Live with Shame or Confront It? (with Ricki Lake)

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When Ricki Lake hosted her eponymous talk show in the 1990s, she wore hairpieces and extensions to hide the fact that her hair was thinning. After decades of privately feeling shame about her hair, Ricki learned she had androgenetic alopecia, a common form of hair loss in both men and women. Sam asks Ricki about her decision to go public with her alopecia diagnosis, how she landed the gig hosting her talk show when she was only 23 years old, and the 35th anniversary of her star-making role as Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray.”

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Samantha Bee, Ricki Lake

Samantha Bee  00:00

Hi there, from where I sit in my 53 going on 54 perch, it’s pretty easy to say that I think overall, we’ve made a lot of progress and accepting different body types, we’ve become more body positive, we’ve sort of shifted our beauty standards, I mean, models no longer need to be the width of a pinky, which helps the rest of us non Pinky with people feel more confident to, I mean, you know, a lot of them are still the width of a pinky, but whatever. And still, it’s estimated that over 70% of women in the US dye their hair myself, for sure included in that. And of course, not everyone who dies, their hair does so to cover up the gray that sprouts in as we dare to age, but a lot do because it can be scary to outwardly admit that you’re getting older. For example, I like to tell people that my natural hair color right now is the color of rat for not not like a sexy rat that you might buy in a pet store but like a subway route that you would scream and and run away from. Our society loves to ignore women and it basically disappears great haired woman which is very uncool, because, you know, I probably could pull off silver hair if it was really nice silver hair, but then I’m fairly certain I would legally no longer be permitted on television. My grandmother dyed her hair through her very final days because she was convinced and probably correct at the time that if she didn’t maintain her perfectly quaffed blonde hair, they wouldn’t serve her at the fish counter anymore. That is how invisible she would be. I must have completely internalized some of that because look at 53 Do you think that my hair is still honey blonde? This color is made by science. Thanks to the pandemic, which definitely feels weird to say a lot of women were forced to stop coloring their hair and then even when they were able to again decided to embrace their natural hair color and stop treating it at all altogether. All of a sudden, more and more women became confident in their authentic appearances. And I love that for them. Maybe one day I’ll join them. I just don’t quite feel like risking not getting served at the fish counter yet. Like I love fish. We can talk about it later. This is Choice Words. I’m Samantha Bee. My guest today is Ricki Lake. And I seriously loved seeing her gray hair looking back at me while recording this episode. I know you can’t see it. But picture with your ears as you listen. So take a listen and make good choices.

Samantha Bee  03:01

I can’t believe I can’t believe I’m finally meeting you. I feel like I’ve, you’ve always been a part of my life.

Ricki Lake  03:10

It’s awesome. It’s really awesome.

Samantha Bee  03:12

Okay, well, you know that the promise of this podcast is that we’re going to talk about like big choices that you’ve made. And that is a big launchpad for other conversations I have so much I want to ask you about because again, because I feel like I’ve been an observer of your life from a distance for so. So goddamn long.

Ricki Lake  03:31

My 35 years hairspray this year is 35 years old. So yeah, well time.

Samantha Bee  03:36

If you think back, if you think back to your long, storied career, can you name a choice that you made that really particularly stands out as something that totally changed your life? That was like the catalyst for something.

Ricki Lake  03:49

I mean, there are so many there’s so many phases in my life that I fight. It’s like sliding doors this way or this way, like my whole life would be different. So you could go back to like when I went to the audition for hairspray and warm up John Waters and not open that whole world to me. But I think of late, the most sort of transformational choice that I made that I’ve chilled I have literally goosebumps talking about it was when I made the decision to shave my head and come out with my secret of hair loss that I was suffering with for many, many, many, many, many years decades. And so it was the scariest thing I’ve and I’ve had my baby in my bathtub with no drugs. I have like done a lot of kind of brave people would consider brave or ballsy. This this choice that I made is we’re coming up on four years was the Yeah, the scariest one and I felt like I had been backed into a corner I didn’t feel like I had any other option. i A lot of it. I’m someone who I share like I’m an overshare I taught and you know people who grew up with me with like show they know that like I am so transparent with basically everything. And with this part of my life, this piece of me where I consider myself to be so authentic and just an Open Book, this is this piece that I was not being authentic and I was, I was suffering. And so yeah, it came to a head December 31 2019. Right before the new decade 2020. So I made that decision. And I told very few people and and yeah, it was, it was a physical transformation that I did. But it was more mostly internal. Like it was coming to a place of real, true self acceptance, like, This is who I am. This is what I’ve been going through, you know, and I didn’t know how like the public would react, I didn’t have an agenda other than I wanted to be set free from this thing that was tormenting me.

Samantha Bee  05:38

Well, okay, there are I have so many follow up questions, like for one thing, I just want to say that people’s identities, especially women, I think we’re really our identities can be tied into our hair, our sense of self, our pride?

Ricki Lake  05:53

Our femininity, our I mean, you know, and I can only talk about myself and what I went through, but I’ve, I’ve like, I follow all these amazing women on social media that are real like cheerleaders. And they’re also very outspoken about their journey with their hair loss. And it’s super common, it’s like the kind of hair loss that I have is called androgenetic alopecia. And it’s like, it affects 50% of women or something like 50% of women are going to experience significant hair loss in their in their lifetime, and it is traumatic and, and anyone that has suffered with that, I don’t know, if if you after your babies, you stopped breastfeeding, and your hair just dumps in the shower and your whole, I mean, the whole piles of hair, and I don’t have that much hair. And it was just, it was just super scary. And I know people that that don’t suffer from this, they can’t really understand they’re like, get over it, it’s just hair. But for me, I was on television all the time, I was having to get to look a certain way. And you know, I resorted to wearing like hair pieces and extensions for for years and which took its toll on my hair. Anyway, that is the choice. I think that was really pivotal in changing the real trajectory of my life at that for my 50s You know, it’s I ended up meeting Ross and my husband who I may not have really recognized and saw as a good person for me if I hadn’t gone through that, that real shift point.

Samantha Bee  07:09

I love stories where people are just throwing off because like, and that is tied to shame to like, you probably it seems like you were living in a status shame.

Ricki Lake  07:20

I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. And you know, and because like I didn’t, I didn’t even tell my therapist, like like, I’m someone that yeah, because I was embarrassed. I felt like and you start to go crazy. Like you start to like, I could feel hair falling on my shoulder. Like I was acutely aware of the shedding. And I would do I did everything I was taking Propecia, which is like a drug that’s for men. It’s not even FDA approved for women. I was taking that. I was I was doing anything and everything but all of it was like private, you know, like my friends. A lot of them that did not know I suffered from this, you know?

Samantha Bee  07:55

Wow. Yeah. Okay, so that’s a huge choice to throw off the yoke of shame. Like just throw off that albatross that was hanging around your neck and to reveal your true authentic self. That’s incredible. I love this story so much.

Ricki Lake  08:13

It was it was big. And you know, when I did make the choice I was calculated and that I wanted it documented. Like I’m someone that I make a documentary I filmed my homebirth I wanted I didn’t know it was gonna be in a documentary but I I wanted to have like something to look back on this this moment. This railed like turning point. So I had my dear friend is an amazing photographer shoot it. I had my dearest friends with me, you know, I have it all like, like, preserved. And it was it was incredible. It was honestly like once I did it like I had the you know the buzzer to my scalp. And it was like this release like this like, like just total liberation from this that this albatross that was already I’m saying it sounds so hyperbolic. But I really, really was deep, like deep work.

Ricki Lake  08:59

I gotta tell you that when my grandma was so close with my grandmother, like we were, you know, she did. She really raised me and in a lot of ways and when she was on her literal deathbed, like dying of cancer, she had me die her roots. Like cuz she didn’t want to be in the hospital with like roots. Do you understand what I’m saying? So when you talk about hair, you were you an adult? I was an adult. Yeah, I was in my late 20s in my late 20s. And I often die. I mean, it was our ritual, you know, it’s like a box of Clairol like, yeah, had like, she naturally had dark, straight hair, but she wore it blonde and curly. You know, because she felt that she shouldn’t have been born looking like Shirley Temple. That’s anyway, the point is when your grandma bless her, and because so much of her she couldn’t even she couldn’t even die in the presence of roots. It was so shameful. So I read I am connected to talking and thinking about parrots.

Ricki Lake  10:03

I stopped coloring my hair after I shaved my head because it was so fortuitous, because I did this right before 2024 2020. And then the time pandemic happens. Yes. So I would have had to shave my head regardless, three months later, because I couldn’t, you know, my girl couldn’t come to me. So I even shaving my head under duress under like a totally different thing. So it ended up being such a huge blessing, a huge lesson. I am like, I just love myself even more, having persevered through that. And now I’m on the other side. And it’s like a non issue. I don’t stress about it anymore. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s wild. And I never expected my hair to grow back.

Samantha Bee  10:44

I know what it looks. It looks great.

Ricki Lake  10:48

Quick blow dry for you this morning. But But thank you, I have hair. So I’m just like, I don’t complain about it. I’m okay. My body feels good. I’m almost 55 I can’t complain. You know, it’s like, it’s all good. It’s all good.

Samantha Bee  11:00

And how do people react? I betcha. Because it’s so connected to all of those things that we’ve been talking about. And it’s great passionate feelings and people, other people’s hair causes passionate reactions in people. So how, how do people I mean, it’s so funny, because we’re talking about this and we’re acting like it’s like, it’s an earthquake, and it’s a personal earthquake, but people react? I betcha. Because it’s so connected to all of those things that we’ve been talking about. And it’s great passionate feelings and people, other people’s hair causes passionate reactions in people. So how, how do people I mean, it’s so funny, because we’re talking about this and we’re acting like it’s like, it’s an earthquake, and it’s a personal earthquake?

Ricki Lake  11:26

I get that people like, why do they? Why do they think this is a big deal? You know, I don’t know, I just, I do feel like my fans are people that that grew up with me, they have accepted me at every stage of how I look, you know, right there, I’m 260 pounds or I’m 120 pounds, which I have been both without surgery, you know, and, and my gray hair. I mean, it became cool. It made it cool to not cover color your hair. So I don’t know, I I’m just appreciative. Like, I am one of those people that I jump headfirst and I always land on my feet, like anything I’ve done. Like I really have done kind of crazy stuff. very impulsive. And yet, it’s always kind of worked out for me in the end.

Samantha Bee  12:06

Have you always been an impulsive decision maker? And that sounds like do you? Is that how you make all your big life choices? You’re like, I’m fucking doing it.

Ricki Lake  12:15

Yeah. And I don’t think it through which I think has been a good very good, I don’t, I don’t ever like see the forest for the trees. I’m always in the moment. Like that feels good. Like my talk show, for instance. I mean, I was, I was not working at that time. I was 20. I was 23 years old when I got a phone call to go on this meeting for this talk show. Okay, I went, I didn’t even think it through it was actually going to make it on the air, let alone moving to New York helped me meet my first time, like all of it that happened. And it was just like, alright, yeah, I’ll do it. I’ll do it for $5,000 like I needed. In the moment, I needed my rent paid for six months. I was like, Sure, I’ll do it. So like every decision making, making a documentary about birth, or all my documentaries, I don’t really, I just felt called to do it. I had to do it. Right. Post 911. I don’t know if you’re familiar with my story. But I was, I was downtown in my apartment witnessing 911 firsthand, two months after having my homebirth in that same space. And so I was particularly we’re all traumatized that day, but my hormones and might like I just and I got had to get out. I had to get out of New York, I had to get out of New York, I had to get out of a lot of things, moved to LA and started this calling I call it to, to to explore birth, birth options in the United States. I was really just really like confused as to why am I really amazing friends that I look up to didn’t seem to care about the process of giving birth, they just wanted to help. So it was just Yeah, I went on that journey. And that 911 happened. And in that moment made that decision I’m getting out of here. And it just again changed, shifted. My career shifted my focus, and I found my true passion through through that trauma.

Samantha Bee  13:55

Once you made that choice, and you were like, I gotta get out of here, I gotta do something different. How long did it take before you were actually able to execute on that vision for yourself?

Ricki Lake  14:02

It took a year and a half year and a half. Because so because I had finished my show, I had a contrast of my show. And I was married. And I was married in New York. So I wanted to move to California. I mean, it was a lot of juggling a lot of stuff I had to do meeting with attorneys. I mean, I had to like yeah, it was like putting my big girl pants on. But I was one of those people like I love New York I’m from New York. I’m born and raised right I didn’t feel safe anymore. I did not I don’t feel safe anymore. When I when we you know the National Guard came into our neighborhood and I had to go back to work and I’m nursing a two month old and I mean it was it was intense and and and but in a way it was like it happened in that I found what I was meant to do because I really do look at the documentary film work the particularly the birth movie. That is That’s my reason for for for that’s why I had that talk show. That’s why I’m a public figure because I believe I’m Putting out material that’s super important. And making a difference in people’s lives.

Samantha Bee  15:05

Right, right. Oh my god. What? I just can’t imagine you start restarting your show 911 has happened to your nursing a two month old.

Ricki Lake  15:15

A day late or Sam, I had to go back to work. And we did. And it was like my baby daddy, hoochie, you know, and there was a bomb scare in our building. It was chaos, it was chaos. And like it was in that moment, I’m like, Okay, I want like, I want I mean, as soon as shallow as it may sound, I want my legacy to be something more than this, right at the talk show was great. It was a phenomenon. It was so successful, I’m super proud of it. We did great work, like the stuff we did for for gay relationships for for everybody being represented. And being treated with respect is something I’m super proud of. But I feel like I had that platform, in order to be able to make these smaller films that are about something pretty provocative and being able to, like feed that to the mainstream that that know that I’m not full of shit that I’m not I don’t have an agenda. And I just am curious about these things and, and want to help people.

Samantha Bee  16:07

And you’re willing to document yourself doing these things, because you’re just so open.

Ricki Lake  16:13

As crazy as that sounds. I mean, I just someone asked me just recently, if I wanted to go on a show and do Ayahuasca on camera, and I was like, is your take on that? I was like, that’s where I draw the line? Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that plant medicine. But that’s not to do it. Like for attention, or publicity. That’s not the reason to do it, and it will kick your ass even more than it normally would. Right?

Samantha Bee  16:34

I would very much be afraid of what would come out of any orifice of my body? I don’t know. I don’t know.

Ricki Lake  16:42

It has. I mean, I’ve done it many times. Like I’m very familiar with that medicine. And yes, it does come out of every orifice. But the idea of doing it on a television show reality show. Not for me.

Samantha Bee  16:55

There’s more with Ricki Lake in just a moment.

Ricki Lake  17:17

Do you like cannabis?

Samantha Bee  17:19

No, not really. So for me, it’s not my I’m to. I don’t know it doesn’t. It makes me very paranoid.

Ricki Lake  17:27

I love it.

Samantha Bee  17:28

I know.

Ricki Lake  17:29

I grow it. I love it. I didn’t used to love it. I didn’t used to love it really used to when I did my talk show. I was I would say I was the disciple of Nancy Reagan’s. I was just say no, I was totally judgmental. Oh, yeah. And I was full of fear. And just like, like, I looked down on stone. It’s crazy how I’ve done a full 180 And now I make my own medicine. It’s called Ricki Lake and bake. And it’s the best around. And it’s yeah, it’s amazing. Like, I’ve really like, I’ve evolved, like, you know, I really have people who knew me way back then. I was the opposite of how I am now.

Samantha Bee  18:10

I want to go back to the fact that you had like a Nancy Reagan ask. Just kind of like approach to things when you were doing your show because your show was weird. Wild. I can’t imagine.

Ricki Lake  18:22

I know. And I think it was more internal. Like I wouldn’t put my my opinion. I like it wasn’t cool for me to have an opinion. I just turned off by it. And, and was really close minded about, about everything about plant medicine, about any, anything that I you know, that that would change your brain in some way. Like I was just, you know, yeah, I was very, very closed off to it. And now, you know, changed.

Samantha Bee  18:47

How did that how did that evolve?

Ricki Lake  18:49

I know how Christian Evans my second husband died. He was the one who gently like, like, got me thinking, you know, he’s the one who went on this kind of exploratory mission to to to research cannabis for his own feeling and his grandfather. So, you know, he was talking about CBD before Sanjay Gupta was on CNN apologizing for his take on on marijuana. You know, that’s when we started I made a documentary about cannabis called weed the people which the focus is on children with pediatric cancer, right. So it’s a very serious movie about medicinal cannabis. Yeah, but Christian, my beloved, he’s the one who got me even seeing it differently. And going on that journey of six years of making that film. And then he got me he brought me to ayahuasca and that was incredibly I’ve done it many like 14 times and I found it to be life changing, right again, not hyperbolic life changing miracles. Yeah.

Samantha Bee  19:45

Oh my God, you have so many personal revolutions

Ricki Lake  19:51

There’s a lot to meet one way but I yeah, oh, yeah. I love that about me that I’m just like, always on this kind of like what is next, like, what? What is coming around the corner?

Samantha Bee  20:04

I have to point out, I think we have to go back to this point that you were like in your 20s when you made the Ricki Lake show that’s.

Ricki Lake  20:12

I went on the air at 24 when off the air 35. And yeah, I got married the first year the show was getting divorced the last season of the show, and had two kids and during the process, and it was, it was incredible. I mean, it was like, like, you know, I had these experiences that I at the time didn’t think anything of I had dinner with, like Madonna and Tupac. Sure. And a whole yeah, like.

Samantha Bee  20:36

We all do.

Ricki Lake  20:37

Yeah. You know, and it’s talking about it after the fact. It’s like, oh, yeah, I had that dinner. Like, the time it was just my life. It was just like, I was just in it. And it was extraordinary. But it was also like, just very easy for me. And it’s, you know, I yeah, it’s just, it’s just my life is a movie. And yeah, my favorite chapters now.

Samantha Bee  20:58

Don’t you think the world was so different than in the sense that like, I just feel like it would be difficult to imagine a network giving a syndicated show, to a young person now who’s like, just very enthusiastic and really super into it. I feel like the world is so different now. And everything is so curated. And like very specifically commercialized and very, like everybody’s trying to fragmented, fragmented siloed everybody’s trying to check 27 boxes with each hiring decision that they make, it will be so hard to replicate a show like yours today.

Ricki Lake  21:35

I agree with you. I don’t think it would work. And I don’t think I’d be very good at it. I think it’s everybody’s so divisive. And, and so angry and so scared and right. I don’t you know, with our show back then in the 90s, in the early 2000s. I mean, it was like, there weren’t that many channels, and there wasn’t streaming services. There wasn’t really even like when we started TMZ like didn’t really like it, just you know, so it was it was the place to be in New York City. I my show had like a six month nine month waiting list to get tickets. It was kind of like Letterman, and it was just like a party atmosphere.

Samantha Bee  22:11

Intentionally for young people, people your age, your own age.

Ricki Lake  22:15

I was the concept guard fancier who was like a toilet television. Genius. And he had he looked at all the shows that are out there was Oprah Sally, Jessy, Phil Donahue, The Amazing Phil Donahue. And they were all skewing over the age of 50. So he said, Why don’t I handpick someone young? And do it from the younger person’s perspective. The titles were always taken. My mom thinks I’m this or am I right? You know, she doesn’t understand me. So instead of Oprah doing it from the mother’s perspective, my daughter won’t listen to me. We did it from the government. So it was just a formula. And it just worked. And I think because of my history with the John Waters, movies, and people knowing these this heavyset girl who fights for, you know, integration, you know that I’m like, I’m the girl next door best friend. And I am and I love I love relationships I love you know, just finding out what’s going on behind closed doors. And it just worked. The formula works.

Samantha Bee  23:06

I feel like you’ve been at the forefront of so many kind of like, many revolutions, like a mini television Revolution, when you made your first documentary that was really revolution that was like, it was pretty rad. It’s pretty radical. really radical.

Ricki Lake  23:20

Yeah. The AMA came after me and a hawk came after me. I mean, it was we didn’t and that’s when we knew that we were onto something. We knew that we were striking a nerve, because this movie was like this tiny movie that I financed myself, you know, but yet, we we got in there. And what’s what’s been amazing about that film, it’s just had this shelf life for 15 years, it’s as relevant today, if not more so today than it was 15 years ago, because it’s only gotten worse, our you know, maternal death rates in this country among black and brown women. I mean, it’s the violence and the trauma that is happening in birth. Now with COVID protocol. I mean, it’s just, it’s awful. So if that movie can empower a woman or her and her and her partner to be educated to know that they have options, they have choices, that they are not just a number, you know, to not be afraid to see women giving birth on their own terms, my birth, I am pissy when it comes to pain. I am not like, I’m not some like, you know, heroic like I don’t feel pain. But like I looked at that experience, not as a medical emergency waiting to happen. I trusted my body. I trusted my care provider. I’ve had a low risk pregnancy, I was two blocks from St. Vincent’s at that time. So I felt very safe at home. And I’m not pushing an agenda to have a home birth like me. But I want women to understand that they do have options.

Samantha Bee  24:38

To see what giving birth looks physically looks like I think is actually incredibly valuable. Because I’m personally, I’m doing a live show when we talk all about the things that we don’t know about our bodies that no one really ever tells us until we’re in it doing this thing. And then suddenly I look up at my husband and he’s like, you’re vaginas the size of a football and I’m like it is a watch. Hold on.

Ricki Lake  25:05

Yeah, it’s it’s incredible when our bodies create a cake and yeah, we’re warriors.

Samantha Bee  25:12

How did you know that you are you were just like, tell me about the decision making behind filming that.

Ricki Lake  25:20

Filming my birth, filming your birth. Yeah, that was just for my own posterity. I wasn’t thinking about making a film at that time. And this is my second son. So my first I had in the hospital and my second I had at home and it was really one of those like, we had a camcorder you know, this was in 2001. A so it was like a camcorder and I just had my do my Doula or my husband holding the camera, just for us to be to look back on. It was like how it kind of extraordinary that, you know, in my my New York City, bathtub having my baby. And it was, you know, years later that when Abby Epstein she directed me in the Vagina Monologues, and that’s how we became friends. And so when I moved to LA post 911, that my show the contract had run out of starting my new life going through divorce. And I said, I have this idea. I really want to do a project exploring birth options. So I gave her ina may Gaskin spiritual midwifery. That classic book I gave her a Robbie Davis Floyd and anthropologists. She wrote a book called birth as an American rite of passage. And I gave her my camcorder with the camp the tape in there, the nine hour footage on my birth. I just gave it to Abby, I’d never even watched it. I just said here, and she went away. She’d never had kids at that point. She wasn’t even thinking about having kids. And she looked at it. And she’s like, I think it’s a documentary. And we just bought the equipment and started and it was three and a half years. And she got pregnant halfway through the making of the film. So turn the cameras on her. And it really it was, it was just I really feel in my 35 year career. It’s hands down the best thing I’ve ever contributed to the world.

Samantha Bee  26:50

Oh, I love this. Do you? Shall we talk about menopause?

Ricki Lake  26:58

I still get my period, you still get my period every day 20 On the reg I know it’s crazy. Because I’m like I said 55 is around the corner. And I’m I just I can report right here. I’m happy to say I just finished my period because burning man’s next week, and I was worried it was going to come while I was on playa. And that would not have been a good thing to have. And so my body did not fail me yet again. And yeah, menopause is a thing though. So I’m I have not had a hot flash yet.

Samantha Bee  27:30

I am I know I’m an anomaly. You are an anomaly. Oh, you’re gonna have so much to say, well, you know what? Come and check in with me once you start skipping periods. I have so much for me really?

Ricki Lake  27:42

Yeah. And like waiting for it to happen. I mean, it’s amazing. I want it to last as long as it’s going to because I feel in a way it keeps me young. I still have a libido Yeah, you know, nothing’s really changed. I’m, yeah, I feel and I feel like like even though I am very much this gray haired 55 year old woman, I feel younger and more Spry that I that I haven’t seen in years.

Samantha Bee  28:08

This is a I’m feel very energized by our conversation already. I feel like there isn’t much to talk about in person. What is a cave? What is it? Like? How aware of your career? Or your kids when they were growing up? Did they understand what you were doing? Like? Do they have a sense?

Ricki Lake  28:29

Were they impressed? Really impressed?

Samantha Bee  28:30

They were not impressed? That gives me a lot of good feelings because mine are not impressed.

Ricki Lake  28:35

I think on the DL, I think on the DL, they think like, my mom’s pretty cool. Like, I’ve done some cool shit. But no, I mean, they would come to my show every day when they were little I they I always had a nursery setup at my at my show. So they would come and say hi, I mean, my it was really my older one because my bait my baby was so little, he wasn’t even one by the time the show ended. But are these two when ended, but they’d come and meet the audience. So they’d see what I did for a living, right? I don’t think they had really any understanding. Yeah, it’s just something they’ve always grown up with, you know, your mom’s the girl from hairspray. And because I have so many different facets to my career, like if people know me from different things, you know, whether it’s the John Waters movies, or for my talk show or the documentary film work I do and the advocacy work I do. But but they’re, they’re very private. My sons. They’re 26 and 22. They don’t, they don’t really do social media at all at all. They don’t have a presence, whether they look at stuff I don’t know. But like they’re musicians, they’re artists. I mean, they’re just there. I think that the best of me and my ex husband, you know?

Samantha Bee  29:39

You do you do social media, though? You do.

Ricki Lake  29:44

I do. Yeah. I mean, I have been doing it. I don’t I don’t do it professionally. Like I don’t. I don’t know how to do a real I don’t know how to do a filter. Like everything I do is just like raw, right? It’s mostly my dog and my husband and I do a lot of you know, my birth advocacy work. You know, I’m constantly sharing stuff about you know, everything that has to do with with women’s health really.

Samantha Bee  30:07

Hold that thought more with Ricki Lake after one more break. I’ve been thinking about your show and you being in your 20s, and then reflecting on when I had my show, and I was in my late 40s. And like, early 50s, how in the world was your experience of being a boss at that time in your life? Because when I was 25, or 26, I was like a hopeless, like hopelessly lost? How did you grapple with that much? I guess? How involved were you in the day to day operations of your show?

Ricki Lake  30:56

I mean, I wasn’t really producing like, like, they would come up with the topics. I didn’t have an issue with any of the topics, but like, I would make it my own. So I did not one of the things I’m most proud of that you would understand. I did not wear and refuse to wear an IFP. So I did not have anyone in my ear telling me what to say I had cue cards, I had a my executive producer, my co EP was on the side. And she if I forgot a beat, which I usually didn’t like, I It’s weird, because I’m not an academic. I didn’t finish college. And that one year I did in college, I was a musical theater major. So I’m not like a student. I’m not someone that did well in school. But with this format, and this formula of the way we did our show, which was primarily relationship issues, right? We do one couple, hold them over, get the conflict going. The third party is backstage. I mean, it was just like it was a thing. So I’d have to like I knew intuitively how to get enough out of the story, right enough out of the conflict, that you’re engaged enough that you’re going to stick around through the commercial break. So it was like that. And so I could retain, you know, like wishes with Deshawn. And we’re going to meet like, I could retain the little details. And then I come home from work. I do two shows a day, sometimes three, but I go home from work and my husband was like, oh, what what was on the show today? I’d have no idea. It was like I cleared the cache. I literally could retain it for that hour. Yeah. And to answer your question, like I, I was good at being the boss. Like I was a kid, like I was so young. But I I loved like I my staff like to this day, it’s we’re coming up on the 30 year reunion, September 13 is the 30 year anniversary of the launch of my show and Conan O’Brien launched the exact same day that we did in 1993. But like they all say it was their best job. They ever had their favorite job of all their jobs, because there was an entered there. It was special. You know, it really was like, an amazing show for the times. Everyone loved being there. It was really a party atmosphere. It wasn’t mean spirited. And, and I was I was good at it. Like I was just naturally curious. Right naturally open, you know about myself. And so it just fit it just works. But again, I didn’t think it through. I didn’t know it would change my life and my financial situation. Get me out of debt. Right me to New York. None of that.

Samantha Bee  33:13

Yeah, God, it feels like very much in your life. You lead with curiosity, your like curiosity first, and everything will follow.

Ricki Lake  33:23

Yeah. I’m still just as curious today about everything. You know. Yeah. Everything. I mean, that’s when I went back and did a talk show for the second time wanting to do more of a Phil Donahue type show. But the company I was working with, they didn’t want that. Right. Right. It was fine. So I did it for one year, and I won an Emmy and that was it.

Samantha Bee  33:42

Like, I’ll just won an Emmy and then I’ll go and then I’ll just go.

Ricki Lake  33:45

I’ll be canceled.

Samantha Bee  33:49

That’s a really funny. That’s a very funny feeling. Picking up an Emmy winner canceled, you’re like, well, thanks. That was nice.

Ricki Lake  33:55

It was the best it was the best and I was actually an obese at the time. I didn’t go to the awards. So I was like, I’m not gonna win. I’m the show that was canceled. There’s no way I’m gonna win. And my friends are like, you should say you’re gonna win. Like I’m going on holiday with my husband. Right? And sure enough, yeah.

Samantha Bee  34:09

So hilarious. How do you make career choices now? Because you’ve done so much but you also love your chill time with your new husband in your dog in your beautiful home. So how do you like what criteria does a potential job have to hit like what boxes does it have to check to make well Ricki Lake die fan?

Ricki Lake  34:35

Podcasts that I can do in my garage? Sweet that’s a good one with the best with the best podcasting company around for serious a great gig. Yeah, but i don’t i Not really, I mean, everything I do now is gravy. Like I don’t really I don’t have to work. And I’m really enjoying this honeymoon phase with Ross, my guy and my dog and we go to the beach every day. I mean, I you know, I don’t know what is next as far as Big job opportunity. I mean, obviously, we’re on strike. So there’s nothing happening for really long time. I am hard at work on a docu series based on basically the unfinished business of being born. So 15 years later, where we are. So I’m working with this incredible creative team to just get a whole discovery phase and where we are a development phase, and we did the deck and so now we’re going to be pitching it in the fall.

Samantha Bee  35:24

How does it feel being in your no Fox years? Don’t you love it?

Ricki Lake  35:30

The cliche of when you turn 50 You don’t give a shit about what other people think about you. It really was true for me, with the exception of me shaving my head, I was very concerned that people were going to be mean and say, you know, horrible things to me. But they didn’t. They didn’t they actually were incredibly supportive. But yeah, I am in a phase of like, this is me. Like it or not, if you don’t like it, you know? Bye. Bye, Felicia. Yeah, it’s, yeah, it’s the best it’s the best time in my life. You know, like, I my circumstances are unique in that I started working at a very young age, you know, and did was very successful. Yeah, and I had my kids at a young age so now it’s like really like like to be 54. And to be like to have all this free time to have all this you know, time with my husband who’s an attorney, but he you know, he works from home mostly, like it’s just it, I realized what a gift it is that I’m not still having little ones are still in the career, you know, rat race.

Samantha Bee  36:26

Right? I feel like being in the public eye and aging is a real trip. It is a real trip. And you have to just get good with it. You have to just get right with yourself.

Ricki Lake  36:34

I’m okay with it. I mean, I can’t believe it when I think that hairspray was 35 years ago. Like, I mean, it was Yeah, and John Waters and I are still super close. But like to think of that chapter that doesn’t feel like that’s been that long. Like that. I’m this woman that I’m actually a grandmother, my husband has a grandson. So I’m a Barbie. So it’s like It’s wild. Because I still think of myself as so. Such a kid you know? Right?

Samantha Bee  36:59

Right. Who inspires you now like who do you look to that? Like how do you I guess what do you what entertainments what things do you consume that feed your soul.

Ricki Lake  37:11

Everything from the bachelorette to I mean, I’m we the great thing about Ross that we we watch. I love Rachel Maddow. I love Rachel Maddow. We listen to a lot of like, I mean, it’s so hard to be put on the spot. It just started watching last night painkiller. Oh, which I don’t know if you saw dope sick.

Samantha Bee  37:29

I did see the AppSec I really liked it. I’m gonna watch painkillers on my mental list.

Ricki Lake  37:34

It’s I just started it’s, it’s quite good.

Samantha Bee  37:37

We have such a funny because I come from originally from Canada, and where you can’t, like pharmaceutical ads are not. I mean, I don’t know if things have changed there. But they’re not allowed. Not allowed. They’re not allowed. But we see them. We see them because we have American. So we’re familiar with them. But they’re kind of like, I mean, when I was coming up, or you know, watching those things, they were a joke. They’re like a joke. Yes. Because everything causes everything else like the cascade of conditions. That’s exact result in your..

Ricki Lake  38:08

For seeing commercials now for to take this pill if you’re having a bad reaction to this pill. Like, like, that’s the new one. Like and the jingles that you hear in your sleep. You know, that Jardiance commercial? I can’t get it out of my head. It’s big girl. It’s the big girl doing the dance. GRD and, ya know, there it’s offensive. Actually, I think it’s only New Zealand and us that we’re allowed to show these farmers.

Samantha Bee  38:37

New Zealand? I would think they would be more on the Canada trajectory.

Ricki Lake  38:42

I would think the natural side.

Samantha Bee  38:45

not they can’t I mean, listen, I’m not saying that Canada’s superior. It’s got its own. It’s got its own issues. But it was sort of just a just a running kind of funny thing about the US that we always think about the side effects to everything. And there are always 25 of them. Yeah. As you’re making your new Docu series, what does that look like in your life? Like, how, what type of work schedule Are you on? Or how does that I mean.

Ricki Lake  39:08

Really an executive producer. So I’m not going to be hands on. I mean, this one, we’re probably going to be in it like, like, so Abby. And I don’t know if you saw the business of being born. But we’re, we’re in it. And we sort of go on this kind of investigative journey. Yeah, and have our own experience. So I think it’s going to be a little bit of that, where like, here we are 15 years later, you know, let’s look at birth. Now. Let’s look at the hospital situation now. So there will be some of that. But I think, you know, we have an amazing production company that we’re working with. I mean, I hope to travel and do like birth around the world that really want to focus on like other cultures, how they have obviously better outcomes, but better birth experiences. And yeah, I’m super interested in that. So I don’t know how much of a workload it’s gonna it’s not gonna be a full time thing for me, but, but it’s something I’m really, really passionate.

Samantha Bee  39:55

I believe that you have a lot to talk about because I think the maternal mortality rate is I’m getting worse and worse.

Ricki Lake  40:02

It’s worse than like Serbia. It’s worse than I mean, there’s like, like, like third world, the poorest countries have better outcomes than we do. And yet we spend more per birth than any other first world country. It’s, it’s, it’s like a travesty. And, you know, you hear these stories of these black women dying, not being listened to being gaslit in the hospital. And it’s got to stop like, we have to get it together. This is like, this is just, you know, it’s unconscionable.

Samantha Bee  40:33

Oh, boy, this has been such a pleasure talking to you.

Ricki Lake  40:36

Oh, my threw up on you with a lot of stuff.

Samantha Bee  40:40

I took it such a biker. It’s what a pleasure.

Ricki Lake  40:44

Thank you. Thank you so much.

CREDITS  40:56

That was Ricki Lake. And I had no choice but to look up one thing she said, It’s true. The US and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow direct to consumer pharmaceutical ads come at New Zealand. I mean, look, I expect that in the US, but seriously, you too. You can do better. You can do better. Oh, that was awful. Anyway, thank you Ricki for joining me and good news, there’s more Choice Words with Lemonada Premium. Subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content, like a rapid fire trivia based off my interview with Laura Dern and Diane Ladd subscribe now in Apple podcasts. Thank you for listening to Choice Words which was created by and is hosted by me. We’re a production of Lemonada Media, Kathyrn Barnes, […] and Kryssy Pease produce our show. Our mix is by James Barber. Steve Nelson is the vice president of weekly content. Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittles Wachs and I are executive producers. Our theme was composed by […] with help from Johnny Vince Evans . Special thanks to Kristen Everman, Claire Jones, Ivan Kuraev and Rachel Neil. You can find me at @Iamsambee on Twitter and at @realsambee on Instagram. Follow Choice Words wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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