Born in the Bronx and brought up in Queens and Long Island, Glaser was raised on a comedic diet of Dick Van Dyke, Broadway and The 2,000 Year Old Man, she says. "We were theatrically focused, and comedy was best." Although she saw such performers as Buddy Hackett and Jackie Mason perform in the Catskills, Lucille Ball had a greater impact on her sense of humor.
Glaser left New York at 18 to attend San Diego State University, where she learned improvisation. In her junior year, she dropped out of school to take her characters to the streets. She co-founded Hot Flashes, a feminist comedy group, and then joined the Egomaniaks, a New Age comedy troupe. Howells encouraged her to go solo.
At the time, her characters included her mother and father, a Southern belle who doesn't understand pregnancy, and a Japanese househusband. After seeing her show, a director from Los Angeles told her she was talented but needed a through-line, Glaser remembers: "I said, 'OK, OK. Well, family, that will work.' And I kind of transposed everything into family. And that was a very good bracket for it."
Whereas many current one-person shows, such as John Leguizamo's Freak, feature bleak and painful humor, Glaser prides herself on making people laugh from an innocent place, with a giggle, not a poke. But that doesn't mean she belittles the predicaments that are the basis of her humor.
"Yeah, (Mort) is frustrated; he doesn't understand these women that he lives with, but he loves them, and he's touched by them. He doesn't hate them and ridicule them. And the rejection of his daughter in her lesbian phase is his own fear. I'm trying to shed light on who this character is, not keep him in the dark. My work is about healing that stuff, not just pointing a finger and saying, 'Isn't he an ass?' He's a human being."
Glaser cried when she played her father for the first time, when she was 21, because she understood how difficult she had been as a daughter. "I went, 'Oh, how hard I am.' I was always in his face, going, 'What's the matter, Dad, can't you feel anything?' God, how annoying. I finally had some compassion."
Sherry Glaser's Family Secrets opens the 1999 Women CenterStage Series at the Center of Contemporary Arts at 8 p.m. Feb. 5-6 and 2 p.m. Feb. 7. Women CenterStage is a collaboration between COCA and That Uppity Theatre Company, produced in partnership with Wise Woman Productions and Women's Support and Community Services. For information, call COCA at 725-6555.