It's a brave thing for performers to let audiences see how the sausage of their art is made. But that's exactly what writer/performer Julia Sweeney is doing with her first standup comedy show called Older and Wider. This workshop run is Sweeney's official debut at The Second City.
"If you want to see me try and fail and say stuff that I probably regret saying, now's the time to see it," Sweeney said with a laugh. "By the time I finish it, it will definitely be a more solid, guaranteed laugh show, but it might not be as vulnerable as it is now."
Sweeney, of course, is most famous for her 1990s Saturday Night Live creation of the androgynous and often annoying character of "Pat." But Sweeney has also built up a performing career as an esteemed playwright/performer with some very personal solo shows.
God Said, Ha! dealt with Sweeney and her brother's struggle with cancer ( Quentin Tarantino filmed it in 1998 ). In the Family Way let Sweeney share her experiences with adoption and parenting. Letting Go of God was a way for Sweeney to talk about her childhood Catholic faith and her dawning views on atheism.
"I had a few people who were comedians say, 'You're so close to standup. Why don't you just be a standup?'" Sweeney said. "With a monologue, you've got to have a story with a beginning, middle and end, but with standup you can do random observations that I hope add up to something, but don't really have to."
Indeed, with two shows already under her belt when interviewed, Sweeney already has switched around one story from the ending to the beginning of Older and Wider. She said she also feels the 56-seat Judy's Beat Lounge at The Second City is just the perfect size for her to experiment with standup comedy. When asked if there was a specific reason why she picked the venue ( its namesake is the late GayCo performer and Second City instructor Judy Fabjance ), Sweeney said, "Not really, we both just happened to have cancer."
For some time, Sweeney felt she was semi-retired from show business after moving to the Chicago area about 10 years ago with her husband and daughter. Raising a family was her main focus.
"So now my daughter is a senior in high school, so I guess my show is coming up from underwater of child-caring and caretaking on a daily basis," Sweeney said. "I'm 58 now, so I have these next 20 years to work and create and be. And what do I have to say about that? What is it like to be this age after you child is launched basically?"
Sweeney said Older and Wider touches upon elements of all her previous solo shows. Sweeney also delves and reflects upon whole pop cultural phenomenon of Pat.
"I was the grand marshal of several gay pride parades in West Hollywood and New York and even Chicago," Sweeney said. "Then I started getting lots of fan mail from androgynous and intersex people who were glad about Pat. Which then made me feel a little uncomfortable.
Sweeney said that when she developed the character, Pat was actually inspired by an annoying male co-worker. But Sweeney said she couldn't really pull off playing a man, which is why she steered Pat in performance into a more androgynous realm to cover up her acting abilities.
"It was not an intentional thing to say something about androgynous people. So then when intersex people became fans, I felt like, 'Oh, god, I would have made Pat a lot more likable as a character if I had known that's what Pat would become known for,'" Sweeney said. "It was complicated."
"Because of me kind of being turned onto the whole intersex world, I definitely was affected by it because I paid a lot of attention to what was happening in the culture," Sweeney said. "I was much more alert and aware and 'woke' because of Pat. It was because I did Pat and the LGBTQ community kind of educated me."
"My daughter keeps saying that I'm so radical, but I don't feel radical at all," Sweeney said. "I've evolved. Like with everything you come up with something and put it out in the world, you affect other people, but then those people affect you. And then you keep co-evolving into new places. So that is how Pat has really affected my life."
The workshop run of Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider continues through Sunday, March 4, in Judy's Beat Lounge at The Second City, 230 W. North Ave. Tickets are $10; call 312-337-3992 or visit SecondCity.com .
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
This Scottish Play Scott marks my final official column as theater coordinator for the Windy City Times. It has been an honor and privilege to hold this freelance position since October 2008.
I hope that I've been able to expose readers to all kinds of LGBTQ artists and storytellers who make the Chicago-area theater scene one of the best in the world. I will still be a freelancing contributor for Windy City Media Group publications, but in a much more diminished capacity.
My best wishes to my successor, Catey Sullivan, and my colleagues in keeping up the coverage of Chicago LGBTQ theater and performance artists in the future.