Meet Emmy Laybourne, Daughter of Cable-TV Royalty

That Laybourne Girl

Emmy Laybourne took the stage with her younger brother, Sam. It was a benefit night at the Kitchen for the Center for Discovery, a camp for people with severe disabilities, and the audience wasn’t the usual alternative comedy crowd, but men in suits and women in cocktail dresses. A tape started playing a schmaltzy melody, and Ms. Laybourne, dressed in a sleeveless red top and long black skirt, began to sing lyrics she’d written: “We could walk on sandy beaches,” Emmy began innocently enough. “We could backpack through Europe,” Sam responded.

Soon brother and sister were chiming in on a disturbing chorus: “But we can’t make love–because we are related! It’s taboo for me and you!” They danced lasciviously with each other, then backed off guiltily.

In the audience were the Laybournes’ mother and father–Geraldine Laybourne, the former head of Nickelodeon and now potentate of the new women’s cable and Internet channel, Oxygen, and Kit Laybourne, the former head of the Colossal Pictures animation studio who is now developing programming for Oxygen.

The little duet kept going: “I used to watch you sleeping when you were a little child,” sang Emmy. “And I thought to myself as I saw you, so weak, so defenseless–man, it would be wild!” To which Sam replied: “I used to watch you bathing when you went through puberty. And I thought to myself as I saw you emerge from the water–why can’t she be with me?”

At the end of the number, the Laybourne parents applauded loudly for Emmy’s paean to incest. What parent wouldn’t be proud?

“She was born creative,” Geraldine Laybourne said after the show. “She really didn’t have a choice. This poor kid was tortured. She and Sam used to say, ‘Please, Mom, no more TV!’”

Although Emmy Laybourne, a 5-foot 10-inch tall redhead, was born into show biz (or, at least, cable), she has been working her way up through the city’s low-paying alternative comedy scene for years, like everybody else. Now she’s making her film debut in Superstar as Helen, the geeky, braces-wearing best friend to Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher.

“I think it’s a real problem for women comedians that they don’t want to look bad,” Ms. Laybourne said over lemonade at Rudy’s Bar & Grill on Ninth Avenue. “Comedy is about falling down. I don’t want to have all of America want to have sex with me. But I would like to make them laugh.” From the moment she read the Superstar script, she said she knew “there is a woman who is awkward and geeky enough to play Helen, and that woman is me.”

She developed her geekiness and awkwardness when she was 11 and her family left Manhattan for Montclair, N.J. “If comedians have to suffer to get that way,” she said, “then that’s where I did my suffering.” Encouraged by her hip mother to wear red-rimmed glasses, Ms. Laybourne was an outcast in the suburbs. “Every time I’d come to a classroom, kids would shout, ‘Red-rim, Red-rim!’”

When Nickelodeon was starting up, the Laybournes frequently used their children in pilots and promos, filmed mostly at their house. The kids also had some say in what should go on the air. “Mom would show us these awful Yugoslavian cartoons and pay us a buck to write a review,” said Emmy.

After college (Vassar, her mother’s alma mater), Ms. Laybourne started performing at alternative comedy clubs such as Catch a Rising Star, Luna Lounge and Surf Reality while working in the Comedy Central promotions department. She would often write a jokey song in the afternoon and sing it off a sheet of paper that night.

She wrote a play, The Miss Alphabet City Beauty Pageant and Spelling Bee , in which she played three contestants–a Russian woman, a supermodel with an inner ear problem and a gawky adolescent–and then a one-woman show, Smorgas-bourne , which she performed at Solo Arts Group on 17th Street. (Her mother attended 11 of the show’s 12 performances, she reported.)

After some cable appearances, she was hired as co-host for a VH1 video show, Rock of Ages . Halfway into the season, she got the Superstar job and broke her contract with VH1. “Since her mom was who she was, they decided to let the matter drop,” said a VH1 source. “Otherwise they probably would have sued.”

“I felt terrible about leaving,” said Ms. Laybourne, who now lives in Los Angeles. But the VH1 show didn’t suit her strengths–she was just being herself, instead of writing and playing characters.

Which is what she’s doing in two upcoming projects: Kiss the Bride , a movie about young prospective marrieds directed by longtime character actor Bob Balaban, with dialogue partly improvised by the cast (Michael McKean, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lisa Kudrow, Christine Lahti); the other is a sketch show with an all-female writing staff, produced by Carsey-Werner-Mandabach and Robert Morton–and scheduled to appear on her mother’s Oxygen channel.

Ms. Laybourne is unfazed by what wags might think: She feels she’s paid her dues. “I’ve been working my ass off for years,” she said. “The truth is, my mom had nothing to do with it. Robert Morton, Mark Farrell and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach cast me.”

Ms. Laybourne was hoping to call the show My Big Fat Vagina . But it won’t have that title when it airs. After all, there’s only so much rebellion a mother can take.

–David Handelman

Firing the Boss

Disgruntled? Disaffected? Want to stick it to the boss? The Business Software Alliance, a watchdog group that targets users of pirated computer software, is here for you.

This past July, in an effort to get back some of the estimated $11 billion chunk of revenue lost to pirated software, the Business Software Alliance introduced a print and radio advertisement campaign: “Worker bees!” said an ominous voice in a clarion call to corporate tattletales everywhere. “Is your company putting you at risk by demanding you do your job on copied software? Your company may demand a lot of you, but they can’t demand that you perform your job using illegal software . It’s wrong. It’s against the law and it makes all of you unwilling accomplices. Violators caught copying software can receive penalties of up to $250,000. But you, the worker bee, have the power to stop piracy by using your stinger. Call 888-NO-PIRACY.”

“We really need concrete information,” said Bob Kruger, a former associate council in the Reagan White House who, as vice president of the Business Software Alliance, is in charge of locating businesses who use pirated software. “We rely on the kindness of strangers and employees to call and provide information.”

When the kindness fails, Mr. Kruger relies on something perhaps more powerful–hatred and revenge.

“Sure, sometimes these people are calling because they have an ax to grind,” Mr. Kruger said. He makes no apologies for getting the names of software pirates from employees who just hate the boss. “From our perspective, it isn’t really all that important why they are calling. It’s more important if they have accurate information. We don’t want to be carrying out a vendetta, but on the other hand, if somebody’s angry at their boss a nd they know that their company is using illegal software, that’s something different.”

Not that everyone who calls the hot line is disgruntled. “In fact, a good number of calls are from people who understand that when their company copies software, they are hurting not only the company but the economy,” Mr. Kruger said.

He said the breakdown between disgruntled employees and concerned citizens is about 50-50. Last year, the Business Software Alliance–which is based in Washington and, as you might have guessed, is backed by Microsoft Corporation, Novell Inc. and other big computer companies–received 8,000 calls.

Mr. Kruger issued a stern warning to all bosses: “The message should be that unless you don’t have any current or former unhappy employees and you don’t plan to make any in the future, you’re really only one phone call away from becoming the target of a B.S.A. investigation.”

–William Berlind