Mary Houlihan is a Brooklyn-based comedian known for her quirky, off-the-wall sense of humor and use of PowerPoint, music and videos in her stand-up. She has a talk show, “Nick + Mary = Morning,” which can be found on YouTube and a podcast, “Mary Houlihan’s Li’l Podcast.”
She will be in Missoula on Saturday, Feb. 9, to present her one-woman show “Me & Jack,” which details her fictional relationship with actor Jack Nicholson. This interview has been condensed and edited for space.
How did you get hooked up with the Missoula show? It doesn’t look like you have recently toured a lot outside of the New York area.
I wrote this show called “Me & Jack” and I had tweeted that I wanna do this in your town, let me know. So this guy messaged me and he said “do you wanna come, I’ll pay for your flights and Airbnb and I promise I’m not creepy,” and I said OK.
When you just put the call out on Twitter, are you expecting that kind of booking?
For artists like myself, I feel like it is more often someone who works at a DIY space or someone from a DIY space will reach out over a club booker. But Montana’s a lot farther than I thought someone would offer.
Have you been out here before?
Never! I thought maybe Ohio would be the farthest.
Are you going to other strange places via your call on Twitter?
Not too strange. I went to Buffalo and Rochester, which are not bad for driving from New York City. I’ve gotten a couple leads in North Carolina, maybe Austin. But I think I’m holding out until people give me more money.
Tell me about the origin of your show, “Me & Jack”
It started with an inside joke that me and my friends have been doing for a couple of years that I don’t know if it’s funny to anyone other than us. When I would meet up with my friends, they would say, “Hey, how are you and how’s Jack?” meaning Jack Nicholson.
Then I would make up an insane story about how our relationship was going and it was usually very pathetic sounding. Making him sound like someone that your friends are desperate for you to break up with, but you won’t break up with him for some reason.
I had a really long Facebook post one time saying that me and Jack had gotten into a fight at a Build-A-Bear Workshop and I had to leave, but he stayed because he wanted to finish making his bear.
Then, when I was wanting to do a new show, I thought well heck, maybe that could be an entire hour.
There is something inherently funny about old Jack Nicholson somehow, he’s just a funny-looking guy.
It looks like the show has some multimedia aspects to it, with pictures of Jack and voiceovers of him talking with you.
Some of the show is me talking to the audience in a sort of serious, one-woman-show type way, where I’m talking about my life story and how I came to end up dating Jack Nicholson, interspersed with things like that where we’re falling in love or fighting. And his big old head is projected on a screen.
You do a lot of stand-up using PowerPoint, music and other types of media. Why is that?
I guess it’s whimsical, like I feel like usually when I think of “normal” standup, I feel like it’s kind of honest or confessional or has a veneer of authenticity, where you’re talking about growing up, blah blah blah, my family, blah blah blah, my boyfriend, blah blah blah. I’m not super-interested in talking about my real life, I’d rather make up stupid crap.
I think since the material I’m saying is fictional and silly, the universe that that exists in would have stupid sound effects and stuff that would be unnatural in a more authentic storytelling-type setting.
You also do a lot of videos that cover talk show parodies, man-on-the-street interviews and cartoons. What do you like about doing those kinds of projects?
I guess I would like to be in a TV show or a movie, but no one’s put me in one, so I just have to make them.
I do this show “Nick + Mary = Morning” with Nick Naney — he’s one of my friends I would do my Jack inside joke with — we started doing that show in my living room on Facebook Live and it was just a fun thing. I like doing that, I would love it if we could find another venue where we could make money doing live stuff.
Is that still in your living room?
No, now we film it in a studio with a production company called Hatched.
You also did a daytime-type show, “Mary!”
Yeah, that was in the Manhattan Neighborhood Network studio, which is a public-access studio.
I just did two hourlong episodes. I would like to do more. That’s a project I feel like I pitched a million times to production companies. Let me be this Wendy Williams lady and we can cut to sketches. No one’s bought it yet.
Your videos and podcast both feature a good amount of interaction with fans or people on the street. What do you like about that type of comedy?
I think it’s fun, it’s something that I’m good at. It’s frustrating in show biz as a comedian trying to make it, because anytime you would be auditioning for any kind of opportunity, you have to show your tight 5-minute act. And you aren’t allowed to do crowd work or anything like that.
Your podcast, “Mary Houlihan’s Li’l Podcast” started last year, with a concept of changing styles of show every few episodes. Have there been any ideas you’ve done so far that you thought could be something longer, or do you like the constant movement?
I like switching around. There was one series that I liked that was a true crime parody with my friend Eliza Hurwitz. Her American Girl doll goes missing and we have to solve the mystery, in a multi-episode "Serial" thing. I liked doing that, but that would be psycho to do for a hundred episodes. I like the ability to do different things.
While you’re in Missoula, you’re going to be running a workshop for women and nonbinary comedians. Have you done that before? What will that look like?
At Oberlin College last year I co-taught an improv class/workshop for women and nonbinary people, so I think it will be similar to that in some ways, but that was for an improv festival.
This will be more varied. I might do an improv game or two, but I’d like to do other things. I’d like to do a super-fast open mic, where everyone does a minute. Maybe if someone shows up and they don’t even do comedy, they can do whatever, or pass.
You posted on Twitter recently about being confused for a Mary Houlihan who used to run the events page for the Chicago Sun-Times. Who is doing this?
I don’t know, but it happens frequently. I’ve gotten at least five emails saying, “Hey Mary … we’d love it if you could come to our play, we have a ticket reserved under your name.”
It’s super-annoying to me, because I think my email might be on my website somewhere, but I don’t know — if you know that there’s a lady named Mary Houlihan that writes about events in Chicago, then maybe you don’t know what she looks like. But if they look at any of my stuff for longer than a second I don’t think you would think I’m an events writer in Chicago.
If only you lived in Chicago and you could take advantage of free tickets.
That would be cool. But they aren’t even good shows. I got one email a while ago and the subject line was something about opening on tour for a band and I immediately thought it was an inquiry, if I would go on tour with this band. Then I opened it and it was about a Jonas Brothers-style band, this new teenage group that was featured on Radio Disney. It was a press release that they were coming to Chicago, and if you want to go to their concert you can have a ticket.