Ear­li­er this week, Leigh Stein wrote about the Jew­ish ghost of San­ta Fe and revealed one of her ear­ly aspi­ra­tions: to Be Anne Frank.” She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

One of the strange things about hav­ing your first book come out is that you think you’ve writ­ten one thing, and then every­one decides you’ve writ­ten some­thing else. I guess I don’t mean en masse, but I did think I had writ­ten kind of a sad, qui­et nov­el, and now I’m get­ting pegged as the fun­ny girl.

You know who was real­ly the fun­ny girl? 

If you said Fan­ny Brice you’d be right. 

I grew up on musi­cal the­ater the way oth­er peo­ple grow up on sports (some of my great­est tri­umphs were in com­pet­i­tive opera singing), and watched Bar­bra Streisand movies like an acolyte. For­get Julie Andrews (who I’m sure is very nice) — I loved Bar­bra: her voice, the twin­kle in her eye, her nose. I’m not exag­ger­at­ing when I say that watch­ing her sing I’m the Great­est Star” in Fun­ny Girl changed my life.

Fun­ny Girl is based on the life of Fan­ny Brice, who sang for the Ziegfeld Fol­lies, act­ed on Broad­way and in film, and played Baby Snooks on the radio for years. She made a life and career out of con­tra­dic­tions — a Yid­dish dialec­ti­cian” who nev­er knew more than a hun­dred words of the lan­guage, a skin­ny girl who could­n’t dance and yet sang for the glam­orous Fol­lies, an inde­pen­dent woman who mar­ried three times. 

In his biog­ra­phy of the per­former, Her­bert G. Gold­man quotes Fan­ny on her dual nature: Self-aware and self-per­cep­tive, Fan­ny once said she had always been aware of two peo­ple with­in me. Almost like a moth­er and child. I have felt like I was my own moth­er, and when I would think about Fan­ny, I would always think about myself as a child.’”

What makes Fan­ny such a great tal­ent is exact­ly this dual­i­ty, between moth­er and child, seri­ous and play­ful. Bar­bra has it too, on film. Maybe it’s a Jew­ish thing. Although crit­ics wrote main­ly about Fan­ny as a come­di­enne, one of her great­est hits was My Man,” which she always sang with her eyes closed, no doubt imag­in­ing her first hus­band, Nick Arn­stein. It sounds soul­ful to me when I lis­ten to it again now, and I think I know why Fan­ny sang torch songs — because those were the moments when she got to stop play­ing the fun­ny girl. 

Leigh Steins debut nov­el, The Fall­back Plan, is now avail­able. Leigh is a for­mer New York­er staffer and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to its Book Bench” blog. She lives in Brook­lyn, where she works in children’s pub­lish­ing and teach­es musi­cal the­ater to ele­men­tary school stu­dents.

Leigh Stein is the author of the nov­el The Fall­back Plan and a col­lec­tion of poet­ry, Dis­patch from the Future. Her work has appeared in Allure, Buz­zFeed, Gawk­er, The Hair­pin, Poets & Writ­ers, Slate, The Toast, and xoJane. For­mer­ly an edi­to­r­i­al staff mem­ber at The New York­er, she cur­rent­ly lives out­side New York City and co-directs the non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion Out of the Binders.