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Jackie Hoffman: Weird and Wonderful Kvetch Extraordinaire Takes Top Billing at 54 Below

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The Victorians would have called Jackie Hoffman an Original and rightly so. Her unflinching outsider insights highlight everyone's foibles, especially her own. Jackie has worked her way up to stardom the hard way -- by persistently and insistently being herself. When I told her I think she is the funniest woman in New York and maybe the entire world, she replied, "You don't get out much, do you?

Jackie, one of four children, grew up grew up in Bayside, Queens in an observant Jewish household. "My mother specialized in feeding people and her children went through every pro- and anti- Jewish stage from being protesting hippy freaks to becoming Lubavitcher Hasidism." The family's move to Great Neck when Jackie was in her teens supplied the foundation for her kvetching career. "The girls there were nasty and much thinner than me." Actually no one was aware of her talent until she was cast as a stripper in the high school production of Gypsy, "I wouldn't wear a bikini, so they electrified me and lit up my bra."

Jackie attended NYU as an undergraduate drama major, a choice which horrified her mother. Her transformation into today's Jackie began at Chicago's Second City, "where I learned to harness my inner kvetch and made friends with Amy and David Sedaris who later wrote parts for me in their plays."

Returning to Manhattan in 1993, Jackie performed mini-monologues in gay-friendly dives where she shared the stage with drag queens. "My stage persona was dark and hateful and angry but gay audiences accepted me as an outrageous, blunt, mean but funny, nervous Jewish female who talked about what happened in her life. I really love gay guys. They always know what will be hot in fashion and comedy."

Off-Broadway roles preceded her debut as a solo artist: Fifty Minutes of Pure Hatred was performed at Don't Tell Mama, the popular 46th Street venue where everybody who is and isn't anybody got their start and sometimes their finish. Mick Napier, a Chicago director, helped Jackie hone her inner kvetch. "He made sure the audience got a full 55 minutes worth of my feelings about children, cats, people with children and cats, etc., plus phrases you'd never hear me say like 'Do you need someone to drive you to the hospital?'"

She finally attracted straight reviewers with The Kvetching Continues at Joe's pub which received raves as did her follow up solo comedy stints -- Jackie's Valentines Day Massacre and Jackie with a Z. Last year at the New World Stages, Jackie's A Chanukah Charol cloned Patrick Stewart's Ebenezer Scrooge, and supplied her with a close-to-Broadway Off-Broadway theater entirely to herself.

After winning an Obie for her performance in The Book of Liz she was cast in Hairspray. How did she feel about being in a big Broadway's hit? "They got me to play three characters for one salary." Next came a semi-lead in a Broadway semi-hit, Xanadu which got her great reviews and not a single Tony nomination. "Don't think I missed it." As for playing Grandma in Broadway's Addams Family, "I was the only person in the cast who didn't have a song." She's been featured in Kissing Jessica Stein, Mo Money, Garden State and Legally Blonde II, and in an uproarious cameo in Curb your Enthusiasm as an unattractive woman palming herself off as beauty to a blind, blind date. This year, she brought her solo show to LA and she'll be playing Matron "Mama" Morton" as a skinny Sophie Tucker for two weeks in St. Louis.

Although much of Jackie's material deals with her not getting work or sex, her shows usually sell out, and she's -- gasp! -- happily married to a "delish" husband, Steven Smyth, a musician she met at Birdland and married in Manhattan's Actors Temple in a ceremony that was "as Jewish as we could make it considering he's a goy."

So what's new to kvetch about at 54 Below? For starters, "the owners keep saying that Patti LuPone inaugurated the club on June 5th when I actually performed there on June 3rd. The owners won't make it official, but we deflowered the room. There's a lot of new, special stuff in my new show, including a number about how happy I am to be working in the basement, along with a reel history of how Club 54 turned into 54 Below. I even sing a cover of a disco hit, and there's a Broadway medley, Jackie-style. I'm going back to my roots, trying to be nothing else but incredibly funny and miserable."

How's her mother taking her success? "She keeps asking, "Is that a job? Are you getting paid?"

Jackie Hoffman will be appearing at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights June 15, July 8 , July 15, July 22, July 29th at 54 Below, 254 W. 54th Street.