Annabelle Gurwitch Enjoys Life’s Tweet-Sized Pleasures

Actress, humorist, author, and multi-hyphenate Annabelle Gurwitch thinks it is time middle-aged people face facts: 50 is not the new 40. 50 is still 50, but there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with 50. In her new book, “I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50,” she collects a series of essays about being an actress of a certain age, having her eye on Betty White’s job, and looking forward to being old enough that TSA won’t see her as a threat. She joined us to dispense an elder’s wisdom to our listeners who face problems modern and… vintage.


Brendan Francis Newnam: Every week you send in your questions about how to behave and here to answer them this week is comedian, actor, and author Annabelle Gurwitch.

Annabelle Gurwitch: In Los Angeles, everyone is a hyphenate. Like my son’s pediatrician also plays in a band.

Brendan Francis Newnam: How’s your sons health?

Annabelle Gurwitch: It’s not that great. I actually used to go to a therapist who was also a rabbi.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well hold your hyphens. Let me finish getting through your humongous bio, before my computer blinks and Wikipedia goes off. For six years, Annabelle, you served up grub and one-liners as the host of the TBS series “Dinner and a Movie.” You’re also a frequent commenter for NPR and you’ve contributed articles to The Nation.

Rico Gagliano: Did you know these things? Were you aware?

Annabelle Gurwitch: Wikipedia, so it must be true.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, audience, you may have seen her act on TV shows like “Seinfeld,” “Dexter” and “Boston Legal,” and next week Annabelle’s lastest book comes out. It’s called, “I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50.” And, Annabelle, welcome.

Annabelle Gurwitch: Thank you.

Rico Gagliano: So this is kind of a coming of middle age book, we would like to call it. It’s about you turning 50, and the first few pages, instead of saying 50 is the new 40, you proclaim 50 is the new 50 which is very zen of you. What does that mean?

Annabelle Gurwitch: Well I think that, first of all, I just want to say I didn’t set out to write a book about turning 50. That was just not the plan. It was that I was writing this series of essays and then I realized they were all sort of age related. That I was having a mid-life crisis because I grew up in that generation where we had those Clairol commercials that said “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better,” but that’s not true, you are getting older.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wait. The Clairol commercials lied?

Annabelle Gurwitch: They lied to us.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That is crazy.

Rico Gagliano: That explains my frizzy hair.

Annabelle Gurwitch: It’s not true. You might be getting better but you are also getting older. And I had this thought that we’re in this sort of denial about this. So it was an empowerment, sort of a battle cry of I’m 50.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You sound optimistic, Annabelle.

Annabelle Gurwitch: Oh no, I’m not optimistic. Oh no, it’s terrible. It’s all terrible.

Brendan Francis Newnam: The book is funny but there is some sadness to it. At one point you list the hierarchy of actors in today’s Hollywood and ‘actress over 50’ falls at the very bottom, beneath ‘former reality star’, ‘Starbucks barista’…

Annabelle Gurwitch: Right. And, I think, ‘sloth’.

Brendan Francis Newnam: How do you get around the ages of men in Hollywood?

Annabelle Gurwitch: You don’t. There is this weird thing, though: in the culture, there’s usually one old person that everybody loves. It used to be Ruth Gordon, now it’s Betty White. There can only be one. So you have to try to be the one.

Also, when you turn 72, you don’t have to take your shoes off when you fly. The airport security. So these are things you start to look forward to when you’re 50. But there’s obvious, funny stories – I hope funny stories – about these moments where you realize things have changed.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So at it’s heart this book is all about overcoming dilemmas. Are you ready to help our listeners work through some of their dilemmas?

Annabelle Gurwitch: I am so ready. I’m ready.


In Denial About The Twitter

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. Our first question comes from Kim in Chicago. Kim asks: “Should I tell a friend that he is bad at Twitter?”

Rico Gagliano: That’s it. No description of what that means.

Annabelle Gurwitch: OK. So first of all, I believe Kim has already told us something about herself. She is clearly under 40 because, this is one of those signs that I write about in the book about knowing that you’re getting close to 50, is if you say “The Twitter” or “The Facebook.” So, Kim, we got your number.

Rico Gagliano: Technically, didn’t the Facebook start as “The Facebook”? Wasn’t it originally called “The Facebook”?

Annabelle Gurwitch: Yes but no one says “The Facebook” but my parents.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah were you around when it started, Rico?

Rico Gagliano: I had not yet been born. You’re right, Brendan.

Annabelle Gurwitch: Absolutely. We’re getting a picture of who she is. And I actually think you don’t need to tell your friend. I think you know when you’re bad at Twitter. You’re just rubbing it in. You know what I’m saying?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Hold on, Annabelle, because on Twitter you’re just broadcasting, and then you’re going about your day. And for all you know…

Annabelle Gurwitch: Oh, really? No. You’re really in some denial here. No, you’re not just broadcasting. You’re checking all day long to see if anyone retweeted you. Did anyone favorite you? You know one of the saddest things in life? The thrill you get from being favorited on Twitter. This is what it’s come to? And I’m that person. My dopamine system is now, used to be like big things, “I’m gonna start a TV show now.” But now it’s “I got favorited on Twitter.”

Rico Gagliano: But what do we say to Kim, though? So, Kim, the advice is say nothing?

Annabelle Gurwitch: Kim: no. Don’t say anything. Just unfollow him. That’ll say more than anything else. It hurts.

Rico Gagliano: And then Twitter about it in case they didn’t see it.

Annabelle Gurwitch: You don’t “Twitter” about it, you “Tweet.” Oh my God, now you’re like, “On The Twitter…”

Rico Gagliano: It’s rubbing off on me, Annabelle.

Brendan Francis Newnam: What are you doing? You’re rubbing off on Rico. He just aged 20 years.

Rico Gagliano: What’s happening to my hands?

Annabelle Gurwitch: You know like a contact high? It’s a contact age. I’m so sorry. I’m really sorry about that.

Tying One On Yourself

Rico Gagliano: It’s a terrible day. All right, here’s something, because we’re nothing if not ironic on this show, somebody called Bow Tie Aficionado who wrote to us via The Twitter, @BowtieAficio.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Is this an advertisement tie-in? Because we’re public radio. But I guess the question’s legitimate.

Rico Gagliano: Bow Tie writes, “How can I politely tell my friends who wear pre-tied bow ties to learn to tie their own?”

Annabelle Gurwitch: I think it’s interesting that Bow Tie Aficionado has managed to time travel from the past into the future and get a Twitter account. Because I didn’t even know people knew how to tie bow ties. Okay, Bow Tie Aficionado, man, get a life. I’m sorry, but I’m worried about this guy. Does he stop children on the street and say, “No Velcro on shoes! You must tie those sneakers!” It’s not good. It’s all bad. Don’t do it. And consider changing your Twitter handle, too. How many followers can you attract? It’s artisanal ties.

Rico Gagliano: How many people are wearing bow ties that you want to now get down on the few people that are bothering to wear something like a bow tie?

Annabelle Gurwitch: I know.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You should use that as a starting point to talk to them about how much more beautiful their tie could be if it was not pre-tied.

Annabelle Gurwitch: What, is he gonna start saying “Now don’t wear your lederhosen below the knee, wear it above the knee.” When you’re wearing those…

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s like someone wearing a powdered wig. Curl it yourself.

Annabelle Gurwitch: Sock suspenders. How about that? Does he wear sock suspenders? Where does it end, Bow Tie Aficionado? I’m worried.

Rico Gagliano: So, Bow Tie Aficionado, just enjoy the fact that someone’s wearing a bow tie and go from there. And, Annabelle Gurwitch, incredibly, we are out of time. Thank you so much for telling our audience, in some cases very adamantly, how to behave.

Annabelle Gurwitch: Oh, you’re welcome.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did you tie that bow tie yourself, Annabelle?

Annabelle Gurwitch: I don’t even know how to tie a regular tie. Who knows these things?