


Faith Soloway is a director for Urban Improv, a violence prevention program in Boston, as well as heading the Musical Theater Department of The Charles River Creative Arts Program in Dover, Massachusettes. When not writing and working with children, Faith writes and produces her own genre of "schlock operas," including "Miss Folk America" and "Jesus Has Two Mommies." Faith worked in Chicago as a musical director for Second City, as well as created musicals with The Annoyance Theater. It was at the Annoyance Theater where Faith and Jill co-created The Real Live Brady Bunch, which went on to see national success. Faith currently resides in Boston with her partner Carol and her daughter Betsy. Jill Soloway has worked as a writer and executive producer on such shows as How to Make It in America, United States of Tara, and Six Feet Under. She authored Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, a hilarious/dirty/sad memoir hailed as a post-feminist manifesto for the next generation. She is currently adapting the Pamela des Barres book I'm With The Band into a 1/2 hour comedy for HBO with Zooey Deschanel. Jill started out doing theater with her sister Faith in Chicago. Jill also created Sit n' Spin, a night of comedic monologues that has run for ten years in L.A. Jill has two sons and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Bruce. More from this author →