Last night, an audience member approached me in our theatre’s lobby after my performance in TheatreSports.
“Hey there… you see my husband standing over there?” [She indicated a tall bald man leaning on a railing across the room.] “He said you really remind him of Molly Shannon. I told him he should tell you, but he was too embarrassed because he wasn’t sure you’d think it was a compliment.” I most happily accepted the compliment and thanked her for sharing the thought.
But this begs the question – why *wouldn’t* I want to be compared to a woman who spent 6 years on Saturday Night Live? Specifically one who I grew up watching. Her characters often come to mind when I’m thinking of strong comedic actresses…
(Well, you know, Tina Fey comes up a lot too since she’s awesome and also wears glasses and ALSO grew up in a suburb of Philly so clearly we’re long lost sisters right? Um. Anyway.)
The only thing I can think of is that Molly’s characters were rarely the “pretty” ones. (we all have the enduring snapshot of her fingers jammed into her armpits, after all.) She is compelling because she goes all the way with her characters when it’s called for. Which isn’t even to say that she’s not pretty! Look at her online – happy and smiling and pretty. What’s not to like?
As young women, culture trains us to aspire to beauty and conformity. Then you stumble upon improv comedy and fast forward ten years later and you’re flopping around onstage as a man-salmon in a mock children’s story while your boyfriend watches with all of his friends. So much for the beauty and conformity.
But I’d much rather be known for my comedy and my mind than any fleeting beauty. Lord knows (as a 29-year old, as most actresses are) that’s not hanging around forever. Improv comedy is my release, a chance for my inner four year old to come out and play but with all of the new toys in my mental toybox. You know what? My inner four year old didn’t care how she looked when playing. Life and society hadn’t gotten to her yet – the Muppets were her trusted teachers.
And improv lets me explore the meaning of those other phases of life, sometimes. Those scary unknown phases like motherhood or old age. The longform show I did last month, “The Journal”, called for me to play 3 different characters – a 17-year old, a 40-year old mother, and a 70-year old sage. In the scope of a single night I got to feel out what it meant to be living those other lives. There’s nothing glamorous about playing a 70-year old woman, especially with my strange armadillo of a wig. (Seriously, when I wasn’t wearing it you’d swear it would just walk off.) But that character – Ruth – was free to comment on the things younger people wouldn’t. And in a small way, each time I play a character like that, the future seems a little less scary somehow.
So thank you, Mildly Bashful Husband, for the compliment. I’m delighted to be perceived as someone who puts her heart out there in pursuit of the truth of a scene, disregarding physical peril, feminine mystique or personal embarassment. And that’s what I see in your compliment. I hope you’ll still say that when I’m … still 29 years old. Right.