One evening last summer at the Players Club, Kimberlee Auerbach, an almond-eyed 32-year-old with a moony smile, a voluptuous figure and an ear-splitting laugh, was introduced to some men as an employee of Fox News Channel.
“One of the guys said, ‘God, and you look so nice,'” she recounted. “And I started to get defensive, saying, like, ‘Hey, they’re opinion shows, they cater to a certain demographic, and that demographic is a very real demographic.’ And I’m getting uppity about it, and he said, ‘God, you sound like a stripper defending your profession.’ And I’m like, ‘Are you calling me a whore?!’ And then someone chimed in: ‘A media whore!'”
The exchange stung, said Ms. Auerbach. But she regularly confesses much, much more before large crowds at the Moth, the “urban storytelling” series held at the club.
“I can be a bad little girl!” she once declared. “I can embrace my inner whore!”
She wasn’t talking about working in right-wing broadcast journalism. She was describing her first concerted attempt to have a one-night stand with a painter named Daniel in Montauk.
“I can fuck Daniel!” she enthused. “This will be great!”
Ms. Auerbach explained how she got more from Daniel than a single night of sweaty lovemaking. Arriving home from work one day, “I pulled down my skirt and I’m looking through: OH MY GOD I SEE SOMETHING!”
It was crabs.
Later: “The pharmacist says, ‘Are you sure you haven’t been hiking? Maybe it’s a tick.'”
Ms. Auerbach is a woman addicted to public confession. She put that stage performance on a tape reel she distributes to comedy festivals to advertise her talents as a monologist. She hopes those skills will one day translate into a job as the host of her own self-help TV show.
Presently, Ms. Auerbach has a five-year plan to broadcast a message of honesty, empowerment and self-esteem to fearful, weepy women everywhere. But right now, she said, her offstage confession-that she works at Fox News-is making her double life all the more painful.
Ms. Auerbach was sitting in a café on the Upper West Side on a Sunday evening, wearing a pink sweater, blushing like a secretly naughty bride and punctuating her story with that crackling laugh. She veered between her obsessions with tarot cards (she once gave an on-site reading to a Fox producer) and women’s identity issues (“A lot of women cry a lot and want to be loved a lot and have something safe”), but continually returned to the thorny reality of her day job, which clearly challenged her self-image as a cultural healer.
“I’m constantly attacked,” Ms. Auerbach complained. “I mean really, like I feel like I might as well be a Bush daughter. Especially if you run in a liberal crowd that’s interested politically in what’s going on, you are attacked.”
Ms. Auerbach said her work on the line desk, managing satellite feeds and news crews for affiliates, is the equivalent of waitressing, only she serves up conservative news. No one else at Rupert Murdoch’s cable channel knows what she does at night.
“I can walk into a room if I want to and light the room up,” she said. “I think I have that ability. I’ve been told that I’m very charismatic onstage. And yet at Fox, often I will shower the night before and my hair will be like this”-she splayed her fingers in the air-“and I’ll walk in wearing jeans or whatever, and I slump down in my chair and I really feel like I’m camouflaged. That’s how I survived there this long, but I think it’s really killing something in me. I think it has. It’s really terrible.”
Her next monologue at the Moth is on May 17 for a “storytelling slam” competition. Might she tell some stories from the bowels of Fox News Channel?
“One of my best friends says, ‘You’re going to write a show about it, because it’s just too funny,'” she said, but added that “there would be a fear of doing that. I would be afraid. I don’t think they like that kind of publicity.”
And she wouldn’t be inviting, say, Roger Ailes to her next stage performance?
“No!” she said, horror-stricken at the thought. “But he doesn’t even know me. He might after this, and I might get fired ….
“It’s kind of like dancing drunk at a company party,” she explained. “It’s inappropriate, and you don’t want people to see you that way …. I don’t want people imagining me talking about going to, you know, the pharmacist.”
Andy Borowitz, the comic author and CNN contributor, said that Ms. Auerbach had won a number of competitions at the Moth. “To get to her level, you have to complete with people who take it very, very seriously,” he said. “She’s very charismatic. She’s got a lot of character.”
One story in particular stayed with him, he added, “something about her mother and sex toys. That detail is lodged there.”
“My mom gave me a ‘back massager’ when I turned 16,” Ms. Auerbach explained.
Early on, Ms. Auerbach seemed destined for showbiz. As a teenager in the late 80’s, she was the Le Clic Girl, a model for an instant camera called Le Clic, produced by a company her father ran. After graduating from SUNY Purchase in 1994, she started off as a page at CBS, shuffling audience members into The Late Show with David Letterman. “On my hosting reel,” she said, referring to the tape she sends out for on-air gigs, “Dave Letterman bumps into me and has me wave to everyone and introduces me.”
She tried Off Broadway acting, but she didn’t like how her emotions waxed and waned with audience approval. So she moved to California and got into documentary filmmaking.
“I was working for two lesbian documentary filmmakers in Sausalito and one of them fell in love with me, and I got caught in a bizarre lesbian love triangle,” said Ms. Auerbach. “I had no idea about it until it was too late, and then I went back to New York and got into this kind of news world.”
She got a job at Worldwide Television News as a “broadcast coordinator,” helping outsource news crews around the globe. While there, Ms. Auerbach got a preview of the conservative media universe. It centered on a mystical figure named “Jonah.”
“When I was living in California, when I was very lonely and had no friends, I fell in love with a street sign named ‘Jonah,'” she explained. “I have no idea why, but I became obsessed with it, and I thought that I was meant to marry a Jonah. Maybe I was a Jonah in a past life. I had no idea what Jonah meant.”
One day she got a call from a man named Jonah, who was looking for a news crew in Japan. “I flipped out, because I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is my future husband!’ And I’m so excited, and I’m on the phone with Jonah!'” she recalled.
After some extended flirting, she had the man fax her a handwritten note that she immediately analyzed using a book on graphology. “The loop of his ‘J’ meant he was strong and passionate and I had met my soulmate and it’s crazy!” she said. “I was so crazy!”
But when they met one night on the Upper West Side, she knew within 10 minutes that he wasn’t the fantasy Jonah. It was Jonah Goldberg, the conservative columnist at The National Review, son of right-wing Web pundit and Bill Clinton antagonist Lucianne Goldberg.
Ms. Auerbach laughed so hard and loud she could hardly breathe. The man sitting behind her at the café made a pistol with his hand and pretended to shoot. Her laugh was exceptionally loud.
After meeting Mr. Goldberg, she said, she concluded: “The universe is totally fucking with me!”
Mr. Goldberg noted that he was heavier at the time, but when he looked at Ms. Auerbach’s picture on her Web site, he didn’t recognize her. “It did not ring a bell,” he said. “I truly, honestly don’t remember it. Clearly, she got a very good handwriting analyst.”
Ms. Auerbach was recently inspired after meeting Joy Behar, one of the co-hosts on The View.
“I was convinced I’d be great on The View,” said Ms. Auerbach. “And I came up with a great campaign strategy, and I sent candy bars that my boyfriend doctored and Photoshopped with my name. And after the second batch of candy bars, I got a call and got an interview.”
Ultimately, they were looking for a conservative mom, she said.
Ms. Auerbach next tried to get a gig as a “roving reporter” for Oprah.
“To get her attention, I didn’t send her the chocolate,” said Ms. Auerbach. “She’s losing weight. My mom told me she loves when people get her dogs treats or presents, so I got a big, clear box and I got little treats and I got a pink frame-because pink’s her favorite color-and a picture of her and her dogs, and put this whole care package together. I haven’t heard anything, but I did it. I went for it.”
If nothing else, Ms. Auerbach has had the personal traumas of a proper feel-your-pain TV host: She wrote a one-woman show about her mother, who was sexually abused as a child and suffered a difficult divorce after 25 years of marriage. (It’s called Tarot Reading, developed with Coleman Hough, the screenwriter of the Julia Roberts movie Full Frontal.) She said she had an abusive boyfriend whom she got the courage to dump after Sept. 11. Now she has a boyfriend who lives in Massachusetts and won’t marry her.
She wants to get on TV and help other women sort through the kind of issues she grapples with, which she said all women experience.
“Someone once asked me, if I could be any verb, what would it be?” she said. “And it’s ‘connect.’ So for me, if I’m onstage or I’m in front of the camera, it’s about connection for me in a really honest, soulful way-either to make fun of myself or make fun of what’s going on. That’s something I’d like to do. I’d like to have a more positive effect on the world.”
In the meantime, she’s at Fox News Channel.
She said she gets good reviews at work, although she was chastised last year for not recognizing a Washington, D.C.–based correspondent when she met him.
“I went to the Democratic National Convention and I was sitting eating dinner, and one of the correspondents from D.C. said, ‘Who are you?’ And I said, ‘Who are you?'” Ms. Auerbach recalled. “And that was really embarrassing. It was really bad. In my review this year, they said, ‘You do a great job, but you really should watch the news channel a little bit more, because you didn’t know this guy and that’s a big deal.'”
(She wouldn’t name the correspondent, but she said it wasn’t Carl Cameron, Jim Angle or Brit Hume.)
Ms. Auerbach considered her job at Fox News a kind of spiritual testing ground for someone who wants to continue having a soul.
“And I work in a basement,” she said. “So I don’t get a lunch break. No windows. Monitors above my head-20 monitors this way, 20 monitors behind me. I remember before we went to war, and I was still hoping we wouldn’t go to war, my boss came over to me and said, ‘Listen, when we go to war, we’re going to be 24/7 and you’re going to have to come in for the weekend.’ And I’m listening to her and it’s like wah-wah-wah”-Ms. Auerbach sounded like the teacher from Peanuts-“and I see above me: ‘Bubonic Plague; Files Missing in Texas; North Korea Nuclear Standoff’ …. It’s Armageddon! We’re going to die!”
She let rip another piercing cackle. The man behind her straightened up, eyes widening in disbelief.
Ms. Auerbach recently came to terms with the possibility that she might not make it on television. It happened when she had a flu shot that made half her face go temporarily numb.
“And I thought I was dying,” she said. “And I’m in the emergency room right after I sent the Oprah video, and my boyfriend is parking the car, and I’m thinking I’m going to die, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m not married yet, and I’m not the host of my own show, and nothing in my life has happened the way it was supposed to.’ And all of a sudden, I felt overcome with peace, like it was O.K., because I had love in my life and I worked really hard to have a healthy relationship, and I may not be married but I have this beautiful thing, and I may not be the host of my own show yet, but I put myself out there. And it was the first time in my life I realized it’s not about the getting, it’s about the process. And that helped fill me with peace. And when I didn’t die, I said, ‘I’m going to hold on to this.’
“But yeah,” she added after a long moment, “I want something to happen.”