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Jewish Journal

Jill Soloway says comedy and tragedy go together

by Sarah Price Brown

September 14, 2006 | 8:00 pm

In Jill Soloway's collection of essays, "Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants," the Emmy-nominated writer and co-executive producer of HBO's "Six Feet Under" recalls the time she lost her virginity at 17 to a 36-year-old with a golden chai dangling from his neck.
 
"I was running from the bathroom back to his bed," she writes, "leaving slivers of myself everywhere: The girl who wanted to be here; the girl who didn't want to be here; the girl who thought the whole thing was exciting; that he was an idiot; that his apartment was tacky, yet sexy; that I was turned on; that I wasn't; that this was fun; that it wasn't."
 
However traumatizing the experience was then, she jokes about it now. "If you can laugh with your friends over something, you own it," said Soloway, lounging in jeans and a T-shirt in her Silver Lake home. "I don't think it's a contradiction to find painfulness funny."
 
On Sunday, Sept. 17, Soloway will explore the ways comedy and tragedy fit together by moderating a discussion, "Laughter in the Rain: Mining Humor from Pain," at the West Hollywood Book Fair. She will lead a conversation with Tania Katan, author of "My One-Night Stand With Cancer: A Memoir"; Brett Paesel, author of "Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom," and Tom Reynolds, who wrote "I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You've Ever Heard."
 
Soloway said she would ask questions that plague her as a writer. "Has anyone [else] found themselves doing things they otherwise wouldn't do because they're writing a book?" Soloway wants to know.
 
"Years of my life were lived knowing that I'd get a book out of them one day," Soloway confessed.
 
And what do these authors do when family and friends get upset at the way the book portrays them? Soloway used pseudonyms in her collection, and when people called her, irate or humiliated, she apologized.
 
Also, how do other writers deal with having spilled their innermost thoughts and secrets onto the page, for all to see? Soloway comforts herself in this regard by considering that readers may be shocked by some revelation -- but only for a moment. Some other newsworthy item in this information age will surely distract them, she reasons.
 
Plus, the point of writing is to make oneself known, Soloway said. "All writing is propaganda for the self."
 
One aspect of herself that Soloway reveals in her book, due out in paperback next month (published by Free Press), is that she, a self-described "Jewess," feels a sisterly solidarity with Monica Lewinsky, as well as Chandra Levy, the murdered intern rumored to have had an affair with former California Rep. Gary Condit.
 
When Soloway wrote this chapter of the book - the book that critics and readers have called "hilarious," "funny" and "fun-filled," the chapter in which she contemplates why Jewish women are "so sexy" -- she was crying. In fact, she cries whenever she reads the chapter.
 
"It's this idea that Jewish women are sacrificed; that they can't win," she said, trying to explain what was so upsetting.
 
There it is: comedy and tragedy rolled into one. A story, perhaps, the way one should be told.
 
"If it's just funny, who cares; if it's just sad, who cares," Soloway said. "But if it's both," she added, "then it's about being human."
 
Jill Soloway will moderate "Laughter in the Rain: Mining Humor from Pain" from 3:30 - 4:30 p.m. at The Mixed Bag Pavilion at the West Hollywood Book Fair.
 
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