by Ryan Meehan
A veteran in the world of stand-up, Maryellen Hooper’s comedy has taken her from clubs and colleges to theaters and television. She’s appeared on “The Dennis Miller Show”, “The Martin Short Show”, “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and has had her own ½ hour special on Comedy Central called “Lounge Lizards”. In 1998, the comedy industry awarded Maryellen “Female Comedian of the Year” at the American Comedy Awards. A physical, story-teller, Maryellen’s act is an ever-evolving story about her life as a woman, wife and mother. Never crude or offensive, her accounts of life’s little annoyances leave audiences exhausted from laughter. From home repairs on her family’s “Fixer Upper” to colicky babies, no story is too sacred to share with her audiences. Maryellen just taped her latest stand-up special, “Stinky Flowers” which will air this fall. The special is based on her stories about Wifedom and Mommyhood from her hugely popular blog, Stinky Flowers. We are pleased to have her as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: So I have to ask you this first before we get started…As a redhead, are you offended by the term “ginger” and do you consider it to be derogatory? Why or why not?
MEH: When I heard that “Ginger” was derogatory, I was shocked. It’s a red spice for crying out loud. What’s so bad about that? Unless they were talking about Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. She was kind of a Ho. But that can’t be…it’s a British term. They made it an insult for some reason. Saying “Ginger” borders on racism over there. That’s crazy! I know, let’s bring all the redheads over here where it’s considered glamorous. Maybe we should change the Statue of Liberty’s inscription to “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled Gingers yearning to breathe free…”
RM: I noticed by looking at your schedule that you tend to do a lot of private engagements…Are most of these corporate gigs or private events? Are you more comfortable doing that as opposed to working a weekend out of town at a comedy club?
MEH: I like it all! Private corporate gigs just happen to pay more. Plus they’re a captive audience that’s on their best behavior in front of their bosses. They could actually get fired if they heckle me.
RM: How important is it for you to work clean? Was there ever a conscious decision to make sure that’s the way you were going to operate; or was that the way you always envisioned yourself doing standup comedy?
MEH: I don’t tell dirty jokes or cuss in my real life, so why would I do that on stage? In the beginning of my career (when I was trying to “find myself”) I emulated others and tested the waters with some off-colored stuff but it never felt authentic. Plus, now that I’m a Mom, I don’t want to hide my act from my kids. I don’t want them to be ashamed of their Mom, start acting out and end up in rehab before they’re 20. I love all kinds of comedy. Richard Pryor is one of my all-time favorites and influences. But his language is authentic to him. That’s the way he talks on and off stage. That’s why it’s funny. When comics curse just for the sake of cursing…that’s useless and gratuitous and not funny to me. But a well-placed “BLEEP” makes me laugh just as hard as the next person. But that’s just not me on stage.
RM: How has being a mother changed the way that you write a full set? Do you try to tell all of the family stories close to each other; or do you spread things around at different times throughout the program?
MEH: I’m a story-teller. That’s what makes ME laugh, so that’s what I do on stage. My “act” has really just been my “life” sad as that may be. I REALLY did get electrocuted fixing up a house with my husband; my first-born REALLY did have colic so bad I wanted to cut off my own ears… and on and on. I don’t WRITE an act, I just REPORT what’s going on in my life. Kinda like a stand-up soap opera. Like today: I don’t think I explained Jury duty very well to my 6 yr old. When I left in the morning he said, “Bye Mommy, I hope you’re not guilty!”.
RM: You’re involved with four different charities at the current time: Noah’s Light Foundation, Canine Companions for Independence, Smile Train, and Girls Inc. Could you tell us a little bit about each charity and what it is that they do? Why is it so important to you to be involved with charitable projects such as these?
MEH: I’m a big believer in using your powers for good. You know…pay it forward; do unto others; give peace a chance; all that hippie-dippy stuff. Canine Companions, Smile Train and Girls Inc.all asked me to perform at benefits for them. I researched their organizations and felt connected. Noah’s Light Foundation is a completely different story. Noah and my son Nate have been best buddies since they were 4. Thankfully, his mom Amber and I became fast friends too. (It really sucks when your kid likes someone who has a crazy Mom you want to punch.) When Noah was 6 he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He had surgery and started chemo right away. Instead of crawling under the bed, Amber formed the foundation and vowed to “find a better way!” I joined her. I’m on the board. I never thought I’d be on a board of anything except a plane. After searching the entire world, we brought researchers together and convinced them to help us. (and by “we”, I mean “Amber”). ALL of our money goes to these researchers who have formed the “Noah Protocol”. It’s the biggest breakthrough in pediatric brain cancer in 30 years! Noah was supposed to be the first to receive the treatment but he lost his battle before the trial was ready. As heart-wrenching as that is, we find solace in the fact that the Noah Protocol is preparing to begin on it’s first patients! Here’s the link to the video of Noah’s N.K. (Natural Killer) cells destroying his cancer: http://www.noahslightfoundation.org/visionary-research/applied-cell-therapy/ and Amber’s Ted Talk about the whole thing: http://www.noahslightfoundation.org/ Sometimes you don’t pick a charity, it picks you.
RM: Who designs the stage sets for your standup specials and shows? Do you feel that’s a crucial part of creating a certain environment for the audience to feel at home?
MEH: My first special, “Lounge Lizards” was a series Comedy Central produced. We all had the same Vegas neon sign set. Nothing to do with any of our acts. My last special, “Stinky Flowers” I wanted to create the backdrop to my life / act. Since my husband is a scenic designer by trade and was the “designer” of the fixer-upper / piece of crap house I was going to be talking about…it seemed fitting to have him recreate the scene of the “crime”. Besides, he gave me a huge discount.
RM: I noticed that several of your photos feature fellow comedian Jim Breuer…How long have you two known each other; and what do you enjoy the most about working with him?
MEH: Breuer and I started together in Florida back in the Eighties. We had quite the class: Me; Breuer; Carrot Top; and Larry The Cable Guy. We all went our separate ways after a few years of open mike nights. Because we started the same time, we all moved up the ranks at the same time which means we didn’t work together much after that. You only need one MC, feature or headliner on a show. We would only get to see each other at showcase clubs or benefits that would hire all headliners. Breuer and I got to do a tour of Canada recently. (photos) It was great to reconnect. I love his spontaneity. He has no fear. He will just riff on something and you would swear it was well-honed material. I admire that. And hanging out with him is EXACTLY how you think it would be. Hysterical.
RM: When you are working on a writing project at home, do you usually wait for the kids to fall asleep first? What is your writing process like and how has it changed over the years?
MEH: Like I said before, it’s less writing and more reporting. I just live my life. The difference is, I find the humor in the mishaps. When my toddler is vomiting all over the place, I think outside of the box. I grab a plastic grocery bag and hang the handles on his ears. Then, when everyone is asleep…I write it all down in stand-up form. I used to write during the day, but lately my 9 yr old has been asking to “approve” my material about him. I promised I wouldn’t embarrass him on stage. So now, I have to tell stories about my made up “nephew”! wink-wink.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
MEH: Well, I was asked to perform for a convention of 1000 people in Cape Town South Africa. Very exciting! After getting my traveling shots, my passport and work permits, I discovered it was a scam. I was duped by an elaborate, overseas internet scam. So the remainder of 2014 will be filled with rage and revenge. Either that or an overseas leisure trip. I’ve gotten all the shots. Where, besides South Africa, can I use my malaria booster?
Official Website: http://www.maryellenhooper.com/
Maryellen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maryellen.hooper
Maryellen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryellenhooper
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