Photos by Jeff Grambs
Extra Hands by Jennifer Grambs
Alison Grambs is living her best mediocre life as a Manhattan-raised writer and performer.
When Ali was in a fifth grader at P.S. 183 in Manhattan, she proudly handed in to her teacher what she believed would prove to be the definitive book report on Napoleon Bonaparte. Its opening sentence read...
“Napoleon Bonaparte was quite tall.”
And thus, Ali's comedy career was born!
The daughter of two funny and worldly writers, Ali unexpectedly started working in the Arts as a tween, when an open call in Times Square led to landing the role of Pepper in the 2nd National Tour of Annie. Ironically, Ali had never seen Annie before, so the three days she and her lopsided braids were given to learn the part were a whirlwind. With Broadway veterans Reid Shelton and Jane Connell at the helm, the traveling orphans sang and danced with their buckets and mops eight shows a week, and performed on The Phil Donahue Show
and NBC's Texaco Star Theatre.
When the sun eventually stopped comin' out tomorrow, Ali returned to school in Manhattan, trading in her orphan rags for a knapsack and flute at Friends Seminary. While she excelled in English, her flute skills were so lacking that there wasn't a chair far back enough in the orchestra to shield audiences from her woeful woodwind work. So, Ali traded in her flute for a leotard and tights to study, among all the usual academic subjects, Drama at the 'famed ' Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art
and Performing Arts.
Although Method acting felt too methodical for her playful sensibilities, her senior year role as a neurotic chicken in the Story Theatre, under the direction of TV veteran Bill Britten, introduced Ali to comedy improvisation. It's a field she would later dive into professionally as a cast member of Chicago City Limits, the acclaimed off-B'way
comedy improvisation revue.
But like all peckish poultry in the performing arts, Ali also yearned to earn a degree in English Literature. So, off to Haverford College she fluttered, spending the next four years reading big words in old books and writing about those old books using small words. Occasional extra work on Saturday Night Live distracted Ali from the fact that her senior thesis had no thesis.
After graduating, Ali supplemented her comedy improv income with a part-time job at the legendary Friars Club - home of the ground-breaking Celebrity Roasts. The job became full-time and multi-faceted, and proved pivotal. Thanks to the multi-generational artistic influences gathered, both in person and in spirit, within the walls of that historic Midtown brownstone, Ali's arts career was generously nurtured and diversified over the next near two decades. She became a staff writer and co-producer for the Roasts and a variety of annual comedy events and tributes, wrote the Friars' entertainment newsletter, and served as the Membership Director.
During this time Ali wrote a series of books, acted in a few commercials and stage productions, got married, did some regional and national radio interviews, published some humor essays, and was a featured author (not flautist) on the Today show.
An invaluable stint as a contributor to MAD Magazine followed. Thanks to the wit and wisdom of its unparalleled editors and illustrators, it was here that Ali's comedy writing in a medium entirely new to her was so thoughtfully fostered, honed, and elevated. So much so that even her many, many rejected submissions often felt like a win.
Ali is the author of nine humor books, some for grown-ups, some for kids, some translated into Romanian, Latvian, German, and Braille editions. Her newest joke book (penned under the name A. Grambs) features a corresponding joke-a-day desk calendar.
Always a New Yorker at heart, Alison lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, a retired law enforcement professional and motorhead, their rescue pups...and whatever random wildlife hunkers down in their driveway.
(Sadly, not a single neurotic chicken has yet to visit.)