Instead of a rug, a child’s foam play mat covers the floor; its giant-jigsaw pieces are decorated with animal shapes in tasteful shades of white and grey.
On top of it, there’s a bouncer whose brightly colored dangling toys are designed to delight little eyes and hands – and trip up mommies and daddies as did that dastardly Dick Van Dyke ottoman.
In one corner, there’s a fortress-like cubicle where her husband, comic Ben Rosenfeld, writes jokes.
Crunched into the opposite corner in what is technically the dining room is Michelle’s workspace, a small white table and a black office chair.
It is a funny scene, which is a good thing because Michelle, a stand-up comic and producer, gets her ideas from her life, and right now, that means mining motherhood for all it’s worth.
“OK, I admit it,” she says. “I use my baby, Eliana, as a comedic tool.”
As if on cue, the pitter patter of footsteps is heard.
Wait, it’s not 9-month-old Eliana – she’s spending time with her Manhattan grandparents – it’s only Ben, who is just waking up after a late-night show and an even later-night party.
Where were we? Oh, yes, Michelle gets her punch lines from her own experiences. When she was 38 weeks pregnant, she did a stand-up routine about being with child.
Let’s go back to that – nine months is 36 weeks, and 38 weeks is, well it’s amazing she was able to stand at a mic, much less draw big-belly laughs from the audience about her colossal circumference.
What’s even funnier, in Michelle’s view at least, is that only two days after she gave birth, via C-section, she was cast in a sketch for Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Although she had auditioned a ton of times for two tons of roles – she even donned a bikini when she was eight months pregnant – she had never gotten a single part.
This time the joke was on her because she hadn’t even tried out; a friend had recommended her.
Ben points out that when he told her about the offer while she was lying in her hospital bed, he couldn’t believe she turned it down.
(He doesn’t recount exactly what she said, but it’s safe to assume that her reply included a lot of words that babies like Eliana are not allowed to hear.)
But, he says, she had a change of heart, and a week later, she was filming the sketch for the show.
“I plan to have a second child so I can be on Conan,” she says and laughs.
By her own admission, Michelle has always liked to be the center of attention, which worked out just fine in her family.
“My dad is a huge personality,” she says. “He’s a king of Borsch Belt humor, and he has a Rolodex of jokes for all occasions. And I’ve always been schmaltzy or hammy.”
Michelle, who doesn’t like to admit that she was born and raised on the fashionable Upper East Side of Manhattan, was a precocious child.
“I attended The Dalton School from kindergarten through 12th grade,” she says. “I was interviewed at age 2, and I got in because when the interviewer came to view me in my day-care class, I walked up and said, ‘Hey, how’s it going,’ which apparently is an advanced thing for someone that age to do.”
Michelle began taking acting lessons when she was 9 and had roles in many school productions.
“I always was cast in character roles,” she says. “I was always playing a Jewish mother even when I was 12.”
It was when she was at the University of Michigan that she got involved in improv.
“I wasn’t studying acting,” she says. “I majored in Spanish so I would have something to fall back on if my acting career fell through.”
She puts a horrified look on her face. What was she thinking? Spanish as a career? Now, that’s really a joke.
While waiting for her big break, Michelle held a series of rent-paying jobs that ranged from selling real estate to checking coats.
She did get two roles – she was cast in the regional production of the Off-Broadway play Jewtopia, which made her think she was going places, and right afterward had a part in an outdoor children’s show at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which convinced her that she wasn’t.
Since college, she had been producing singles events, so she decided to focus on that.
“They were for me to meet a guy,” she says. “But I was so busy checking people in that I didn’t have much time to check people out.”
She only made one match – the couple moved in together until the man decided he was gay – but the productions did push her into stand-up comedy.
“I MC’d them and told jokes, which essentially means stand-up comedy,” she says. “I took stand-up classes, which are like training wheels when you’re learning to ride a bike.”
Focusing on her funny side also changed her life – in 2015, she met Ben on the comedy circuit, and they married after dating for more than two years.
(For the full story, you’ll have to ask Ben. Michelle prefers to gloss over the details like their sharing space with Ben’s roommate and living and working in a single room, with his and hers desks on each side of their bed.)
“I nagged him for at least a year to marry me,” she says. “Ben’s father dated his current wife for 20 years, so I knew he had had a poor role model. When he did finally propose, it wasn’t a surprise, even though he thought it was.”
Michelle’s stand-up work led her to found Drawing Room Entertainment, which puts on comedy shows in people’s homes and which, with the coming of Eliana, is her main focus.
The funny stuff aside, Michelle takes her career and roles as mother and wife seriously. She arranges her schedule around Eliana’s and gets up every morning to make breakfast for Ben.
It’s nothing fancy – eggs, and when she has time, homemade hummus – but she likes the ritual, and she loves taking care of him.
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling