If you've never seen Mary Mack perform, you're in for a treat. The doe-eyed, skinny-as-a-rail comedian with a squeaky voice and a loopy sense of humor is absolutely hilarious. The show's lineup also includes the equally idiosyncratic Rana May, a rare performance from the band Frances Gumm, local standup Zach Coulter, accordionist Karen Townsend, and Tony Pastrami the butcher (a.k.a. comedian Tim Harmston).
Mack used to do a big, four-hour extravaganza at the old Acadia around the holidays, but since the venue moved several years ago it hasn't had the same liquor license. So after a few years of hiatus, Mack relocated the party to the Turf Club in the Clown Lounge.
The North Star Comedy Hour and Meat Raffle is a concept that Mack has been doing in LA, where she performs for several months out of the year. "I was going after a Minnesota market," she says. "People who come and see me in California are displaced Wisconsinites and Minnesotans. If I put 'meat raffle' in the title, their ears perk up."
For the happening this weekend, she's hoping it'll be a stress reliever. "It's not too expensive, the people are nice, it's going to be short, and it starts early," she says. "You can either go to bed or go home and wrap some presents afterwards."
The show is the kind of thing that's "frowned upon in most clubs," she says. "The great thing about the Turf Club is that they encourage you to be weird."
Mack does struggle a bit in her career, not just because of her unorthodox performing style, but because she's a woman. While she's gained notoriety, there's still a bias against female comedians that she still faces, despite the fact that there are many women comics out there.
For example, sometimes she'll get invited to a club but when they start talking about dates they'll say, "Oh, I don't think we can have you then because we're having a woman just a few weeks before that," she says. "Who fills in the weeks between the men? Guys don't get that. A guy would never get that."
One time when her manager called a venue they said they'd like to have her but another woman was there the month before.
"It's very male-dominated," she says of the comedy industry. "It's becoming more and more closed off." One time, she contacted a club in Madison, where she had sold out five shows a couple of years ago -- during a blizzard. They said, "We can't hire you any more because you are too quirky for our regulars."
Mack has been doing comedy for eight years, but she says it's difficult for females to break through "if you're not wearing the right kind of revealing clothes." On particularly frustrating nights, she'll resort to ACDC covers.
Mack calls herself a folk humorist. "It's the way I see everything," she says. She grew up in the woods with animals, unaware of fashion and pop culture. "If I had grown up in a big city or near a mall I would have had so much information shoved in my face that I wouldn't have needed to form an opinion."
The persona that she plays onstage "is pretty much me," she says, "except happier. It's me at my happiest. I try not to bring in the negative. I've been getting more negative in daily life, so people get sick of me."
Mack is constantly working on her craft, and can be seen regularly at local open mics. "I put the poor audiences through a hard time," she says. She starts by "puking out information," and then she records it, to help her form her show. "I have that luxury here because they know me. I have a couple open mics where I can do that. I'm not trying to be funny at open mics. I'm seeing the potential to be funny."
One time, she had a younger comic see her perform one of her club gigs over Thanksgiving, and he told her that he didn't realize she was funny. "The only way you can be funny is to bomb at open mics," she says.
You can see Mary Mack often at the Acme Comedy Club on Mondays (when she's not in acting class, honing her chops for LA auditions). She likes Acme because everyone is pretty honest. "If they don't like you, they won't laugh, she says. "If you're too dated, they won't laugh." Thankfully, Acme never has a problem putting women back to back. She also frequents the Joke Joint on Wednesdays and the Corner Bar on Fridays. "I'll go to any open mics," she says. "Especially when I really want to get a bit done. That's what I have a lot of trouble with. I hate doing sets that I've planned out. I like doing sets where you don't know how they are going to go, you can change it up anytime you want."
Mack can also be seen at poetry readings, like the Riot Act Reading Series. "I usually write an essay, or a sketch, or a script," she says. Sometimes she'll do a poem. "They're really bad. They're ridiculous poems. They don't rhyme. But not out of artsiness -- it's just because I'm lazy. Sometimes I just think something sounds good, and has a nice ring to it."
As for the North Star Comedy Hour and Meat Raffle, Mack isn't looking to make money. "I'm just looking to pay the poster person," she says. "It's a chance to see people and get together." She'll mostly be doing the music. "I'm the house band and the host," she says. "I'll probably tell a story and bring in the different acts."
She's a bit nervous about the meat. "In LA, people don't know what a meat raffle is," she says. "I can just bring a couple brats dyed red and green for the holidays."
Most likely, people will really be there for some good comedy, some good music, and a chance to have a good time.
IF YOU GO:
Mary Mack's North Star Comedy Hour & Meat Raffle: Dysfunctional Holiday Edition 6 p.m. Friday, December 23 $5 or whatever you can afford Turf Club Clown Lounge 1601 University Ave. W., St. Paul
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