If you’ve ever even considered seeing a comedy show at venues like Muchmore’s, Over the Eight, or the Annoyance, chances are you’ve seen Mary Houlihan up to something there. I met Mary while we were both performing at a variety show in Bushwick. Since then, we haven’t been much more than Facebook acquaintances, but I started seeing her name practically everywhere as a part of all sorts of silly and fun-sounding shows. Even her Facebook presence reflects a lighthearted and delightfully cartoonish proclivity. When I heard that she was doing her own one-woman show, Live ’N’ Good, for a second time, I knew I wanted to see what was going on in that head of hers. So, we met up for pizza in Williamsburg and got to chattin’.
Houlihan’s interests in wacky humor were cultivated from a young age. “Growing up, I really loved TV,” she tells me. “Me and my brother would watch whole seasons of The Office, Arrested Development, and Scrubs. Those are the shows I remember watching most. I just loved them so much and I feel like I looked at the writing analytically, trying to figure out how they put those together.” She also recalls enjoying Cartoon Network shows like Dexter’s Lab and The Powerpuff Girls, and the stand-up of Zach Galifianakis, Chelsea Peretti, Steve Martin, and Will Ferrell, who she deems “the coolest.”
However, she didn’t dip her toes into comedy officially until years later. Houlihan, 26, studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. Though she’s not as focused on fine art nowadays, she still paints, illustrates, and animates.
“I did some animation when I was in college and I liked that so much. I didn’t really like going to galleries,” she says. “I wouldn’t mind paintings in galleries, obviously, but I think anytime there’s a video in a gallery no one spends time with it.” Instead, she felt drawn to television and online videos, such as the experimental animation of Adult Swim.
“I always felt like it would be a cool dream job to be a TV writer, but I didn’t think it was possible for some reason,” she tells me. “When I was in college, I just started thinking about it more, and I would read about actors or writers from the shows I like. I’d see that this person did stand-up or improv, and they’d get randomly snatched up on some job. So I said, I’ll do that.”
Following the path of actors from The Office and the like, Houlihan moved to New York after college and started with the common route of the Upright Citizens Brigade. After a year of classes, she auditioned for their sketch and improv teams, but to no avail. Instead, she started doing stand-up (“It’s free. Why not?”) and began connecting with people who had similar tastes and styles. She found a home in the “alt-comedy” scene largely centered in Williamsburg. Though she sometimes feels puzzled by the “alt” characterization, finding that the material she and her colleagues generate seems tonally fitting for commercial shows like SNL and Conan, she is more than satisfied with the community she’s found.
“I love it. I felt like I didn’t fit in very much in the art scene in San Francisco, and here just feels like a perfect fit. I couldn’t conceive of someone not finding a place [here]. I feel like there’s a place for everyone. I feel like a lot of people that I hang out with do very silly bit shows and that stuff is so fun. That’s kind of a cool, special thing. Like Colin Burgess has this show called Parental Approval, stuff like that: doing a show for [a comedian’s] parents. And everyone’s nice to each other. I think it’s a nice environment.”
Lately, she’s been doing a little less stand-up and more longform shows. Cartoon Monsoon, the show she hosts every month at The Annoyance with Joe Rumrill, is an hourlong “episode” featuring puppets, characters, and animation. Live ’N’ Good, her one-woman show, is similarly multidisciplinary. She built it by crafting “a loose and dumb story” to serve as the framework for sketches, stand-up, and videos to happen.
“I just wanted to do a big long show that was kind of a challenge for myself,” she says. “So in the summer, I just was like, well, I’ll book a date and it’ll have to get done by then otherwise I’ll look stupid.” The last show was at Union Hall in Park Slope and featured Houlihan with backup dancers who accidentally get into a car crash, a man coming in to do his one-man show during her timeslot, and the aforementioned backup dancers getting revived after a brief ten-minute death.
Rather than reprising the Union Hall show, she’s decided to craft a new (but equally silly) story for tonight’s show. A sneak peek: “Tonight, I talk about how all I’ve ever wanted since I was a little girl was to do a big one-woman show, I just wish my parents were around to see this… But then my parents are alive and they’re just in the audience.”
Though this Live ’N’ Good is mostly new, one character that doesn’t seem to be leaving Houlihan’s repertoire is Hot Mary, a crop-top wearing long-haired girl that originated in a video she made with her friends. A far cry from the typical parody of a “hot girl,” Hot Mary possesses a delightful oddness that’s refreshing in its absurdity. Rather than taking the easy route of reducing her to a one-dimensional wisp and focusing on appearance and superficiality, Houlihan is much more interested in the ways she can instead flesh out the “hot girl” character in new and odd ways.
“My perception of this character is that she is a wonderful person. I think it’s a very easy joke in movies and TV for a hot girl to be mean, which is nonsense, because everyone on the planet has feelings and pain and stuff. So I like the idea that she’s very kind,” she says. “I’m more into talking about where she came from, and giving her a biography which changes every time.”
One part of Hot Mary that particularly tickled me in a video I saw was the fact that she came from a sewer grate, and was fished out by Derek Jeter and a piece of bubblegum. Houlihan tells me that detail was improvised at a show. “I was saying my boyfriend was Derek Jeter and someone was asking how we met. So now some things about her is she’s from the sewer grate, her family lives in the sewer grate, her mom’s a nurse, her dad’s the lead singer of Fall Out Boy, she was born in 1998. She didn’t get hot until she was 6, and she didn’t meet her parents until she was 10 and they found her in a shoebox. It’s more like, nonsense in a fun voice than ‘Get a load of this bitch.’”
And if you can’t make the show tonight, fear not. There’ll more than likely be another chance. Houlihan says she’s certainly interested in doing the show again, as she’s become quite taken with longform, plot-based comedy shows.
“Live ’N’ Good would be a cool thing to use as a catch-all name for Mary’s Hour Show,” she says. “I don’t always need to do seven minute sets at other people’s shows, I should just write an hour show if I want to do it. Now I feel more capable and more excited to make a bunch of long shows.”
‘Mary Houlihan: Live ’N’ Good’, co-presented by Comedy Central’s Corporate Retreat, is tonight at UCB East, 153 E 3rd Street, East Village. 8pm. $5. More info here.
The next ‘Cartoon Monsoon’ show is on January 30th at The Annoyance Theater, 367 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg. More info here.