The Butler Did It

Brett Butler's career could serve as a template for what passes as current-day show-business success. Humble beginnings leading to big-time popularity leading to tabloid exploits leading to a quick fall from grace. Now we come full circle to the triumphal clean-and-sober comeback tour. The former star of ABC's Grace Under Fire will be making a rare nightclub appearance Thursday, September 21, through Sunday, September 24, at the Tempe Improv Comedy Theater.

In her early 20s, Butler left an abusive marriage and ended up working in a Houston diner. As unlikely as it sounds, she was discovered there by the owner of a local comedy club. The quintessential wisecracking waitress, she kept her customers laughing. After some encouragement, she made her first steps into a career as a standup. What set her apart was her painfully honest comic persona. Her material focused on life with the lowlife ex-husband she took to referring to as "Mr. Right Hook." Her stories of life as an intelligent woman trapped in a nightmare led her into a successful career on the comedy circuit. Eventually, she created a sitcom loosely based on her own story, which became an immediate hit.

Success seemingly didn't agree with Butler. Not long after landing the show, she became a regular fixture in the tabloids. Rumors of on-set tantrums and walkouts led to speculation about drug addiction and alcohol abuse. It got to the point where her network couldn't deal with her, and the show was canceled after five tumultuous years. In a 1999 interview with Entertainment Tonight after having achieved 15 months of sobriety, she spoke of having lost control. "I lost a lot and created a great deal of wreckage and don't have anybody to blame but myself."

Butler's current tour brings her back to the club stages where she first proved herself. With her new stories of life lived in the pages of National Enquirer, this show should be an interesting chance to catch up with one of comedy's most honest female voices.

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David Gofstein