If you call award-winning actress and comedian Jackie Hoffman a kvetch, she doesn't mind. After all, she made it the title of her longest-running show.
"'The Kvetching Continues' … just made for a catchy title and it was the truth. A lot of my style is very angry, complaining, bitching, moaning about stuff, and in a very unique way, but in a very Jewish way," she said.
And it's a style that her fans enjoy, judging by the following she's amassed from her one-woman shows and work in TV (HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and FX's "Starved"), film ("Kissing Jessica Stein"). But Hoffman may be best known now as one of the original stars of the hit Broadway show "Hairspray," for which she played not one, but three roles – Prudy Pingleton, the high school gym teacher and a prison matron – and won a Theatre World award. Her most recent work include "Chanukah at Joe's Pub," one of her trademark cabaret shows, and "JAP: Princesses of Comedy," where she joined three other Jewish female comedians to honor their predecessors in the industry.
"We each did our own set for about 20 minutes, and then at the same time we were paying tribute to really old comics. Not old in age, but older of a yesteryear kind of feel, like Totie Fields and Belle Barth and a couple of people I had never heard of who were great. And we were showing footage of their acts, what they used to do. You know, they were really pioneers in the world of female stand-up comedy since nobody was doing what they were doing," she said.
A native New Yorker who was educated in both a yeshiva and public schools, Hoffman honed her skills at New York University's renowned drama program and the famed Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, where she worked with many future "Saturday Night Live" stars like Chris Farley. She called her eight years with the troupe "invaluable" to her career as a performer.
"I think you get really such a hard workout and you do something there that you don't really do anywhere else. It's pretty unique. There are improv places sprouting up all over the place, but there you would get to develop your own show, do improvisation, and you would be sharpening your skills doing other people's material as well," she said.
Though her dream of hosting a "Carol Burnett Show" type of program hasn't come to fruition yet, Hoffman stays busy with voiceover work, guest spots on TV shows and her off-Broadway cabaret performances. She is currently partnering with musician Julian Fleischer to produce a new show in New York, and as always, music will play a starring role.
"Music has always been a big part [of my shows.] One of my favorite things is to do is write lyrics and original songs, and that's what makes my shows unique. I'm doing my monologues, but I'm also doing original songs, and they're really funny songs. They're not parodies of songs. But that's what I'd do at Second City. I'd always be the one in the cast who'd write the original song, and it's always been just something I liked to do.
"I find it much easier to write songs than to write monologues. It just comes from experiences I've had. It'll either be about medication or flying, or like the last show had a song for people who think they're Buddhists but they're really Jewish," she said.