How to get Oprah to say your name, and other life lessons from writer-comedian H. Alan Scott
A series of interesting conversations with interesting people.
H. Alan Scott’s goal is to tell people stories, make them laugh, and to leave them with a perspective they hadn’t considered before. Whether it be through his writing or stand-up, chronicling his cancer treatment on the Internet, or documenting his conversion to Judaism and preparation for his Bar Mitzvah at age 34, he’s meeting that goal time and time again. We caught up with H. Alan to chat about all of the above, when he’s able to take a break for Bar Mitzvah planning, and what he’s been finding interesting on the web lately.
How did you get into comedy and writing in the first place?
I was always a funny kid, and obsessed with Johnny Carson and funny daytime talk shows like The Rosie O’Donnell. I also just responded to funny women in general. So I knew I was always interested in figuring out a way to make money for my personality. I started in stand-up in NYC. Then at 30 I got cancer and had to do chemo, and couldn’t perform, so I shifted to writing. I started to get some attention for that, and discovered this part of me I didn’t know was there. I guess cancer made me a writer? One of the few good things to come out of that.
So, rumor has it that Oprah has said your name. Tell us about that.
It’s true. During her last year Shirley MacLaine was on. I had been doing some jokes about MacLaine in my act and a producer saw me and thought it’d be fun if I were in the audience, and asked a question. Before the show they let me do a weird set where I got the audience to say my name, “H.” So when I stood up to ask my question, the audience went, “H.” Shirley asked, “What’s H?” I said, “H. Alan Scott,” which promoted Oprah to say, “H. Alan Scott,” which prompted me to die right there on the spot. Miraculously I recovered and, funnily enough, years later I did a segment on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and who was the guest? Lord Oprah Winfrey herself. She’s clearly obsessed with me.
You love the Golden Girls and have the tattoo and podcast to prove it. You and your co-host Kerri Doherty are currently in your 6th season of Out on the Lanai: A Golden Girls Podcast, where each week you watch and dissect an episode of the Golden Girls. How was this incredible podcast conceived? And if you could be any of the GG’s who would you be and why?
I never wanted to do a podcast. I worked in radio in St. Louis and hated the format of most podcasts. I crave structure, something an audience can remember episode to episode. But Kerri came to me with this idea, and I told her the only way I’d do it was if it had some structure. That’s how it all started. So we start and end every episode the same way, just like ‘The Golden Girls’ did really. People started to like us, we started to sell out live shows, and boom: we were a hit. It’s hard for me to choose which Golden Girl I am, but if I had to choose, I’d say I’m more of a Rose with a rising Dorothy.
You were diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and virtually chronicled your treatment journey through #CHEMOCATION for multiple outlets, and you’re now turning it into a memoir. Why did you decide to share your journey with the Internet?
I didn’t respond to the “fighter,” “survivor” language surrounding cancer. It bothered me, because I didn’t feel that way. I was pissed and sad and lonely and confused. I didn’t feel like I was fighting anything, just taking it one day at a time. Sharing my experience wasn’t really a decision I ever had to make, my life is my work, it’s my narrative. Of course I choose how much I share, but I use my life as the basis for my work. Before cancer I used to feel vain about what I did, who am I to think people should listen to me on stage? But during chemo I started to realize that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do, because people respond to my point of view. It’s not the only one, but it’s perspective that either helps them, makes them feel something, or gets them through something. I’m proud of that.
You are currently filming Latter Day Jew, a documentary film about you — a gay former Mormon/converted Jew/cancer survivor/writer-comedian finding your spiritual path and preparing for your Bar Mitzvah. What moved you to convert to Judaism? And what type of impact do you hope this film has?
I’ll save why I converted for the film, because it’s way too much for a short answer. The film is about me getting ready for my Bar Mitzvah, but even more than that, it’s about choosing your own identity, not the one that’s expected of you. We like to put ourselves into predetermined boxes, and I never got that. I hope people are able to watch the movie and see that it’s cool to feel whatever you’re feeling, live authentically, and maybe laugh a little.
How do you decide what to write about next? And what impression do you hope to leave with your readers and the internet as a whole?
My goal with everything I write is for the reader to be left with a perspective they maybe haven’t thought about before, or a fresh take on something. My inspiration for writing varies from frustration to anger to a need for me to learn something new and then share it. I love getting to know people and then sharing their stories. That’s really all I want to do, tell stories and make people laugh a little.
What have you been reading and finding interesting lately?
Well, I’m re-reading Joan Didion for inspiration. She’s my go-to when I need help with tone. She reveals so much of herself in her work, I admire it. I also think the writing on Amy Sedaris’ new show is so weird and interesting, it’s an essential watch. I’m also loving all the reporting the Washington Post is doing on the Trump administration. They’re a go to source lately.
What are your go-to places — sites, apps, people, etc — for finding new stories to read and watch in Pocket?
Twitter and Facebook, of course (even though that feels basic to say). I actually get a lot of stuff from friends, we’re constantly texting stuff we see, especially articles, which I then share to Pocket. Sometimes I forget to share because I’m like, “Why would people care what I’m reading?” But sometimes they do!
If you had the chance to escape and read all of your current Pocket saves where would you go to do it?
Palm Springs, on a couch, looking at people from the AC (I’m an indoor person).
Who would you want to see us interview next?
You can find more of what H. Alan is reading and finding interesting in the quiet corner of the internet here.