Selected Shorts highlights fifth annual Pudd’nhead Festival

Seven-time Emmy nominated Jane Kaczmarek may best be known for her TV roles on “Malcolm in the Middle,” “St. Elsewhere” and “Hill Street Blues,” but the versatile actress is a great advocate of turning off the TV and opening up a book.

Over the years, Kaczmarek has taken part in Selected Shorts, a program produced by Symphony Space that is broadcast over 150 radio stations across the country, as well as via podcast. As part of her involvement, Kaczmarek travels to different locations and reads stories by well-known and emerging writers.

“It’s one of my favorite jobs, working with them,” she said. “Literature is a huge part of my life. I am part of a book group led by David Ulin (former book reviewer at the LA Times) that is very challenging, and we read a lot of short stories and books.”

On Sept. 21, she will join comedian Michael Ian Black and “Private Practice” star Kate Walsh at the Ridgefield Playhouse for a Selected Shorts performance.

“I’ve travelled around with the program to different places and when they asked me to come to Ridgefield to do this, I thought it was perfect because I have a house in Connecticut,” Kaczmarek said. “Michael and I had worked on a TV show together a while back so it seemed like a good thing to do.”

On the night, Kaczmarek will be reading short stories from Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut.

The Selected Shorts event is just part of the Mark Twain Library’s 5th annual Pudd’nhead Festival, created by Black, a Redding resident who is a big believer in the power of the written word.

“Redding is lucky enough to have been the final hometown of America’s greatest humorist, Mark Twain. He loved it here, founding a library with an initial donation and quarters he collected from guests to his home,” Black said. “When we honor Twain with Pudd’nhead, we’re also honoring the spirit of the library he founded as a true community institution, a place where everybody contributes a little bit so that everybody may get a lot.”

All proceeds from the Pudd’nhead Festival go to the Mark Twain Library.

Jen Wastrom, co-chair of Pudd’nhead, said the festival is named for the title character in Mark Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” first serialized in 1893-94 and published as a novel in 1894. David Wilson is a lawyer in a small town who locals brand a “Pudd’nhead” — a fool and eccentric, but when a crime is committed in town, it is Pudd’nhead Wilson who ultimately saves the day, illustrating the point that it is often the misunderstood among us who have the most to give.   

When he founded the idea in 2014, Black said it was important that everybody could, in some way, participate in Pudd’nhead. That meant creating events geared towards different ages and with an eye to making them as affordable as possible while still raising money for the library.

“With Michael’s benevolence and funny bone at its core, the festival has quickly grown into a four-pronged comedy celebration for all ages,” said Pam Robey, co-chair of the Pudd’nhead Festival.

The signature event is the Pudd’nhead Prize, in which a famous funny person is honored with a unique prize. Past recipients have been Jim Gaffigan, Ben Stiller, Roz Chast, and Seth Meyers.

“This year we’ve got Paul Rudd,” Black said. “Just amazing people who have agreed to come up to the wilds of Connecticut to get a giant spoon.”

The show’s second year saw the introduction of the “Pudd’nhead Parade,” a free event for kids, in a well-known children’s book author does a presentation in the library, followed by a very noisy parade through the library, followed by a picnic featuring “P” foods: pizza, pudding, pretzels and popsicles.

“Our third event is the ‘Hoot’nanny,’ an evening of stand-up comedy featuring great talent we bring in from New York City,” Black said. “We’ve been holding it in an incredible barn here in Redding that has been converted into a performance space. We’ve had amazing comics so far, including Judy Gold. This year, we’ve got three comedy vets (Michelle Buteau; Josh Gondelman and Carmen Lagala), all of whom have appeared on the late-night shows. It should be a very funny night.” That will take place on Friday, Sept. 14.

“The Pudd’nhead Festival is all about laughter: laughter of the children at the parade, laughter at stand-up on a Friday night; laughter leaping from the pages of humorous short stories, laughter generated by a celebrated humorist receiving a giant spoon,” said Wastrom. “We believe this is the perfect way to honor our funny founder, and to keep his legacy alive and well in Redding.”

Last year, in an effort to ensure it was doing justice to the “literary” part of the festival, Selected Shorts was added to the roster.

“I’m very excited about the whole festival,” Kaczmarek said.

Tickets for Selected Shorts are $30 and available at the Ridgefield Playhouse box office or at ridgefieldplayhouse.org. For more information about the festival, visit marktwainlibrary.org.

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