Tracy Newman is a renaissance woman. Writer, producer, singer, songwriter—she's done it all. She's also an alum and founding member of the legendary improv theater, the Groundlings...and she has an Emmy. While she may credit her prolific career to "because I'm so old," she's fresh off her sophomore album, I Just See You, with July performances in Los Angeles. We chat with the funny woman about what's on her playlist, local hangouts, comedy shows in LA and the importance of an ending.
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Time Out Los Angeles: You recently released your sophomore album. Tell us about I Just See You.
Tracy Newman: I had just gotten out of a relationship that I was in. The second album was much harder to write because it was about one relationship. Word of advice: Don’t go out with a songwriter if you want your relationship private. There was a lot of self-loathing in the writing and it’s not complimentary to myself or the guy.
Time Out Los Angeles: Tell us about your writing process. Any rituals?
Tracy Newman: You sit in front of the empty page in front of the computer and sometimes you write nothing. I'll have about 20 songs that need to be finished, and it looks like a mountain that I can't climb. Sometimes, I feel like Monk and start to correct, straighten things out so everything all has to look the same size. So, I'll go for a walk around the block, an actual block, to figure out this one sentence. It's an obsessive-compulsiveness in writers that I can't help.
Time Out Los Angeles: What are you listening to now?
Tracy Newman: I'm embarrassed to say that I listen to Jackson Brown with the same intensity that I did in the '70s. Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles—all of those people from the '60s and '70s. I also love the Kingston Trio, the most popular music group before the Beatles that brought folk music to the general public. I also listen to local songwriters that I’ve come acorss over the years—Ed Shearin, Marty Axelrod, Cynthia Carl, Eric Schwartz, Roy Zimmerman...
Time Out Los Angeles: How did you get into music and songwriting?
Tracy Newman: I was 14 years old and picked up a guitar. I could play a song because there were only two or three chords and then I would practice, practice, practice. I performed out of high school in Arizona, on street corners until my mother got me. She freaked out that I was performing on the street.
Time Out Los Angeles: You were one of the founders of the Groundlings. Where do you go to see improv in LA?
Tracy Newman: I go to the Groundlings every three to four months for every opening and I get in for free, not because I was one of the founders, but because I think I bought a seat some years ago. If you brought in a plaque, you would get your name on a seat and get in free forever. The Sunday show is almost always a great show when the up-and-coming and very hungry come on stage. Also, UCB and the Largo has a lot of cutting edge set lists. It's more formal and expensive, and you have to get there in advance.
Time Out: How have you seen comedy change in LA?
Tracy Newman: I remember when the Groundlings Theatre was three to four people and then it grew to more than 20—there would be more people in the show than in the audience. The industry wasn’t coming all the time, so we learned to rewrite. There was better improv back then. There are no endings in any sketch now. You just want to slap them and say “Work a little harder and find an ending."
Time Out Los Angeles: Any favorite comedians?
Tracy Newman: I used to catch Jim Carrey at the Comedy Store. He can do subtle work and is brilliant. Now, comedians are doing money-making movies in which they’re doing their biggest work and are more clownish, but their ability is greater than what the producers think are a sure thing. Will Farrell can also do subtle work and Melissa McCarthy, too. I’m dying to see The Heat. I’ve been watching her since the Groundlings and Gilmore Girls to being "discovered" in Bridesmaids.
Time Out Los Angeles: Any other favorite places in LA?
Tracy Newman: I like Grub for their grilled cheese and tomato soup. My band [The Reinforcements] and I rehearse at least once a week—my living room is now a rehearsal hall—and we have Malibu Fish Grill, Veggie Grill and Mr. Pizza delivered. I love the Grove; it's Disneyland for adults. It has some of the best stores and movies. Getting popcorn at the movies is my guilty pleasure.