My long shot

I’ve been debating whether or not I wanted to publish this piece, after it didn’t make it to the first issue of Longshot (don’t click on that, I’m not in there). But why be doubtful? I knew what I was getting myself into. So here it is, with no explanations. Because you wouldn’t have gotten any.

Valerie delivers her version

The last time we heard of Valerie Cherish was in the summer of 2005, and if someone didn’t hear of her back then it’s because, well, very few people did. Getting in touch with her wasn’t easy, but all the strings I pulled brought me to a Starbucks in Hollywood, early on a mid-August morning. So early that the only people around were a few crazy students and the more annoying of the Gilmore girls, hiding behind large sunglasses. Valerie wakes up early every day, because leading a good life requires discipline, even when you’re not in the showbiz anymore. Not that she has any regrets, of course.

Ms. Cherish, let’s go back to the summer of 2005.

It’s Valerie, darling, and … do we have to? (She never stops smiling.)

That’s when HBO aired a show about you. What made you agree to it?

Well, darling, if your own show fails, the next best thing is to have someone else play you, isn’t it?

I wouldn’t know.

Well, it is. I already had my shot: a new sitcom, a reality show, but things didn’t turn out quite as nicely as I had planned.

What happened?

The sitcom was a disaster. It was terrible, although I did have a decent part—not a leading role, but certainly not the obnoxious sidekick role HBO made it out to be. And I didn’t have all those issues with the writers. Obviously, everyone loved me, and I loved them. But comedy needs exaggeration, hyperbole, and that’s what makes it fun.

What about the reality show?

That never really happened. Once the network pulled the plug on the sitcom, the reality show followed. Nine months’ worth of footage down the toilet. I’m not blaming the network: no sitcom, no actress, no reality. Can you imagine? Following a housewife in her daily routine? Talk about a snoozer!

Isn’t that what people want? The routine, the voyeurism?

Well, darling, let me tell you: I’m not as oblivious as I was depicted in the HBO show. I know when the audience is ready to move on, and I never held it against them. I had been off the screen for thirteen years, and I wasn’t going to risk my family’s stability for a primetime spot. This Valerie Cherish is not that Valerie Cherish.

So how do you feel about that Valerie Cherish?

I loved her. When I was approached by no other than Lisa Kudrow—you know, she had just ended a ten-year run on Friends, and no one was a bigger fan than I—I was ecstatic. I was thrilled to have her play me on screen; it was a chance to really put my name out there again.

You liked the idea of a mock reality show?

At first I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Lisa had seen some of the original footage and thought the whole thing was interesting. This is how she came up with the idea of producing a fictional version of this rough cut, which would become more realistic, more crude and ultimately funnier than an actual reality show.

More realistic than a reality show? Can you explain that?

Well, darling, let’s not get fooled by words. There is so much going on before the show gets aired that what people see is only what the producers want them to see. The raw footage shows how hard it can be to follow the rules, and how unscripted life is often tougher to pull off than reading off a script. Being personally involved, I had failed to see the comedic potential in all that. Really, once the whole thing was over, I said, “I don’t wanna see that anymore!” Which is also why I was glad someone else was going to play the character.

(She laughs at herself doing a good impression of Kudrow’s key line in the show. At this point, I can barely tell who’s playing whom, and I realize how close to the original Kudrow’s rendition of Valerie was.)

Was it ultimately funnier than a reality show?

Well, I loved it. (Her smile reminds me strikingly of the fake smiles in Kudrow’s performance.)

Did you really?

Alright, at first I hated it. It was like having all my worst qualities picked out, magnified a thousand times and put out there for all to see.

Isn’t that the purpose of a reality show? To entertain at the expense of the subject?

Perhaps. But I felt this was caricature, until I realized Lisa wasn’t mocking me; she was picking up on those elements that would make it comic.

Why did the show fail then?

I prefer to think it was only ahead of its time.

But television had already experimented with this sorts of things. I’m thinking about Curb Your Enthusiasm, or even Arrested Development.|

True, but this show added complexity, a different kind of subtlety that not many people appreciated, and being in the summer schedule didn’t help it either. I don’t want to think it’s because of the character. With all due respect, I don’t want to think I’m less likable than Larry David.

What do you think your contribution to comedy is, as an actress and as a character?

I think the best sitcoms of the nineties owe a lot to what we did just a few years before. You know, we showed that sexy, smart and funny can play well together. I think my character as played by Lisa puts the whole comic process into perspective. Comedy can rise from the most unlikely situations. If you want an easy laugh and lose this perspective, you lose the sense of the show. And I’m afraid that is what might have happened there. My hope is to see it on the air again in a few years, maybe in primetime, and finally see it succeed they way it deserves to.

Valerie, thank you very much. You can say it now.

This is my comeback. Wait—let me say that again.