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CJAD: Glad that you could join us and talk to us about this book you've just put out. Actually it came out around late August if I'm not mistaken.
ALAN: Yeah, actually the official publication date was September 8th. I still can't figure out why a book is in the stores two weeks before they publish it. I don't know how that works whatsoever.
CJAD: You worked on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE right at the beginning with Gilda Radner and obviously you hit it off very well and became great friends. Were you friends before that?
ALAN: No, I met her as I met everybody else on the show. Belushi and Ackroyd. We all met each other.....well some of those guys had met each other before. They'd worked in SECOND CITY, but I was brand new. I was just out of college and I met Gilda and everybody else once the show started. It was the very very very first day of rehearsals and work in July of 1975.
CJAD: And the two of you hit it off. You became best of friends.
ALAN: Well, you know what it was? It was an unusual sort of meeting in the sense that Lorne Michaels had this meeting up in his office. Everybody got together for this first time and he was going to tell us about this brand new show that was going to premiere in October. And so, there were writers there whose work I had admired for years. And I saw Belushi there and Ackroyd and Chevy and all these people were real funny. I was just out of college and I was real nervous. Real, real nervous. I knew these guys were good and I felt like a fraud and I didn't want to be exposed, so what I did was I went in the corner of Lorne's office and he had a big potted plant there, and I basically hid behind a plant during this meeting where everybody was supposed to tell their ideas for sketches and commercials parodies for this new show. I was hiding behind the plant, trying to remain somewhat inconspicuous when I heard this girl's voice talking through the plant from the other side to say, "can you help me be a parakeet?" And I looked up and parted the leaves of this plant and I look through and it was Gilda. She was standing and I was squatting behind and she was looking down and me. I say, "what?" and she said, "yeah, I think it could be really funny if I stood on a big perch and I sort of squished up my face and squawked like a parakeet, but I need a writer to help me figure out what the parakeet should squawk," and she says, "can you write some squawks for me?" And I had no idea what the hell she was talking about, but at least somebody was talking to me so I said, "yeah, you bet, I'm a great squawk writer." I didn't know what I was talking about, and basically she was as nervous and as scared as I was and she joined me behind the plant. We spent most of the meeting behind the plant, just sort of talking and at one point Lorne called on me to tell everybody what my ideas were and I got real tongue-tied and I was real nervous, so Gilda stood up and she addressed the room and presented her parakeet idea as mine and told everyone that I have lots of other ideas and she and I are going to work on them like a team. That's how we met.
CJAD: Sounds like a very giving person.
ALAN: An amazingly giving person. You know it's interesting. There are certain people who you feel you know, even if you've never met them. You know what I mean? Certain television or movie people. Belushi was that way to. There's something in addition to what they do in television or in the movies that....there's a quality that transcends even the characters, whether it's a funny wig or an accent or whatever they put on, you feel like you know the person inside. And I think Gilda was that way too. I think people picked up on the fact that she was funny, yet vulnerable and accessible and incredibly giving. People who met her for the first time, they felt like they were her best friend and she theirs, and what I just told you with that story is not an unusual story. We would go to a restaurant and many of our friends would have the same stories about Gilda. You'd go to a restaurant and if you passed a homeless person on the way to restaurant, at the restaurant she would order a couple of extra desserts or an extra sandwich and come back and give it to the guy.
CJAD: Describe the title, BUNNY BUNNY.
ALAN: Well, if I could just back-peddle a little bit here. This book was never meant to ever be published. About three years after Gilda had died my wife said to me, "you need some closure here, you've never dealt with Gilda's death. You never mourned, you never grieved, you never cried even. You've got to somehow get some closure. You have to end this thing and figure out...deal with her death." And so what I did was I sat down and I recreated the whole relationship as I remembered it in dialogue. If you look at the book, she talks, I talk, she talks, I talk for fifteen years of a relationship, beginning with that plant story, ending with the eulogy I gave at her funeral. I wrote down everything I could remember about it and in dialogue. I didn't even do it in paragraphs. There's no punctuation. There's no grammar. It was just for myself. It was my own therapy. It was just wanting the words to mingle with each other again. And when I got done, I had all these pages and as far as I was concerned the catharsis was over and I was going to put this in a drawer. People started to encourage me to publish it. My wife, Gene Wilder, who was Gilda's husband. I sent him a copy of it. And he said to me, "what a wonderful tribute to her. It's really funny and it really is sweet and why not publish it?" And her brother and her Mother and people like Lorne Michaels. I started spreading it out. People who knew the two of us and who knew Gilda. Everyone said the same thing. Well, I then said, "well, if I'm going to, I'd like all the proceeds of this book to go to a charity of hers." And I called Gene Wilder and he suggested GILDA'S CLUB, which is a support community that they're building in New York for cancer patients and their families. I said fine, so the money's gonna go there. So now it was going to be published, so now I needed a title, which was....(laughter)...we're now finally getting to your question....I couldn't figure out what to call it and I re-read the book and BUNNY BUNNY was a childhood sort of superstition that she had. I have since found out that many people have this, but what she used to do is the first day of every new month, like August 1st, September 1st, her superstition was that if she said the words BUNNY BUNNY as the first words out of her mouth on that day of each month, it would bring good luck and ward off all sorts of whatever evil or whatever harm could happen to you. It was a childhood superstition and one that she carried into adulthood and kept on doing even when I knew her. That scene somewhat reoccurs in the book and it seemed appropriate.
CJAD: The two of you were best friends for so long. Sometimes people find it difficult to understand how two people of the opposite sex are married to other people and can still be best friends. So I have to ask. Was there never a time when the two of you were an item or became a couple, or thought about becoming a couple?
ALAN: You know something, when we met each other, yeah obviously you get to a point where you're hanging out. We were writing such wonderful things together and we made each other laugh so much and we were lucky enough where the things we created with each other made everybody else laugh. It got to a point where you go, "alright, where is this relationship going on a personal level?" There's that juncture. It was difficult, but at the same time we were both so scared. This was a brand new situation in terms of this show, which was starting to catch on. Starting to become successful. She was starting to become famous. I was starting to make money. We were leaning on each other a lot, and like I said, we had this great creative relationship. As difficult as it was we both came to the conclusions that our histories with people of the opposite sex were always such that when we broke up with them those other people never wanted to see us again. (Laughter). We didn't want that to happen between the two of us, so we did our best to play down the boy-girl part of it and consequently that relationship lasted through until she died. Through all the ups and downs of careers and marriages broken and things like that. wrong.
CJAD: The relationship was never a problem for your significant others?
ALAN: Well, you know something, either my wife Robin is lying to me, or she just doesn't give a damn. (laughter). I can do whatever I want. She either doesn't care or she's like the greatest human being in the world. I met Robin on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. She was taking a sabbatical from teaching and she got a job on the show. So she witnessed everything. She understood what it was. She became Gilda's good friend as well and quite frankly I think Gilda probably thought that Robin was doing her a favor so that I would leave her alone. (laughter). Get her off my back at times and stop whining. So they became terrific friends. As a matter of fact they probably became even closer friends then I was towards the end of Gilda's life. So that wasn't a problem. Our three children, Robin's and mine, Gilda's the Godmother of all three. She certainly probably had a better handle on the whole thing then I would have had the tables been turned. I often wonder that, you know, I'm happily married. I have three children. But, God, if I were upstairs and in the bed and Robin were was downstairs writing a book like this about her and some other guy, I don't know if I could handle that. I honestly don't know.
CJAD: Obviously Gene Wilder has taken it very well too.
ALAN: Well, Gene Wilder was her second husband and the love of her life. When she died....like I said, this thing would never have been published without his encouragement. He wrote a very nice quote for the book jacket. I think that basically it was non-threatening. It was on a different level. If he objected to anything, I didn't know about it. It just didn't work out that way.
CJAD: You put together a lot of touching moments in the book. One thing that caught my eye....first of all you referred to her as "Gilbert."
CJAD: And she just referred to you as "Zweibel."
ALAN: Yeah I don't know how the "Zweibel" part worked out. She just started calling me that. It's like I didn't have a first name. As it was, most people called me "Alan" and maybe that was not like being everybody else, because the word "Gilbert" in the book it describes, you know, we had gone to a basketball game together at the Gardens. This was like the second year of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Madison Square Gardens, New York. We walked in to see the Knicks play the Bulls, I think, and people were shouting Gilda's name when they saw her. They were saying things about her like, "hey my birthday's also in June," "hey, I also have trouble keeping a guy," "hey, I used to be fat as a kid." Hey this, hey that and they knew all this stuff about her and knew her. I think that it was a little bit of a shock. I remember afterwards...um...she took her success very, very well in the sense that she knew that recognition was in fact the sign of success and that she was doing well and was well received and well liked. At the same time I think that there was a need to stay centred and focused and not lose yourself out there because of the superficiality of strangers knowing who you are. It isn't as substantial as keeping your center. Basically, I remember her saying, "can you do me a favor" and I said, "what?" She said, "can you stop calling me Gilda." I said, "well, isn't that your name?" She said, "yeah, but everyone calls me that. Strangers are starting to call me that and it spooks me just a little bit and I feel a just a little bit more grounded if you didn't call me what everybody else did." I said, "okay, fine, what should I call you." She thought for a moment and said, "Gilbert." I said, "alright" (laughter). Then she became Gilbert.
CJAD: Do you see a life beyond this book. Do you see this becoming perhaps a screenplay?
ALAN: Well, I'll tell you what happened. Because it's written in dialogue, it certainly lends itself to being spoken, in addition to being read. Last month out here in California, Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the Westwood Playhouse, we had a benefit reading of the book for Gilda Club. All the proceeds went there. She played Gilda, he played Alan and I had two other actors and two other actresses reading all the other parts and sold out two shows and people were laughing and crying and doing all the things that a writer would like them to do. There is a "Love Letters" aspect to this thing. It was so successful, that reading that we're doing it again on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre, same cast. Jason and Julia and the same two other actors and actresses to read the other parts. James L. Brooks is helping me stage it. Once we get that behind us, we have plans of turning this into a play and many, many movie studios have inquired about it, but I've staved them off at the moment. I think that this is so personal and this is....at the moment, I want to just let this become what it wants to be on its own as opposed to.....there is a fragility to this whole thing.
CJAD: So Gilda is going back to Broadway again.
ALAN: In her own way, in a different way, (laughter). Absolutely!
CJAD: Speaking of Hollywood studios, you've kept busy yourself. I should mention that as we are speaking to you, you are on the TriStar lot as we speak.
ALAN: Yeah, I had a meeting over here about a movie that I'll be writing and it just worked out that there was no way for me to get back to my office in time, so they set me up over here with a phone. I'm looking around where I'm sitting and basically I'm sitting in a big hallway. Anybody who wants to hear this can just stop walking and stop by, but here I am.
CJAD: What happened to you after SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. I know you did IT'S THE GARRY SHANDLING SHOW.
ALAN: Yeah, I created IT'S THE GARRY SHANDLING SHOW with Garry and that lasted four years. I've had plays off Broadway. I started getting published. I published a book called NORTH which was recently made into a movie that Rob Reiner directed. I'm going to be doing another movie for Castle Rock and conceivably directing that one as well. I'm here, I'm around.
CJAD: You certainly keep busy and I'm glad you had the time to put this book out.
ALAN: Well, you know, it was something that happened. It was not planned. It's so honest and so real. It just found a way of becoming published. There was something so magical about her and there's something nice happening with this book as well. It seems to be touching a nerve. I think that people not only loved her and it's a testimony to her, but I think that it's also unfortunate that maybe a lot of us in our lives, we know people who are dying or who died and people can relate to the need to get back in touch again in order to close a chapter.
CJAD: You have a lot of very influential people and funny people who have added to the liner notes in your book.
ALAN: You know something. People have been real generous with their words about this book, and I only take part of the compliment for me and I think the rest of it is for Gilda. Yeah, if you look at the book there, everyone from Shandling to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner and Gene Wilder and Jane Pauley and Glenn Close. People from every single field of comedy and news and anyone who just wanted to say anything nice about Gilda I provide the space for them and it's amazing how many people.....as many quotes as we have on there, there were a lot of people who couldn't.....you know, space couldn't allow them to be on.
CJAD: I think the best way to describe the book is to take the words that Mel Brooks uses in your book. "Very rarely when reading a book do I find myself actually laughing out loud, but it happened very often in Alan Zweibel's hilarious account of his adventures with Gilda Radner in BUNNY BUNNY. I must admit, there were also a few times when I found myself fighting back tears."
ALAN: Well, I gotta tell you. When I called Mel....he and Gilda were friends with friends through Gene Wilder because Gene and Mel had done YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and BLAZING SADDLES and a lot of movies together and they were friends. I became friendly with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner also through Rob Reiner. When I finished this and I decided that it was going to be published, I called Mel and I said, "I'd like you to read something and if you like it, maybe you can give me a quote." He warned me and he said, "look, I've never given a quote to anybody, other than to Carl Reiner." He said, "I'm asked all the time," as I imagine he is, and he says, "but the only one I ever gave to is Carl." I said, "fine, I respect that, but do me a favour, just read it anyway, maybe you'll like it." He called back about ten days later and says "alright, here's your quote." It was really an honour that he would make that kind of exception and once again he loved Gilda and he wanted to be nice.
CJAD: Thank you for sharing Gilda with us through this book and thank you for talking with us this evening. Oh, there's a comparison you want, right?
ALAN: Thanks a million for having me. I really appreciate it.