Actress and stand-up comedienne Mary Kennedy can thank a preoccupied date for kickstarting her successful career.
He looked up over the book and said, ‘You know, you’re funny. You should do stand-up.’ I wouldn’t have started comedy if he didn’t tell me that.
“In the ‘90s, I was dating a guy who would bring a book to a date. Today you go on your cell phone, right? He brought a book,” recalls Kennedy, 45. “He looked up over the book and said, ‘You know, you’re funny. You should do stand-up.’ I wouldn’t have started comedy if he didn’t tell me that.”
While Kennedy grew up in an Irish Catholic family (yes, she’s third cousins with those Kennedys) in which a lot of folks were funny, she didn’t really think about making her living as a comedienne. She remembers cracking jokes as an altar server at mass and making the other servers laugh. “I knew that I was funny,” she recalls today. “I just didn’t know it would be something where I would get on stage, make people laugh, make money, and—in a weird sense—change people’s lives.”
Kennedy decided to give stand-up a try in New York. That was 19 years ago, she’s been performing comedy ever since.
She’s also been acting. When ER was on TV, she auditioned for and won the recurring role of Officer Trudy Lang. The producers loved her. So, over the years, she kept checking back in with them. As luck would have it, the same production company launched the hit show Shameless on Showtime, and last season, she got called in for an audition
The role was for “New Fiona,” and if you watch the show, you know that Frank Gallagher (played by William H. Macy) decided to put together a “new” family because he was angry at his real one. Kennedy says that New Fiona was described as a prostitute who had let herself go. “I threw on a skirt, some bad shoes, and a weird top,” says Kennedy. “I didn’t look like a typical prostitute, and I think that’s what got me the job. The other ladies who came in to audition wore fishnet stockings and matching earrings.”
She loved playing New Fiona because the character was absolutely ridiculous and not like the stereotypical prostitute.She loved playing New Fiona because the character was absolutely ridiculous and not like the stereotypical prostitute. Kennedy says that New Fiona always looked like she had just rolled out of bed without a care. And she got to show off her talent for hilarious facial expressions, which were so good, they were often used as transitions between scenes.
The Laugh Track
Even when acting, Kennedy never lost her love for comedy. Throughout her career, Kennedy has performed at clubs across the United States. On November 3, she’s is headlining the Second Annual Lady Laughs Comedy Festival (LLCF) in Madison, Wisconsin. This year’s Festival features more than 70 female comediennes over a four-day span.
I want to give back to the new girls because this isn’t an easy career.
“In a field where men dominate the scene, LLCF is dedicated to elevating the voices of women,” says Dina Nina Martinez, executive producer of the festival. “A beacon of diversity, the festival includes women in all shapes, sizes, and colors, including members of the LGBTQ community.”
Kennedy is thrilled to be headlining. “It’s empowering to do a gig like this—for me as the headliner and for the girls who are just starting out,” she says. “I like to sort of mentor them. When I started out, I came up with a bunch of incredible females that I’m still friends with today. I want to give back to the new girls because this isn’t an easy career. But if you’re funny, you have the support of others, and you have places like this—the LLCF—it’s an incredible experience.”
In addition to being excited to share the bill with Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show, Kennedy is also happy to be going to LLCF because she can be in a hotel room by herself—no husband and no kids. “I guess I’ll get a shower without any interruptions. I’ll be in heaven,” Kennedy quips. “I can have a full cup of coffee without being interrupted. Oh my God, that’s going to be so good. And I get paid. And my husband doesn’t need to know about the money I made. I can pocket it and maybe go get a wardrobe. I can’t wait.”
If somebody is having a crappy day but then remembers the bit I do about being perimenopausal, and says, ‘I can get through this’–then I’ve done my job.
Although she’s performed comedy for nearly two decades, Kennedy says that, over the years, the reasons for doing so have changed. “I used to do comedy because I loved the validation. I loved the applause. I loved being the center of attention,” she says. “I think now the reason why I do it is that I can change somebody’s life, even in just a small way. If somebody is at breakfast and she’s having a crappy day but then she remembers the bit I do about being perimenopausal, and says, ‘I can get through this’–then I’ve done my job. Today, we’re trying to make positive changes. I think that’s why I’m doing it.”