by Catherine Blanch.
Kathy Najimy is an American actor, writer, speaker, producer and voiceover artist known worldwide for her hilarious comedy. Her credits include film roles in Sister Act, Rat Race and Hocus Pocus; voiceovers in WALL-E, Cats Don’t Dance and The Jungle Book to TV roles as Peggy in the animated King Of The Hill and Olive in Veronica’s Closet. She also brought her off-Broadway stage show The Kathy And Mo Show to TV and is proud to have been named Ms Magazine’s ‘Woman Of The Year’!
It’s a late night in New York for the very down-to-earth Kathy Najimy as we speak over the phone about her first Adelaide Cabaret Festival but, being a late-night person, she doesn’t mind at all. With Lift Up Your Skirt being a world premiere, we ask if she wrote the show specifically for the Festival.
“No, it’s something I’ve have been working on for a while,” Najimy says. “I’ve done one reading of this solo show before but there are many pieces within it so I just like to keep going over it to see what works and what doesn’t before we consider bringing it to the New York Stage.
“When I got the call from Adelaide, they asked me if I had anything and I told them ‘I’m not a cabaret person, I don’t have any songs. I’m not Liza or Kristen Chenoweth. I don’t do stand-up but I have this show that I’ve been working on with stories of my life – where I tell the truth…’ and they thought that was great.
“I love Australia,” she adds, “and I’ve been there a few times for filming and publicity and other business things. My husband will also be performing at the Festival, so we started putting this show together to see what will work for you.”
Dan’s show Dan Finnerty And The Dan Band is also performing in the Festival Theatre. Will you be appearing in each other’s performances and do you help each other by being a sounding board or playing an honest audience-member-type role?
“Well, we’ve been married for 18 years and we’ve both been involved in show business that whole time,” Najimy replies. “We’re both very creative and so we read our pieces to each other over and over again to see what works and what other ideas we may have. I’m a keynote speaker so I’m forever reading my speeches to Dan and asking his thoughts if it is too long or if it sounds ok. But, we don’t perform in each other’s shows. In fact, they are polar opposites. Dan’s show is crazy, crazy comedy and mine is pieces of stories of my life that have very little music and are funny but not stand-up, slap your knee kind of thing.”
Being semi-autobiographical, is there a certain exposure that comes with telling these stories or are you just sharing the best bits and keeping the rest of it close to your heart? Although, with a name like Lift Up Your Skirt I’m guessing there’s a sense of openness that goes with it?
“I’ve always been a very upfront person,” Najimy says. “If you’ve seen any of my interviews on talk-shows and magazines throughout the years I answer every question, I don’t have any skeletons in the closet, I have nothing in my life that I’m ashamed of and I talk about it all the time, especially when doing political theatre. I did something called The Kathy And Mo Show for 25 years, which was a two-woman feminist comedy piece, so I’m not ashamed of anything.
“This piece isn’t necessarily about revealing things that nobody had any idea about,” she suggests, “but it is different than what I do when people see me as a ‘performer’. It was a personal challenge to myself to not do what I had been doing up to now and to do something completely different. I tell a lot of stories; the first one is about my 40-year relationship with Bette Midler from becoming a huge, huge stalking fan when I was 14 to playing her sister in a movie and everything in between.
“I’m not sure exactly what pieces I’m going to do in this show,” Najimy adds, “but the reason I call it Lift Up Your Skirt is because it is, despite what people may want me to do or expect me to do or think they know who I am – even who I might think I am – they’re just real true stories.”
Have you performed any of these stories elsewhere?
“I’ve done the Bette Midler story before, and one reading to maybe 30 people two years ago just in a little theatre near here,” she says. “But now I’m getting ready to do a reading of the two-hour show in August in New York so it will be in Adelaide that some of these pieces will be heard for the first time; even though this show only goes for 70 minutes so I’m going for the greatest hits [laughs].”
You said you don’t sing but you do have a musical director working with you. Will he be playing background suspense music or something?
“Good question!” Najimy chuckles. “While I was preparing the show I was starting to get bored with just the sound of my own voice, especially after doing a two-woman show for so long, so we got Brian J. Nash who is really great and very funny. He’ll play a little something, I’ll sing a couple of lines of something I was in, but there’s no big Liza Minnelli musical number happening. It’s just a little something to amuse and keep me happy and keep the show going. He’s really good at following along if I’m going off on a bit of an improv moment, but it’s great to have another being there and, in this case, the piano is his voice.”
You are a champion of women’s and girl’s rights, AIDS awareness, gay and lesbian acceptance, animal and human rights on so many levels, and you are tenacious in your proactive efforts. The accolades you have received are much deserved and it is laudable that you use your public status to help so many who don’t have a voice but need one.
“Thank you,” she replies. “The work that I am honoured to do on behalf of things that I’m passionate about is what excites me and fills my life just as much as the Blockbusters that I’m known for. I’m grateful for them both because without those movies I wouldn’t have the form or the platform to speak to millions of people about things that I believe in, but speaking about what I believe in is what I really and truly am.”
Dustin Hoffman said that doing voiceovers for animations was really hard and not as enjoyable as he had hoped. Doing as many as you have, so how to you feel about it?
“Here’s the thing. I have gone up for forty-thousand-billion commercial voiceovers and I suck at it,” Najimy says. “But when I have a character or a cartoon to do, it’s very easy. I know that I can’t sell you bacon very well, but to be a mother or a duck or an out-of-space being, that’s not difficult for me at all.
“I did the voice of Peggy on King Of The Hill for 15 years! I love animation, and here’s why: the writing is always good and they’re lots of fun to do. But what I mostly love is that there is no hair and make-up, no wardrobe, no 5am calls and no line memorising,” she laughs. “Animations are the best gig ever because you can show up in your pyjamas if you want to. But I also have a 17-year-old daughter, so those kinds of jobs allow me to stay home and be with her for the last couple of years before she goes to college.”
Najimy’s daughter, Samia, is a singer-songwriter and cabaret singer who plays guitar and piano and performs around New York. While in Adelaide you may just see her perform in The Backstage Club.
Kathy Najimy performs Life Up Your Skirt at Festival Theatre from 7.30pm on Thu Jun 19.