Oy! It's the Queen of Farklemt!
TIME AND AGAIN, LINDA RUZAN REMEMbers, she would say something that would get a rise-out of her son-in-law Mike Myers, the Saturday Night Live-wire and star of Wayne’s World. Myers, a native of suburban Toronto, was always delighted with the way the Bronx-born Ruzan, 52, pronounced coffee as “cawfee” and daughter as “dawtuh”—the dawtuh in question being Robin, 30, an actress and comedy writer who wed Mike, 30, last May after a six-year romance. Then there was the time, says Ruzan, when “Mike had put on a leather jacket and I said to him, ‘It’s like buttuh.’ And he said, ‘It’s like what?’ ”
Like “buttuh”—you know, the dairy product. The phrase is now more Myers’s than Ruzan’s. Or, to be precise, it belongs to Linda Richman, the Jewish matron whom Myers plays on SNL skits and who bears a very close resemblance to his mother-in-law. Linda, the big-haired, seriously manicured cable-TV hostess of “Coffee Talk,” almost vibrates with emotion whenever she discusses subjects dear to her, such as her idol, Barbra Streisand. In fact, she’s apt to become farklemt—just like the real Linda.
Farklemt? “What it means is ‘overwhelmed with emotion,’ ” says Ruzan (née Richman). She learned this and other expressions from her husband’s parents, who spoke mainly Yiddish. (Her marriage ended in divorce after 30 years.) “But I don’t like to bother anybody when I’m choked up with emotion,” adds Ruzan. “So what I started doing was this.” She covers her mouth with one hand, lowers her face slightly and thrusts her other hand forward in a stop motion. Myers’s variation on this is Linda Richman’s urgently telling her guests, “Talk amongst yourselves!”
Ever since the “Coffee Talk” hostess made her debut in 1991, viewers have been laughing amongst themselves, farklemt has become the un-likeliest of buzz words, and Ruzan, who recently moved from Queens to Manhattan and runs a TV-commercial casting and research agency called Hidden Talents, has been trying to figure out why, indirectly or not, she has emerged as a hit. “I, of course, thought I was just absolutely unique,” she says, laughing. “Now people tell me, ‘God, you remind me of my cousin Harriet, my cousin Marilyn, my cousin Esther’—and that’s fine in New York. But then you hear it in Idaho and Iowa and Missouri, and where are all these Jewish women hiding out, you know?”
But Ruzan is unique. “She’s such a spark,” says Myers. “She’s a haimisheh—a warm person.” When they were introduced in 1987, Ruzan, he claims, greeted him: “Look at that goyish ponem [a gentile face]. A goy, huh? Are you hungry? Want a bowl of Scotch? Are you a Streisand fan?”
That sounds uncannily like the maven of “Coffee Talk.” When she first saw Myers doing his SNL Linda, says Ruzan, “I just roared.” For one thing, “except for getting into make-up, he had been imitating me right to my face for about three years.” And she doesn’t mind? Feh! “It’s clone with love.”
She frankly adores her son-in-law, who collaborates with Robin in writing “Coffee Talk” segments. “If my daughter gave me money and said, ‘Do me a favor, here’s money, go buy me a husband that will also satisfy you as a mother-in-law,’ I couldn’t have done a better job.” Three and a half years ago, when Robin’s brother Jordan, a playwright, died at 29 in a car crash, “Mike was just unbelievable,” says Ruzan. “He just kind of said, ‘C’mon. Life is going to go on and let’s have a good time.’ ” Pause. “And certainly a good time was Barbra Streisand in Las Vegas.”
That 1994 New Year’s concert was a farklemtfest. Myers—who briefly joined Streisand onstage in his Richman getup (Babs had put in a “Coffee Talk” cameo on SNL in 1992)—introduced his mother-in-law to the star at a rehearsal. Recalls Ruzan: “I said to her, ‘I waited 30 years to meet you, but I’m going to kiss my daughter first.’ And I walked over and hugged and kissed Robin and Mike, just to gain my equilibrium.” She describes Streisand as a “teeny-tiny, skinny white little angel. She kissed and hugged me, and I just thought to myself, ‘Oh, my good God, this is more than I can bear.’ ”
As a celebrity in-law, Ruzan is actually bearing up quite well. “I can be on a bus and hear people say, ‘Oh, I’m so farklemt today,’ or ‘It’s like buttuh.’ And I just sit there and think, ‘Hmmmm.’ Andy Warhol said everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame? I have 22 minutes of fame, all right.”
MARIA SPEIDEL in New York City