Pamela Adlon Fuels Her Hectic Life With Fosse and ‘Fame’


You probably think you know Pamela Adlon. After all, “Better Things,” her FX dramedy (which returns March 5), is deeply mined from her joys and travails as a single mother and actress raising three daughters in Los Angeles — its set and scenes liberally sprinkled with stuff she loves.

Calling after making bagel chips for her youngest’s 17th birthday, Adlon slid in and out of celebrity impressions (she snared an Emmy for voicing Bobby on “King of the Hill”) as she enthused in her raspy, salty way about 10 essentials that she, and now her kids, can’t live without.

“I guess I’ve proselytized my aesthetic intensely to them,” Adlon said, “because every single thing that I’m telling you about, they’re the biggest fans of, too.”

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

1. “All That Jazz” There’s so many things that connect me to that movie: Bob Fosse and his Broadway legacy. I went to school with Erzsebet Foldi, who plays his daughter. And it’s not lost on me that my firstborn child’s name is Gideon. For me, the movie is perfect. You feel like you’re watching a documentary, particularly the way it starts with the audition, which I could watch on a loop every day for the rest of my life. I wrote it down on an index card on my inspiration board for when I was writing the pilot of my show because it was like he was on this hamster wheel, and every single morning he would be like, “Showtime, folks.” And that to me was what Sam Fox was going through.

2. A Tribe Called Quest’s “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” Everything on that record resonates so deeply in my DNA and also my daughters’ DNA. We know every song forward and backward. And the fact that they sampled the Lou Reed song [“Walk on the Wild Side”] on “Can I Kick It?” — Lou Reed is just a massive, massive influence for me. And the perfect blend of that, and the stories they told, and the musicality — I just think it’s the greatest record of all time.

3. Norman Lear and ’70s TV “Sanford and Son” was huge. I used to walk around imitating Redd Foxx, clutching my chest, saying, “Elizabeth, I’m coming.” “All in the Family” was massive. I loved that Edith and Archie spent all this time with their adult kids. And then meeting the Jeffersons on that show and their spinoff, which became my favorite thing in the world. My father later wrote an episode of “The Jeffersons,” and I, probably their last season, was in an episode. I robbed the dry cleaners. “Good Times” freaked me out. I will never forget where Penny gets burned by the iron. Seeing that raw realness was unbelievable. And “Maude.” Everything about these five shows is the greatest thing ever. And also the theme songs just stick with me. Goddamn it, I miss theme songs.

4. “The Electric Company” I could sing every song. I learned about double E. I learned about grammar. Easy Reader made reading cool. The cast, Morgan Freeman and Luis Ávalos and Rita Moreno, the diversity and all of this stuff that they put into each episode — I just loved it so much.

5. Amoeba Music Amoeba Records is like every great classical store, in that it’s a giant version of a mom-and-pop store. It’s one of the greatest things in the world that we have places that have not been distilled and made current. You have this patina on everything that makes you feel human and connected.

6. “Free to Be … You and Me” My dad produced a show called “AM New York,” and they were going to have Marlo Thomas on, and me and a couple of kids with her. But on the day, she got sick and couldn’t be on the show. So she signed the book for me. That just cracked my head open. All of the things that she compiled in that book and record are so relevant right now, including “Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron.” It’s just the most incredible thing about stop assigning labels to people because you think that’s what they are.

7. “The Wiz” We used to have these things called television sets and VCRs. I videotaped “The Wiz,” and I would play a part of it and press pause. And I handwrote every single word and every single song into a spiral notebook. I could quote the whole [expletive] thing. It’s just everything to me. And because “The Wizard of Oz” is my favorite movie of all time, I just couldn’t believe that you could put a spin on something that was so huge in the first place, and tell the same story in a more profound way.

8. “Fame” I gave it the same treatment. It was shocking and raw and dirty and scary. I was completely obsessed with it, so much so that later on when I did my first movie, “Grease 2,” with Maureen Teefy, who played Doris Finsecker in “Fame,” I could barely speak around her — let alone Lorna Luft, who is Judy Garland’s daughter.

9. Sherman Oaks Antique Mall It’s where my oldest daughter had her first job, and every time we go, something cool happens. They say everything in there has an energy, and when an object starts vibrating, it usually gets sold. It feels like you’re going into a museum. It’s just flat out one of my favorite places to spend time at. My office is very near it. If I’m writing, I’ll go in there and just putter around, and I’m able to shut the noise off in my brain. Vintage glass is my crack.

10. Tacos Mexico Tacos Mexico is a chain around the Valley, and they’re open 24 hours a day. The al pastor is my favorite, and the refried beans. I’ve been taking my kids since they were babies. We used to go to gymnastics on Saturday mornings, and instead of going to the upscale breakfast place in the Valley where people would be waiting in line for an hour, we would go into Tacos Mexico and eat like kings right away. It’s actually in Season 2. That’s the fun part of my show: I get to put places that I love in there, and I write scenes into those places.



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