Talking Funny With Jennie McNulty
Jennie McNulty is a stand-up comedian and professional football player who can be seen every Monday hosting LOGO’s "Walking Funny with Jennie McNulty," on which she interviews female comedians and sports personalities while taking them on a power walk. She recently chatted (over the phone, sitting down) with Elevate Difference about how laughter and exercise are especially important in these tough economic times.
How did you decide to become a stand-up comedian?
I had gone to school and got a degree in psychology. Then I went back and got a Master's degree in kinesiology, and right after I graduated, my parents moved down to Florida. I didn’t want to go with them, so I got a job in a research lab. Because I had played sports my whole life, I was never into theatre, but I always liked it, and I wanted to do something in the entertainment field.
So I was working in a lab, and I loved my job, loved everyone there. It was really fun. I was working with this guy who was going through this little mid-life crisis. We were really similar in our personalities, and I thought, “God, that’s me in, like, ten or twenty years if I don’t try to do something in entertainment.” I had always thought I was funny, and I made my friends laugh and stuff, but I was making people in this research lab laugh too. I thought, “Well maybe this really is funny.”
I watched a few open mic nights, and some of those people looked like they had lost a bet or something. I thought I could do at least that well. [I was telling] one of the guys at the lab that I wanted to do this open mic night, but I didn’t have any material. He goes, “You know what? You don’t need any material. You’re funny. You make people laugh. You just need to practice in front of people.” I just signed up one day and gave it a shot, and it worked really well. I had a good set, and I kept doing it and doing it and doing it. When the guy I was working for in the lab got a job at a university in Milwaukee and moved out there, I was able to collect unemployment and go around the country to showcase at different clubs. I’ve been doing comedy ever since.
Did you find the scene was more male-dominated at this time?
Oh god. Yeah. It was horrible. Back then, if you called up and talked to a club owner and you were like, “Hey. I’m going to be in your area. Do you have any gigs available?” They’d be like, “No, we already have a female on the show.” The funny part to that was that I did all kinds of sports stuff. I talked about football, so I had had far more in common with the guys, material-wise, than I did with women.
Anytime there were more than three female acts on the show it would be billed as this big special event—and it still, to some extent, is—but you don’t get as much of the, ”Oh, we’ve already got two women on the show.” They would do the same thing to the black, male comedians. They just assume that women are all gonna talk about man-bashing and periods. But they would think nothing of putting three white guys on the show. It’s always been a male field, and it’s getting a little better, but I think people are still surprised when then find a woman funny.
Do you think it’s getting better now that there are more female comedians in the public eye?
I think that’s part of it, but I’d also like to think that it’s because women are starting to be seen more in all realms. We are starting to see ourselves more as doctors and attorneys, although when you go to a doctor’s appointment there is still a tendency to use a male pronoun. So we’ve got a ways to go, but I think the fact that so many of us are successful, that Roseanne Barr and Ellen and Rosie have been funny and stood the test of time, that it really opens doors for people. When younger people see the Rosies and Ellens during the time they’re growing up, then it’s sort of more natural. But it is still a boy’s network; there is no question about that.
What did you think of Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin on SNL?
I think [Sarah Palin] set [women] back a few years. (Laughs.) I think what Fey’s brilliant portrayal of Sarah Palin did was illuminate how good Hillary Clinton is. You look at all of these great women in power—Nancy Pelosi, Madeline Albright—and all those women have been strong, smart, political powerhouses. I don’t think that Sarah Palin is a good role model for women, so let us not be judged by that one!
I found it interesting that the latest issues of Curve, Bust, and Bitch magazines all had cover stories or features of ‘funny women’. Do you think there is a kind of resurgence or shift happening that is making feminist/queer/women’s media cover comedy?
I think that what is going on economically in this country is killing us, and we all need to look at something to make us laugh. So we turn to our comedians and our comics, the court jesters of the day, and it so happens that some of the top ones that people know now are women. These magazines focus on women because they are aimed at women, but we are turning to comedy because we need it. Our country is a mess. We need to lift our spirits.
Going back to comic stereotypes, are there assumptions made about your work because you are queer?
Unfortunately, yes. You get categorized and put on the “gay show” or something. For me, it is so important for us, as a gay community, to be out there and be seen. My show is fairly palatable; I am not that edgy. I mean, I get my points across, but I try to do it in a way that people don’t even really know that they get the point until afterward. If I get stereotyped as a “gay comic” then so be it.
In terms of the gay community supporting me, I can’t complain. I do a lot of the Olivia trips, or people see me on LOGO and they come out to see my show. I don’t mind that at all, even if it keeps me out of a "straight" show here and there, because I think it is far more important that we get accepted in our culture.
You live in Los Angeles, California. What was your reaction to the Proposition 8 debacle?
I was actually on an Olivia tour, and watching the election was amazing. There were several hundred lesbians watching a big screen as the elections went down. Everyone was just screaming and crying when Barack Obama won, just so overjoyed. Then when Prop 8 went down, it was just such a punch in the gut. It was so demoralizing that we could take such a huge step forward, and yet we are not that forward. I had not heard there were protests going on, so when I got back I was really energized by that.
In a way, losing Prop 8 kind of did us a favor. It really got people motivated. This is an issue of civil rights, not just moral rights. I think that when it goes to the courts we will win it back. Protests were going on for more than seven days straight so when I got back I attended some of those protests, and I felt really good about it. It was very empowering to be in that groundswell, that movement of people coming together to support a cause.
What is living in LA like for you?
It’s great! LA is what you make of it. There is certainly the share of crazy, plastic people out here who are just really transparent, but there are a lot of really great people. The weather is nice. You can go skiing up in the mountains, surfing at the beach. You can go to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, and there are several different canyons and wooded areas. It’s got anything you want.
Is being a TV or movie star on your agenda?
(Laughs.) Oh, sister, I’m trying! I’m hoping that this “Walking Funny” thing can be seen on a larger scale. I love being on AfterEllen.com. It’s really fun, but I would like to get it out there to more people. I have had a bunch of people write me and say, "Hey, thanks. I started watching your blog, and it really inspired me to start walking again. Now I’m running in this 5km race.” People have lost twenty or thirty pounds. It’s really cool to know that I’m doing a talk show, but also helping people get out there and get physical. I have loved sports all my life, so it’s a big part of my life.
How do your guests on “Walking Funny” react to the power walk?
I keep the segments down to about twenty minutes, but the walk itself ends up being about thirty or forty-five. You don’t even notice you did it. You’re just walking and talking, and it doesn’t even feel like an interview. You’re not sitting at a table getting grilled about something. It’s just walking and chatting, so I think it makes for a better interview.
I’m hoping to get [the show] out there more. People hate exercise. They have this high school gym idea about it, when really it can just be getting out there and walking. Especially now, with computers and the internet, people are just stuck at their desks all day, not moving. Everyone is all stressed because of the economy, and [walking] really makes you feel better mentally.