Celebrities, in Their Own Words for Better or for Worse, in Celebrity Autobiography

Debbie Harry.
Eugene Pack at a performance of "Celebrity Autobiography" at the Triad Theatre.
Eugene Pack at a performance of “Celebrity Autobiography” at the Triad Theatre.

By Dawn Watson

Aside from capturing the zeitgeist of modern pop culture, what exactly do Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian have in common?

It’s true that they are both famous. And they have also notably, perhaps infamously, each spent time in the Hamptons, as well as in the glare of the media spotlight.

But there’s something else that the two famous figures have in common. They are both bestselling authors. The “Baby” singer has written not one but two memoirs—“Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever: My Story,” published in 2010 and “Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started,” which followed in 2012. The ubiquitous reality television star also has a pair of books to her credit—“Kardashian Konfidential,” a 2010 group autobiography including siblings Kim and Khloe, and the 2012 novel “Dollhouse,” additionally co-authored by her sisters.

Debbie Harry.
Debbie Harry.

The books are real, and though some of the passages in them might not necessarily be examples of the finest literary prose, they are entertaining reads. At least Eugene Pack thinks so, as do many of the audience members who have seen his Drama Desk Award-winning comedy series, “Celebrity Autobiography,” which returns to Guild Hall in East Hampton with two performances on Friday, August 21.

This year’s productions of the popular staged readings will star Christie Brinkley, Brooke Shields, Debbie Harry, Susan Lucci, Ralph Macchio, Alan Zweibel, Mr. Pack and his “Celebrity” co-creator Dayle Reyfel. The autobiographies of Bieber and Kardashian, plus those of other public personalities, such as Beyoncé, Donald Trump, Tiger Woods, Miley Cyrus, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be included in the bill of fare.

The sometimes dubious content for “Celebrity” comes straight from the autobiographies, with no ad-libbing or revising necessary, says Mr. Pack.

“I have to remind audiences before and during the show that everything we perform was written in ‘their’ own words, even though it is so hard to believe,” he says. “Honestly we could not even make this stuff up if we tried.”

From the details of their love lives to what’s in their refrigerators, these memoirs are loaded with surprising information, and lots of comic gold, he adds. The long-running series, which pokes gentle fun of its inspiration, began when Mr. Pack thumbed through a copy of “Vanna Speaks,” the memoir written by Vanna White.

Christie Brinkley
Christie Brinkley

“Years ago, I came across the hardcover edition of her autobiography, and opened it up to a passage where she writes dramatically about how challenging it is to flip the panels on “Wheel of Fortune,’” he remembers. “She writes, ‘One day my belt broke on national television and I held onto the loop and I get flipping those panels.’ I thought, ‘Wow, if you just simply read material like that out loud to an audience could this be ‘found’ humor?’ And so we presented that passage, along with other unintentionally funny excerpts from various celeb memoirs, and this show was born.”

Ms. Brinkley, who will be reading from Ms. White’s memoir on Friday night, jokes that she will be able to channel the spirit of the letter-turner, especially since they’ve had similar life experiences.

“I have a lot in common with her, as I too have broken a belt,” the supermodel deadpans. “It was absolutely traumatizing.”

This will be the third “Celebrity” appearance for the Sag Harbor resident. This year she’ll be voicing the likes of Ms. Kardashian and Ms. Cyrus, she reports.

Though she hasn’t penned her own autobiography, Ms. Brinkey has written a couple of beauty books. Her bestselling 1983 effort, “Christie Brinkley’s Outdoor Beauty and Fitness Book,” could qualify for a “Celebrity” reading, she says.

“In that one, I actually dedicated a couple of pages on how to get the best tan the fastest,” she recalls, chagrin tingeing her words. “It says something like, ‘Take some baby oil, rub it on your skin, sit by the water, and just to emphasize it, splash yourself with water droplets to amplify the sun.’ Reading that now, it’s just … Oh, I’m always apologizing for that one.”

Her new book, “Timeless Beauty,” comes out in November, she says, adding that her experience working with Mr. Pack stayed in the back of her mind all the while she was writing it.

“I kept thinking, ‘What if Eugene got a hold of this,’” she says. “Hopefully this one wouldn’t be a contender.”

Ralph Macchio.
Ralph Macchio.

Mr. Macchio does not have a book of his own but he has participated in several staged versions of “Celebrity Autobiography.” The content provides fertile ground for humor, he agrees.

The Montauk resident—best known for portraying the lead role in the original “Karate Kid” film franchise, as well as for his most recent turns on television in “Dancing with the Stars” and “Entourage,” and behind the camera in “Across Grace Alley,” which screened at the Hamptons Film Festival—is quick to note though that the show “is not mean spirited,” but it is definitely hilarious.

“It’s not meant to undercut, though tongue is definitely planted firmly in cheek,” he says.

Some of the humor comes from the unintentionally funny, says Mr. Macchio. Take for instance, Ms. Cyrus’s “life lessons,” which she shared at the tender age of 16, he reports. But some of the funny stuff comes straight from the delivery, he adds, such as when rocker Tommy Lee’s words are mouthed by a “65-year-old Borsht Belt comedian” or when Barbra Streisand’s recipes, which just happen to have the word “butter” in them, are read out loud.

Of course, here in the Hamptons, there’s always the possibility that the celebrity authors whose words are being read will show up in the audience. It’s happened before, the actor says, noting that his “The Outsiders” co-star and friend, Rob Lowe” has sat through the reading of his book, “Stories I Only Tell My Friends .” But he was a good sport about it, Mr. Macchio reports.

And Ms. Shields, who will be performing on Friday night, has not only sat in the audience during the reading of her memoir, “There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me,” she’s actually read from it herself on the “Celebrity” stage.

Adding that element of surprise always makes for a good show, says Mr. Pack. It’s for that reason, and the great audiences that always come out, that he loves doing the show here in the Hamptons.

“You never know you will be in the audience,” he says.

“Celebrity Autobiography” stages at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Friday, August 21, at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets range from $40 to $75, with discounts available for Guild Hall members. For additional information, visit www.guildhall.org.