As a writer and co-executive producer of “Sex and the City,” Cindy Chupack helped create a pop culture phenomenon — an instant classic that was at once of its time and timeless. The show, which completed its six-year run in February 2004, was sent off with a flurry of celebratory profiles, waves of chat-room anxiety and, finally, the tears of more than 10 million viewers.
But while others might be content to rest on their laurels for a little while, Chupack has refused to let the momentum ebb, rushing ahead with two new television projects, a best-selling book and, on the personal front, a rich new relationship. As became clear in a recent interview with the Forward, she remains, in many ways, the consummate storyteller.
“I get bored with facts, but I can really recollect stories, and not even know who told me or why or when,” she said over tea at Manhattan’s Soho House, the famed members-only club trendy enough to earn its own cameo on the relentlessly ahead-of-the-curve show. “I just remember the story, and the emotionally important details.”
Chupack, who won three Golden Globes and an Emmy for her work on “Sex and the City,” actually began her career on the printed page. After graduating with a journalism degree from Northwestern University, Chupack, now 39, moved to New York and began working in advertising. Her very first magazine humor piece was spotted by a television producer; soon after, she found herself writing for television and splitting her time between New York and Los Angeles.
In addition to professional developments, Los Angeles presented a Jewish life very different from the one she knew in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla. “Growing up in Oklahoma, you felt like such an outcast being a Jew,” she said. “I sometimes joke that in Oklahoma you are less a Jew than a hell-bound non-Christian.” (There was one Reform temple and one Conservative synagogue — “following the time-honored tradition of having one you go to and one you’d never set foot in,” Chupack said; she and her family attended the Reform temple.)
As she moved ahead in her career, Chupack found herself more and more involved in Jewish events — from participating in a Purim shpiel at New York’s Jewish Museum and speaking at various federation programs throughout the country, to regaling innumerable synagogue sisterhoods with readings from “The Between Boyfriends Book: A Collection of Cautiously Hopeful Essays” (St. Martin’s Press, 2003), which she authored.
“The Jews seemed to have glommed on to me — like the French with Jerry Lewis,” she joked.
But, like all humor writers, she can easily locate a deeper message. “Storytelling is a great way to say what you want to say or explore a dilemma. I like that about Judaism, that storytelling is part of the culture,” she said. “The stories we grow up hearing as Jews teach lessons better than any instructions or rules can.”
It was in part this commitment to the art of storytelling that landed Chupack on the writing staff of “Sex and the City.” The show, which focused on the lives of four single women in New York City, was swathed in fantasy — beautiful clothes, a wondrous city, caddish men (and women) with hilarious sexual proclivities and the time to ponder it all at a local coffee shop. But each ounce of fluff seemed counterbalanced by surprisingly resonant messages about romance, friendship and being a woman today — marriage and sex, of course, but also the surrogate parents one acquires as a single woman (more often than not, the cleaning lady) and the sad yet important phase of having one’s own apartment, “an amazing luxury that most of our mothers never had,” according to Chupack.
“‘Sex and the City’ was commiserating — and I think that was the chord that we hit. We weren’t lecturing women, we weren’t even good role models much of the time. But in the end we were being honest,” she said. “I hope that with ‘Sex and the City,’ and with all of my writing, that I helped make it okay to be single — and not just as a transitory phase.”
Like “Sex and the City,” one of Chupack’s next two projects has an autobiographical component. She is writing a pilot for HBO about a marriage that falls apart but becomes a friendship, as the man realizes he’s gay — a premise loosely based on Chupack’s own first marriage, in her early 20s.
The second project is a series for ABC about “the life of a diva rock star,” and it is being executive produced by Elton John. In between, Chupack is continually touring to promote her book (which has been translated into Italian, Korean, Russian and Dutch, among other languages), teaching a sitcom-writing class at New York University and serving on the advisory board of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, which provides small business loans to poor women. Last month, she ventured to Guatemala to open one of the project’s banks, for which she donated the seed money.
And she still makes times for her friends, including the New York-based writers for “Sex and the City,” many of whom still get together for “sushi and story” every Monday night.
“While the show was going on, we all had troubled relationships,” Chupack said. “Now that the show is over, almost all of us are doing much better. I think it was partly the time freed up, but it was also that during the show, there was no incentive for things to work out. We were all sort of half-dating, half-observing for material. Now, it’s real life.”
Fact or fiction, storytelling continues to benefit Chupack. A few years back, she began performing with The Moth, a New York-based storytellers’ showcase, and she met a man there who seemed just unusual enough — a lawyer, but one who sports tattoos and rides a motorcycle (and yes, he’s Jewish). Last month, the consummate storyteller, famous for her single-girl tales, started writing a new chapter. Reader, she’s marrying him.
“I guess I kind of did my life upside down, compared to what women used to be expected to do. I did the career first, and now, although I will continue to have a career, I’d like to focus on the more traditional things,” she said. “I have a list of 100 things I want to do with my life. A lot of them were things I thought would never happen. ‘Win an Emmy’ was on there for a long time, and that happened.”
Here Chupack stopped and twisted her mouth into a mischievous smile.
“And there’s also ‘Get married and have kids,’” she said.