Back in college, I interviewed my lovely Aunt Rita for a class assignment. Her little brother, Brian, is my father. I just came across the interview again, and thought I would post it. It’s about family, growing up in the Bronx during 1950’s, and our roots.
Our section of the Bronx was a village existing between Webster and Jerome Avenue, running along Gun Hill Road. We had our share of colorful characters, like Jim Harris, who stepped out the door every morning do a skip-jump-thing and march down the street whistling off to work. Mr. Braddor, an older man living next door, would sit in his window. When I’d look over there, he’d take his false teeth out to show me. There were the Reeds that lived up the street. One year their dad dressed up as a mosquito for Halloween, and jumped out in front of cars going down the block, causing a few fender-benders. But mostly, we knew everyone and everyone was in the same economic class. I wasn’t aware of some people having more than us.
On hot afternoons when the kids went in from playing in the street to get a cold drink, my Mom had a beaten up aluminum sauce pan she would run cold water in until it was really cold and let us drink from the pan. It was a real treat. I don’t know if she didn’t buy soda because she didn’t believe in kids drinking it, or because we couldn’t afford it. Probably both.
My brother Brian was born in 1953. Mom would take us walking everyday in Woodlawn Cemetery, where we would feed the ducks and check out the tombstones, then off to The Cookie Jar Bakery on Jerome Ave. for great cookies.
I remember when Mom took me shopping, she would get all dressed up in nylons, high heels and a favorite dress, even to the A&P. The big shopping trips were to Macy’s and the dreaded Alexander’s bargain basement on Fordam Road. Everything was thrown in big piles on tables. It took us hours to find anything. That’s how she was able to afford to dress us all for Easter Sunday.
I went to, what I called “St. Ann’s of Auschwitz,” on Bainbridge Road, which was two or three blocks away from home. Once or twice a year they would let us have recess. We were all let out into a side yard which was maybe 20 x 30 completely enclosed with a 10’ chain link fence. The whole school would get out at the same time. Consequently, you couldn’t even move, it was so crowded. Twice a year we went on field trips. One of them was to the Sisters of Mercy Bazaar and again to see Our Lady of Fatima in the Loew’s Theater on Jerome Ave.
We had Johnny and his ice cream truck come through every afternoon. For a while the Good Humor man drove through, but we all threw rocks at his truck. There was a produce truck that came through, also. One time we stole a coconut from the back of the truck. The coconut was still in the hull, and we went through hell trying to get that thing open. We threw it under cars going down the block, and took it up to the roof of a 15-story building and threw it off. We never got it opened.
I would babysit for some women on the block. I’d take the babies for a walk around the block in their carriages for 10 cents. That money was spent in the kosher deli on dill pickles, which they sold out of barrels for 5, 10, or very large 15 cent pickles. Or Louie’s Candy Store for Joyva Halvah. Louie would always pinch my cheeks until they hurt and tell me what a cute girl I was. Occasionally, I’d swipe an extra Halvah as payback for the cheek bruising. When my brother Brian was about four years old, my mom asked me to take him to Louie’s everyday for a malted milk, because he was so thin. She thought he’d put on some weight. After a couple of weeks of doing that, Brian was still just as thin, and I had really packed on the pounds.
My brother Mike and I have the same birthday. Mom would make a big dinner for all our friends and two birthday cakes: one trimmed in blue and one in pink. On my sixth birthday, my friend Tommy Daugherty and I got in a closet and changed clothes. He wore my dress and I his pants and jersey. My father got so upset he threw all the kids out of the house. One year my friend Marjorie got bitten by our dog while we were playing hide-and-seek, and that ended the party. A few years later, Mike had a crush on a girl in our neighborhood named Carol Colango. For Valentine’s Day, her bought her a red velvet heart filled with Hershey kisses. Not knowing what the candy was for, I took the box behind the living room chair and ate all the chocolate and left the papers in the box. The next day, Mike presented Carol with the box in front of her mother, father, grandparents, and sisters.
The music of the time was fabulous. R&B-doo wop and early rock. Frank Lymon, The Del Vikings, The Shirelles. There were groups of kids standing under street lights on the corners singing to all hours of night. They sounded as good, and in some cases, better, than what Alan Freed was playing on the radio.
When I was 13, we all decided we were going to be “Earth Angels” from the song title. So, we bought black jeans and got into a tub of hot water to shrink the jeans as tight as possible. I wore the wet jeans all day. Then we set our hair in bobby pins and put scarves on (hot look of the day). Off we went to Lil’ Italy to hang with the Hell’s Angels. Well, we couldn’t find anyone who owned up to being a Hell’s Angel, so we wound up hanging with a gang of younger Hell’s Angels wannabes. That’s when I met my first big crush, Marty Pollazotto, and my first kiss.
When I was 14, I graduated from St. Ann’s and was intent on going to a public school. They had so much more fun with all the field trips they took and all. I went to Walton High School on Reservoir Ave. It was way different than the cocoon of St. Ann’s. It was an all girl school and some of those mamas were really tough. There was a girl in junior class interested in me and she and her friends would try and trap in the bathroom.
St. Patrick’s Day was second only to Christmas as a family celebration. My Dad, as a fireman, marched in the parade, as did my brother Bill (with Cardinal Hayes High School), and sister Jean (with St. Thomas Aquinas High School). When the fire department marched down the street with the bagpipes playing, my Dad looked straight ahead, very stern faced, but when he got to my Mom and I, he would look over at me and wink. I thought as a child they held the parade for my Dad. After he marched, he would come back and put me on his shoulders to watch the rest of the parade.
Growing up, we heard countless stories about Ireland, many of them scary, from my grandmother, who came over from Donegal. In 2006, when our family went to Ireland, my Dad had already passed. I stood looking at the bay and said to him, “Oh my God, Dad. It’s Galway Bay.” He had sung of it many times.
I don’t know what’s possessing me to do this, but I’ve been having the urge to do a blog on beauty products, because it’s an area I feel like I’m an expert in. I’m the type of girl who, after a bad day, doesn’t feel better after buying a new dress or shoes… but I DO feel a lot better after buying a new overpriced makeup item or skincare product. I get excited when I have something new to try. It makes mundane tasks like showering and repetitive nighttime routines a little more fun because you see immediate results (or lack thereof!) Also, the rise of stores like Sephora and Ulta with lenient return policies means I’m not permanently stuck with $40 mascara that ends up being no better than a $4 tube of Maybelline Great Lash (which, by the way, a ton of pro makeup artists I have met use in place of higher end mascaras.)
One thing to remember is that the efficacy of different products tends to vary from person to person. For example, almost every girl I know raves about Makeup Forever HD Foundation, yet it looks gray and dull on my skin. Bare Minerals isn’t enough coverage for me, Garnier BB cream makes my skin drip with oil… Point being, take my reviews with a grain of salt because you might end up hating whatever I recommend. I always tell people to go to Sephora and ask for samples of 5 of the top rated foundations. Ask the sales reps for recommendations, too. Try the samples before you shell out your money. I usually find that most lines have one standout product, and the rest are mediocre. For example, I love Laura Mercier’s foundations and tinted moisturizers, but their primer was such a waste of money!
Another tip: most people don’t know that if you spend $50 or more at Sephora, you can get your full face of makeup done by one of their makeup artists for free! I’ve done this several times for events, birthdays, etc and have never had a bad experience. Plus, it introduces you to some new products that you wouldn’t normally have tried on your own.
I am the queen of not paying full price. My boyfriend jokes that I should be on Extreme Couponing because I’m maniacal about finding great deals. This is why I buy most products cheaper on Amazon or eBay, but I’ll only go the eBay route if it’s a tried and true product, because returning through eBay (if even allowed by the seller) is a pain. ALWAYS search Retail Me Not for a discount code before you place an online order! Check out Marshall’s or TJ Maxx if you have one in your area. They have great high-end hair and beauty brands (i.e. Joico, DDF, Bumble & Bumble, Shisiedo, Biosilk, Elizabeth Arden, etc) on sale for way less than you’d find them in other stores or online. They always have clearance sections with even better deals. I went to college in NYC and I could only really afford to get my hair cut and colored or eyelash extensions if it was discounted or free through a hair school or modeling job, (check Craigslist beauty services!) and I’m still thrifty to this day. Etsy is great for inexpensive products made from quality ingredients. I’ve purchased everything from scented oil knockoff perfumes (they last longer and are easier to carry around) to facial oil blends from different Etsy sellers and never had a bad experience. It’s worth checking out. Argan oil (for frizz control, split ends, and other uses) and tea tree oil (great for trouble skin) is cheaper on there than you’d find in Sephora or Whole Foods.
I also recommend sample box subscriptions if you’re a beauty product nut like I am and need a cheap monthly fix. Beauty Army is my favorite because you pick your own samples and there’s no wait list. It’s only around $10/month.
Here are some of my all-time FAVORITE purchases that are always in my medicine cabinet or makeup bag:
I was and still am a longtime fan of the Wet Brush, but I was recently introduced to the Tangle Teezer and it blows all the detangling brushes I’ve tried out of the water. I have fine hair, but a lot of it, and no matter what condition it’s in, it tangles like a birds nest unless I brush it multiple times per day. I’m so jealous of girls who claim they don’t even own a hairbrush, yet have tangle-free silky long hair. Meanwhile, I’m terrified that I’m going prematurely bald every time I take a shower, because so many strands fall out. This brush is great for wet or dry hair and is also really great for little kids’ hair.
I first read about this zit zapper when Liv Tyler recommended it in a magazine. As someone with horrible skin (thanks genetics!) who has tried virtually every acne product and prescription out there and seen over 10 different dermatologists… this is one of the few products that really does minimize the appearance of MOST pimples. Just dab it on with a Q-tip and it does its magic overnight. It makes the small ones go away and speeds up the clearing time of the bigger ones. Don’t use it on any scabby pimples (ew) because it will stick to them. I usually get the Drying Lotion on eBay because it seems to consistently be a few dollars cheaper on there, but Mario Badescu’s site usually has some discounts or sample offers that are worth checking out. I have heard wonderful things about their other skincare products, too.
I recently suggested product this to my fellow skincare junkie friend, Danielle Guizio, and it’s something I think everyone should try. You can use it all over your body for different uses, but I just use it as a facial mask. I didn’t really understand this mask when I first bought it at Whole Foods. You have to mix it yourself (I suggest in paper cups or easily washable bowls) with apple cider vinegar and a little water to a non-clumpy, but not too watery consistency. It can be messy and stick to your hair and clothes, so be careful applying. The mask sucks everything out of your pores and minimizes your blemishes. It feels INTENSE! I suggest washing it off with a warm washcloth over a kitchen sink with a garbage disposal, since it clogs up my bathroom sink. I haven’t noticed a long-term improvement in my skin, but if your pores feel clogged and you want to look and feel fresh-faced, this is perfect.
I was reluctant to try cleansing oils since I have acne prone skin with an oily T-zone… but this cleansing oil made my skin GLOW. I use it with a little bit of water and a washcloth and it noticably improves the condition of my skin. I usually buy the travel size bottles off eBay since $77 for the full size bottle is too much for me to justify spending at one time.
Back in high school, Proactiv was the big trend. When one of my frenemies told me to “Get some acne medicine!” (oohhh burn) I was pretty shocked to find out that people could still see that I had pimples underneath my caked on Mac foundation. I remember convincing my dad to take me to the mall for the Proactiv set and hoping it would do something, but it was no match whatsoever for my teenage hormones and genetics. Since then, I’ve been really wary to try drug store acne products because I feel like they all have the same ingredients and make no difference to your skin. But the AcneFree Severe Acne Treatment System was on sale and I decided to test it out. It worked REALLY well for me for a couple of years, and then my skin got used to it so I stopped using it. But for anyone looking to get started on a simple regimen to clear up stubborn acne, I would definitely recommend it. I got my roommate into it and it worked for her, too. By the way, I’m 24 and still waiting for my acne to go away… I thought it was supposed to be gone by now!
24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencils by Urban Decay, $19.00 at Sephora:
I wear black or dark brown eyeliner on my inner line almost every day. I feel weird without it. I recently switched from this liner to Mac’s eye pencil and HATE that I did that, because nothing compares to the staying power of the Glide-On Eye Pencil. It doesn’t look too harsh on the eye. I have heard great things about gel eyeliners like Bobbi Brown’s, but for some reason they irritate my eyes.
Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation Mattifying Oil Free, $55.00 at Sephora:
A makeup artist told me to mix a little bit of this with my regular foundation, and she was right - it makes your skin look flawless. I highly recommend it if you have oily skin. No more dripping makeup onto your iPhone… I hate that!
Chloé Eau de Parfum 6.7 oz, $50 plus free shipping at Macy’s.com:
Everyone, including guys, needs a signature scent. When I smell Stella McCartney’s Stella, I immediately think of my friend Shayla McGhee who always wore it back in college. Whenever I walk into Bath & Body Works, it takes me straight back to the middle school girls locker room. I love the nostalgia of it. I usually prefer fruity, sweet, young, feminine scents (like Marc Jacobs Daisy, Betsey Johnson by Betsey Johnson, Michael Kors Gold, Pink Sugar, etc). My friend Chris Black retweeted someone once who said something about Viva La Juicy making them smell like an MMA fighter’s girlfriend, which cracked me up, because those are the type of scents I can’t help but love. And I’ve found, over the years, that men actually prefer those scents on women to more mature scents like Chanel No. 5. I feel like Chloé is my signature scent. My boyfriend loves it on me and I don’t know anyone else who wears it. It’s very light. I usually like a longer lasting perfume, and it kind of smells soapy. But something about it is very sweet, airy, and feminine. The bottle is gorgeous as well. Right now I’m wearing Flower by Kenzo (which kind of smells like baby powder, if you’re into that) but I always revert back to Chloé because it’s just my fav. And it’s special to me because my mom bought me my first bottle of it.
I have been using these razors for years. They’re perfect if you’re lazy about shaving, because it’s an all-in-one razor that lathers for you. The shave is really close too, and feels like you got waxed. The refills can get expensive, but I just get them in bulk on eBay and save $$$. The only bad thing about them is that water gets stuck in them underneath the replaceable blade, and it can leak in your travel bag.
(me with a nude lip + this liner!)
I have a question. With the nude lip being so popular these days, why do so few companies make a great nude lipstick? (I miss you, discontinued/impossible to find Bare Escentuals nude lipstick!) And why do even less companies make nude lipliner?!?! I feel naked without lipliner, and it’s my favorite makeup item. Why? Because it makes your lips look fuller, and just completes the look. My friends make fun of me calling me a chola because of this, but anyone who tries this product will get why I love it SO much. It stays on, the pigments are great, it matches nude lipsticks, and the application is easy and smooth. BTW - Who misses the 90’s lip as much as I do?
I was recently introduced to this hair mask by my Makeup Army box, and I was really surprised at how well it repairs my damaged, dry hair. It makes my hair silky but not greasy (that’s crucial!) and smells delicious. I would recommend this product to anyone looking to improve the texture of their hair. It really conditions.
I feel ridiculous spending close to $30 for a small pot of this concealer, but it truly lives up to its name. I will admit I’m not usually the biggest Benefit fan. I feel like they rely way too much on their packaging and branding, and most of their products that I’ve tried (Boi-ing concealer, They’re Real! mascara, Hoola bronzer) have been unimpressive and overpriced. But this stuff is the real deal. Erase Paste and Cover FX’s concealers are my top two.
I finally gave in and dropped $20 on a pair of tweezers at Target a couple of weeks ago. It took me years to realize that it’s worth it to spend more instead of buying the cheap ones, which get dull quickly and don’t pick up the tiny hairs. Having Armenian hair and Irish skin means that I have to tweeze my brows almost daily, to the dismay of my threading lady. These tweezers aren’t perfect, but tweezing my brows has never been quicker or easier.
Being the daughter of a dental hygienist, I find bad oral hygiene truly horrifying. It takes barely any time to brush, floss, tongue scrape, and rinse at least twice a day, and there’s no excuses for not doing it. Not only is it a cosmetic issue, but having jacked up teeth is an expensive, time-consuming, and painful lifelong health issue as well. Sorry for the lecture… my point is, tooth decay is wack. If you hate flossing because it’s painful or makes your gums bleed, or because you have crowding and the floss gets stuck, it’s worth it to spend a couple more dollars on this floss. It glides (hence the name) between the teeth and makes your teeth feel about 10 times cleaner.
As my makeup idol Anna Rose Kern could tell you, Kat Von D’s Sephora line really just does it right, from their Painted Love lipstick in Backstage Bambi, to this liquid liner. I was introduced to this product by my friend Colleen MacDonald who does PR work for Sephora, and being a long-time liquid liner hater due to bad eyesight/shaky hands, I never thought I’d like it. But the “innovative brush tip” really makes application a breeze and it’s long wearing. If you don’t normally wear liquid liner on your lid, you should try it at least once. It can really open up the eye and give it a nice shape.
Okay, I think that’s more than enough for now. Feel free to shoot any beauty product questions my way. I’m no professional makeup artist or esthetician, but I’ve probably spent as much money as one on my own personal beauty product collection. I’ll post more reviews soon!
my family’s story
Looking Back on Armenian Martyr’s Day: An Interview with Alyssa Alexanian Mohin
By Elizabeth Mohin
"I am the granddaughter of victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey. I know a lot more about my maternal side of the family because the other side, who also endured the genocide, got tuberculosis in the 1920’s after immigrating to the United States and died.
I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents, Agop Abkarian and Eliz Vartanian, who talked about their experiences quite a lot. When I spent the night at their house as a kid, you could hear my grandfather crying and shouting in his sleep. This man was tortured by these experiences for the rest of his life.
He was from Sivas, which was in mountainous central Turkey. Apparently there had been some massacres of Armenians in about 1895 by the Ottoman Turks. Then it really started up again in 1915. It was truly a genocide in that the government was directing it, not the locals. In the case of my grandfather, his family got some advance warning that the Turks were coming. They had a very successful general store, and in those days there were no savings banks, so they had bags of gold that they took to their church for safekeeping. On the way home, they were met on the road by Turkish soldiers. My great-grandfather was beheaded and my grandfather, who was fourteen years old, was given a shovel and told to bury him. That was how things started.
His entire family was forced to march across the Syrian Desert with very little supplies or provisions. He followed them on a parallel route, and at night he would come into the camp and speak to them. He went undetected, which is how he survived. But his grandmother who could no longer walk after she grew tired was left on the road. He was told that all of those who were left behind were shot. His mother also died en route. His ten-year-old sister Anahid survived, but later on he was forced to place her in an orphanage where she immediately got cholera and died. He felt guilty for the rest of his life about that.
Later on, he was lucky enough to get a job working for Company 13 of the French Armenian Legion because he had gone to a French Jesuit school in Sivas, Turkey, so he spoke fluent French, Arabic, and, of course, Armenian and Turkish. He credited his knowledge of foreign languages as saving his life. He did return to Sivas but could not locate the money that he left with the church. He became an Atheist after that. His father, before he was beheaded, went to church every morning before work. They were very religious and donated to the church. He felt that if there was a God, God would not have let this happen to such religious people. So, my family does not participate with the Armenian Church in New York as a result.
My grandmother was only nine years old when she went through the genocide, so her whole story is through the eyes of a child. She lived in a town called Aintap in southeastern Turkey. Her father was seized and put into a hard labor camp for the entire duration of the war, but survived. My grandmother and her pregnant mother, sister, and two little brothers, were forced to march through the Syrian Desert. They were also forced to work. They had to break up big stones into little stones to be put on the railroad beds because the Turks were building a railway at the time. For breaking up rocks all day long, they received two pieces of bread. One of Elize’s little brothers was bitten by a scorpion and died. The other women crossing the desert told my great-grandmother, “You’re not going to survive. You can’t make this journey if you’re pregnant. You have three children that you have to think about.” So, she agreed to have an abortion, which killed her. My grandmother, Elize, was with her when she died the next day, which left her and her siblings alone.
My grandmother saw Turks do horrific things to people on the march. She saw Turkish soldiers bet on the sex of a pregnant Armenian woman and then slice her open, and the fetus fell out. It was horrific, just horrific. At one point, they got everyone in a group and just started shooting them. My grandmother and this other little boy pretended they were dead and laid under a pile of dead bodies overnight, and then crawled out from underneath them in the morning.
All of them suffered from starvation and looked like corpses by the time they got to Syria. While they were in a refugee camp in Syria, my grandmother received a job working for a Turkish governor in Nazareth as a house servant because he was looking for someone who spoke Turkish and Arabic to be an interpreter for himself and his new wife, who he could not communicate to. Her little brother would come to the house every night and she would go down the back steps to sneak him food, because they were still starving. One night, her boss heard the noise and thought there was an intruder in the house. He knocked her little brother down the steps, killing him in front of her. And of course he realized afterwards that it had been a mistake, it was a little boy. A lot of tragedy… a lot of tragedy.
She went to get water from the public well one day and heard all the bells tolling. She saw all these Armenians walking down the road yelling, “The war is over! You can leave now!” She just set the jug right down and started marching with them. She never went back to say goodbye or anything.
She eventually ended up in another refugee camp where my grandfather went to find a wife. By that time, he was an officer in the “La Légion Arménienne”. My grandmother, who was 15 years old, borrowed a dress and was told that he would come into her tent, and she would serve him coffee and sweets, but she was not allowed to look at him. Apparently, he was impressed by her reddish-blonde hair. Afterwards, she was told, “Okay, it’s settled. You’re going to marry him.” She couldn’t stand not seeing him before she got married, so she peeked out of the tent and saw him pacing back and forth, waiting. He was very handsome and fit with a horse and a snazzy uniform. So, they were married by a priest, never having spoken a word to each other. She was very proud to be married to him. He wasn’t starving.
They lived in Port Said, Egypt, at his military base. My grandmother went into labor with her first-born, my mother Makruhe, while they were strolling through a pomegranate orchard. They wanted to emigrate and my grandfather’s uncle, who happened to already be in New York, sent them money for passage. They traveled on the Belvedere ship and slept on mats on the floor. By that time, my mother was a fat, nine month-old baby and they would take her up to the upper levels of the ship for fresh air, and all these people would admire the baby. And finally, they got to New York City, and everybody on the boat was cheering and crying when they saw The Statue of Liberty. They got processed at Ellis Island. My grandfather had a fever and he was worried that they would reject him if they knew he was sick. So he said, “Give me the baby,” and he placed my mother on his lap, because his legs were shaking, and pretended to be bouncing her. And that’s how they got to the United States, but not without witnessing just about everyone in their family dying. They started an oriental rug and upholstery business on Madison Avenue and later bought a farm in Howells, New York, where they continued their business and eventually retired.
I was raised by people who had suffered incredible atrocities. My grandmother spoke about it more than anybody else. But the funny thing is that she was a very happy person. She was always singing to herself and loved to dance. It was just amazing. So whenever I’m really feeling bad, I think to myself, if she can overcome that and still be happy, then I can overcome whatever I’m going through.”
I interviewed Carmelo Anthony for ABC channel 7 in NYC on Tuesday 3/29 for the unveiling of his new Boost Mobile billboard. He and Lala were very personable and gracious and their family is adorable. It aired on Eyewitness News 6 PM and (I believe) 11 PM. I’ll post the video soon. It was the biggest and best day of my career so far and also very exciting for me as a longtime Melo fan.
Saw this on a colleague’s Twitter:
I still don’t know how Tumblr works but thanks for all the notes on my interview with DG. Here’s the version that got published:
Interview with Donald Glover
By: Elizabeth Mohin
Donald Glover is probably best known for his character Troy Barnes in the NBC sitcom Community. He has another following for his music (he raps under the moniker Childish Gambino), writing (he used to write for 30 Rock), and stand-up comedy. What a lot of people don’t know is that Donald grew up under unusual circumstances; he was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness in the projects of Atlanta and shared a home with foster brothers and sisters as well as two biological siblings. At 27, he has a lot on his plate, but is still hungry.
How was the Superbowl?
The Superbowl was really fun. I’m not used to being around that many people in the corporate world. You kinda realize once you get there that no one who is there is really from those states. It’s all corporate people showing how big their corporate dick is. No one there was gonna scare your mom.
Of stand-up, improv, acting, music, and writing, which is the biggest challenge? Which gives you the most satisfaction?
I don’t really see them as separate. I see them as the same thing. I think that’s why I’m able to them all, honestly. I don’t really have a favorite ice cream. I like them all. They just taste different.
How do you first describe yourself when you meet someone?
I used to say “I’m an artist,” and they were usually like, “Oh, I’ll leave now. I don’t want to talk to you. You sound mad lame.” No one wants to meet an artist. That worked in college. You can get away with that in, like, junior year. You can be like “Oh, I’m an artist,” and a girl will talk to you for half an hour. But now, I awkwardly try to say all of them - “I’m a writer, but I’m on this show acting, but I do music too.”
Throughout middle school and high school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a puppeteer for a long time. I studied ventriloquism and I thought I was going to be a Jim Henson puppeteer. I also got really into playwriting in high school. I never really thought I was going to be a writer, but I graduated from my high school “Most Likely to Write for The Simpsons.”
As someone who dreamed of being a puppeteer, what was it like acting in The Muppets movie [to be released 2011]?
It was the most enjoyable time in my life. On the first day we shot, I was literally tearing up. Kermit was in the room with me and he’s just so real. It’s like you never grew up. I used to watch The Muppets so much that my mom used to force me to watch cartoons. When you’re there, you have no doubt in your mind that they’re not alive. It’s beautiful.
You were mentioned in a 2005 New York Times article entitled “…One Person on This Page Will Be Justly Famous by 2010.” Six years later, you are. How has life changed?
You know the term “more money, more problems?” It’s not true. It’s like, more money, richer problems. Richer problems are like, “Oh, who am I gonna pay to decorate my house?” I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I can pay people to do the little things I can’t do anymore. But sometimes you miss those things. I miss being bored, honestly. I can’t remember the last time I was bored.
At 27, do you feel like your career has taken off pretty fast?
I feel like it’s been forever. I’m impatient. I always want to do more, now. But it’s like wait, Will Smith was on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air for eight years. That’s a long time before he started doing movies.
What’s your drive for being such a workaholic?
Not being poor again. It fucking sucks. I hated it. In college, my parents couldn’t pay for anything. It was all scholarships and loans. So when I didn’t have money, I really owed people money. I had negative money. I don’t want to ever be there again. I don’t like owing anyone anything. I only want to owe myself shit. That’s real power. Real power is when you can make all your own decisions, on your own time, with your own resources. You don’t have to ask people for anything.
How did you get into sketch comedy when you were at NYU?
I had just started freshman year and I didn’t know anyone. One of those fake friends you make the first week of school was like, “Audition for this sketch group! I am.” So I did, and I got in. Then I auditioned for this improv group and I got in, and it just took off from there. I didn’t realize you could get paid to do it.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into stand-up comedy?
Just do it. That kinda goes for every job. Just start doing it. Waiting for the right time and waiting for someone to discover you is bullshit. That’s just you telling yourself that you’re scared. And you should be. Doing stand-up is horrible. You’ll mess up. People will tell you that you’re shit and you’re not funny. You just gotta figure out who you are.
Why do you do improv every Sunday night at UCB Theatre? Is it just for fun or does it help you in other areas?
It’s both. It’s really nice to hang out with those dudes that I came up with. And also, it’s really nice to relax. I spend all week going to meetings, and pitching, and writing, and acting, and writing music, and my brain’s fried. I know it sounds like work, but it’s not work. It’s improv. You get on stage and you’re just joking around with your buddies. The moments that we spend onstage and then afterwards when we go eat and just talk about stupid shit are the best four hours of the week for me, sometimes.
Do people get upset when you use them for comedic material?
Oh, yeah. There was this one girl who hit me when I did a joke about her even though I told her in advance I was gonna do it. I do draw from experience, that’s the way it is. I put a lot of stuff out there. I like to let people know exactly who I am through my stuff, so my life is sort of open. It lets people closer to you and that’s a good thing.
Why do you think some people might find your lyrics derogatory towards women?
Some women find my music derogatory towards women because it is. I don’t have a lot of vices. I don’t do cocaine. I don’t do a lot of drugs. But I do like to drink and I do like to have sex. So those are the parts of me that I rap about, because those are the parts of me that I find interesting and also scary. I understand if women are put off by that. I don’t want them to think I leave the stage and go punch a girl in the mouth or something.
LA or New York?
New York. All day. New York made me who I am.
What did you learn from the “Donald for Spiderman” online campaign?
A lot of people think I had malicious intent like I meant to stir something up with the Spiderman campaign. I was halfway joking. People are like, “There are plenty of black superheroes that are just as good.” And I’m like, that sounds like “separate but equal”… and it’s not true. There aren’t even a lot of good white superheroes. There’s only three you wanna see. You wanna see Batman, you wanna see Spiderman, and you wanna see Superman. And let’s be honest, Superman’s not that great either because as soon as kryptonite’s involved, he’s gonna get weak. The only two really cool ones that everyone knows are Batman and Spiderman. Now, Batman can’t really be black. Maybe in some world but I mean, what black family is super rich from the 1930’s? The beautiful thing about Spiderman is that no one knows who he is, and he’s poor, and he lives in the middle of New York. When I was a kid, that’s what I connected to the most; that he’s poor. I really got that. He lives with his aunt, he doesn’t have a lot of money, and people really hate him. I felt really close to that. I used to read those comics and be like, “people don’t like him!” because I felt like I was a loner at my school and I didn’t feel like people liked me either, even though I was just trying to help all the time.
Did you get bullied in school? Do you think the focus on bullying in the media recently is a good thing?
I got picked on a ton around 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, when people start getting really mean. I was afraid to go to school in 7th grade. I would wake up in the morning and tears would be rolling down my face when I was walking to school. I definitely don’t condone bullying. But for me, it helped me become who I am. I wouldn’t change my past for anything.
What was it like growing up with parents who were Jehovah’s Witnesses?
It was hard because no one knows what that is. People know what Jews are, at least. You can go to the middle of nowhere and be like, “I’m Jewish,” and people know to hate you. (laughs) People don’t know what a Jehovah’s Witness is. You don’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. You don’t get gifts. You don’t celebrate. You just look like a weirdo from the get-go.
Did you get a lot of girls?
I do not think I was a ladies man at all. I wasn’t really allowed to date. I felt really alone. I had pimples. It’s funny, I go back now and everyone is like, “Donald was really cool in high school!” People remember what they want to remember.
What about now?
It is easier to get ladies, but I don’t think it’s because I’ve changed who I am. I think it’s because I’m more confident in who I am. Tina Fey once told me, “If you’re a dude, and you want to get a woman, all you have to do is be really good at one thing. You can be a juggler. You can be a carpenter. Whatever it is, just be really good at it.” Because the passion and the love you have for whatever it is you’re doing is a turn on for women. When I was in college, I couldn’t wait to have a car, and a job, and a place. But once you get that shit, you don’t know if those girls really like you for you. That’s some truth shit. I’m never like, I wanna fuck Kim Kardashian. Kim Kardashian will fuck a wallet if it’s big enough. It’s really hard to find a girl who really likes you for you. I don’t think I’m paranoid. I haven’t seen anything to prove me wrong.
What else makes you not want to hang out with a girl?
Someone who isn’t confident in themselves. Someone who is just drifting through life, who doesn’t have any passion.
Does the censoring at NBC annoy you when you’re acting for Community?
Yes. I get very frustrated. That’s why I do stand-up and that’s why I have a Twitter feed, because I can say and do anything I want.
Do you have any reoccurring nightmares?
I don’t dream a lot anymore. Sometimes I chalk it up to me doing the stuff that I always wanted to do, so I don’t need to dream anymore.