Recently, Lena Dunham interviewed Estee Adoram, the longtime booker of the iconic New York City comedy club, Comedy Cellar, in Lenny. Adoram, who has been working there for 34 years, is described as delightfully eclectic–something right out of a David Bowie music video with her bright lips, “Vegas-ready bubble of hair,” and printed caftan.
Her reputation is so outstanding that Judd Apatow has been quoted as saying, “Estee is the boss around here…Everything that happens is because of Estee,” while Sarah Silverman said that everyone wants to impress her, no matter how successful they already are.
When it comes to controversy in comedy, there’s always a ton of it–what jokes aren’t funny, what pushes the line, what’s offensive. So, what does a veteran booker like Adoram find distasteful? Holocaust jokes. And cancer jokes:
“I hate vulgarity. I don’t mind dirty. There’s a difference between a comic who works dirty or is vulgar. I don’t want the level of intelligence to go down the toilet because of that. I have personal stuff that I don’t like. I wouldn’t be offended, but I don’t like it. I don’t like Holocaust jokes.
The only one that can pull it off is Dave Attell. He can do it and it works. I’m from a Holocaust-survivor family, so that’s a very raw nerve for me. I don’t particularly love cancer jokes. People do that. If you manage to do it where the audience laughs, I turn my head. Those are pretty much it.”
She apparently doesn’t mind rape jokes as much, though:
“Depends on how you do it. You need to come and you’re going to listen to Lynne Koplitz doing the rape joke. If you don’t laugh, I’ll buy you whatever you want…Depends on how it’s said. The angle that you approach it. I’ve never had anybody offended by her doing the rape joke, but she is masterful.”
What I found most intriguing about the interview, however, was the fact that Adoram doesn’t consider herself a feminist–and the fact that she’s being interviewed in a feminist newsletter. When Dunham pushed to explain why she doesn’t identify as such, she gave a surprisingly interesting answer, citing her experience in the Israeli army:
“I was always in the position of authority, even when I was in the army. I was always in the position of authority…I never felt: ‘I am not allowed to do that because I’m a woman.’ Feminism would step in and say, this is a blockage here. I never felt that. I worked, I worked hard, and I always was recognized for the job. I never felt power, it’s just that’s the way it is.
Could I make more money? Sure. Now, there’s the big thing in show business. Equal pay for women and whatever. It probably is an issue. To me it’s not. Yeah, I would like to make more money, of course. At the end of the day, for me, what matters is the satisfaction with what I do, my relationship with people, whether it’s comics, coworkers, friends, people I meet. I feel happy. As long as I have enough to live for what I want to do, I’m good. I don’t know if it’s words of wisdom, but that’s what kept me happy.”
While I don’t necessarily agree with her line of reasoning, in that I think it’s possible (and should be!) to be happy at your job and make a fair wage, I do believe raising the point about the importance of happiness is refreshing. And of course, it’s awesome that she owns her power–which can be hard for many people in general, regardless of their gender.
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