People to Know 2019: Lea DeLaria
Lea DeLaria and her brother, both of whom have diabetes, were taking part in a friendly competition: “Who can lose more weight, who can keep their A1C lower,” says the 61-year-old actress, who was diagnosed with type 2 in the middle of shooting season three of Netflix’s prison drama Orange is the New Black.
Spoiler alert: Lea won. That posed an unexpected problem. Big Boo, the women’s prison inmate Lea plays, was suddenly 55 pounds thinner. She had dropped the weight over the course of months, but the on-screen time frame was only two weeks. The producers tried to hide the dramatic change before settling on a more permanent solution. “They wrote into the script that I got some kind of parasite,” Lea says. “That’s how [my character] lost the weight.”
All of which is to say that the actress, comedian, and jazz singer has never worried about diabetes getting in the way of her career. “Diabetes has not had a negative effect on my life in any way,” she says. “When I’m on stage as a comic, I talk about diabetes.” Since her diagnosis, she’s joked about her new dietary restrictions and her decision to get skin-tightening surgery after her dramatic weight loss.
In my own career as a writer, I try to maintain my sense of humor even when grappling with serious topics. I wrote an essay about my first time away from home: I was at a camp for girls with type 1 diabetes, though I would’ve preferred to attend a performing arts camp where kids had their agents’ phone numbers—rather than glucose tablets—in their pockets. In writing about insulin scarcity, I joked about the depiction of diabetes in the Nicolas Cage film Con Air even as I demanded access to insulin for all. Lea and I are both lucky to be in a position to give voice to the issues surrounding diabetes.
Maris Kreizman is a critic and essayist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, New York magazine, Publishers Weekly, and BuzzFeed, among others. She’s a former book editor who currently hosts the literary podcast The Maris Review.
Maris Kreizman photograph by Mindy Tucker