Diary of Anne Franxploitation

Photo by Gail A. Halaban Not for the easily offended: Betsy Salkind, as Ethel Spiliotes, in “Anne Frank Superstar.”
Photo by Gail A. Halaban
Not for the easily offended: Betsy Salkind, as Ethel Spiliotes, in “Anne Frank Superstar.”

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  West coast comic Betsy Salkind cut her choppers in 80s-era Boston — when stand-up was still an insular (mostly white) boy’s club. During a rare turn at the mic, she staged her own infamous tea party.

“The Emperor’s Getting F***ed,” a confrontational screed about toxic misogyny and racism in local comedy clubs, got Salkind effectively banned from the professional circuit. That pushback ended up driving her even deeper into the city’s emerging sketch, improv and performance art scene — where she found kindred spirits (and new fans) by performing in non-traditional venues.

A few years later, times and tastes caught up with her ability to mix blunt political material with the silly and the surreal — earning Salkind bookings in New York and LA comedy clubs, a job writing for the sitcom “Roseanne” and a staff position on Roseanne Barr’s short-lived, criminally underrated FOX sketch show (you’re in good company if you don’t remember “Saturday Night Special”). Salkind emerged from a brief appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” with a signature bit and a cult following. That memorable creation, a cracker-munching “Squirrel Lady,” somehow makes its way into the multi-character solo show soon to touch down in the East Village (courtesy of Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company).

Based in no small part on her own experiences, “Anne Frank Superstar” is Salkind’s take on the age-old battle between artistic integrity and profit. Opening on the last night of Hanukkah (a happy coincidence, we’re assured), this “one-woman satire of Anne Franxploitation” looks at what happens when television executives decide that the tragic story of a brave little girl in an attic has mainstream hit potential — if they just add a few laughs. Bad idea meets even worse taste, when precocious little 11-year-old Ethel Spiliotes is manipulated into headlining the ill-advised sitcom, “Let’s Be Frank.”

As much a commentary about the ease with which we bury unimaginable tragedy as the entertainment industry’s ruthless drive to copyright the next big thing, “Superstar” is Salkind’s latest — but hardly her first — experience with slaughtering sacred cows. Those not easily offended by her Holocaust humor should check out “Betsy’s Sunday School Bible Classics.” Now available for the iPad, it’s a 240-page, NC-17 version of religious morality tales — liberally interpreted by a woman who, prior to becoming a comedian, wrote an MIT Sloan School of Management master’s thesis titled “Can’t You Take A Joke? A Study of Sexual Harassment Among Peers.” No matter what medium she’s working in, Salkind knows how to audit hypocrisy.

Written & Performed by Betsy Salkind

Presented by Playhouse Creatures
Theatre Company
Dec. 5-7 at 8pm & Dec. 8 at 2pm
At The Kraine Theater
85 E. Fourth St. (btw. Bowery & Second Ave.)
For tickets ($25), visit smarttix.com
For info: betsysalkind.com
and playhousecreatures.org