The indefatigable and genuinely unique American writer, comedian, raconteur and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller (she first stripped at the age of 73) is 87 today.
She has two Master’s Degrees with honours: one in Creative Arts for Children from the University of Toledo and the other a Master of Arts degree in Communications from Stanford University. She has done post-graduate work at Indiana, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and San Francisco State Universities.
When she was 27 and her ambitions turned theatrical, she starred in her own CBS television show.
She has been dubbed “the new Joan Rivers” and “the world’s oldest performing stand-up comedian”. For the last 15 years, she has been travelling the world “telling inappropriate jokes and shattering stereotypes”.
I wanted to ask about her latest book Getting The Last Laugh. We had a meal together. She insisted on paying because, she said, she wanted to have some sort of hold over me.
JOHN: So what do you want to bring up?
LYNN RUTH: Asparagus.
JOHN: You have written another book.
LYNN RUTH: Yes. It’s the fifth that’s been published. We edited it four times and I wrote an addendum which brings it up-to-date with COVID. I have another book coming out soon called Growing Old Outrageously and Loving It – it’s just about done – to be published by my friend Nader Shabahangi. That one has pictures and more of my philosophy.
JOHN: What is your philosophy?
LYNN RUTH: Just Fuck it… So it’s a short book. (LAUGHS)
JOHN: This one has pictures too.
LYNN RUTH: And everybody who was nice to me – their names are in it. Everyone who wasn’t, I just refer to them. You can figure out who they are, but I don’t name them. And there were a lot.
JOHN: And you wrote Getting The Last Laugh because…?
LYNN RUTH: I think the message of the book was not what I intended. I thought it would be a book about my doing comedy and there IS a lot about it in there…
LYNN RUTH: …But it’s got a lot about the walls I faced. The point of this book is Anyone can do what I’ve done. Really and truly it’s not that I am special, not that I’m talented, but I made all this happen and an awful lot of people would not have. A lot of people would have started and then said: “Ah! Too much work!”
JOHN: So why did you have the determination?
LYNN RUTH: Because I really love doing this.
JOHN: Comedy or eating?
LYNN RUTH: I love eating too and I’ve been doing it a lot longer than comedy.
JOHN: There’s a lot in the book about your early life.
LYNN RUTH: But also a lot about my philosophy of believing in yourself… This COVID pandemic has really disturbed me: because we are all so afraid of what other people think, so afraid of each other and that is wrong. The hardest thing for anyone is to believe in yourself.
People ask me “Why didn’t you just give up?” and, honest to God, I don’t know. In general, I wasn’t doing too well in Life. I had the two divorces. I have a Masters Degree in Journalism, but I couldn’t get a job in journalism. I had a TV show in the States, but I was never doing anything, really. I just kept going and then, all of a sudden, things came together. I think the story of this book is: KEEP GOING! So the message of the book is STOP COMPLAINING! Just go out there and do it!
I believe anything is possible if you’re willing to put in the work. You have to take responsibility for the things in your life.
I had a very negative upbringing. All my life, I blamed my mother, blamed my sister, blamed Toledo where I grew up.
But, when I was about 50 years old, it hit me – Oh, my God! I am the one who let those things happen. It’s MY fault!
Until you take responsibility for your own happiness, you don’t stand a chance.
JOHN: What were your parents like?
LYNN RUTH: My mother looked absolutely gorgeous and she smelled SO good, which is amazing as she hardly ever bathed. Daddy I thought was the most wonderful… I thought he was a great big man but actually he was quite little.
JOHN: This book is about your life AND your comedy career…
LYNN RUTH: It’s valuable for comedians, I think. In it I have a complete comedy set and, in it, I tell you what I do to make the joke work, why I put it in the order it’s in and what I do if it’s not working. Also in there I have two tours with all the names of the contacts.
JOHN: What’s the difference between this book and your next book?
LYNN RUTH: The next book is stories of people who achieved what looked like the impossible but they just got on with it. People think they can’t have the dream that they want but they can.
I have a friend called Glenn. He didn’t go to college; he was just educated up to 18 and he got a job with the Recreation Dept in San Francisco – a low-level, shit job. But he loves theatre. He loves classical theatre. He was absolutely sure he could direct a Shakespeare play. No education. And he talked the Recreation Dept into letting him do three shows.
JOHN: Were they good?
LYNN RUTH: They were really shitty productions. And then the Recreation Dept fired him. But now he has founded his own company and it’s very successful. Or it was until COVID happened.
JOHN: So what now?
LYNN RUTH: (SHRUGS) We keep going…