Between the Lines: An Interview Series with Kelly Corrigan

Lesson 13/16 - Mayim Bialik


Between the Lines: An Interview Series with Kelly Corrigan


Lesson Info

Mayim Bialik

(funky upbeat music) Hey, I'm so happy to meet you. Hi. Thanks for having me. And I'm really grateful to you because I have two teenage girls who are learning a lot from your book. Good. Yeah including like where the clitoris is which was the page I opened to was an incredible line drawing. A section that we almost forgot to include. Like everybody before you. Yes. Like generations of people have forgotten to include that information. So we're really thinking hard about story telling and you made this huge strategic decision to, instead of kind of laying this all out like a pamphlet, instead you chose to share a whole bunch of personal stuff in the form of stories, and I wonder how you came to that? Was it always obvious to you that that was what was required? I think that the decision to weave my own stories through what otherwise is a pretty clinical text in a lot of ways, it came because of what I wanted the book not to be. And I didn't want it to be dry and clin...

ical and I mainly didn't want to sound like a scolding parent. Because most of us have scolding parents already, or sort of a scolding authority figure. And the idea was that if I shared actual things that I have experienced, it would show that I've lived through this, in a way that I'm not afraid to share about, and especially because my experience was not particularly successful. Meaning I was a very late bloomer, I looked different, I acted different, I had different interests, even as a woman I don't fit in a lot of times. So that was an important part of the story to tell specifically. And you could have positioned yourself I mean what you positioned yourself as is a former girl. But you could've positioned yourself as like a neuroscientist. Don't you have a PhD from UCLA in neuroscience? I do, they put that on the cover and everything. So that's sort of stunning and you could've taken that angle, but you didn't. Well I think that that kind of adult voice isn't always the warmest. I come from a religious and ethnic tradition where we tell stories to teach you know? So for me that's a natural way to teach and to write as well. And I was a scientist, I trained for almost 13 years to get my undergraduate and then my graduate degree and finish my thesis. And there's really not a lot of room for story telling then. You're a clinical researcher and that's what you do. So for me to be able to weave some of my more theatrical and writing skills with my science training was very gratifying and I think ultimately it tells a better story for this book. In particular the chapter on coping was one where it was very difficult to share the things that I did. But I feel like it gave the chapter more legitimacy. Tell us about something you share that was really hard. It was hard to talk about the series of losses that I experienced in a very short time. The loss of my marriage, because I got divorced. I was in a very significant car accident after that, I moved, which is a huge stressor. My brother-in-law died, then my father died three months later, and I lost my cat of 12 years. Which, you know, although it's not a human, this all happened, really I had kind of like four years of that. So I think that it was important to lay it all out but it's embarrassing, in the way that a lot of us are embarrassed to share those intimate parts of ourselves. I think especially being a celebrity and a person that, who I know people are gonna read the book and say like, "Oh, she's on The Big Bang Theory, her life is perfect." But the purpose of that chapter was really to show every human being experiences things and every human has different capacity for coping emotionally with things and losing a pet can be very devastating. Well especially if it's thing seven. Sure, right. But I wanted to give young girls also the ability to say "It's okay to have my feelings, I'm not crazy." Especially, we hear those terms thrown around a lot about girls, about grown women. Yes, yes. So all these lessons are important as early as possible. Who is the best story-teller you know? I know you grew up around a lot of great story-tellers. (laughs) You know, my parents are first-generation Americans so- Where do they come from? My grandparents are Eastern European immigrants, so I come from a long line of non-English speaking story-tellers. Uh-huh. And I like to say there's two kinds of story-tellers in my family. There's people who are like, Jackie Mason level, like fantastic story-tellers or there's people who cannot tell a story but just keep trying, over and over. But my dad was a great story-teller and my cousins, born before me, remember some of the they were mainly old Eastern European tales. He created characters and it's something that my cousins remember. Did he do voices? Oh, he did voices, these characters, it was crazy, like really, really fun stories. So I really remember seeing, my Aunt Mary is a killer story-teller, from a big Irish-Catholic family, and I remember seeing her take over a room. And there's a lot of Corrigans and they're all really loud and half of them are bombed. And so to get everybody to be quiet and to hang on her, I just thought was the most most astonishing thing. Do you remember thinking that is such a cool trick, I wanna be able to do that? It's funny because both of my parents were very attractive and very charming and they were like the life of every party. And I think for my brother and I, we both grew up with like, oh my gosh, we were raised by these gorgeous, charming, amazing people. I always knew that my dad's power in story-telling was his charm and his charisma. Not his attractiveness, although he was kind of striking, but his ability to hold a room. And I do public speaking, which is often 900 people, sometimes more, and to hold all of that energy, it's a very interesting way to then tell your story, especially when you have such a large audience. And story-telling has to change, depending on your audience depending on the feedback. Especially as a parent of children, you have to know when people are done hearing your story. Right, right, right. Or when you've lost them. Correct. I did some teaching last summer, high school students, and I thought it was the most challenging thing I've ever done. Because at any given moment, she's tuning in and he's tuning out and her cellphone just buzzed and her head's nodding, and he's lost and she's way ahead. You really have to be super tuned in to your audience. Have you done a lot of theater? No, I have not. So your real live feedback is around these speeches and now you'll do readings. Honestly Big Bang Theory is one of the last shows filmed in front of a live studio audience, so it kind of is theater that you get to repeat until something's right. There's a lot of feedback from our audience which is why Chuck Lorre believes in it so strongly. And Jim Parsons and I especially with a lot of our scenes and episodes and our season finale where he proposes, that was one take in front of a live studio audience, and a lot of it- I just got chills, that's cool. Yeah we don't know how they're gonna react, meaning of course they're gonna be excited but what does that mean? Does it mean they're gonna clap? Does it mean they're gonna laugh? Are they gonna gasp? So all that stuff, you have to leave room for that. But it also refines your story-telling. Sure. Because, how long have you been on the show? Seven years. Right, and how many episodes a season? 26? Right, so hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of moments of feedback have gotta make it such that when you're writing a story, you can feel the rises and the falls, would you say that? I don't even think about it like that. I've been a writer since before I was an actor. My parents were both English teachers. Pre-Blossom? Yeah, my parents- Can I give you a little fist bump on Blossom? (laughs) My parents were both English teachers. And I was raised believing I would be an English teacher or a writer. I didn't start on Blossom until I was in high school. I was 14, so I was a freshman in high school. But I had been a writer long before that. So I never really connected it. Do you feel like one affects the other? No, when I wrote this book, I wrote it as a scientist and a human. Uh-huh. Some of my stories were about acting. And kind of the origin of the book was based on some of my writing. But there isn't like something you learn as a story-teller in that venue that finds its way ... For me, no, they're very different. I mean, except needing to strip away your ego. Say more about that. Yeah you have to be fearless when you're giving yourself, especially when you're sharing personal things about yourself, or when you're writing autobiographically or this kind of style. But you also have to be very aware that there is an editor who is your partner in this. And I was incredibly grateful to Jill Santopolo for a, asking me to write this book and b, for being such a great partner because there were a lot of hard decisions that we had to make, I mean some of our email chains were absurd, mainly around female anatomy and which pictures should have what. But really, this was not something done in solitude. What can't you do on the page that you would really like to be able to? What eludes you as a writer right now? Well my sense of humor sometimes works on paper but I realized when I did the audio version of this book, which I've never done before for any of the books that I've written. It's a weird experience, right? Well because the flavor of your personality comes out in a different way. And sometimes it's very useful to be able to use an inflection in your voice. Or a pause, I think it's like cheating almost. No and you can't use ellipses all the time when you're writing, you're not allowed to do that. But I'm a very hyphen-heavy writer because I speak parenthetically and Yiddish was actually my first tongue. So a lot of my grammar is mixed up. That's interesting. And have you begun doing readings? No, I've read excerpts, but no, doing the recording kind of wrecked my voice. Uh-huh. I don't have a very strong, I don't tend to a strong speaking voice. And so you haven't heard from readers yet? No, I mean I think I sound horrible, I hate my voice, I feel bad for people who have to hear it. But they get have a little more of the flavor of my personality. Also I talk with my hands a lot and when you write- I know, it gets lost. I know believe me, I so prefer to read my books out loud than to have people experience them on the page. What kind of creative fantasies do you have? What else would you like to do? You have done a couple different, you've been a story-teller in a couple different ways. Is there some stuff that you'd like to try? I wrote a screenplay, it's autobiographical. I don't want to turn it into a movie because it's so autobiographical, but it was something that I literally wrote because I felt compelled to. To tell my story. Do you like doing dialogue? I had never done it before. I just wrote the things that people said when we had conversations, and it seemed to work pretty well. And has anyone seen it? Yes. And did they like it? Well the question is not does someone like it. When you're a writer, it's like people can like something that doesn't mean it has value or potential, like I needed to like it. There were certain people close to me who I wanted to like it, mainly the people who were in it. (laughs) Yeah, my ex-boyfriend gave me about an hour of notes. Wow. He had a lot to say. Anyway. But it was a real experience of really feeling compulsively compelled as a writer. So now you'll know. Someone said, if you liked being locked in a hotel for three days, with a glass of wine and french fries, you're a writer. Right, right, and you did. Oh I loved it. I mean I missed my kids, and you have to come back. Right, right. What kind of pressures do you feel to satisfy the readers in your life, or the viewers in your life? There's such an audience that's so present for you. I wonder, do you feel confined by that at all? I think because I'm an actor and my art only exists if someone else uses their art to put in a script, I don't feel a lot of pressure that way. Our director, Mark Cendrowski is really in charge of my role as an actor on The Big Bang Theory. Our writers have to produce something. So I don't feel like that's like a super a super self-expressive place for me. Sure. Being a writer is different but no, I feel like all three books I've written, I wasn't inspired to write them, I was asked to write them by people who wanted to hear more of a specific topic that I already had strong opinions about. So it's been a very interesting experience. I don't have a romantic story of, "I was on my boat, and it occurred to me that I need to share my wisdom with the world." I really feel like I'm just another person who had an experience. I don't feel like I'm more legitimate or more entitled to tell my story. But it's a very interesting process and in this case when Jill reached out to me, she liked the way I framed my womanhood and thought that that was a valuable thing and asked me if I would share more of it. It seems to me like your agenda was just to be useful. When I was reading it I thought, "All this woman cares about is- You just titled my memoir, my agenda is to be useful. That really came through to me, I thought "I'm gonna love meeting this woman, because she's so-" I'm a person who was really raised to believe like you can change the world one human at a time, and one random act of kindness at a time. So for me, when we talk about, I have this website groknation and we have lots of grown-up meetings where we talk about algorithms and the numbers, who's reading, and how long. Yeah yeah the data. All those things. That's the only technical term I know, the data. To me it's not really interesting to me because my feeling is if we feature an article on Crohn's Disease for example, which we recently I interviewed three of my friends about Crohn's. And I said if one person gained strength from that article wasn't it worth it? And of course our CEO says, "No, how are we gonna market?" We're not doing all this for one person, hun-bun. Right, but I said, "You know what, I'm the boss of this website," maybe we don't have to reach- maybe the stories that we tell, and the strength that it gives people, maybe it's okay if we're a little bit all over the place like that and we don't look like all these fancy polished websites. Good for you. Good for you for redefining success. I will show this to our CEO. That's right. Do you remember a story that you heard at a critical moment in your life that really unlocked something for you or made you feel more at home in the world? Oh gosh, I mean I grew up in the Jewish tradition so I was constantly being told stories by rabbis and teachers. That really is the tradition, isn't it? Oh yeah, our entire, the Old Testament was sung so that it could be remembered when they took away our books. And you're a really observant Jew, right? I'm, meh. I am educated and I am observant-ish we call it. But yeah, there was one story I remember and I remember exactly where I was I was in our synagogue and standing on the bimah and the rabbi had gathered us around and I must have been 8 or 9 years old and he told a story about a boy who spoke poorly of kids in his class, he was gossiping about them. And none of them want to be his friends. And so he goes to the rabbi and he says, "Rabbi, nobody will talk to me because I was saying these things." and the Rabbi says, "Go take a feather pillow, stand on top of the highest mountain and release all the feathers into the wind." And he says, "What a strange thing for him to have me do." So he does it and he comes back to the rabbi and he says, "Okay I did it." And the Rabbi says, "Okay go back tomorrow and pick all those feathers up." And he says "But that's impossible, I never could." And the Rabbi says, "Exactly. So it is with our words. Once they are released we can never get them back." And I just remember it, it just struck me so deeply. And most of the kids were busy setting things on fire in the synagogue and not listening to Rabbi Rosof. But yeah I just grew up with all sorts of things like Aesop's Fables and all those things. Everything had a moral. But that story's such a great example of it's so much more memorable. Had you said it some other way just in a more factual, direct manner. Even the jokes we tell, you know. Do you have a good Jewish joke for me? I have many good Jewish jokes. I'll tell you one if you tell me one. Okay you go first. Oh. Oh okay, I'll go first. About 8 out of 10 of every joke I know is about death, so I'm just warning you this is about death. So a guy passes away, goes to heaven and St. Peter's guarding the pearly gates. St. Peter says, "All you have to do to get into heaven is to spell the word I give you." Guy says, "Great," Oh I know it, it's so great. Sounds easy enough," guy says, "What's the word?" St. Peter says, "Love." Guys says, "Okay, L-O-V-E." St. Peter says, "Great, you're in." Then he says, "Wait, hang on a second." He has a little ear piece. Ah, he says, "God is calling me, I gotta go upstairs. Can you guard the gates?" The guy says, "I just got here." St. Peter says, "Fine, just stand here, nothing'll happen." Guy's standing, guarding the gates and his wife walks up. And he says, "Honey, what are you doing here?" She said, "Well, I was on the way to your funeral, and it was horrible, I got into a terrible accident, but the good news is now we can be together." He says, "Okay, all you have to do get into heaven is to spell the word I give you." She says, "What's the word?" He says, "Czechoslovakia." (laughs) In my version, it's chrysanthemum. (laughs) My grandmother's from the Czech-Hungary border, so I always like to get in a little. And my kids always say, "And how do you spell it mama?" And then I spell it. Yeah, so that kinda joke tells a lot doesn't it? Alright, we only have a few more minutes. I want to ask you my speed round, is that alright? Oh, yes. Name a book you wish you had written. History of Love, Nicole Krauss. Oh, isn't it great? There's not a word, for me there's not a word to describe what that book makes you feel. What was the last story that made you cry? I went to visit my 90-something year old aunt yesterday and found out that she and my grandmother had a sister that I never knew about, who died in the war. And this was a family of about 15 siblings and I knew that most had not made it over, but I had never heard about this woman. And I saw her picture and she looked like my mom, she looked like my grandma. And just to think there was a woman and her husband who never made it out. And I never knew about them. And it was very emotional. Yeah. If your mother wrote a book about you, what would it be called? She got all her talent from me. (laughs) Own it. That's what she would say. No, that's what she would- Right, right. Okay because she didn't get it from me. No she's owning it. Yes, yes. Who can't you live without, creatively speaking? His name is Emanuel Shalev. He's my best friend and he's the CEO of everything creative that I do with my website, my universe. And he recently made a very big life shift and commitment to work with me full-time. And we've been best friends for many, many years. He's like my guardian angel, and my creative sort of, inspiration. How great is that? Yeah, he's pretty special. If you could get everyone in the world to read one book, what would it be? It's a difficult answer, because I don't mean it to sound fanatical, but I do think that no matter your religious or political swings, I think that the book written thousands of years ago called The Old Testament, I think it is a fine piece of literature, with much to teach historically and ethically and mystically and there's so much metaphor that most people assume is not metaphor. I think it's a very important and significant book and especially in terms of the impact that it made on history. Yeah, I would vote for the five books of Moses. You can leave Prophets and Writings alone, it's poetry, but you know. Mayim said you can leave it alone. Get to it at some point. Thank you so much. Thank you. It's really a pleasure to talk to you.

Class Description

Between the Lines is a series about uncovering the REAL story of these 16 best-selling authors and what story telling means to them. Each of these authors has their own stories that influence their work. Most writers are writing either directly or indirectly based on their experience, their dreams, or their realities. They are telling their stories, whether they are "made up" or based on real life. That takes a ton of bravery, a ton of courage, and that is what stops people generally from putting themselves out there. There is a fear of being not only judged on your work but your ideas. Writing takes BRAVERY. It takes a leap to put yourself out there for eyes to read what you have to say, and then there is the part of actually getting it done. This series is really about being brave, how these authors write their truth and how they MOVE people through their creative pursuits. This series is about what is "between the lines" for each these authors.



I love hearing from all of these authors! Some of my longtime favorites and I also discovered some new authors I didn't know about. AMAZING!

Justin Barker