By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
In her weekly Sunday-night standup show, The Complexities of Purchasing a Poodle Pillow, at the Steve Allen Theater, Mary Lynn Rajskub tells of being invited to Washington, D.C., last year to participate in a panel on counterterrorism that was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and hosted by Rush Limbaugh.
Why would an admittedly apolitical comedienne get invited to Washington for a dog-and-pony show by the infamous right-wing think tank? Apparently, due to the trickery of television, Rajskub is sometimes confused with Chloe O’Brian, the CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) computer genius on Fox’s patriotic hit series 24. Here’s the shocker, Rush: She’s just playing a part.
“I don’t know anything about terrorism,” she says. “But I usually know my [acting] objective.”
Rajskub made it to Washington because D.C.’s pols and pundits love meeting celebrities — as in love. When Limbaugh met Rajskub at the panel, she says, she leaned forward to accept his kiss on the cheek, but the conservative pundit landed a big smooch directly on her lips instead.
“That was odd,” she reflects.
In her standup act, Rajskub explains how 10 camera flashes went off at exactly that moment, and images of the kiss went flying over the Internet, along with rumors of an affair between the portly radio host and the comely young TV star — rumors she later felt compelled to deny in public, since Limbaugh hadn’t the grace, or the interest, to do so.
Rajskub goes on to tell how, the morning after the alleged kiss, her now ex-fiancé — a political progressive, evidently feeling betrayed — said to her, “So they’ve got you now. Did he suck your soul out and replace it with maggots?”
Then she smiles a little smile, laced with mischief, or evil, or something, and gets this twinkle in the eye that says, “Believe this if you dare, suckers” — as though the whole episode might have been an invention, or a dream.
The show also has a bit where she describes a later correspondence with Limbaugh. After all the brouhaha over their alleged romance, she wrote him to ask if he’d be interested in getting together. His response, which I don’t want to spoil if you’re going to see the show, was blistering.
I ask Rajskub about the alleged correspondence when we meet at LACMA a couple of weeks after I’d seen her show.
“Oh, I just made that up,” she says, with as much conviction as when she recounts l’affaire Limbaugh during her show.
Rajskub isn’t the first comedian to toy conceptually with that razor-thin divide between the real and the invented. In the ’80s, performing at what was then the Huntington Hartford Theatre on Vine Street (now the Ricardo Montalban Theatre), Andy Kaufman kept promising that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be dropping by for a brief appearance, and that after the show, the entire audience would be chauffeured to a party with milk and cookies. Kaufman drew waves of incredulous laughter every time he repeated the promises. Seven minutes before the end of his act, the grand proscenium curtain rose, and there indeed stood the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which performed a set. As the audience left the theater, they saw Vine Street lined with buses, which shuttled patrons to the nearby Old Spaghetti Factory for a banquet of milk and cookies — then brought them back again.
In her show Wreckage, Lauren Weedman told a true story born of a fiction so extraordinary it reshaped reality. For reasons having to do with a hyperactive imagination and a desperate need for attention, Weedman spun a tale for a college boyfriend that she’d been raped. She hadn’t, but she couldn’t let go of the story, even when police asked her to identify her assailant from a row of mortified suspects in a lineup.
“You don’t talk like Chloe,” a woman in the front row points out during the first minute of Rajskub’s act.
The patron is right. Chloe speaks with assurance and competence. She’s got the entire world in her laptop, every week sparing the nation from another terrorist attack. Rajskub, however, is a kid from art school in Detroit who hasn’t had Internet service in five months and can’t figure out how to use a wireless connection in Starbucks.
“I’m in Starbucks holding my iPhone, trying to see if it was getting reception, when my 5-pound puppy gets tangled and pinned in the power cord,” she tells me at the LACMA cafeteria on this quiet Friday morning. “I can’t move, ’cause she’s all tied up. She starts screaming. I’m just trying to check my e-mail, and my dog acts like she’s being tortured, and my coffee falls on the computer.”