Marie mack admits she got into stand-up comedy “probably for all the wrong reasons.” The comedian was born in Minnesota and raised in Wisconsin, the youngest of six children – “so no one ever listened to me,” she says Seven days. People are listening to him now.
Mack and his distinctive Midwestern twang have been heard on podcasts such as WTF With Marc Maron and radio shows such as “The Bob & Tom Show” and “Wits” by American Public Media. As a voiceover actress, she appeared often on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” on Cartoon Network’s late night show Adult Swim. She voiced Dylan, the main character of the short-lived cartoon “The Insatiable Golan” on Fox.
But Mack is most in her element as a stand-up actress. In this capacity, she appeared on the national television comedy shows “Last Comic Standing” and “Live at Gotham” and toured late night talk shows.
Mack, who often tours with her husband, fellow actor Tim Harmston, and their dog, Goofy, has an inviting conversational style. Calling herself a “popular comedian,” she tends to root her comedy in homemade stories about growing up in a small town at heart. But its pleasant Midwestern charm can mask the subtle bite and sheer awkwardness of its material.
Equally charming (and wacky) are the songs she plays in her mandolin – and sometimes clarinet – sets. Mack’s unique combination of wit, style and music has earned him concerts at some of North America’s most prestigious comedy events, including Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival, Andy Kaufman Award, JFL NorthWest at Vancouver and SF Sketchfest in San Francisco.
Mack and Harmston – and maybe Goofy – will perform five shows over three nights this week at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington: Thursday through Saturday, October 26-28. Mack recently spoke with Seven days by phone from a thrift store, where she did “serious business”.
SEVEN DAYS: You describe yourself as a “folk comedian”. What is it exactly ?
MARY MACK: Well, when I started out I wasn’t really talking about what I would see the other comics talk about. I’d talk about things that concern me, like, you know, the fair. Or will I have goats someday? Important issues.
SD: I grew up in the countryside too, so I totally understand that.
MM: Some comics, I still don’t know what they’re about in Los Angeles. But I also started by playing acoustic instruments, folk songs. So [folk humorist] seems like the right description for me, in terms of my perspective and where I grew up.
And, you know, I’m not a jerk. At least I don’t think I am – maybe I’m flattering myself. But I read and keep abreast of issues and vote my way. And that’s how it was where I grew up, and I’m really proud of it. But now Minnesota and Wisconsin have fallen victim to the clutches of cable news.
SD: That’s one way of putting it, I guess.
MM: People clap for the news like they clap for football. And the repercussions have been seen in Wisconsin, and [the state] has really slipped, especially in education.
SD: Not to digress, but you mentioned football. Based on your Twitter feed, I can’t say if you are a Minnesota Vikings fan or a Green Bay Packers fan. You can’t really be both, can you? And I promise there is a point to the question.
MM: So growing up we only had chains from Minnesota, so of course I loved the Vikings. But I went to college in southern Wisconsin, and I started to like the Packers. And my husband is an extreme Packers fan. So he said it was sacrilegious to love them both and that I would probably go to hell.
SD: So you are a football bigamist.
SD: So I ask because [Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers is now out for the season, and there have been talks about signing Colin Kaepernick. How would you feel if they signed it?
MM: At least that would be something to watch! We’re almost out of a starting line, so at least there would be some excitement. The Packers stay completely out of the drama, which is a bit frustrating at times.
SD: You are touring with your husband. But you also have a joke about dreading your three week honeymoon because you love Tim, but not all of you right away. So what’s it like to be on the road with him?
MM: It’s pretty good. He really likes it when I don’t take us around in the motorhome, which I used to do. And we also shoot with our dog. I think he’s just delighted that I don’t force him to set up the motorhome for every show, so he’s keeping his mouth shut.
SD: I’m pretty sure you’ll get a hotel room in Burlington, so Tim should be excited.
MM: Totally. But it’s really good. You’re so busy on tour that you don’t really have time to fight, so it’s a safe place for us.
SD: Maybe this is good marriage advice for couples in difficulty: go on a comedy tour together.
MM: Oh, I don’t know. It was tough the first time we tried it. But then it gets easier. And we shoot with the dog, who sometimes comes on stage with me. Goofy is supposed to take care of me, but Tim tried to make him a real dog. So Goofy is in conflict. The most common person on these tours is Goofy. He’s trying to please too many people at once.
SD: Do you prepare yourself differently for dubbing than for traditional acting?
MM: It’s so much fun acting in cartoons. No wonder everyone wants these concerts. You don’t need to wear makeup. You can improvise so much. But I don’t really have a good answer other than that, in the cartoon I don’t have to make my eyes the size of a normal person’s eyes like I do on camera. This is my main goal. Otherwise, I sound crazy, and that’s the honest truth.
SD: You are working on a book. Is it fiction or non-fiction?
MM: I tried to write a book, but it takes forever. I don’t know how people write books. It’s not fiction, so I have to continue in therapy, which is why it takes so long.
SD: It’s an extra step that fiction writers don’t have, I guess.
MM: Exactly! I feel like you could write fiction and heal yourself that way. I keep getting worse.
SD: You were a serious clarinetist with two music degrees. How did you go from that to stand-up comedy?
MM: I had a bachelor’s degree in performance and a master’s degree in fine arts in conducting. But the shortest way to explain it is that I went to college in Nashville, and started a polka band there. And back then, maybe not even now, the polka wasn’t that popular in Nashville.
SD: Ah? Say it.
MM: [Laughs.] Yeah, so our group was really scattered and disorganized. Confused most of the time. So I had to save a lot of time on stage between songs. And so I was just making up these stories between songs. And pretty soon people started to say, “Well, I like talking better than songs” which is the worst thing you can hear. You can’t hear anything worse as a band than “We really love you talking”.
Then my roommate just started signing up for [comedy] open mics, and loved it. I had nothing to carry. There was no drama. Because we always owed money at the end of the night because we drank too much our bar bill.
SD: Well, you were a polka bunch.
MM: I know. It was all about the beer. But yes, [comedy] was just easier. I was also teaching harmony orchestra in college at the time. And when I got on stage [to do standup], it was so quiet, because I don’t think people laughed a lot. And I didn’t care. I was so happy that people were silent and weren’t yelling or hitting each other like [at the middle] school. So I just kept on doing [comedy] because of that. So it was probably for all the wrong reasons. I couldn’t believe people listen to my silly stories. I still can not.