A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing actor and comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus speak at the WorkHuman conference in Phoenix. She was interviewed by Michelle Gielan, a former news journalist turned positive psychology researcher. As Louis-Dreyfus settled in for the interview, her trademark wit surfaced: “Huh. Happiness researcher. I just can’t get enough of that. What does a happiness researcher do?”
And then she immediately apologized. “Sorry, that probably came off as more rude than I intended . . .” Gielan was unfazed, as was the audience. After all, this is a woman who has made a career portraying wacky characters who we find oddly endearing. Not all actors could toss off a comment in such a manner and walk away unscathed. But we give Louis-Dreyfus a pass, because we relate to her. Who among us hasn’t offered up an unedited comment, only to realize, uh-oh, that sounded better in my head than it did out loud?
It’s this relatable quality that has served Louis-Dreyfus well in a three-decade career that includes over two dozen awards for her comedic prowess. True comedians can make us laugh at ourselves, even when they point out uncomfortable truths. The skill of this is that their humor comes from kindness, not meanness. Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, says of comedy, “If you do it in the right way, you can say anything to anybody because they know where you’re coming from. They know it’s not malicious.” And Louis-Dreyfus, while edgy, is definitely not mean.
Louis-Dreyfus staying power seems to hinge on the ability to be a mega-star who leads us to think we can still hang with her. Who among us couldn’t identify with the images of a proud mom a cheering on her son at Northwestern University’s appearance in the NCAA Big Ten tournament?
In this Rolling Stones piece, Louis-Dreyfus says, “I think likability is really overrated. I’ve played a lot of badly behaved people.” Even though her humor has an edge to it, Louis-Dreyfus clearly has a decent streak, and that came through during her talk at the WorkHuman conference. She was funny onstage. And gracious behind the scenes, as well.
As this photo attests, Julia Louis-Dreyfus insisted on shaking everyone’s hand, in a meet-and-greet line that could not have been much fun. (Well, it was loads of fun for us. Not sure how she felt about it.)
I have read that when people meet a celebrity, they are often disappointed. Sometimes the hype doesn’t live up to the fans’ expectations. Thankfully, that was not my experience. I’ve always enjoyed Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ work, and it’s nice to know that a really decent human being is the driving force behind one of our time’s most celebrated female comedians.
Want more on my coverage of Julia Louis-Dreyfus? See my HuffPost piece, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Still Relatable After All These Years.
Images: courtesy of Globoforce, Pam Ross