Actors, co-writers, and spouses Jeff Kahn and Annabelle Gurwitch believe that, above all, make room for laughter in a relationship. Digging deep into their own relationship, ‘You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up’ is a unique, honest, and at times, no holds barred look at finding love and what to do next. Based on the successful book, ‘You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story,’ this lively and heartfelt production continues at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts through Sunday, May 22. Click here for more information and for tickets!
Emmy award-winning writer, producer, actor, and playwright Jeff Kahn is currently in the CW show, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ and Annabelle Gurwitch’s latest book is The New York Times Bestseller, ‘I See You’ve Made an Effort.’ Jeff discusses what game show kick started his career, an anniversary dinner, and what big projects he and his wife are planning in the near future.
Jeanne Denizard: You wrote the MTV game show, ‘Remote Control’ and Annabelle is known for TBS’s ‘Dinner and a Movie.’ They were both great shows.
Jeff Kahn: I wrote ‘Remote Control,’ Ken Ober was the star, and Colin Quinn was an amazing sidekick. MTV aired the special and they were looking for stuff for me and asked if I wanted to write some cold openings and get on staff and agreed. The show was fun and clever, so I did that for a little while. I knew the host, Ken Ober too. He beat me in a stand up contest once. He was very gracious about his victory and I always liked that about him.
MTV started in 1979 or 1980 and ‘Remote Control’ debuted at the beginning of MTV’s transformation from an all music and music news channel to doing scripted programming. Ben Stiller and I got our first sketch comedy show soon after that so I left the show to start working on that.
TBS’s ‘Dinner and a Movie’ was on for a really long time and was a big part of our marriage and relationship. I loved it too and I loved Annabelle in it.
JD: How did you both decide what topics you were going to handle in for the book and the show?
JK: We are both extroverted, narcissistic personalities. We’re very honest, revealing, and open people with our foibles, faults, troubles, and personality quirks. That’s usually what makes things funny. Everybody is insecure and longing for love and acceptance, trying to understand what makes a good marriage. What does it take and why is it so difficult? There are personality differences, chores, and domestic squabbles. Anybody who is trying to prolong any type of a long term, romantic, marital gravitation can see how difficult it can be. We want the show to reflect the honesty in the book and feel like it was a good, personal, and relatable story.
JD: What sets this show apart from other similar shows?
JK: We definitely have different points of view. For a dual biography in a comedy or drama, you need two people who are both right at the same time. That is where the conflict and the humor lie. Trying to find common ground is how people relate to each other based on who they are, what they believe in, and how they interpret romance. It’s less of a psychological biography, but more about commitment, forging a life together, and trying to keep the spark alive after years being together. It has a lot of heart.
It takes place at the 10th anniversary dinner and we used to joke that, like a TV show, our marriage has been renewed for another year. We haven’t been cancelled yet. An anniversary can be really sweet, fun, and I always try to do something nice on our anniversaries. I take her away, have a party, or take her to a nice dinner and surprise her. After a year, it is not quite the time to reevaluate everything and you get to celebrate. When you get to the 10th anniversary, it’s a decade! It’s an easy place to ask where we stand, where we are going, and where have we been.
JD: With live performances, there can be a lot of surprises. For example, people might laugh in unexpected places. What was it like for you two?
JK: The show reiterated what I thought was funny and made it clear the audience likes what we like. I was amazed how well we performed together onstage and it was the first time we had done anything like that. We were a really good couple onstage. We did the play together for awhile and did all the things we are supposed to do in marriage like listen to each other, let each other finish their sentences, and have compassion for each other. Onstage we are an amazing couple. However, offstage is where the drama happens.
JD: Your career has been fantastic. You are an actor, a playwright, and you’ve received awards. What kind of projects are you working on now? It seems like it could be anything.
JK: Annabelle just wrote a book that came out a year and a half ago about turning 50 called, ‘I See You Made an Effort.’ It focuses on what it is to be a woman in our society as well as society and aging. It’s based on her experiences. She also just wrote another book about families. She has created herself as a sort of Nora Ephron-type of writer and I’m very proud of her and what she has done with that. It’s no easy feat. She went from a full time actress to a full time writer.
I have a tiny part on the CW comedy, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.’ I am currently writing pilots and teaching pilot writing. I’m hoping to go back to college and get my MFA in Creative Writing so I can write more fiction prose and get credentials to teach at a higher level. No better experience than being out there and working like I have publishing a book and a play, selling screenplays, producing TV shows, writing and getting pilot deals back in the 90s. I’ve worked on talk shows and I have a lot to impart to the kids these days and love working with them.
My latest project is I am writing a half hour, cable comedy pilot with a former student. It’s kind of a comedy but there is more to it. ‘Cured’ is about a woman in her 20s who survives what she thinks is a terminal battle with cancer and now she has to decide what she is going to do with her life. The young woman who I am writing with is my former student. She had breast cancer at a very young age and survived. So we are very much dealing with her experience.
JD: That is tough, but I am glad she is able to put it into writing. It must be therapeutic.
JK: She always had a sense of humor and blogged about it. She thought her life was going to be one thing and now it has turned into something else. That is a very 20 something moment of reckoning and she questions everything now.
‘You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up’ continues through Sunday, May 22 at Regent Theatre, 7 Medford Street in Arlington, Massachusetts. Call the box office at 781-646-4849 or click here for tickets! The Regent Theatre is celebrating its centennial year with “Regent Theatre Centennial Gala,” a tremendous night of comedy, music, and more on Sunday, April 24 at 7 p.m. Click here for tickets!