Articulations

Remembering Esther's Follies comedienne Margaret Wiley, who died November 2.


In Memoriam

Chi Chi has chosen her last Hunk of the Night.

Margaret Wiley, the creator and alter ego of Chi Chi La Bomba, the Mother of All Hot Mamas and one of the signature characters of Esther's Follies, has died. The brilliant comic writer and performer was found dead in her home around noon on Tuesday, November 2. The cause of death wasn't immediately known, but her passing was unexpected. The sudden loss of this priceless member of the Follies family stunned the members of the musical comedy troupe. Wiley had been a part of the company for so long that it seemed she'd be around as long as there was an Esther's Pool. In just weeks, she would have celebrated her 20th year with the Follies. She arrived in Austin late in 1980 and in January of 1981, she served up her first sketch for Esther's, a raunchy spoof of Olympic sport called the "Peel-a-Thon." It was Wiley drawing on her life experience -- prior to her move to Texas, she had been a stripper in Cleveland -- and it set the tone for much of Wiley's material at the Follies: raucous and a little raw, with a twangy flash of that Cleveland rock & roll. Certainly, that was the tone for Chi Chi, her most memorable creation. A voluptuous vixen in a Latin groove, Chi Chi existed to wander through the Esther's audience, scouring it for men she deemed hunky. She would eye the males salaciously, make suggestive remarks about their manhood and perhaps their prowess in the bedroom, and paw them shamelessly. And no matter how cheap the jokes, how lewd and crude, the crowd fell all over themselves laughing. The same was true for Wiley's Aunt Edith, who made a career out of finding inventive new uses for feminine hygiene products. Her long-running series of "craft tips" were strictly Lowest Common Denominator humor -- in the trade, "dick jokes" -- but in Wiley's keen hands, they were hilarious and she was adorable. That's because she had a gift for bawdy. There is blue humor that's crass and there is blue humor that's earthy, and Margaret's was the latter. Wiley wasn't restricted to the ribald and risqué, however. Another long-running series of hers revolved around a family of Ukrainian peasants. Although the series drew on the tradition of moron humor -- these peasants were often spectacularly ignorant -- Wiley developed an elaborate culture and mythology around the characters that shot the sketch to a whole 'nother level. (Curses like this family's you've never heard before.) And then there was Wiley the costumer. Many of the outlandish outfits paraded across the Esther's stage in the last 20 years were Wiley originals. She had a flamboyant artistic streak and the Follies allowed her to take it to the limit. Spectacular costumes, over-the-top hats -- if she could imagine it and had enough foam, fabric, and hot glue, she could create it. But most folks who saw her will remember Margaret Wiley for her comedy. In 1988, she was named "Funniest Person in Austin" at the annual stand-up comedy contest, and 11 years later, she was every bit as deserving of the title as when it was bestowed on her. Follies maven Shannon Sedwick reports that the show will go on this week, with the Pool performances dedicated to Wiley's memory. A memorial service -- of a kind that Wiley would approve -- will be held later in the month. For more information, call 320-0553. Also, see next week's Chronicle for more memories of Margaret from her colleagues and friends at the Follies.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

articulations, arts news, austin arts news, esther's follies, margaret wiley, chi chi la bomba, shannon sedwick

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