Interview with Author Elisha Shapiro
Elisha Shapiro is a multi-hyphenate creative who grew up in Los Angeles—but instead of being drawn to the glamourous side of Hollywood, he veered toward the one-of-a-kind creative artists of the city. Elisha talks about his creative influences, finding your own community, and his new book, LA Freak. Tell me about growing up in Los Angeles and how you got into the creative scene?
My family moved to Los Angeles when I was in the 6th grade. It was the 60’s and even though we were living in the Palisades, I was seeing hippies on the TV and thought that looked so fun to hitchhike around. I wasn’t really popular in school, I was weird. But I embraced that in junior high. From a young age, I wasn’t really trying to “fit in.” LA is an odd place and some of my friends wanted to be movie stars, but most of them just wanted to be underground filmmakers and other artists. Was there anything that made you say you wanted nothing to do with the glamourous side of Hollywood?
I wasn’t consciously rejecting the glamour side. My uncle would produce concerts and he would take me to the Hollywood Bowl. He was involved with mainstream Hollywood, made a movie, but still stuck to his artistic visions. I got to see grownups also being artistic which was inspiring. When did you start writing and embrace the storyteller in you?
I’ve been writing stories since junior high and most of them were funny stories and things that happened to me. I started going to these storytelling shows around town and the audience really liked them.
What was the inspiration for your book, LA Freak?
The pandemic made it hard for me to share my funny stories because we couldn’t be in public, so I couldn’t go to these storytelling shows like I used to. I was looking at all my stories on my computer and starting to string them together. They were ones that I thought were funny and were also about my encounters in my hometown, in Los Angeles. Growing up I would have these odd encounters with my friends who weren’t mainstream at all. As I got older, I started seeing there was an alternative comedy scene in LA. I loved it. These were my kind of comedians. I realized there was this whole other world where people loved what you loved. Weird people like me can get stuck alone, but for some reason, I looked around and was lucky to find other people who I felt were similar. My book is a little hat tip to people who are like that. What’s the message you want readers to take away after reading your book?
That you can find your community if you look for it. I took a point of view that other people may be wouldn’t take, and I hope people find that inspiring.
I found all these people in this artistic, comedic community. I started making my own art in addition to my writing. In 1980, an article came out in the LA Times saying they picked LA for the Olympic games. Me and my artsy friends decided we should have an Olympic game of our own. I felt compelled to do something with that. At the time I was a press release writer, so I sent out a press release about how the Nihilist Olympics committee had chosen LA as the site for the 1984 Nihilistic Olympic games. I was so surprised when the LA times showed up at my door for it. It was kind of a prank, but I did it in a way where I was also able to communicate something as an artist. What are you creating now and where do you draw your inspiration from?
My art has turned into storytelling at this point. But I did a whole series in the 80’s and ’90s where they were kind of publicity events, but also art. Growing up in LA the media is so central to everything. The media shapes the way people see the world. I wanted to challenge people a little bit and have them stop and think and wonder and ask themselves about their own beliefs. I held the nihilist party convention, for example. What was your favorite part of writing the memoir?
Just going through all my stories was fun. I ended up using only a quarter of the stories I have written in this book. There was a lot to go through. What else are you working on?
Right now, every December for the past 20 years I put on the Nihilist Film Festival. Right now, I’m watching all the submissions of short films from around the world. People can watch it online due to the pandemic. For the past 40 years I’ve been making the Nihilist calendar, just a funny calendar I make every year so I’m putting that together too. I am thinking about my other stories and how it would be fun to get them into another book, but I’m not quite sure how I will organize those. Any advice for a multi-hyphenate creative person?
Art is an interesting thing. People have asked me, ‘what’s driving my art? what’s the motivation?’ On the one hand, it’s emotional and you’re finding a way to express these emotions. There’s another thing about making art, the trick about being an artist is the artist develops these skills where you can actually communicate your own POV to somebody who would never have thought of such things. You can read more about Elisha and order his book, LA Freak, here: http://www.nihilists.net