Mary Mack Q&A

May 10, 2021
Mary Mack owes everything to Mr. Muus.

“Way before starting comedy, I would play musical gags on people with my buddy Jennie Donaldson, who started a polka band with me. One trick we would play on people was to invite them to our apartment, acting all serious about how we were scheduled to perform some piece of music for a somber event and that we needed to practice in front of someone. Then we’d perform the most awful rendition of a serious song with straight faces. We’d have a camera secretly aimed at them and the amount of effort it took for them to not laugh or cringe at us was where the funny was.”

You have a bachelor’s in music, a master’s in conducting, and you sometimes play a mandolin in your act. When you were focusing on music, was the humor coming out? 

In general, there’s lots of humor in music … even academic and classical music. Take the band pieces by Charles Ives where he mimics the aging church soprano. So fun and colorful. As far as my own playing and writing goes, it was just natural to include humor even on instrumentals. Way before starting comedy, I would play musical gags on people with my buddy Jennie Donaldson, who started a polka band with me. One trick we would play on people was to invite them to our apartment, acting all serious about how we were scheduled to perform some piece of music for a somber event and that we needed to practice in front of someone. Then we’d perform the most awful rendition of a serious song with straight faces. We’d have a camera secretly aimed at them and the amount of effort it took for them to not laugh or cringe at us was where the funny was. After a while we’d tell them it was a prank and “Thank God” was the usual response. It sounds lame on paper but I’ve never laughed so hard in my life as I did watching those videos with our “victims.”

You’re known as a homespun comedian, but there is plenty of bite in your comedy. When you were starting out did you have to face snark from cynical comedians who perhaps worshipped at the throne of Sam Kinison?

I was so lucky starting: the comics were probably too nice and supportive. My first open mics and stage time were in Nashville and many were run by Chad Riden and fellow indie producers at “Nashville Stand Up.” They always gave me more stage time than I deserved, and if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have developed material so fast. Thanks “Nashville Stand Up”!

You’re married to a comedian. Do you find that when one of you is in a productive writing zone it helps the other?

No! Sadly this has been difficult. We never seem to get on the same time line with our creativity bursts, but it is still nice to have a partner that really understands what you do.

You’re prolific as a voice actress, from “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” to “Solar Opposites.” How amped up do you need to get to do those characters?

I naturally talk very slowly, so before going in to record these fast cartoon parts, I have to do vocal exercises—some going back to my elementary music days as a kid. Sending big thanks to my choir teacher Mr. Muus for the exercises and for teaching me correct breath support so early on. Support teachers—they change lives!

You’ve spoken about getting your humor from your father, who was a mechanic. What was it about his storytelling that most informs your sensibility?

It was often just his reaction to the story he was telling that made it funny. Plus, he just genuinely loved jokes and stories.

You’re writing a non-fiction book. Has the pandemic allowed you to make progress? 

I was not a “person of creativity” during this awful pandemic. Now that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, I’m starting to feel creative again. I’ll write you back when the book is almost done. Please hold me accountable! I need someone to pose as my boss and scare me into finishing it. If you could call me up like once a week and threaten to fire me, that would help a lot.

You’ve said that your first joke was being the first house clarinetist for NASCAR. Do you still tell it?

There might be a VHS of it somewhere! Hah–I only did it once or twice and it was before you could burn your own DVD’s. I think half of what I write I only do once or twice and move on. Seems like a waste of some material, but that’s how it goes. Even if it goes well, I’ll just not do it again if I don’t feel a strong connection with the material. You’d think you’d feel connected to everything you wrote yourself, but that’s not the case with me.

What’s next for you?

I accidentally signed up for a craft fair table every Saturday morning in northern Wisconsin this summer, because I forgot I normally do comedy on the weekends. So I guess what comes next is a lot of live weekday shows? Fingers crossed!

Photo by Christina Gandolfo