You know her from Conan, Last Call with Carson Daly, Comedy Central, WTF with Marc Maron, and more. Now, get to know folk humorist Mary Mack this summer at The Priory Writers’ Retreat. Mary’s writing workshop—”Finding The Funny: Make Millions With Humor (Just Kidding)”—is open to all writers of all levels. Whatever you write (stories, op-eds, eulogies, whatever!), Mary will help you find the funny!
I really chatted with Mary between stops on her comedy tour. Read on for more on Mary!
B.J. Hollars: How did you find your way into the comedy world? Do you remember the first joke you ever heard or ever told?
Mary Mack: I started on a dare while teaching music and band in Nashville, TN. This was after my polka band broke up and I told my roommate I missed performing. It was a way to perform where you didn't need an entire band or even an instrument. My first joke was fictional. It was about how I was the first house clarinetist hired for NASCAR. I wrote a six minute story about it--way too long. I don't think it went great, but I was just shocked I could write something and people would listen. Nobody had listened to me in my family of eight growing up, nor was anyone really listening when I taught beginning band. They just wanted to make noise, understandably. Even silence (not laughter!) was welcomed when I was on stage after that: At least they were listening. Because of that, I got hooked on both the writing and performing.
BH: What, in your opinion, is the key to making people laugh? Is there a key?
MM: Yes. Scientifically, it's catching people off guard, not with something shocking, but something unexpected that makes them laugh. There's a lot of variables, so the key is never the same! Know your crowd and you situation maybe? Also, it helps if it seems like you are having fun while you're up there!
BH: If comedy can be taught, how do you teach it, and how have you learned it?
MM: Observation! Analyze WHY something is funny. It can be any situation, not just a stand up show.
BH: Can you share a bit about how your own work moves from the page to the performance? Do you revise? Try out the material? How is your process similar (or different!) to what writers in other genres do?
MM: I write down something I think is funny with sort of a set up and punch format, but fluid (just with caution that I'm not abusing the audience's time). Then, I go for it on stage at an open mic usually. Most times, it goes pretty bad. Or if it does get laughs, I'm usually suspicious of that. I tape all my sets on my phone. Then, LISTEN, REWRITE, REVISE, TAPE, TRANSCRIBE, REVISE, REPEAT FOR YEARS AND YEARS till you think something might be finished. I get instant feedback in stand up via a live audience's reaction; whereas, if you write a novel, it takes forever to get your feedback. Sometimes I read my essays on stage so I can revise them. All the slow parts, I try to shorten or repair when I feel the audience has lost interest there. But I'm having trouble finishing a book. I can't necessarily expect to get immediate feedback on every paragraph. This is part of the reason it's taken me so long to write a book. I'm addicted to the live trial and error!
BH: Finally, what was your proudest moment as a comedian?
Doing well on my Grand Old Opry debut this past December was a highlight of my career. That Nashville crowd sits there for hours, so to get them to enjoy a non-musician feels good! And they don't really have comics on, so they aren't a trained comedy crowd which feels even better. The second biggest highlight of my career is when a llama listened to my entire hour-long set at the Washburn County Fair. I thought it was a stuffed animal, but 45 minutes into the show, he turned his head a little. I was elated.
BH: Bonus question: Any good stories from the road?
MM: Too many, but they aren't often appropriate.
Want to find your funny with Mary this summer! Click the button below to apply!