Mothers Know Best
Spectacle Management talked with Kelly MacFarland, Christine Hurley, & Kerri Louise, the three stars of the upcoming Mother of a Comedy Show, about stand-up in 2019, continually having to explain their position in a male-dominated field, their sources of inspiration, & more.
By Andrew Cook
Kelly MacFarland has an extensive and well-rounded resume of appearances at comedy clubs, theaters, colleges, and several television programs. She was part of the Top 100 Comedians of Last Comic Standing Season 9, and appeared on AXS Gotham Comedy LIVE, where she won first in the professional category of the Ladies of Laughter 2016 competition. Kelly has been hosting events in and around New England as well as across the country for over 10 years. She has done extensive work with the American Heart Association, and is also an accomplished improviser, musical improviser, and comedic actress.
Christine Hurley has an innate ability to see humor in "everyday" situations. Married to her husband Jimmy Hurley and mother to five children, she is never at a loss for comedic material, and began performing stand-up after walking on to Nick at Nite’s “America’s Funniest Mom” competition on a whim – where she was chosen as a finalist. From there, she has gone on to become a regular at comedy festivals through the Northeast, and has become a fast favorite in the comedy scene of her native Boston area.
Kerri Louise was a regular correspondent on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and appeared as a guest on the very first episode of The Dr. OZ Show. Known for her warmth as well as her razor-sharp wit, she also progressed through the ranks all the way to the finals in the NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Other guest appearances include TV Guide’s Stand-Up In Stilettos, NBC’s The Apprentice, The Montel Show, Nickelodeon's Nick Mom Night Out, Comedy Central, NBC’s Access Hollywood, ABC's The View, and many more.
How did the idea for this partnership come about?
Kelly MacFarland: It started with our brilliant manger & agent Jim Roach wanting to find some sort of collaborative project, and I said, y’know, ‘let’s get some ladies together here!’ These two women are friends of mine, I love them both dearly, and there’s a reason it’s specifically the three of us… there’s a lot of love in this group as well as a huge amount of respect for each other. So it was just an awesome opportunity to enjoy each other and perform together professionally.
Christine Hurley: It was the brainchild of the fabulous Jimmy Roach, producer extraordinaire. He’d worked with us individually at different times, and after I’d worked a couple shows with him, he said ‘y’know, we have to get something together here,’ and then things just kind of worked out from there with Kelly & Kerri, who are two of my closest, dearest friends in this business. It’s really been a delight.
Kerri Louise: The chance to work is always great, but the chance to work with these girls? Absolutely no question. They’re my greatest friends in the business. You never get to work with women, because it always seems like you can’t put two women on stage together unless it’s a one-off ‘girls night’ kind of thing. So whenever these opportunities come around, I’m always going to jump at it.
And it shows, I think, because not only do we get along so well with each other (which brings an energy all on its own), but Jimmy Roach (our booker) just treats us right. He doesn’t treat us different as women comedians as he would if we were male, and frustratingly there’s a lot of talent managers who still do. He puts us right on the top shelf, and when you’re treated with respect like that as a performer, you naturally are more likely to repay it by giving your all in shows and rising to the level of respect you’re given. Whenever someone creates that kind of environment, I’m there.
The most frequent question you must hear is “what’s it like to be a woman/mother in comedy.” Does it bother you how much this is still at the forefront of any of your interviews? What would you say to people who think that’s still the most important question to ask a female comedian?
KM: I started in 1998 and I bet I’ve been asked that question every interview for almost every year in between. I would say that I get why it’s a question – doing stand-up is something that would terrify, like, ninety-eight percent of normal people, so I get why there’s still a bit of stigma for some people who are like, ‘wow, you’re in that two percent of maniacs and you’re a woman” and their brains fizz out from trying to contain both those things at once.
Well here’s some news, being a woman is terrifying every day. Whether you’re a woman comic or a woman doctor or a woman MMA fighter, it shouldn’t be revelatory to anyone anymore that the women who choose to go into this insane line of work are all badass, and we should celebrate them. Ask us where we get our material, or especially our bravery from… that’s a more interesting question.
CH: I understand why they ask, because how many of us are there? Not that many at all! So people ask maybe because they’re still taken aback by the rarity of it. You don’t normally wake up one day and go ‘ooh, I’m going to be a lady comedian’ – you don’t pick comedy, it’s something that picks you. But I would say that it’s important to know that it doesn’t matter who you are or how you identify when you get that call… it’s a special kind of person who’s ‘chosen’ to do stand-up, and it really doesn’t matter who you are if that means you.
KL: We haven’t moved the dial enough, unfortunately. We’re working at it, it’s coming together slowly, but it’s not quite there yet. This kind of show galivanting its way through Massachusetts like we are is SUCH a big deal, because it’s removing a brick in the wall of a very male-dominated business.
For me, comedy and motherhood was never an either/or thing like how a lot of people seem to view it. For me, they complement each other. It’s an equation that should happen a lot more often.
There’s a huge difference between making friends & family laugh, or even being the class clown in school, to all of a sudden making the leap to performing in front of hundreds of strangers. What made that transition happen for you?
KM: I grew up performing and always had a sense that I was drawn to stand-up. I was really good the first ever time I did it, I knocked it out of the park, but then I realized, ‘oh, my friends won’t be coming to every show…’ And then a really tough year followed. I had to make a conscious decision at the end of that first year, realizing, ‘I have to be tough to stay in this, and I know that I am. I’m really going to work and perfect this as my craft. I want to do this until I can’t hold the mic anymore.’
CH: My long-suffering husband actually signed me up for the Nick at Nite “Funniest Mom in America” competition down in New York. I had never, ever done anything on stage before. And we went, just kind of curious about what it was. So I got up there, ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ kind of thing, talking about stuff that happened with my kids, and it went great.
When I got off stage, there was a talent producer in the crowd who came over to us and went ‘Where do you work out of?’ And I had to tell him this was my first time, we had just come to see if this was something I could do, and this poor guy was actually kind of incredulous that I had never done it before until the stagehand came over and went, ‘Yeah, she really has no idea what she was doing – the mic was six inches too tall for her and she never adjusted it.’ It was the only time I was ever told I was clueless and it wasn’t meant as an insult.
KL: I’m the youngest of three so I was always looking for attention… this is my way of getting it! I was very into sports when I was in school. People ask me ‘were you the class clown?’ Actually, I never was, because if I got in trouble I couldn’t do sports! But my role on every team was always as the co-captain, the team mood-booster who’d make my teammates laugh on the bus with a story that a teacher or someone had said or done earlier in the day. My teammates were like some of my earliest audiences, and it just progressed from there.
Not including the excellent company you’re currently performing with, if you had the ability to go on tour with any stand-up or improvisational performers (either active now or from history), who would it be?
KM: I’m also an improvisor and an actress, so I’d want to go that route. I’d want to do an improv set with Gilda Radner, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and definitely Melissa McCarthy. Jennifer Anniston too, because she’s for real funny and no one ever gives her credit for it. And also, I unapologetically, wholeheartedly LOVE Bill Murray. Like, who doesn’t? This list could go on for a while.
CH: There’s a gentleman in New York right now, Chris Distefano. I did a couple shows with him at the Boston Garden a few years ago, and he is literally the most brilliant, clever, hilarious performer right now. I look at him and I just laugh. The first time I saw him it was like ‘oh yeah, we’re going to be friends.’ He’s the ying to my yang when it comes to humor.
KL: I’d have to say someone from way back in the day, when comedy was a lot more raw. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin. The original cast of Saturday Night Live. We’re handcuffed in comedy a lot nowadays so feelings don’t get hurt, but especially now when comedy is so important, I’d love to just go at it with some of those original greats who weren’t afraid to just let loose.
Each of you writes your own material. Is that writer’s voice constantly going in the back of your head? When something or someone is giving you a hard time, for example, do you smile internally and say “yep – this is making its way into a joke later?”
KM: All the time. Everything. I’ve always been really observant, and I think you can become really good at writing your own material when that voice doesn’t shut off anymore, or when you can train the rest of your brain to listen to that voice more as it’s speaking. You’re just constantly moving through the world, experiencing everything, with that voice turned on and taking notes about everything it sees. Sometimes I wish I could turn it off and just be a regular person for a little bit, but there’s always an odd sort of heightening that goes on when you’ve got a really active imagination.
CH: I had five kids, four in diapers, and my poor husband working three jobs at the time, and it was hard, it was hard… but it was also funny as hell. You can laugh or you can cry about it all, so why not just laugh. There’s still something every day. It’s like a constantly-renewing current.
KL: SO much… My kids annoy me all the time, but every day that just becomes more and more material that I can use. [Laughing] That’s why I had kids, I didn’t even want to be a mother… but you can’t beat the material you get from doing it.
If you’re having a bad night, or feeling homesick – or even if you just turn on the news nowadays and get discouraged by all the division that seems to be happening everywhere – what centers you back to a point where you’re ok to perform again?
KM: I feel like there’s a switch that turns out on the moment you step on stage. The world is really hard, right? There’s a lot of things now that make you stop and scratch your head and that make you feel really deeply and hug the people close to you really tightly. When you have to go on stage, you kind of have to put that all aside. For me, that comes from going to this place of gratitude – I know it sounds hokey, but I feel very thankful for this life I’ve been given, and no matter what went on in the day, come show time I always feel very lucky, and I’m ready to go.
CH: It’s kind of a magic thing – because believe me, there are plenty of nights when I’m not in the mood beforehand. I’ve been lucky to have such receptive audiences my whole life that as soon as I get my first laugh, boom, I’m in, and away we go.
KL: You can be sick as a dog, but when those lights go down, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think I’ve ever, in my thirty years doing this, called in sick. I’ve worked sick, but I’ve never called in sick. My husband is also a comedian, and at one of the gigs early in his career he was driving there and he had laryngitis. His manager was like ‘I know you can’t talk right now, but when it’s time to do your set, you will have a voice, and then afterwards you won’t again.’ Sure enough, miraculously, he was able to talk. That’s what happens. It’s something inside you, and you just do it.
Continuing the last question – with hard times and disagreements seemingly everywhere in the news and online in 2019, is comedy more important now than ever? What’s there to be said about a group of people gathering in a space to laugh together for a few hours?
KM: I want to have a moment in time with other human beings. We don’t share enough of those. Laughter is the one thing that I think really brings people together, and when you’re letting out a big, hearty guffaw, it’s hard to hate the person sitting next to you doing the same thing. I want to be a part of that.
CH: I love it. It’s so exciting, because every night is different. You pull up to the front of a venue and there’s an electricity there that has nothing to do with the lights. We know that we’re funny, and we know that people are going to going to love us at the end of an hour and a half. That’s the best feeling in the world.
KL: That’s the best kind of compliments I get. People ask ‘What was the best moment of your career?’ There hasn’t been one. It’s been a ton of little moments of people coming up and saying ‘I got divorced and I haven’t been out for a year – my friends brought me here and now I have hope again,’ or people coming up and saying they just laughed more than they have since they were diagnosed with cancer a year ago. It’s those moments where you can offer a break from how the world sucks sometimes, where you realize ‘Wow, I’m a part of something good here.’
Tickets to Mother of a Comedy Show at Cary Memorial Hall on Saturday, September 28 at 8:00 pm are $36, and are on sale now at www.caryhalllexington.com, or by calling 1 (800) 657- 8774.