In 2017, I interviewed Judy Tenuta, one of my favorite comediennes and a Facebook friend, for the first time. That interview was set up by another Facebook friend, Harlan Boll, whom I reached out to again recently. You see, for all that I covered with Judy in our first interview, there was just as much that I didn’t, and besides that, her career has seen some pretty interesting new projects come up. On top of that, soon the Love Goddess herself will be getting a star on The Palm Springs Walk Of Fame. We discussed all that and more on Thursday, October 10th, and I hope you all enjoy reading this.
Welcome back Judy Tenuta to The Flashback Interview!
Judy: Hello. This is Judy!
Johnny: Hi, Judy. Johnny Caps here, calling for our new interview.
Judy: Yes, you warned me that you were going to call me (laughing). I saw it on Facebook.
Johnny: Well, first off, thank you for agreeing to do this second interview. There was some stuff we didn’t get to talk about in our first interview back in 2017…
Judy: Wow. Okay (laughing). I don’t even remember, but whatever you say.
Johnny: …But let’s start with the current stuff and go into my first question: Soon you’ll be getting a star on the Palm Springs Walk Of Fame. When you were granted this honor, how did you first react?
Judy: I was like, “Oh, I’m so glad they cashed my check!”. (Laughing) No. I’ve been wanting that star for a long time. I worked in Palm Springs quite a bit, and I was at The Copa. The owner of The Copa is named Don, and I said, “How can I get a star?”. Anyway, I was known there, and had been working there for a long time. I was working at this place, which is no longer there, that I love called Heaven, and it was basically a nightclub. Gay men frequented it, and I did New Years’ Eve there. It was so much fun, and it was a beautifully decorated club. I also did The Copa and several other places there, and worked all over, plus charity events there. I love Palm Springs, and so I said, “Oh, this could be great”, so finally I got in touch with the people. You have to get in touch with the Chamber Of Commerce. They are the ones who nominate you, and then I guess the whole board has to agree, and then they go, “Oh, yeah! We like her!”, so that’s what happened. I was very excited, and guess what? It coincides with my birthday. We’re having the star ceremony on Monday, November 4th, and the reason why is that my birthday is November 7th, but it’s happening before because I’m also going to be The Goddess Of The Gay Pride Parade the day before in Palm Springs on this big float. It’s called The Rainbow RV, and I will be sitting atop a giant silver stiletto on top of the Rainbow RV and cheering everybody on. That will be from 10 to noon on November 3rd, and then the next day, I’m having my ceremony. The star will be there, so I’m going to tell everybody to kiss the star. A lot of people might walk on it, but that’s okay. That’s one time I don’t mind being walked on, and that will be at 2:00 on Monday, November 4th, so it’s very exciting.
Johnny: Well, congratulations on that honor, and that does lead to my next question: It took a long time to do so, but your friend and occasional collaborator “Weird Al” Yankovic eventually got a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Will you, the Aphrodite Of The Accordion, try to get a star there as well?
Judy: Well, you know, of course that would be nice. I think what happened with Al was, and I talked to him about this, a lot of fans just signed a petition that went around (Author’s note for Judy: Did fan fundraising play a part in it as well?). Of course, it was very well-deserved, and that’s what happened. there’s a committee, again, and they decide. Who knows what they’re thinking, but of course, I’m more well-known than a lot of people that have a star there (Judy and Johnny laugh). Yeah, that would be very nice, but I must say this: That would be terrific if that happened, but I really am very grateful for the one I am receiving, and last year, I got one in Las Vegas.
Johnny: Well, you certainly do deserved those honors because you are a great talent.
Judy: Oh, thank you.
Johnny: If I can ask a serious question: You’re very active in supporting the LGBTQ community, help that they especially need in the current political climate. What inspired that support?
Judy: Oh. Well, first of all, I started in my hometown of Chicago. When I first started, and this was back in, like, 1980, I started at places like Zany’s and all that, and some gay people would come to the show and cheer me on. They said, “Judy, you must come to our club, His And Hers”. I would do several shows for them over there, and they were so enthusiastic about me, so I loved them in return. Since then, I’ve always loved them, but actually before that, I love anybody who is good to me, and that includes whoever, but especially gays because they’ve been very vocal about it, so in return, I want to support them and stand up for them. That’s something that is close to my heart, and I wanted to speak out for them. Whenever I do my shows, you can always tell the difference. Gay audiences really cheer on almost anything, but especially when I point to them and say things like, “You know what I love about the gays? The day after Christmas, you are never there returning anything at Crate And Barrel. You know why? Because you, my gays, find the right candle the first time”. You know (laughing), they’re all clapping because they’re very good at all that stuff. I also love the way they just have a flair for fashion and, of course, makeup I’m so envious of. I wish I could do drag queen makeup. Maybe I’ll learn to do that some time (laughing).
Johnny: Well, it’s certainly very noble what you do, and speaking of politics, you appeared on a special called All-Star Celebration: The ’88 Vote in 1988.
Judy: Oh, god. Yes.
Johnny: What can you tell me about working on that special?
Judy: Oh, my god. I will never forget that. My manager arranged that, and I’m sure they were in touch with him, so we all went to St. Louis. It was under the Gateway Arch. There were several women, and they were supplying makeup and hair for the on-camera show. I was backstage in the makeup chair, and in walks the First Lady, or the First Lady To Be, rather, Barbara Bush. (Laughing) This is so funny. I turned around. “Oh my god, so nice to meet you”. I’m sitting in the makeup chair, and she says to the makeup lady, “Make me look just like her”, pointing to me (laughing). It was so sweet, you know? That was a great memory, and that was a great experience. I won’t forget that. I did that with Michael Winslow. Not at the same time. I meant that he went onstage after I did, and it’s a very, almost overwhelming experience. It’s 250,000 people outside under the Gateway Arch, so it was the biggest audience I ever had.
Johnny: Very cool.
Johnny: Another talent who appeared on that special was the late and much-missed Robin Williams. What are your favorite memories of him?
Judy: Oh, I loved Robin. I loved him, and who didn’t, of course? You know, people may not know this because he was very frenetic, and it seemed like all the time, but I would see him in the lot over at Fox or wherever. He’d say, “Oh, Judy”, and then, as soon as he would see me, this was great. He would imitate me on the spot. He’d imitate me, and I would die laughing. I was like, “Oh my god, you are just so great”. I appeared with him in several instances. One was for HBO’s Comic Relief, and another was a big charity event for Scleroderma. It’s a disease that attacks the immune system. Anyway, that was back in maybe 1990, and he sat next to me. He was gentlemanly, you know. Another time, I was working at Mill Valley. Now, Mill Valley is gorgeous. It’s almost like paradise. It’s, I want to say, 50 miles outside of San Francisco, and he lived there, or at least it was one of his residences. I was working there at a theater that night, and he showed up to say hello. I have a picture of it, and I’m so happy I have that picture. That was all the way back in 2014, and not long after, he left. It was just so, so upsetting, you know, but of course, we will always have memories of him. We have records of his great work in film and everything.
Johnny: How lucky you were to have worked with him.
Judy: Yes, and also, when I met him, he already knew who I was. Do you know what I mean? It was great, yeah.
Johnny: That’s lovely to hear. On a lighter note, to jump into the 90s, a rather unique project you worked on in 1996 was the computer game Goosebumps: Escape From Horrorland, (Judy laughs) where you voiced the character of Hannah Black. What stood out the most to you about that project?
Judy: Well, first of all, I love doing voices because you can kind of roll out in your pajamas (laughing). It was just fun. You’re at the studio and, obviously, at a mic stand with your dialogue on it, and I just remember that it was really a lot of fun, and kind of wacky in a way, you know what I mean? Yeah, I really loved doing that.
Johnny: Cool. Well, to jump from the 90s back into this decade, an upcoming project of yours’ is FLOW: Fabulous Ladies Of Wrestling, so how did you get involved with that project?
Judy: (Laughing) Oh, that was so weird. Obviously, I’m not a wrestler, but I was at a charity event, and several of them were friends of mine. There were like, “Oh, will you come to our event?”. I came to their event. They had a party, and they were just very nice people. Anybody that’s nice and supportive of me, of course I want to be supportive of them.
Johnny: I’m looking forward to it, and another former interview subject of mine is also involved with it, Laurene Landon, and if I interview her again, I’ll definitely ask her about that. I’ve seen the video for FLOW on YouTube, and it definitely looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Judy: Oh, yeah!
Johnny: To go to a project that’s uniquely your own, a few years ago, you did a video called Lunch And Judy, where you interviewed Alison Arngrim while having lunch with her. I liked that video, and found you to have very good interviewing skills, so is there a chance there might be others?
Judy: Yes. We’re going to make a series of those, and I have the filmmaker. You know, I have so many videos on YouTube. Some of them are The World Accordion To Judy, and that was a new thing we were getting started on, but the problem was I did that one, and then I was going to do another one, but I got booked to do a film called Garlic And Gunpowder, where I got to work with Michael Madsen and some great people. That took time, too, and you know how the next thing happens. Whenever you’re doing something that YOU’RE creating, you know, you’ve got to do everything and get everybody together, so I will be working on that very soon.
Johnny: Fantastic to hear, because you definitely do have very good interviewing skills, and you really had a great rapport with Ms. Arngrim.
Judy: Oh, yeah!
Johnny: Great stuff. To jump back to the 90s for a question, what are your favorite memories of recording the album Attention Butt Pirates And Lesbetarians?
Judy: Oh, my god. That exceeded any expectations that I had when I was on stage. First of all, they were all screaming, all the gays. Not only that, they wouldn’t stop screaming for me. I was already on stage, and I go “I’m here! You don’t have to keep screaming”. I’m on stage, and they were throwing pearl necklaces on the stage. It was so great, and I said, “What do I look like, Zsa Zsa here?”. It was so fantastic, and something else. I was staying at a hotel across the street to prepare for it. They had a room for me, and as I was preparing, Adam Sandler was at the same hotel. He couldn’t have been sweeter, and I said, “Oh, Adam. I’m here for gay pride. I’m going to be doing a big festival for them, a big concert”, and he said, “Oh, that’s awesome. I wish I could be there”. He was going to film something, but anyway, he was a sweetheart, so that was just a very cool thing to encounter him before that big concert, and I will just never forget that. They were just screaming, such a beloved audience, and as a bonus, as you may know by reading my bio, I was nominated for a Grammy for that.
Johnny: Very cool.
Johnny: It was a great album. There’s this one section where, I hesitate to use the word because I myself am obviously not a lesbian, but you do a song mentioning your favorite lesbians, and then there’s a song you sing. I just love the lyric, “The natives wear their war paint just like a neon sign/Everybody’s got the same thing on their nasty minds”. That’s just a great lyric in that song. You obviously came up with that, so I think it was just a good bit of songwriting on your part.
Judy: Well, thank you. I need to do it more, but when starting out in comedy, it was because of the accordion. My parents gave me the accordion, and obviously I had an aptitude for it, but when you’re going through puberty, you’re like, “I want to hang out with all my friends”, but my parents would always say, “Uh uh, you gotta go practice first. Practice, practice”. I’m so grateful for that because when I moved out to go to New York when I was 20, my mom said, “You’re taking that accordion”. I’m going, “Mom, no, I’m not. Just save it for me”. She goes, “You will thank me”, and boy, were those prophetic words. I went to New York and did a bunch of auditions. I had a great time, by the way. I lived in a great rent-controlled apartment for two years, but then, you know, I ran out of money and found my best friend, so I came back to Chicago, and right then, with my luck and timing, there started the big comedy boom. I was brought on stage, and before I went on stage, my friend was the one who said to me, “Judy, that accordion is just so funny. You need to bring that up on stage”, so that’s what I did. The first one to bring me on stage was Tom Dreesen, who is a sweetheart, again, and he recently had his birthday. He couldn’t have been more gracious, and I’ve known him throughout the years because we’re fellow Chicagoans. He was the first one to bring me up on stage at a place called The Pickle Barrel, but then there were all these other places that opened, like Ratso’s and Zany’s and The Comedy Room and The Comedy Cottage and The Comedy Showcase and Sylvester’s. These were all places that had comedy on the weekends for sure, so I always had a place to go and work out my material. It was really great…
Johnny: And it definitely worked out great for you because you are this terrific talent.
Judy: Oh, thank you. That’s very sweet. (Laughing) I really appreciate that. It just pleases me when I make other people happy, you know. When people write to me on Facebook, they’ll say, “I was so down today, and I really needed to see what funny quip you had, and it lifted my spirits”. That’s what I live for. I live for that. I live to make people happy.
Johnny: That’s wonderful. To jump back to this decade, you appeared in the horror film Deadly Crush, where you played the character of Claire Voyant. (Judy laughs) What was your favorite part of working on that project?
Judy: Oh, my god. That was so funny. I remember when we were filming that and we had to do some scenes outside. It got cold and rainy, and I was just cracking up. We were in a location that was a home, a larger home, and we would take turns cooking, (laughing) and I burned the pizza, but they all ate it anyway. It was just great. I loved that. Every film I’ve done, I’ve just loved doing it, and some films are more difficult than others. I remember being in Garlic And Gunpowder. I had to be in a kind of fight scene, and that takes a lot out of me because you can tell by looking at me that I’m not a fighter (laughing), so while I’m doing it, I’m like, “Oh, my god. How do people do this?”. That was obviously difficult, but it was fun, and when you finish it, you’re all excited. I compare it to living here in L.A. We hate the thought of earthquakes, and while they’re happening, we’re scared to death, but once it’s over, we go, “Well, you know, that was exciting” (laughing). I know, it’s crazy, but anyway, I have very fond memories of doing everything I did. You know, there was a film all the way back in 1988 called White Hot, and I filmed it with Robby Benson, who was the director. He was a sweetheart, and still is, of course. He was so great, and he and his wife, Karla DeVito, were as big fans of mine as I was of theirs’. We were just laughing on the set. A lot of times, honestly, that’s what happens when I’m on the set. They’re laughing, and then we have to practice laughing to get it out of our systems so we can shoot the scene, you know?
Johnny: That’s great to hear. Speaking of laughter, I now come to my final question, and it’s this: We recently lost Rip Taylor, like yourself a client of Harlan Boll. I interviewed him around the same time we did our first interview, so do you have any memories of Rip Taylor?
Judy: Oh, god. What a sweetheart. I just loved his one-liners. One day, he said, (Judy slips into Rip’s voice) “Judy, come on. Let’s go try on wigs”, (laughing), you know, because he had that thing with his hair. He said, “Come over”, and that was adorable. That was hysterical, and of course, so many of his one-liners. I do remember this one that I loved, and it was, “Oh, I’m dating this older woman, really older, and I told her, ‘Would you please act your age?’, so, yeah, she died”. (Laughing) I don’t know. It was just funny. I say this about Rip: He was so much fun, a great talent, a great comedian, and everything was like a party with him with the confetti. I say to people that are upset, and it is sad, but here’s how I say it: You have to remember he had a very full life, years of working with great people like Debbie Reynolds and lots of others. He was big buddies with Debbie Reynolds, you know, and people enjoyed him. Really, he made them laugh, and they all remember him, so we have great memories of him. Again, like I say, it’s our pleasure, our joy, to make people and make them laugh, and I know, in his case, that was the truth. That was pretty recent, like last year, when he said, “Come on, Judy. We’re going to try on wigs”. He was a sweetheart.
Johnny: He certainly was. I loved talking to him, just like I loved talking to you. That does bring me to the end of my interview…
Judy: Oh, wait, I’ve got to tell you one more thing we had in common!
Johnny: Oh, sure. Go for it.
Judy: Very quickly, which I didn’t know, but when he started, and I talked to him about it, he was working in the strip clubs, and he said that helped him because you have a tougher audience as they’re waiting to see naked women. In 1980, in Chicago, I was hired to work at this strip club called The Rose, but the difference was, it was male strippers, and I was the female comedian. All the women were in the audience, but I made them laugh and had them in a good mood before the men. It really is a challenge because you know they’re waiting to see the men come out and shake their booties, and that’s what we had in common. He had the women’s strip club, and I had the men’s strip club, so that was really cool. It’s interesting to find out how your lives can parallel in many ways.
Johnny: Definitely, and I want to thank you again for sharing these stories. When we first talked back in 2017, I said to you that I find you to be a better comedian than Roseanne, and I just have to say that again. So many people in my age bracket are Roseanne fans. I never was a Roseanne fan. I always preferred you because I feel your comedy is just more open and friendly. I mean, even when you’re calling fans love pigs and all of that, it’s coming from a place of…
Judy: Affection. It’s affection.
Johnny: Yes, a place of affection.
Judy: That’s interesting. I don’t really think we’re alike, and I don’t know why one would be preferred over another. Do you know what I’m saying? I can imitate her. (Slipping into Roseanne’s voice) “Hey, you guys. Oh, my god. I can’t believe I gave birth to five kids all at once”. (Back to her own voice) When you say I prefer you to Roseanne, I think that stems from how we kind of had a feud, but it really got blown out of proportion. I don’t know. I think the comics and other people just kept trying to perpetuate it and make it something. Howard Stern was the worst one. “Roseanne, yeah. Oh, everybody likes her”, but his job is to egg you on and bait you and fight with him. He loves that, you know?
Johnny: Yeah, I understand that, but I do think you’re a phenomenal talent. I loved hearing your stories. Again, I thank you for taking the time to do this. I’ll catch you on Facebook, and keep up the great work.
Judy: Oh, thank you so much. It was a pleasure once again.
Johnny: Likewise. Have a good afternoon.
Judy: You, too. It could happen!
Johnny: It certainly could.
Judy: (Laughing) Okay. Take care.
Johnny: See you later. Bye.
I extend my thanks to Judy Tenuta for doing a second interview and to Harlan Boll for setting the interview up. For more on Judy Tenuta, you can visit her official website, which has links to all her social media.
Who will I Flashback with next? Stay tuned.