Carol Leifer
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying
Quirk Books

By John Wenzel

Rating: ★★★★

Carol Leifer previously published a book of essays about her life, 2009′s When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win, so another set of anecdotes and reflections might seem beside the point.

how to succeed in business without really crying

Not so. Leifer fills her new one with the sort of concise, actionable advice usually missing from most showbiz tell-alls—and with a humility any self-help book would be lucky to have. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy is a manual for aspiring comics and young job-seekers, a brisk, level-headed tome that skips the self-aggrandizing and goes straight to the real-world wisdom.

Any one of Leifer’s achievements, from opening for Frank Sinatra and writing for Saturday Night Live to creating classic Seinfeld episodes and earning the respect of seemingly every living comedy icon, could have provided its own book-length framework. But her litany of high-profile jobs are just marbles in a bag, and her a collection rivals any out there.

Leifer came from a Long Island family of academics, but growing up Jewish with comedy-loving parents instilled an early love of performance and humor. Coming of age in the 1960s and 70s gave her opportunities that women of her parents’ generation may not have had, such as writing comedy bits for a high school talent show. “It was nice that we didn’t have to spell out some jock’s name while wearing Spandex to get noticed,” she writes. After college, Leifer embraced the challenge of New York’s male-dominated stand-up scene, using her gender to differentiate herself without exploiting her persona or her material. Not that it was easy: “I’ve had sets in rooms so quiet, a yoga class broke out,” she says, later referencing a string of misogynistic hecklers.

The book builds each of its 23 chapters around an illustrative experience. “Keep Your Sour Cream Off the Counter” underscores the importance of grace after rejection, as when she lost a gig with The Larry Sanders Show…only to get it back by maintaining a positive relationship with creator Garry Shandling. “So I Stole a Soda from Aaron Spelling” warns against making stupid mistakes during job interviews, while “Walter White’s Work Ethic” references Breaking Bad with advice about staying energetic and competitive, regardless of where you might be in your career.

Some of it’s basic common sense, but Leifer’s self-awareness, sprightly writing and high ratio of jokes to practical tips ensure How to Succeed surpasses typical Hollywood-guru territory. When she extols the virtues of Transcendental Meditation, sobriety, life-long therapy and spin classes she returns to a vital point: take care of yourself, in whatever way, because it pays off in the end.

The constant asides and parentheticals can feel like minor speed bumps, but they also help collapse the distance between writer and reader, enhancing the conversational, “We’re just talking here, right?” tone. It’s perhaps less useful to people who already have stable jobs they love (whoever those mythic creatures are) but in terms of entertainment value, her insights about the Seinfeld creative process and other rarified environments are interesting in and of themselves.

The Who’s Who of comedy legends contributing press quotes for the book continually reference Leifer’s hardworking, classy attitude. How to Succeed may seem geared toward people at the starting line of their careers, but the wisdom it sets forth has clearly kept Leifer at the top of her game.

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