When actor Annabelle Gurwitch was fired from an off-Broadway play by her hero, Woody Allen, she was devastated. Eating ice cream and drinking whiskey didn't help; she needed something else to pull her out of her funk. Talking to people around her - actors, comedians, even her gynecologist - she found that almost everyone had a story about getting the axe.
First, in a series of public performances, then in a book, and finally in a documentary, the Fired! stories have taken on a life of their own.
Gurwitch's advice is to talk to other people. She says 99 per cent of them will have a fired story of their own. To share yours, reach her at www.firedbyannabellegurwitch.com. Or show up at the Royal (see Indie & Rep Cinema listings, page 75), where Gurwitch will be appearing Friday (January 12) with Elvira Kurt, Scott Thompson and others to share her canned tales.
Let's start with the obvious. Was this play the first time you'd ever been fired?
Oh god, no. In this case it was the iconic-ness of Woody Allen - how much I worshipped him and how much he disliked me - that was so incredibly crushing.
Being fired is just a way of life in show business, which is why I felt like people in other fields could be inspired by the incredible resiliency of people in the entertainment industry.
How did your friends react when you asked to publicize their humiliation?
Oh my god, I had a backlog. These stories are so much fun, and I don't think anyone had ever really asked before. People were dying to do it.
The film focuses a lot more than the book on people outside the entertainment industry. When did you decide to include their stories?
It started with me asking people to perform live in these shows. The first night, audience members came up to me and asked, "Do you take stories from Wall Street? My boss is a turd." And then in the film, I really wanted to go beyond my community and talk to people who work in other industries and see what effect the downsizing I'd been reading about was having on them.
Michael Moore covered some of this territory in Downsize This! 10 years ago. What's changed since then?
Things have gotten much worse because of the laws that allow companies to declare bankruptcy and then reorganize and jettison their pension and health plans. So much of what's going on in our country has to do with what are called "legacy costs" - pension and health care.
I was surprised to see Ben Stein getting indignant about the bankruptcy issue, because he's a pretty conservative guy.
That just shows that there's a realization on everyone's part that something isn't right in our system.
I read somewhere that you now keep chocolate with you at all times.
You know who told me that? Former labour secretary Robert Reich. When the former labour secretary of the United States tells you to keep chocolate in your pocket in case you get fired, I think that's good advice.