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Take Your Shirt Off and Cry: A Memoir of Near-Fame Experiences

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Nancy Balbirer

Starred Review. This funny, bravura memoir describes life as a young actress, and all the "head-banging frustration, demoralizing options, and bewildering compromises" that come with it. Balbirer begins with her time as an undergrad at New York University, … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Nancy Balbirer
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
1 review about Take Your Shirt Off and Cry: A Memoir of...

Artistic Passion, Hollywood, Fame, Psychics, Mud and More

  • Jul 22, 2009
In Take Your Shirt Off and Cry, Nancy Balbirer gives us a tour of her acting days, from studying with David Mamet, auditioning for Saturday Night Live with her Debra Winger impersonation, guest starring on Seinfeld, and rooming with a pre-fame Jennifer Aniston. She could be bitter about many things, from Aniston nixing her from a guest spot on Friends to waiting two days in a Chicago hotel room to audition for Lorne Michaels (it never happens) to not "making it" in the way she'd hoped, but instead of bitter, she can laugh at herself, and her former profession. Balbirer distills the comic relief in her years of off-off Broadway shows, her father's bemused response to said shows, and the pretentiousness with which she, and her peers, took their roles.

Balbirer's romantic relapses also have a starring role here, notably her attempts to just be friends with Ned, her acting coach. Out of all the people she portrays, including her dismissive father and drama-loving mother, Ned is the one who is the most "a character," the one who you want to physically drag her away from, the one who always says seemingly the opposite of what he means. He's the perpetually clueless guy who really just wants to get in her pants but pretends otherwise. They even split up and don't speak for years and wind up back together, and Balbirer, and the reader, want to think he's changed, but he hasn't.

Balbier's descriptions of her family are heartwarming, at least, will be to anyone who doesn't come from a picture-perfect one. When a producer tells her to change her one-woman show into a version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, she muses: "My family popped into my head. I saw us all together at Christmas, the one time a year when everyone got together. I saw everyone as usual barely able to contain their contempt for one another, trading obligatory gifts, insults, and hostile remarks while pill-popping downers or tossing back drink after drink to numb out." (It gets worse from there├Žor, for the reader, better.)

Balbirer's character studies reveal as much about her as they do about the LA entertainment types she meets. In "Take Fountain," she befriends a woman who many, including the author, see as a has-been, a woman past her prime who, even when she gets a part on Broadway, winds up returning to near-obscurity. Yet Gigi, with her perennially positive attitude, is a powerful presence, one who teaches not by what she says so much as what she doesn't.

In some ways, when Balbirer meets her husband, it has a sort of fairy tale ending. After so many losers, here's her knight. Yet the real story here is deeper. Balbirer constantly looks back at who she was, and, perhaps is. "The girl with the hair in her face," as she sees herself in a photo in the New York Times.

This book is definitely about acting, about Hollywood, about fame, but it's also about art, passion, and love. And psychics. And, yes, Jennifer Aniston. It works if you just want to read for the celebrity tidbits, but it works much better when you look at a little closer. Balbirer celebrates herself at the end not for her success or failures, but for forging ahead not knowing what the future would bring her. Worth a read whatever your artistic passions for Balbirer's humor and insights into herself, LA, "meetings," and the fact that fame may not be all it's cracked up to be.

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