Alex Borstein is a familiar face, and voice, to fans of comedy. Known for her five year run as a cast member on Mad TV and her portrayal of Lois on Family Guy, Borstein is also an accomplished comedian who will be making a stop at Comix on May 11th through 12th.
How would you compare writing for live action television and writing for cartoons?
The very first paid writing job I ever had was for animation, but prior to that, I was in a sketch troupe called ACME Comedy Theatre, here in Los Angeles. And writing sketches is very similar to writing for cartoons. You must be brief, broad and funny. Family Guy is like a mix of live action and animation because the format is like that of a live action sit-com, but you still have the opportunity to write “gags” or small bits that are reminiscent of classic cartoons.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of both mediums?
Advantages in animation are that anything is possible. You can have Peter or Lois Griffin morph into animals or jump from buildings or gain and lose weight in seconds. Sky’s the limit! The big disadvantage of animation is that it’s harder to be taken seriously. I know that when award season comes around Simpsons and Family Guy are in the “animation” categories as opposed to the regular “1/2 hour comedy” category. And we all know that Simpsons was/is more than deserving of an Emmy for best comedy, not just in the animated category. Maybe one day we’ll break through that animated ceiling!
You've written for both Histeria and Pinky and the Brain, two shows that were aimed at children but were also entertaining for adults. Did you find it difficult to write the sort of jokes that would entertain such different demographics?
Nope. I like to be able to cater to those two levels. We do it on Family Guy, as well. So many kids watch the show who love it, but are completely unaware of some of the meanings of many jokes. They love Stewie's evil tendencies, but many of the latent homosexual references go right over their heads. That’s why the show ages well. As our fans get older they re-watch things and get new jokes and references all the time.
If children are the future, what sort of shape do you think we're going to be in a decade from now?
I think we are looking towards a fat, lazy future that will include many hours of video games.
Children and adults have many similar interests. What are some things that you enjoy that children also enjoy?
I like candy. I like enjoying giant lollipops while donning pigtails in my hair. I like throwing tantrums on planes. I like throwing my food. I like saying wildly inappropriate things at dinner parties.
Given a battle royal type situation, how many children do you think you could beat up at once?
Six. This has been tested.
Whenever people discuss fighting children, they always seem to root for the adults, but what advice would you give to ten children fighting a full grown adult?
Believe in yourself, as I believe in you. Oh, and go for the balls.
What advice would you give to ten children in a Lord of the Flies type situation?
I’d recommend they read the book and skip to the end.
When you were in school, did you enjoy reading books out loud or did you prefer to read ahead?
I just read your question both aloud and ahead. That’s how bitchen I am.
What were you like in school? Were you a class clown type or more of a quite type that was funny around friends?
I was a fat, quiet clown. Kind of like Star Jones used to be. I basically had one really good friend from junior high on, and she’s still my best friend today. (Shout out to Karen!) I was kind of Karen’s private clown.
Do you think outsiderdom and alienation are essential components of being funny? How about in your experience?
Yes. Most funny people were awkward loners growing up. Not all, but most. I was able to use comedy to keep people laughing long enough so that they wouldn’t notice me, if that makes sense.
How did you decide on starting your comedy career in Improv as opposed to stand up?
I first tried stand-up when I was 16. It was at a small club in the valley in LA called GALLAGHER’S. They agreed to let me perform only if my parents were there because it was a bar and against the law technically. I was awful, but it was kind of cute in a sick, drunk, Irish, sort-of-way. After that I laid off comedy until college, where I did some more stand-up and then joined a sketch comedy group called THE VIRUS, which as it turned out, was not the best name for a group in San Francisco. We were pretty bad, but it was great fun. After graduating, I came back to LA and started my master’s program. While in school I joined ACME and did more sketch. This was a great company, a great place to learn how to write, how to perform what you write and mostly how to “sell it.” Getting your pieces in the show’s line-up was highly competitive and it forced you to be a better, more disciplined writer. The beauty of stand-up vs. sketch is that you don’t need any costumes, other actors or a beginning-middle-end. It’s much easier to just get up onstage and do it.
What topics should people expect to hear you discuss in one of your performances?
I talk about my vagina quite a bit. I also talk about Brad Pitt’s vagina. I believe he has one. Maybe two. I also talk about the 2008 election and the fact that Lindsay Lohan may be a robot. Basically, there’s something for everyone.
What sort of response should people expect if they approach you in the street and ask you to do some Lois or Ms. Swan?
It’s usually no big deal, but sometimes it’s annoying to be asked to bark like a seal on command. Especially if you’re sick, or stressed or rushed or just feeling like a cunt. See, told you I liked that word.
And what sort of response should people expect when they submit Family Guy jokes to you via your website?
I never read other people’s material. Don’t wanna be accused of stealing shit and mostly, don’t have the time. If anything like jokes or story ideas come in on myspace or on my website, they’re usually deleted or ignored. I have a pal who goes through all of it before passing it on to me. I know it sounds crappy, but you can’t imagine how many people want to send material to you. Or how many people want you to help to try and get them a job at Family Guy. Or how many people want to be your assistant. Or how many people want to do perverse and highly imaginative things to you in bed.
"Legally, I can't do this," is a great excuse to get out of almost anything. Can you think of an excuse to end this interview?
I have to go strangle a kitten. Not really. (yes really) (no) (yes) (no)