Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Henriette Mantel, actor/writer/director

Henriette at IMDb

Henriette is a morning person. I am a night owl. So this interview took several months to coordinate... but, it finally happened in a diner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at about noon today.

I have known Henriette probably since 1986. I met her at a comedy club called The Eagle Tavern, which was on Ninth Avenue and West 14th Street. It was right next door to where Comix is now located. We were a group of comics that performed on all different levels. Jon Stewart and Henriette "killed" on Thursday nights and I plodded along mostly bombing but nevertheless enjoying myself and receiving great encouragement from the club's booker, Tim Davis. I thought Henriette was an amazing comic, and I went to see her at Caroline's... which back then was a small club on Eighth Avenue. I also saw her at a club on Grand Street called Comedy U. I remember seeing Sue Kolinsky, Susie Essman, and Joy Behar do short sets at many of the same shows. Henriette impressed me with her sharp and topical wit and she was smart, clever, and always very funny. In the years that followed, I would bump into Henriette in the neighborhood and in places like Whole Foods... where we would stand by the hot prepared foods and schmooze about life and stuff. Today, I had a chance to really catch up with Henriette and hear her talk about her work.

In 1978, Henriette was 21 and working for Ralph Nader. Years later, in about 1987, when Henriette was working in comedy clubs... she met the comic Steve Skrovan who was fascinated with Ralph Nader. He was always asking about Ralph Nader. Henriette was so happy that a comic was smart enough to ask about something other than himself and they started to talk.

In 1999, Steve had a deal for a sitcom and he wanted to write one about a consumer advocate's office. So Henriette introduced Steve to all her "old cronies" and Steve wrote a pilot but no network bought it. They discussed Ralph Nader and the presidential election of 2000, and they decided the story had to be told because it was so convoluted and people had no idea what really happened.

They decided to make a documentary. Henriette had worked with Michael Moore and on the reality TV show "The Osbournes," so she had some experience in filmmaking. The documentary, "An Unreasonable Man," was made and screened at Sundance... and they were short-listed for an Academy Award.

Henriette is very proud of this film because it tells both sides of the Ralph Nader story. She feels the movie educates people and this makes her feel very good. Henriette says, "Two comics made a very serious documentary." And what an excellent documentary it is!

"An Unreasonable Man" was reviewed on January 31, 2007 in the NY Times. It was called, by a viewer at IMDb, a "brilliant, in-depth examination of Nader and his societal interactions" and you can read that review here.

Henriette talked a little about her "great experience" working for Michael Moore. Since she worked with Ralph Nader and coming from a background in politics and comedy... Michael Moore was perfect for her. She wrote for his series, "The Awful Truth," and she really enjoyed writing for the segments. Her work included writing voiceovers and structuring the pieces.

I asked Henriette what she is doing now. Henriette wrote a book with Teri Garr called "Speed Bumps" which is about Teri Garr's life and multiple sclerosis. She told me she just wrote a children's book, and she is working on another docmentary, and she just wrote and directed a "short" film called "Pink and Blue." It is about a policeman who had to make a call on a woman because all the neighbors heard screams coming from the apartment. And Henriette looks forward to writing and directing a feature film.

Henriette sort of phased out of stand-up because she is "tired at night." If she could "do stand up at 11 in the morning," she would "really like it..." She loves writing and no longer has that mad desire to go on stage at midnight and make people laugh anymore. I laughed to myself because there is that morning person surfacing again.

So, the interview ended and I left the diner and walked down Broadway to the subway to take the #1 train back to Chelsea. I walked and wondered if as we grow older do we become defined by whether we are either morning or night people. I was very glad I got up early and met Henriette for this interview. She is an interesting and talented woman whose intelligence and eclectic career I very much admire.

Several hours after the interview ended, I realized I had forgotten to tell Henriette that my first car was a 1962 light beige almost gold Chevy Corvair...

No comments: