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Take this job and mock it

Stewart Oksenhorn
U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Annabelle Gurwitch hosts "Fired!" today at 2 p.m. at the Belly Up. Gurwitch's documentary film "Fired!" will be screened Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Isis Theatre.
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When Annabelle Gurwitch landed her first big job, at the faux-news show “Not Necessarily the News,” it never crossed her mind that her hiring meant someone was being replaced. Let go. Canned. Fired. “I didn’t think, ‘Hey, great for me – and terrible for someone else,'” said Gurwitch.It’s unlikely the 44-year-old actress and writer will ever again be so oblivious to the professional miseries of another former employee. Gurwitch has become something of a therapist – with a comedic twist – to all those who have been advised by a boss that their services are no longer required.”Fired! Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized & Dismissed” was published two weeks ago. The book, written and edited by Gurwitch, collects tales from Felicity Huffman, Harry Shearer, Bob Saget, Bill Maher and more, about being shown the door.

Gurwitch brings her mission to both the stage and screen at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. “Fired!” is a documentary film written and produced by Gurwitch, and featuring Tim Allen, David Cross, Andy Borowitz and more. It shows in the USCAF Film Program on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Isis Theatre. (It was also screened yesterday.) And Gurwitch will host a live presentation of “Fired!” with Borowitz, Ileana Douglas, Paul F. Tompkins and others Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Belly Up.Gurwitch, no surprise, stumbled into her latest specialty niche in the comedy world by getting axed herself. It was a high-profile dismissal, executed in brutal fashion. In 2003, Gurwitch had been hired by Woody Allen, her idol, for a one-act, off-Broadway play he had written, “Writer’s Block.” The gig was short-lived; almost as soon as Allen saw Gurwitch attempt to find her character, her fate was sealed. Some of Allen’s choicer comments were telling Gurwitch she looked retarded, and advising her not to act that way ever again for any director.Gurwitch had never seen herself as a good fit for the role, but she wasn’t about to turn down a shot at working with Allen. And, Gurwitch points out, “Actors are experts in the field of rejection.” Still, she went into a mild depression, and after a few weeks of steady crying, she realized she had to make a choice. “After you get fired, you go one of two ways: You go into the fetal position, or you tell everyone you know.” Gurwitch started by telling her gynecologist, and once the valve was opened, she couldn’t stop. “I told the cabbie, friends, people I ran into,” she said. Not only was everyone sympathetic and interested, but they also had stories to share with Gurwitch. Jeff Garlin, an executive producer and star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (and the recently fired host of “Fire Me, Please!” told of being fired from 13 jobs in the same mall – music store clerk, clothing store clerk, stand-up comic, movie theater usher – that he failed to perform adequately, a history in which he takes pride. Andy Borowitz told of being canned as a writer for “The Facts of Life,” thus being considered not up to the standards of what he called “the worst television show ever produced.”

Actress Ileana Douglas revealed she had been fired three times in one day. Once she recognized the comic potential of such stories, Gurwitch began doing “Fired!” at literary events in New York and Los Angeles.Gurwitch, a commentator on NPR’s “Day to Day” for the last year and a half, found more than amusement in the stories. Looking to grasp the bigger picture of unemployment, she talked to placement agencies, labor officials, employment experts and people who had been dismissed from high-profile jobs, like Walter Scheib, who was voted out of the White House kitchen by First Lady Laura Bush.Gurwitch notes that she is not a journalist. “I’m an actor fired by Woody Allen,” she explains. Still, she has put plenty more than humor into her “Fired!” projects. The book contains facts and anecdotes about the job market, unemployment rates and tales of outrageously compensated corporate executives. The film features figures like Robert Reich, the secretary of labor under President Clinton, who is actually quite funny as he discusses downsizing trends. Gurwitch has become conversant in bankruptcy laws and unemployment statistics.”If you had told me three years ago you’re going to get hired by Woody Allen and then fired by him, and then go around the country exploring the fate of the American worker, I’d have said, ‘What are you talking about?'” said Gurwitch. “But I’ve gotten passionate about it. I thought I was the only one all alone. But having a book to read or a movie to see will shorten the cycle of eating ice cream and binge-drinking.”

Gurwitch completed her latest job successfully; she appears, alongside Tim Allen, Robert Downey Jr. and Jane Curtin in the current Disney film “Shaggy Dog.” Her big-screen credits also include “Pollock,” “The Cable Guy” and “Teddy Bear’s Picnic.” For six seasons, she was co-host of the TV show “Dinner and a Movie.” For now, though, Gurwitch is avoiding the unemployment line by championing the cause of the canned.”I went into the fired industry,” she said. “The fired industry is one of the few growth industries in this country. You have a better chance of getting a job in placement services than in manufacturing. There’s a huge industry out there to fire you, and to help you once you’ve been fired.”The film “Fired!” will be screened Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Isis. Also, Gurwitch will host the special show “Fired!” with scheduled appearances by Andy Borowitz, Paul F. Tompkins, Dana Gould and others, today at 2 p.m. at the Belly Up.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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