I first saw Jennie McNulty perform in Provincetown, MA during Girl Splash
weekend. I immediately noticed she’s different than a lot of other lesbian comedians. Jennie McNulty doesn’t just stand up and perform a skit or tell jokes to her audience—she actively involves them in her routine. She talks with the crowd, actually encourages heckling and pulls audience members up on stage for improv bits. Perhaps that is why she’s been voted one of the Top 10 lesbian comics by Curve magazine
Jennie McNulty has traveled the world with her comedy, including performing for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s also a favorite on Olivia and Sweet lesbian cruises and at Dinah Shore. When she’s not performing comedy, you can find her on the football field as a member of the California Quake in the Independent Women’s Football League.
Lesbian Life: How did you get your start in stand up comedy? What did you do before you were a comedian?
I was working in a research lab and loved my job. But, I had always wanted to do something in entertainment and I thought, "Ya know, no one's going to come in here and say, “You there, with the little white rat, come with me I'm going to take you to Hollywood and make you a star.'" And, I was making all the doctors in the lab laugh, so I thought, maybe I could try stand up. I watched a few open mics and some of those people looked like they had lost a bet and I thought, I could do at least that well. So, I gave it a try and, fortunately, I had a good set. At that time, it was kind of a comedy boom and there were clubs everywhere so you could get a lot of stage time, which is the only way to get good at this job. So, I kept doing it and..well, here I am.
Are there any comedians that you look up to as mentors?
There are a lot. Sometimes, it's what they do onstage that just makes you want hone your craft even more and sometimes it's just an encouraging or insightful thing that someone says to you that really helps you out. Suzanne Westenhoefer
, who's a great pal of mine now, was super helpful to me when we first met - introducing me to people and including me in things. Plus a lot of folks back in Detroit that not many people besides comics would know.
I saw you perform in Provincetown and I was impressed with how many jokes were specific to the location and the event that you were performing at. Do you come up with new material for each place you perform?
I try to. It makes it fun for me and my audience. And, because I love sports so much, that's one thing that is easy for me to grab on to. It's a great way to break the ice and get the audience on your side. When I toured more in the club circuit, I always asked a bunch of people (at the club, or hotel or gym) what's been going on lately. Now, with the internet it's super easy to see what's been happening.
One of the things that is unique about your show is how much you play with your audience and come up with unscripted material. I would think that all that improv would be so scary. You never know what people are going to say. How do you do it?
For me, that's the most fun part of the show. When I first started doing comedy (literally, like a month or so into my career) I was doing some improv type stuff on stage and a couple of times I kind of bailed on an exchange that I started with an audience member, and the headliner told me, "Just keep talking to them. You're funny and, eventually, they'll give you something that you will be able to use and make the crowd laugh." It's one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten. The cool part is that everyone in the room knows this is happening right then, right now and only for that moment - it just makes it special. And, fortunately, it usually goes pretty well. It's probably good advice for anyone - just trust yourself (and hope that the crowd is a little liquored up!)
You’ve entertained the troops in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq. How did you get those gigs? Did you perform as an out lesbian on those trips?
Actually, we were told not to be political or confrontational and, they are the only shows in which I have not come out
. It's something I really wrestled with because I think it's so important for those of us who can to be out and something you really should do. But, this is a special circumstance. I have "outed
" myself onstage at those shows a few times in the process of talking to the crowd but I don't do my "gay" material. I do, however, wear more rainbow stuff than first time pride-goer the entire time I'm there - onstage and off. And, I've had some soldiers come up to me and say, "Hey, I like your bracelet (or hat or whatever)." Normally, I feel so strongly about being out but there are some things that are more important in some situations and, maybe it's a big rationalization but I think this is one of those times. And, at EVERY show at EVERY base, they tell me, "Thanks for taking our minds off of where we are." And, really, that's all we're there to do. They want to see someone from home and they don't want to think about the war for a minute. Besides, you can do a whole show just about where they are - and they like that better anyway and that's more fun for me too - you can't do jokes about the outdoor latrines just anywhere, ya know.
You also host a drag show and drag contest for drag kings. Is drag a part of your performance routine?
It's not really a regular part but I'd certainly like to do more of it. It's so much fun. Especially, when I do the shows with Juan (Mimi Gonzalez
). We've got a really fun chemistry onstage (or, at least, we think so - we have a blast up there!) and sometimes stuff comes out of my mouth as Steve that really cracks me up. It's super fun doing a character. Especially, when I'm "barking" outside before the shows. Steve can say stuff to passers by that I would never even try. And, it's funny because, it's not like I say, "Boy I wish I could say that..." It just comes out of me and I think...Geez, I would never say that as me.
You have a show called “Walking Funny with Jennie.” Tell us a bit about it and where we can watch?
Well, it's a talk show
. Instead of sitting down and interviewing people, I take a walk with them and encourage the viewer to walk along with us. It sort of takes their mind off it and they don't even realize they're exercising. I love exercise and sports and it such a great thing for your mind (almost more than the body, really) and people would feel so much better if they just got out and took a walk. So, I'm trying to promote exercise with the show and have some fun. I have a Master's degree in Kinesiology (Exercise Science/Movement) and I know all the "why's" about exercise but you can't just tell someone they have to experience it and, once they do, they will enjoy it. And, if you want to just sit at your computer and watch the show...that's cool too, I guess. It was airing on AfterEllen.com
for about three years. I took a bit of a hiatus but I'm back in the pre-production phase now, lining up some sponsors, etc so, hopefully we will be "walking funny with..." again very soon.
You’re a stand up comedian, but also you play on a professional women’s football team. Which bothers your mother more?
Definitely, the football
. She's totally on board now regarding the comedy. But, the first time I did an open mic, I called her the next day and told her and the very first words out of her mouth were, "Oh, my God, seven and a half years of college." I even use that quote on my flyers. People think it's a joke but they truly were the very first words out of her mouth. She did come to one of my playoff games though. She was in town visiting and we had an amazing fourth quarter comeback. (In fact, that season we ended up two points away from a championship) I usually only played once we got up by about 30 points to give the starters a rest so, needless to say, I was not in the game she saw. Probably a good thing. Actually, she's always been very supportive of my endeavors. My parents always came to all my games as kids and were just very supportive, in general. I lucked out in the parent department.
What’s next for Jennie McNulty? Where can we see you live or on TV or the Internet?
Well, for the immediate future, I'm headed off to Provincetown for Women's Week
and then on a Sweet cruise
in the Eastern Caribbean. And, after that, Ft. Myers Florida. I've got a new DVD project that we're going to be launching online in a few weeks so check my website
out for information on that. And, if you live in SoCal you can see me the second Thursday of every month at the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club. I host a show there - in fact, it's the most successful monthly show they do since opening the club a few years ago. And, I just started producing/hosting a comedy variety show in North Hollywood. It too is once a month but the day isn't always the same as it's in a theater and we have to sometimes work around plays. And, like all comics, I occasionally put some video up on my Facebook page