Cheryl Hines


Keys to a successful improvised show:
Using the word vagina every three episodes

Cheryl Hines is a fast talker. She’s no-nonsense. She’s funny, which in her case can’t be overstated. And she is sharp. Mostly, however, Cheryl Hines is a huge relief. In nearly all of her roles thus far—whether as Larry David’s wife on the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, or opposite Robin Williams in the movie RV, audiences hold their breath while her male counterparts teeter precariously between being funny and painful. In these often claustrophobic scenes, Hines is always the oxygen, allowing the audience small intakes of air to get us through until the end. Yet it would be unfair to strictly assign Hines to the role of comedic caretaker. Beneath her benevolent veneer is a devious side, which is what makes her humor all the more dangerous—we trust her and will follow her anywhere. Her improvised reactions on Curb Your Enthusiasm are nuanced to the point where she has invented an entire language consisting of various head-shakes, grimaces, smiles, and only one word—Larry. The fact that Larry means something new nearly each time it’s uttered by Hines is testament not only to her generosity as an improvisational performer—she gives her fellow actors a wide berth—but also to the fact that her comedy is efficient, expansive, and perfectly timed.

Cheryl Hines will appear in two upcoming films, Waitress and The Grand. And she will return for a sixth and final season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I had the pleasure of speaking with Cheryl by phone while she was on the set of Campus Ladies, a show she produces for the Oxygen Network.

—Carrie Brownstein


CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: Why do you think the more successful female comedic actors aren’t eighteen years old or even really twenty-five, as opposed to other genres or parts of the industry, where youth is golden?

CHERYL HINES: I think for a few reasons. I think people in general are more interested in seeing women as pretty and younger. And, whether consciously or subconsciously, women are brought up to be concerned about looks and how people perceive them and wanting to be liked and taking care of people. That doesn’t really describe a comedian at all.

When someone stops worrying about what people think about them and just does their own thing, does what they think is funny, that’s when other people notice that they’re funny. But the problem is that if you look at a lot of shows and movies, roles aren’t really written to be funny for women. So, it’s a bit of a catch-22. Its like, well, then women should really be writing more stuff for women—although that’s too bad because then it’s like, “Oh! A big women’s movement!”

CB: Then it becomes kind of ghettoized.

CH: I know. It’s tricky. I do think that women are judged more on what they look like, as opposed to what they have to offer. And I don’t know how to change that. It is what it is. You know what I mean?

CB: It also seems true with male comedians. Comedians in some ways have become the truth-tellers in our society. You have Jon Stewart: “The most trusted name in news.” You aren’t going to trust a young comedian who hasn’t lived through enough to tell you how it is.

CH: Although you would believe that more from a twenty-five-year-old not-so-good-looking guy. I’m sure guys—really attractive guys—have a harder time in comedy too.

CB: No one believes that they have had any problems.

CH: Yeah. Like, “How hard can your life be? Women want to sleep with you. Ha, ha.” But it’s like that for women too. People see a good-looking young guy as a good-looking young guy first, before they’d say he might be funny. Its like, “Oh, I bet he’s not.” [Laughter] Then you have to try to convince people that you’re funny, and that’s always a joyful task.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Carrie Brownstein is a musician and writer living in Portland, Oregon.

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