Yesterday I talked to Tracy Newman, a woman in her late ’60s who walked away from a successful career as a television writer to return to her first love: music. Newman wrote for Cheers, The Nanny, The Drew Carey Show, Ellen (including the Emmy-winning “coming out” episode”). She didn’t even start in television until she was 46. Before that she was a founding member, teacher, and director at The Groundlings comedy theater in L.A., where her sister Laraine also got her start. I guess improv hones your courage, because the idea of a middle-aged woman waltzing into the man cave that is a writers room is seriously daunting. Newman fell into comedy, by the way, after her parents snatched her from the clutches of the folk music circuit and sent her to therapy. Anyway, after she and her writing partner created the ABC show According to Jim, Newman decided to cash in her chips. Now she is a full-time songwriter and singer, with a band and an album and a full schedule of gigs, and the thing that really stuck with me from our conversation is her mettle.
She told me that the biggest difference between Tracy Newman the teenage folk singer and Tracy Newman the 68-year-old folk singer is that the current model is way more confident than her younger self. Even though a person of her age, especially a relative unknown, is an anomoly on stage, and not neccessarily a welcome one. Even though people wonder and whisper and make snap judgements. Even though she has to practice a song a hundred times before she’s ready to perform it in public. Even though her memory for lyrics isn’t what it used to be. “When I went back to songwriting in my ’60s I was very, very scared. Even the ability to talk on stage, it seemed like it had all disappeared,” Newman said. “But when I got it back, I got it in a way that I never had it before. I have a freedom as a performer that I never had before. I don’t have the pressure of “Oh God, I have to make it.” What’s replaced it is that feeling, each time I go on stage, of ” This is going to be fun.”
Memo to self: This is going to be fun.