The Tales of Hoffman

The Tales of Hoffman Hairspray's Jackie Hoffman does what she does best at the Public Theater's Joe's Pub — kvetches.
Jackie Hoffman
Jackie Hoffman

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If actress-comedienne-cum-cabaret-star Jackie Hoffman had been born with a tag line, it could easily have been the observation Lily Tomlin famously made in Jane Wagner’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: “People invented language because of their deep need to complain.”

And so it goes in Hoffman’s smash hit solo show The Kvetching Continues, which recently extended its run-of-Mondays at New York’s Joe’s Pub on Lafayette Street through August 2. “I’m not used to shows that run!” says Hoffman, who spent nearly a decade performing one-night gigs with the Second City troupe in Chicago prior to the native New Yorker’s return to Gotham in 1998, which landed her in various downtown nightclubs and Off Off-Broadway productions before stealing the stage—and the hearts of many Broadway cynics—as the rubber-faced, ad-libbing Prudy Pingleton (and various assorted other characters) in 2003’s Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray. “Now, here I am with this solo show, and it’s become the longest-running thing ever at Joe’s Pub! Since I’m still doing eight shows a week at Hairspray, it’s been a double-edged sword. I mean, these days I’m about ready to drop dead,” Hoffman croaks in her blunt, yet humorous manner. “Kvetching is what’s keeping me alive. ‘Cause at this point, Hairspray is so freakin’ boring. But if I left the show,” she deadpans, referring to the steady paycheck, “I swear my mother would have a fatal heart attack.”

In The Kvetching Continues, Hoffman’s mother isn’t the only one who “gets slammed,” as the performer is fond of saying. Taking swipes at her Broadway employers as well as her Jewish heritage, her gay fans, her love life, her unexpected existence on The Great White Way—and just about everything else in her cockeyed sight—the kvetching, indeed, continues in Hoffman’s scathingly funny view of the world. And while uptown producers have flirted with Hoffman about moving her show into a commercial venue, they’ve done so with requests that the Imogene Coco-esque comedienne shape her material around a more mainstream topic—“like the trials of Jewish dating,” she reports. “They want a Defending the Caveman meets I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change kind of show. You know, to appeal to the ‘Bridge & Tunnel Jews,’” Hoffman self-mocks. “However, I just don’t know if I could narrow it down to just that one topic. But who knows? I mean, before the Public Theater handed it over to the Labyrinth Theater Company for all of next year, they were going to move my show into their little Shiva space. Of course, in Yiddish,” Hoffman reminds, “Shiva means death! So, maybe it was fate.” Still, with her contract in Hairspray continuing through October, plus a featured role in John Waters’s new movie "A Dirty Shame" (scheduled for a September release), audiences—including cabaret fans—haven’t seen the last of Jackie Hoffman yet.

“I might just bring the show back in the fall,” Hoffman ponders, adding another typically wry quip, “you know, for the Rosh Hoshanna-Yom Kippur holiday rush.” —Author-actor David Drake's "The Cabaret Beat" appears in the national edition of Playbill Magazine.