How did Mary Patterson go from funniest girl in the sorority to hard-working, hard-traveling stand-up comedian in seven years?
With the full support of her nice, conservative Southern family, that's how. "They are so supportive; I don't know why," she laughs. Patterson's blog is called Upper-Middle Class Angst, but there's nothing angsty about the way she talks about her childhood in Mobile, Ala. That lack of drama has become part of her act. "I think that some people would try to shy away from talking about having a rich dad, but I think it makes me funny, and I make fun of myself for that."
Specifically, she makes fun of what she sees as a generational tendency to accept parental help in pursuing a creative path far different from their model of starting jobs and families right out of school. Patterson acknowledges not only the number of advantages she's had, but also the contrast between her parents' lifestyle and her own. In her act, Patterson calls her mother a "dainty Southern belle," illustrating her point with a tossed-off impression of Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief. Standing onstage talking about her dating life (messy), her eating habits (messier), and her opinion of the Motel 6 where she had to stay on the road (downright disgusting), she is anything but dainty. "Essentially, [I'm] not very ladylike," she confesses.
If her mom is a Southern belle, Patterson is what we in Texas call a "sassy broad." Patterson's interest in acting brought her to Los Angeles after college, where she took her first open-mic class with friends she met as a page at CBS. Early missteps aside (including a joke involving a guy by the name of Patrick and the words "100 percent all-beef patty"), she has spent seven years developing her confident stage swagger and easygoing, observational humor.
"People say that I've got a likable face, that I should be in commercials," she says, and it's true: With her red, curly hair, big smile, and wide blue eyes, she has the kind of face you would buy laundry detergent from in a heartbeat. Maybe that's just because there's something incredibly appealing, and even a little contagious, about her no-nonsense optimism. When asked about the challenges facing women in comedy, she says, "People think I'm crazy for saying this. But I think it makes it a little bit easier. The majority of comics are white males, so if anything, I think it makes me more memorable to people in a sea of white males."
Patterson admits that some audiences assume a woman doing stand-up won't be any good. "After every single show, there's at least one person who's like, 'I usually hate female comics, but I like you.'" Nevertheless, she impatiently shrugs off the suggestion that this makes her job harder. "If you're funny and prove them wrong, then they forget they ever thought that. If you killed, you killed, and there's no denying that." And Patterson quite often kills, Southern charm and all.
"I think that people in the South are funny in general," she says. "People in the South don't care, they don't really give a shit. I'm from Mobile, which is actually the original place for Mardi Gras in this country – before they took it to New Orleans, FYI – and they have a whole court and all these traditions. What's funny is that they have no sense there's anything odd or weird about having debutantes, or dressing a certain way, or whatever. That's the way it is, and that's how they do it." n
Mary Patterson appears at Moontower April 24-27: Wednesday, 8:15pm, at New York, New York, 222 E. Sixth; Thursday, 8pm, at Scottish Rite Theater, 218 W. 18th; Friday, 8:15pm, at New York, New York, 222 E. Sixth; Saturday, 7:45pm, at the Parish, 214 E. Sixth. For more information, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com.
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