the Losers Get Lucky Sometimes
Books of Style
By LIESL SCHILLINGER
Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized and Dismissed
By Annabelle Gurwitch.
238 pp., Touchstone. $19.95.
OF THE ODDBALLS: AND OTHER TRUE STORIES FROM A LIFE
UNACCORDING TO PLAN
By Hillary Carlip.
288 pp., HarperCollins. $13.95.
actress and writer Annabelle Gurwitch has done much
to get a laugh. She ate a sandwich while topless on
HBO, hiccupped for five minutes straight while hopping
on one leg on a sitcom, did a television commercial
with Carrot Top and currently is being upstaged by
a sheep dog in a Disney film remake. But her star
comic turn came by accident when she was fired in
2003 by Woody Allen, her idol, from "Writer's
Block," his pair of one-act comedies. He told
her, "What you're doing is terrible, none of
it good, all of it bad, don't ever do that again."
He added, "You look retarded."
Upon telling this tale of woe to her pals in show
business, Ms. Gurwitch learned that there was dramatic
gold in the pink slip. She found out that Illeana
Douglas had been judged incompetent to work at a coat
check counter, that Bob Saget had discovered his spot
on a CBS morning show was gone when he arrived at
work to find his chair had been removed, and that
Rainn Wilson, who plays the creepy Dwight on "The
Office," was once canned by a boss who told him
he wanted an employee who would say, "How high?"
when ordered to "Jump!" This was at an organization
for sufferers of multiple sclerosis, many of whom
traversed the building in motorized chairs that did
not have a "jump" feature.
Ms. Gurwitch created a series of literary events for
the stage and for National Public Radio to present
her growing supply of hard-luck stories. The pick
of the kicked have been gathered in "Fired! Tales
of the Canned, Canceled Downsized and Dismissed,"
and are interspersed with scathing factoids about
They include, "Increased risk of heart attack
faced by employer firing an employee in the week after
giving the ax: 100 percent." The book shows that
sometimes the best revenge is losing well. A documentary
based on the book just played at the Aspen Comedy
Festival, and Ms. Gurwitch is seeking new stories
on firedbyannabellegurwitch.com, her Web site where
she reassures the joblorn, "Someone more clever
than I said, 'It's not the bounce that counts, it's
the bounce back.' "
Carlip is one of the collection's lucky losers. As
a teenager in Los Angeles in the 70's, she lost her
job as a fire eater at a Sunset Strip nightclub. In
a letter to her boss (included in "Fired!")
she writes, "Look, I've been eating fire for
over a year now, and I have never had a problem."
Swigging kerosene and expelling it into a flaming
torch, creating a "crowd-pleasing ball of fire,"
were second nature to her, she explained.
Was it her fault if some moron had turned on the ceiling
fan, "causing the fireball that I blew toward
the audience to be blown right back into my face?"
Excuses, excuses. She apologized to the audience and
found other work.
her appealing memoir, "Queen of the Oddballs:
And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to
Plan," Ms. Carlip revisits some of these jobs.
Her curriculum vitae reads like a Cliffs Notes version
of American popular culture, 1965 to present: volunteer
for the McGovern presidential campaign; juggling coach
to J. J. Walker ("Dy-no-mite"), winning
contestant on "The Gong Show," singing telegram
deliverer ("at least I'm not waitressing"),
dancer in Olivia Newton-John's "Xanadu,"
band member in "Angel and the Reruns" (they
played in the Tom Hanks film "Bachelor Party")
and author of "Girl Power: Young Women Speak
Out," a youth empowerment book that made it onto
Although Ms. Carlip herself did not appear onstage,
she did get a "white ceramic coffee mug signed
'Thanks, Oprah' in teal glaze." And then she
created a Web site for essays, FreshYarn.com, where
women (and men) of all ages write.
At age 8, Ms. Carlip writes, "I took on different
personas the way other kids tried on clothes."
She took the same mix-and-match approach to careers;
and since Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman) declares this
history "mandatory reading for anybody contemplating
fabulousness," maybe a steady job, at least one
in fire eating, was never such a good idea in the