Meet Mary Beth Barone, Self-Proclaimed Stepdaughter of America
Have you ever tripped on the sidewalk because you were checking out the guy selling hot dogs and when you got up and wiped the splash zone street mustard off your jeans, it suddenly dawned on you—“I know my purpose”?
No? Well, that also didn’t happen to Mary Beth Barone—the self-proclaimed stepdaughter of America (yeah, the country). She’s the NYC-based comedienne literally forcing an entire generation (yeah, ours) to tackle the age old question: can women be funny?
Though she may seem Soulcycle and Sweetgreen at first glance, after watching her work-a-mic (that’s an industry term?!), I can attest she’s much more Balenciaga and bodega-run with a gorgeous self-awareness a la carte. I sat down with this stand-up—confusing, I know—at an almost-chic East Village coffee shop, where she boldly opted for a hand-crafted tap water, and we cackled through a piping hot session of Mary Beth tea (MBT, medical use only).
Okay, first of all, are you mad at me? [I was 30 minutes late.]
Sick. So, spill the beans—what’s the sitch with being a comedienne in 2019?
Similar to being a woman in any other industry, it’s very layered. I love what I do. I’ll start there. Even though we’ve made progress, I’m the only girl on the line-up more often than you’d think. If there’s ten guys on the show and three bomb, that’s still 70 percent passing. If I’m the only girl and I don’t hit, then 100 percent of the women on that show weren’t funny and the crowd walks away thinking women aren’t funny. It’s a lot of pressure but it is a great time to be a woman in comedy. The straight white male grip on the industry is loosening and more people are finding the confidence to tell their stories. Four years ago I had a corporate job and steady boyf—that’s short for boyfriend—and I had absolutely no idea I was gonna be doing comedy, and now I don’t think I could do anything else.
How’d you get infected by the comedy bug? Be honest—for once!
Truthfully, I was very far into a long-term relationship—living together, engagement talks, he was buying us an apartment, etc.—and I kind of wanted to find a hobby that was just mine. We started dating when I was 22 so I didn’t really have any sense of self at that age. In spring of 2015, when I was on the hunt for said “hobby,” I also happened to binge-watch a little show called Broad City. Through that, I had heard about this place called UCB (the Upright Citizens Brigade). I signed up for Improv 101 and found myself really liking it. YES, I started comedy as an improviser. Let the record show, I am bipartisan when it comes to improv vs stand-up. I was in Aaron Jackson’s 201 when I decided to go to an open mic. I bought a little gold Kate Spade notebook and jotted some things down. One Thursday I said I’m just gonna fucking do it. My brother was the only person I told and I said if I bomb, I’ll never do it again. Unfortunately, it went really well and I realized quickly that I had found what I wanted to do with my life. Is it cliche? Yeah! But is it true? Also, yeah. Within 6 months, I broke up with the boyf (once again, short for boyfriend), quit my job, and moved out of our apartment.
Okay, so you took a huge leap of faith—I’m being told scientists are calling it a “risk.” What did you learn about yourself when you came out of the comfort and control closet?
I’ve learned so much since I started doing comedy, even in those early improv classes. I had lived in New York for years already but for the first time, I was in a room with people who had a much different experience than I did, a different relationship with the world. Growing up in Connecticut, I had a pleasantly sheltered upbringing. Comedy taught me empathy and presented a lot of new information to me very quickly in those classes, at open mics, and at shows. That’s what I’ve learned in a larger sense. On a personal level, I have also become much more self-aware, self-assured, and a little bolder even (although some people would probably say I never had a problem with being bold). It was definitely a risk to uproot my comfortable life to pursue my dream of being a comedian and it’s a very privileged position to be in to think that no matter what, I have the support of my family and friends. I acknowledge my privilege, specifically through my comedy, because it’s essential to call it out and facilitate conversations that can affect progress. Comedy has made me a better person, which is an absolutely wild thing to say.
Okay, you’re gonna want to sit down for this next question (she was already seated). What do you love about the art of comedy? Why do you do this?
You know that movie Tommy Boy? ”
Oh, it was truly robbed at the 1996 Academy Awards, I actually can’t talk about it.
We basically watched that movie on loop at my house growing up. Dan Aykroyd has this line in it: “I make car parts for the American working man, because that’s what I am, and that’s who I care about.” I make jokes for the millennial woman (slash gay man) because that’s what I am and that’s who I care about. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, which is why I haven’t put that on a t-shirt yet. (And yes, I identify proudly as a millennial.) I make stuff that I want to see. If someone catches my show or my set, I hope they can take away maybe one of three things. 1). Never apologize for who you are. Everyone has a story and absolutely everyone should be allowed to tell it. (Except if you’re a Nazi, then sit down) 2). You can be self-aware and still be problematic. Good comedy is honest and jumping into it forces you to take stock of who you are, really and truly. I’ve learned so much about myself from being a comic and hearing other comedians absolutely shamelessly start the conversations we’re not seeing or hearing in the media we consciously choose to consume. 3). That bitch dresses well.”
Allegedly there’s a lot of big bad egos in comedy, can you name some names? Please!
Okay, so what’s next for our hero Mary Beth—where is all this going? What’s the point?
My larger goal is to become a huge star with my own TV show and a substantial career as a touring stand-up comedian. Everything I’m doing now is laying the foundation and building toward that, which I really didn’t have an appreciation for when I first started. I wanted to go from zero to sixty and that’s just not how it works! Comedy has, in a sense, taught me patience, which does not come easy for me at all. I want what I want when I want it! I’m a brat. I ended 2018 feeling really unmotivated and stuck. I had no energy to make stuff and I felt burnt out. I came out on the other side of that early this year and WOW, it feels amazing.
Right now, there are a few things I’m really excited about. I’m focused on my one woman show of “It Takes Two” on June 12 (the eve of the Olsen Twins’ birthday). This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. My talented and amazing friend Megan Patsel is directing and it’s one night only. The geniuses behind THNK 1994 are producing. It’s creatively challenging to convert a feature film into a one-hour staged performance and I thought, maybe I’m too busy to do this right now. But then I thought, hmmm, I hope I’m only going to get busier. I hope I’ll never be less busy than I am right this very moment!
You’re probably thinking, “Okay betch, what are you so busy with? Well, I’m also putting up my show “Drag His Ass: A F*ckboy Treatment Program” in NYC (Chelsea Music Hall 6/6) and LA (Lyric Hyperion 6/27). It’s a show where I invite comedians to put fuckboys on blast and share their experiences with garbage dudes who have disrespected them. It’s not just dudes—a fuckboy can look like anything (one of the things you will learn if you come to the show). I’ve been single for three years and it’s been a long road to where I am now—129 days fuckboy free. I put up “Drag His Ass” in March and we sold out Union Hall on a Monday. The crowd was 90% women. I was so excited about that. This show is very special to me because I think there’s a healing power in sharing these stories and reminding the audience that no one is immune to getting disrespected, gaslighted (gaslit? who knows), or screwed over. That sounds super serious, but I promise you the show is effing hilarious. Come or you’re not an ally.
Do I get a comp (industry term!)? Don’t answer that. Lets zoom out for a hot sec, maybe it’s not comedy, but something creative or a job change whatever—what advice would you give someone who’s fully on the fence of a big change?
You’re never gonna know if you don’t try. It’s as simple as that. Fall, jump, leap, trip— whatever, just get off the fence. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it also wasn’t built by one person.
Styled by Meredith King
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