Title of production: The Ricki Lake Show (Monet Lane Productions)
How long have you been in the business? Are you trying to remind everyone that I’m 44?! I have been performing on New York cabaret stages since I was barely a teenager, but my first real role was in Hairspray. John Waters discovered me when I was a freshman in college.
How many episodes have you done? Of Ricki 2.0, about 45 so far. Of the original show? 2,100. That’s a lot of television, folks!
Who have been some of your favorite or most noteworthy guests? All of my guests have been really amazing—I wish I could have the world’s largest dinner party and invite them all! Some standouts have been Regena “Mama Gena” Thomashauer, talking about female sexuality, Lance Bass, sharing his coming out story, and Storm Large, leading an audience sing-along about vaginas like a 21st-century Joan Baez.
What makes you a great host? Thanks for the compliment. I think this format comes naturally to me because there is nothing I like more than meeting interesting people and finding out what makes them tick. I have an innate curiosity, and I have the same questions as everybody else. Plus I actually say what everyone is thinking!
What do you love most about the medium of television? I think television shrinks the world. It creates a sense of community among people who are spread across the globe. It still feels like magic to me.
Whose opinions do you trust most when it comes to booking guests and coming up with ideas for the show? Josh [Sabarra, Consulting Producer] is a voracious reader; if a book is coming out next year, you can bet he’s already read it. Rebecca [DiLiberto, Senior Producer and Writer] is hyperaware of trends and what’s in the zeitgeist. And nobody can turn the big, bad Internet into a town square like Bryan [Moore, Social Media Director]. How lucky am I? Our brainstorming meetings often take place around the dinner table at my house, where we all fight over the last piece of dessert while my kids play music in the background. These “idea meetings” have been happening for years—even before I decided to go back into television!
What goes into a single episode? Take us from conception to airtime. We start with an all-staff brainstorming meeting. I usually come with a list of topics that I want to cover. As a group we discuss our fantasy version of that show—who the ideal guests would be, ways to create visual interest and unforgettable moments. Then the show is assigned to an individual producing team and they get down to business finding the most compelling guests. Their task is to tap into the primal nature of storytelling while keeping things totally fresh. About a week later, I read background on all my guests the night before taping and then get into details with the producing team the morning we record. After that it’s hair and makeup and then time to shoot!
What are the most rewarding aspects of your job, and what are the most difficult? I love opening people’s eyes to what’s going on in the world. Being able to tell human stories in a way that educates and entertains at the same time is very rewarding to me. The most difficult part is creating a work-life balance. I juggle many things, and my family is always the priority.
Was there anyone who nurtured you in the beginning? My grandma Sylvia was so nurturing to me. She would take me to the theater in New York all the time, and she believed in my talent unconditionally. My first big break came from my Hollywood Dad, John Waters; he started it all!
Do you have any role models within the industry who you’ve looked up to? I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the greats of the daytime format, people like Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey. They paved the way for daily, issues-oriented programming. I also look up to many of the people I have worked with over the years—such as Divine and Shirley MacLaine.
What’s your personal motto? It’s all in my book: never say never!