Entertainer: Whoopi Goldberg | Teen Ink

Entertainer: Whoopi Goldberg MAG

By Bapalapa2 ELITE, Brooklyn, New York
Bapalapa2 ELITE, Brooklyn, New York
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   In your book you write, "I've learned to take time for myself and to treat myself with a great deal of love and respect, 'cause I like me, I really do, I think I'm kind of cool. " So, how do you think kids can acquire that important self?

You know what, there's no formula, it's like making your bed every day, you just have to tell yourself. It's a lot of work because it's easier to wait for someone else to tell you you're okay, it's less responsibility for you.

But if you're responsible for maintaining your self on a daily basis, it comes easier and easier. And, it becomes hard for other people to try to take it away.

I find that people try to take your self away because they don't have any, and people love for others to be miserable with them. But I believe strongly there are certain things I'm in control of, and one of them is me. So, if anybody is going to make me feel like I'm worthwhile, it better start with me.

Who was your childhood hero?

As a kid I don't think I had heroes because you don't know someone is heroic until you pass a certain point in your life. But the person who had the most influence on me was probably my mother. It's as big a relationship as you can have, and as hard a relationship as you can have.

The fundamentals she passed to me turned out to be the mainstays of my life: treat others the way you want to be treated; be yourself, if you're willing to pay the consequences to be an individual. And if you want certain things, you have to come to terms that it may not be easy and you have to be prepared to give up things. If you're prepared for that, you can do anything.

And that's what has stayed with me, because I do have to try to treat people the way I want to be treated. To do what I want requires stamina, and others will try to tell you you can't do that. There's nothing I think I can't do, there are some things I don't want to do or I won't do, but nothing I can't do.

But that's also a lonesome place to be; you get made fun of a lot, people can be very mean, and it's lonely to be an individual, to be yourself. It's much easier to be part of the pack, but the pack just never interested me much; I always liked individuals who actually thought and had opinions. Whether I agreed with them or not, I always wanted to meet people who thought for themselves.

When I was very young, something happened with my friend who was much straighter - I wore torn jeans and tie-dyed shirts and a great big Afro - and this friend was not a hippie, but she was my best buddy and lived upstairs. We were supposed to go to the movies and she came in, saw how I was dressed and said, "I'm not going anywhere with you looking like that. "

I thought, Oh, that's really crappy. And I said, "Well, I'm not going to change, I'm comfortable. "

We went around and around. And she said, "Well, if you're not going to change, then I'm not going with you. "

So I said, "Well, okay, if you're not going to change, I'm not going with you. " And so she left, and went to the movies by herself.

And my mom said, "You know what, it's hard to do what you did. It's very difficult to be yourself, and now you're paying the consequences. " She asked if it was worth it, and I said it was, because I didn't want to change. I wasn't dirty, I was comfortable, and it wasn't affecting my friend, it wasn't like hurting her kneecap or giving her a headache -actually, maybe it did give her a headache.

And my mother said that's what life is - making those kinds of decisions. My mom never said good job, she just said hmm, and that's been my major influence in my life.

So, I guess that makes her my hero.

How would you describe yourself as a teenager?

Lonely, very, very lonely.

Were you born with your sense of humor, or do you think it's something you developed?

I think probably a little bit of both, because I come from a very odd group of people, avery strange group. If you saw us on the street, you would never say "Oh, there's a family right there. " We had all kinds of quirks that I found myself inhabiting and only now have they become, in the last 20 years, sort of comfortable for other people, these quirky parts that seem to make people laugh and make them sort of look at me in a different light.

But I think part of it is inherent and just a placebo effect, something hits you and you don't know what it is.

Meeting you has already had such a great impact on my life, and in your book you say meeting JFK was important to you. How did that have such a great influence?

Well, the thing about John Kennedy was that he made you believe you could change the world, and he didn't say, "You there, Black people, or you there, Italian people, or you there, Chinese people, " he just said Us.

He made me feel, and I think he made the country feel, that we were all in this together, that if anything was going to change, we were going to have to change it, together.

And you know, the consciousness of my life started with John Kennedy. He was also a bit of an outsider because he was a Roman Catholic, and I remember people saying"Well, you know, the Pope's going to be at the White House all the time. "

But just the idea that he had included me, that his message was for everybody, that we were all going to get out there and fix the country, I just loved that. I loved that this was mine, that this was my country, that I was part of it, no matter what else was going on.

And now you find he was a flawed person and he was this and that, but what he had to say struck me as real.

I can change the world, he was right, in spite of whoever is in the White House, he told the truth.

You're involved with a lot of charities. What makes you have so much compassion for the homeless, the abused and those suffering with the HIV virus?

You know, it's like a horror movie. The best horror movies are the ones you think are possible, those are the ones that scare you the most. All of those things are an inch away from me; I could be homeless at any time. I could lose everything overnight.

If I needed to go into a shelter, I'd want it to be the best possible place. My kid is grown up, but when I was younger and she was under my care, I always wanted it to be safe and right for her.

And AIDS is something that doesn't care who you are, anybody can get it in many different ways; I could need a blood transfusion and find myself HIV positive. So, I wanted to make sure that there are better screenings for blood, and places where people have dignity and are respected, and a place for folks to talk.

All these things are in the realm of possibility in my life. "There but for the grace of God go I, " the saying goes.

When you listen to the stories of folks who have lost their jobs and then their houses because they couldn't pay the mortgage and suddenly all they have is their car and their two kids, and the week before everything seemed fine - I realized nobody's immune to these kinds of changes.

So, I figured if I can make it better in any way, shape or form, if I find myself in that position, I can say at least I made things a little more tolerable.

In your book you write, "I don't have pet peeves like other people, I have kennels of irritation. " I love how you're able to see the flaws in society, yet at the same time have a positive attitude.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

I'm definitely an optimist, absolutely, the glass is always half full. I think pessimism is just too much work. To be optimistic, anything is possible, and that's how I grew up.

I grew up when anything could happen, so I believe that nothing has changed, anything is still possible.

Lindsay: I'm from New York, so September 11th had a great impact on my life, my family and my community. I know you are from New York too; how will September 11th impact the way you host the Academy Awards?

Well, that's why I'm hosting the Academy Awards. I decided I wasn't going to host again, but between September 11th andt his day, a lot has happened.

Right after September 11th, I was supposed to be getting an award in Washington and felt very uncomfortable about it because it was so soon after the 11th. I wondered, Who am I to be getting an award and being feted when there are firefighters and EMS people out there? So I said that I wasn't going to accept it, and started to cancel everything.

But then I was down at Ground Zero and somebody said, "Hey, Whoopi, I hear you're getting the Mark Twain award. It's so cool, because we need to know it's okay to stand up and go forward and we need to know it's okay to laugh. "

So, I realized that like a firefighter and that EMS person, people who do what I do and people who do what you guys do - who write, who perform, people who paint -we take over after the EMS people. We take the next page, we give people a respite in our writing, we give them some place to go in the movies, we give them some laughter. This is as important as saving someone's life; these folks save lives, we improve the quality of life.

And that was huge - a big light.

Sometimes you read about someone famous who's gotten involved with something. Someone always says, "Oh, they're in Hollywood, what do they know?" They forget that we started out, most of us, as people who weren't famous, and who had some idea of what goes on in the world.

Everybody has a place and a function, and my function is to bolster. So I'm going to be bolstering, I think, the world. Film is a universal language; you can turn the sound off and know what's going on no matter what language you speak. And that connection makes us part of the fix. I figured I could stand next to Oscar as part of the fix of the world; a tiny fix, but a fix. So, I'll just be as silly as I always was.

This is something I've always wondered: People feel famous people would never date, or have friends who aren't as well known. Do you feel that is true, or just a stereotype?

Oh, I think it's a stereotype;most of my friends aren't famous. But it's hard to be friends with folks who are not famous, because if I go to lunch with you and someone sees us, it's possible that your privacy could be invaded because you're a guy and somebody thinks you're my new date. Or, you wouldn't get to eat because people would be knocking you over trying to get my autograph.

So, it's a lot of work to be friends with someone who's famous. You'll find that most famous people spend more time by themselves because it's a lot easier.

Friends get frustrated if you try togo shopping and never make it to the second floor because you're signing autographs. You want to be polite to fans, because it takes a lot to ask someone for an autograph. So you don't want to blow folks off, but at the same time you want to live.

So, it's difficult, and sometimes we are not sure why someone wants to be our friend, but that's a whole other kind of insecurity that plagues us all. It's just exacerbated by fame, since you're supposed to be a certain way because someone wrote that about you.

So, it's a very delicate thing, but I think it's stereotypical because magazines won't print photos unless they think it could be something juicy; they don't print pictures of your regular friends. So, there's more of us with folks who are not in the business. But it's a lot of work.

Michael: I read your chapter on race - well, I ready our whole book - and you captured stuff I've been trying to articulate for along time. I write for my school newspaper and did an editorial on Black History Month. I took an extreme stance because I really don't like the concept of, "We're going to have one month to recognize you. " What about the other eleven months?

Yeah, I guess they're taken up by other cultures.

And so I wanted to ask you your view on Black History Month.

Oh, it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Because where's Irish History Month, where's Asian History Month, where's Mixed-Family History Month? The other thing that really bothers me is: our month only has 28 days, I don't understand. It's like Black History Sorta Month. And because we say there is a month, does that mean we have to ignore black history the rest of the year? Why not just incorporate black history into history?

But these things have made me crazy. African American, what does that mean? I'm American, but people, I guess, need identity, need to feel that this belongs. It's like Kwanzaa, what is Kwanzaa? It's a hut. Africans have never heard of the holiday Kwanzaa. I guess we're still searching for identity in the country. It seems odd to me, but I'm not a fan of Black History Month.

What was the response to your column?

Michael: Oh, a lot of different stuff; people said, "What about White History Month?" I said, "I don't know, it's the other eleven months. " It got a lot of response both ways.

WG: Were yous urprised?

Michael: At first, yes, but it's the Bible Belt.

WG:That's okay, they'll figure it out.

What do you think of the term, African-American?

I think it's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. I think it's dumb, because not every person you see is an African-American. Some of them aren't Americans at all, they are Jamaican, so what do you call them, a Jamerican? Then we're going to be hyphenating all these words.

Every time you hyphenate American, you take something away from someone and question their validity as Americans. And I think it's just dumb. What do you call Sidney Poitier? He is not an African-American, he's from the Islands. What do you call Harry Belafonte? He's from the Caribbean. So, they're just, hey, dark people with no name.

So, I just stick with American and then you actually have to get to know me and find out where I'm from.

In your opinion, what's the best movie you ever acted in, and why?

"The Lion King. "Because it was just fun, and I was trying to get points with my granddaughter who was six when it came out. But she was really mad at me, she said, "You're very mean to Simba. " I said, "We'll have some ice cream and talk. ""I don't want to talk to you, Granny. "

It seems like you have fun in all the movies that you're in.

You know what, I'm glad to have a job, I'm glad to be able to work at something I love, because not a lot of people get that opportunity. And I'm really thankful for it, because I'm in a rarefied world, I'm a fluke. As many people as there are like Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts, there are hundreds of thousands of wonderful actors out there who you'll never hear of. Somebody gets lucky and they become Julia Roberts or they become Whoopi Goldberg, or they become Tom Cruise.

But I'm glad every day I don't have to do something I don't want to do, because I'm really crabby when I have to do something I don't want to do.

Rachel: In the past I have struggled with using drugs, and I was wondering what your incentive was to decide, "Okay, I can't go down this path anymore"?

It really came down to one essential question: Is this the life you want? If you always want to be close to death, why not just kill yourself? Why fool around? If you think you're a bad ass, then prove it, just go ahead and kill yourself, because that's what's coming. So, either do it and get it out of the way, or get up and fix it. It was more comfortable for me to be oblivious, but not as much as I liked living.

And every time you get that conscious moment when you go, What am I doing here? just before the high takes over, as you're cooking up, going Why am I doing this again. Why am I in this room again? Why am I with these people again? And it just was literally, make the decision now, right now, live or die, what's it going to be? And the voice was just too loud, I couldn't get rid of it with the high, and it forced me to make a decision. And it's hard, it's still hard to stay straight, and it's been a long time.

But I think fundamentally I'm a little bit of a runner, a runner and a hider, and that's the best way for me to be, to run and hide, but it's also the best way not to take any responsibility for anything. And that doesn't work, so every day it's onestep at a time.

When I go to bed it's like, I got through it, I got through it, and it's almost 25 years now.

It's hard to be an individual;when you're a sheep it's much easier to stay high. And people want you to stay there, because it makes them feel better about being in that world.

But it's not worth it, it's just not - too many people don't get the chance at life. I know that now; a lot of people just don't get the chance at life, and so to throw it away, because I'm overwhelmed ... it's hard.

You still find it chomping at your heels?

Rachel: I won't hang out with the people I used to hang out with. My stepsister says she wants to stop using. I tell her she needs to be able to give up those friends and have nobody, but she's not willing to do that. And I tell her that she's going to be stuck there until she gives them up.

WG: It's hard; you know how hard.

Rachel: For me, I asked, "Is this what I want to do every day?" No, I don't want to do this, I don't want to be a loser.

WG: How long have you been straight?

Rachel: Since before my father died; he died in 2000.

WG:Good, you've got about 50, 60 years left in you. Are you writing about it? I know you're supposed to be asking the questions, but I'm curious.

Rachel: Yes;actually my poem is what got me here to meet you.

WG: Will you write a book?

Rachel: I don't know. I have all my poetry together and just keep writing.

WG: Will you do it? Because I'm asking for a reason. I'm finding a lot of young people are teetering on the edge, and often adults can't help because we come from such a different world.

There isn't a voice that is close to them and within them. You lived it, and it would be really helpful if you told your story in a form other kids could read. There's no book, there's nothing to touch where you can say it's not just me. They always say on TV, "Kids need to know it's not just them. "

Think about it.

Rachel: I have also struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide; my father committed suicide. These problems are constant companions for many. Do you have any advice?

Well, this is going to sound odd, but I think that those thoughts are important, it's important to know they're there, because it makes you have to choose. It makes you examine what it is you're trying to get away from that is so bad. Everyone goes through a time, whether they admit it or not, when they think, This is just not worth it, it could be much better if I weren't here.

And then you have to say okay, but what is that connected to, because I woke up yesterday and I didn't feel like that. So, what's triggering this, and follow it back. And the time it takes to follow it back to one of the roots keeps you in the game for the next day.

And it's like a game, it's like having a little dragon in your brain, and the dragon wants to get out and destroy the city because it's got a boo-boo on its tail. And so you say, "Wait, wait. Why would you destroy the city when you can go and buy the Band-Aid and the ointment that will fix the boo-boo? Wouldn't you rather fix it?"

I know this sounds ridiculous, but that's how I deal with it;the dragon has a boo-boo, it's just trying to piss me off, and make me do something I don't want to do, and I need to find out why. It means you've got to stop everything you're doing and deal with the dragon with the boo-boo.

Besides your own book, is there any book you would tell teens they should read?

I loved To Kill a Mockingbird. It's one of my favorites. It's beautifully written and could have happened at any time. It doesn't have to be the ཮s. It could be any hue of people, any group of people, this slice of life encompasses.

And is there a movie you liked?

There are tons of them; tons and tons of them. But "To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of them; it's a little slow now compared with other films, but it will move you. It just kind of gets me, because you want to know that somebody, somewhere, will try to protect you if they can.

You have by far one of the most interesting names in show biz. How did you get it?

I don't think you can print this, but I'm the flatulence queen, the queen of the fantastic fart. That's where my name came from. When you're moving around as I was, you don't have time to - so, you're changing a costume and you've got to let it go, you say, "Sorry, here it comes. " So, that's where it came from, "FQ, " Fart Queen.

And also, it seems you're acquainted with lots of famous people. Has any one person impressed you?

Everybody, oh, everybody impresses me. I'm always excited to meet famous people; I used to have an autograph book I carried around. I always tried to go places to see folks, because there are people you always want to meet.

I'd say, "Okay, they think I'm famous too, " so it would be easier. And then sometimes you go, "Oh, I wish I hadn't met you, because I don't like you. " You know who they actually are. But it's exciting; I'm a fan of people. I'm a fan of ice skaters and boxing folks and singers and dancers and presidents and prime ministers. And I figure I may not get this opportunity again, so let's make the most of it and see if there's anything to learn. And as I said sometimes it's just like, Oh, take a chill pill, because sometimes people get, like, they're famous so their brains warp.

How did your daughter's pregnancy impact you, and what advice helped you through?

When I got famous we went down a rough path, because she just sort of - she was out and about, if you will, sneaking out of the house and stuff. And I was off making movies, so she was living with my mom and had a really hard time because fame sort of swept us up so quickly. It wasn't like we had a lot of time to prepare for it, it literally happened overnight. So, we weren't speaking for two or three years, but then she called.


"Yeah?Something's wrong, huh?"

"Yeah. "

"Are you pregnant?"

"Yeah. "

"Okay, you want to come see me?" She was in San Francisco, and I was in Los Angeles, shooting a movie.

I said, "What do you want to do?"

She said, "I think I want to keep the baby. "

"Okay, we'll all stand behind you, but it's your baby, " I told her. I was raised that you support folks if they need your help and don't make life harder for them. If you can afford to help emotionally or financially, then you do that, and you support their choice.

And I'd always been pro-choice, which actually means not only do you have the choice to have an abortion, but you have the choice to keep your child. Getting pregnant was a choice for her, as I discovered. And most kids want to raise children not because they're ready to have children but because they want someone who belongs specifically to them.

What we don't realize is that we are definitely products of our parents and we sometimes carry their worst habits, which is why things go in cycles.

So, she has three kids now, been married forever; her oldest is 12, a very nice young lady, very strange but nice; she has a six-year-old daughter who - we don't know why this happened, but she thinks she's Marilyn Monroe. Nobody understands where she came from, but we welcome her into the family. And I have a three-year-old grandson who looks like Barney Rubble slightly toasted, who is also strange and wonderful.

But I suspect, because I've heard her talk to teens about this, that more than anything, if adults could just understand that kids don't get pregnant to piss you off, they're looking for something rich in their lives.

And funny enough, most kids realize that they do enrich a parent's life, but what children also discover is that we can't save our parents, we can't make them whole, and that's when problems begin; you can't fix them.

And when kids realize that the children they have don't necessarily fix the problem, it gets a little dicey.

So, first, if you can possibly avoid getting pregnant, that's what I would suggest. Sex is wonderful with the right person at the right time, and 14 is not the right time. There's still more stuff to do for you to get all bogged down in that. So, if you can avoid it, wait; there's so much to do, so much to do.

What is the biggest thing teenagers can do to make a difference in their communities?

That's such a hard question, because what's facing you guys is so different from anything I ever had to face. The worst thing that could happen around my school was someone got into a fight. You guys are facing death in school. You're facing drive-by shootings and AIDS, and things that just never were part of my everyday life.

So, for me, from this perspective, to say this is what you should be doing or could be doing, is tough. My granddaughter asks me those kinds of questions, and she too is talking about issues I have not had to grapple with. This five-year-old asked me if I would be sad if she died in school. These are not questions I am prepared for from her; "Why can't we go to Disneyland" kind of questions were more what I was anticipating. And I said "Yeah, I would be unhappy. I would miss you a lot. " And I wanted to ask her, "But why are you thinking that, that's never going to happen. " But in her world people rush into nursery schools and do things to innocent little kids.

So, September 11th is the first time we all were on the same playing field. We all saw something collectively that none of us, from the oldest to the youngest, had ever experienced, and it's made a huge difference in the way we talk to young people. And it's made a huge difference in adults, because adults have had to finally say out loud, "I don't have the answer. I don't know. "

I think that's the best piece of advice I can give to anybody, "If you don't know, say you don't know, and then ask for help to find out. " Because we all knowt hat anything can happen, so the obligations that we have to take the dragon into the city for the boo-boo is now much stronger.

So, is there anything we should have asked you, or that you want to add?

No, but I do want to say that I hope all of your writing continues.

Do you have one more question?

What's your favorite Entemann's?

They asked me if I wanted to do a commercial, but I don't eat sweets. I like potato chips, I'm a salt person.

And I said no, I don't think so. They said, "Well, you must eat sweets sometimes. " Occasionally I have a chocolate donut. And they said, "So, you like chocolate donuts?" I said "Yeah, occasionally. " They said, "We want you to be our spokesperson. "That is my favorite Entemann's - chocolate donuts.

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i love this so much!