These days it’s considered impossible, but comedian Ever Mainard has done it. In a bit you can witness on YouTube, she riffs on rape and racism in a way that struck profound chords of truth and humor with her audience during a Chicago Underground Comedy showcase this past winter. The true story centers on a tense encounter outside the Morse Avenue El on a cold January midnight. The YouTube video went viral and was singled out for special mention by NPR affiliate WBEZ, the Onion’s A.V. club and www.jezebel.com.
But Mainard is known for lots more. Her insightful, funny takes on life bespeak a mind that’s both introspective and an acute observer of life in Chicago and the world at large. But that doesn’t mean it’s all delivered quietly. Chicago Magazine called Mainard “fearless”and indeed, she can tackle any topic, always with the positive room-filling energy one expects from a native Texan.
Metromix/RedEye named Mainard one of the “Top Seven Acts to Watch in 2012” and Gaper’s Block called her one of the five most influential women in Chicago comedy. Over just this past year, she was featured in TBS’ Just For Laughs Festival, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival and the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival. Along with Alicia Queen, she also co-penned and will appear in “Shakespeare’s Female Women” which debuts this month at Skokie’s Gorilla Tango Theater. Speaking of the impossible made possible, the play includes all of Shakespeare’s female characters. But you can see Ever Mainard even closer to home when she headlines the Wilmette Theatre’s monthly series, Comedy at the Mette on September 8. We spoke with Mainard to learn the secrets to her success.
Q: Did growing up in Texas influence your comedy?
A: Well, I did grow up in Texas in a really tiny town that had about 1500 people. It was a farming community. But I wouldn’t say that influenced me. The thing that really influenced me was my parents. They always watched Carol Burnett and when I was old enough, they would wake me up to watch Saturday Night Live. My parents are also really funny, so it was observing their sense of humor, my mom in particular. She does a whole bunch of characters around the house. That’s where I really started picking it up.
Q: They sound like fun parents.
A: They’re awesome. They’ve always been really supportive. They always knew I wanted to be a comedian and that this is what I would do. We didn’t have cable, but my friends did, so I was always at their house watching Comedy Central or stand-up.
There was a comedy club in Temple, a town fifteen minutes over. Compared to Chicago, it’s super small. It had a comedy club called Club Image, which is no longer there. It didn’t really thrive. But when I was eighteen I started doing stand-up there.
I started researching all my favorite comedians and most of them came out of Chicago or were Chicago-based before they moved to L.A. or New York, so I wanted to follow their path. When I was twenty-one and told my parents I wanted to move to Chicago, they were all about it.
Q: Who are some of your favorite Chicago comedians?
A: She’s now in L.A., but I remember idolizing Beth Stelling. We became friends. Once you do comedy here, you start making friends and I started making friends with her and the Puterbaugh Sisters. I think Lisa Laureta is really, really good. Her writing style and her characters and her delivery are really amazing. I think she’s going to be huge. Chris Condren is really funny. I really like Chad Briggs, too.
Q: Who are some of your favorites who started here?
A: I love Rachel Dratch. Her characters were so weird sometimes. Here is this woman doing her own thing and it made me laugh so hard. And I loved Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.
It took me a year to get comfortable out here because I was so afraid of mean northern stand-ups who would be rude and heckle, but it’s not like that at all. My second time at an open mic, a woman came up and said, “You’re so funny.” We slowly started becoming friends and I made friends just because you see the same people at open mics and you bond.
Q: How did you develop the ability to see things in a funny way? Was it by living in a family where people are able to do that?
A: I think that’s really where it comes from. My mom and I would go to the grocery store and she would crack me up by making observations that I would follow with the same kind of thought. We used to watch daytime talk shows like Montel and Ricki Lake and do the characters off of that and we would observe things as those characters. I didn’t know what I was doing as a young girl. Looking back now, it was like training for Second City or iO or even stand-up. Now it’s like, oh, that’s what I was doing. But then I just thought we were being silly.
My dad is really funny, too. He’s always writing one-liners and he’ll tell them to me over the phone or write them down and send them to me in a card. He’s really excited that I’m following my dream.
Q: What does your comedy says about you?
A: When I first started, I’d tell jokes from the perspective of a plant or through the perspective of an automatic phone dialer. It was perspectives through different characters and not through myself. Whereas now, it’s about who I am as a person and funny realizations, experiences that have happened to me. Now it’s transitioning into being as open as I can on stage.
Q: I think that’s one of the appealing parts of stand-up. You really get to know somebody, but it takes guts to go onstage and tell the true stories.
A: It’s been kind of cool to grow. It’s helped me realize things about myself and that stand-up might have changed me as a person. Like staying up all night, doing shows and then taking a nap and then getting up at five to go to work (at Starbucks). It’s kind of a cycle of naps for me right now.
Q: That’s a very full schedule. How has stand-up changed you?
A: I feel like it’s made me an old woman. I’m tired all the time. But it’s helped me to be honest and okay with myself. It’s helped me to be who I am and if I’m not okay with it, it’s helped me to think, well, why am I not okay with this part of my personality and what can I do to change it?
Q: Self-awareness like that often doesn’t come until decades later. It sounds like doing stand-up …
A: … can really accelerate that.
Q: As one unusually named person to another, I wanted to ask you about your name. Do you have trouble with people mispronouncing it?
A: I get a lot of Heathers or Deborah, even when they see my name. Or “Eever,” and I’m just like, well, it is a word. Is your name a family name? I guess it’s the first time I’ve ever heard that name. It’s really cool.
Q: Yeah, thanks. It was my grandmother’s name. It used to give me so much trouble growing up because I was really shy and people kept getting it wrong and I was too shy to correct them. I started to lie and tell people my name was Lisa. Having an unusual name really had an impact.
A: I agree with that. I think it sets us apart. My family named me that because, well, there are two stories. My dad’s mom tells me it’s because my dad read a book where the main character’s name was Ever and he used to say, if he ever had a daughter, he was going to name her Ever. But I asked my dad and he’s like, well, that’s not true.
The story I’ve always gotten from my parents, which was really disappointing for me to hear was, apparently, they had a friend who was also pregnant and they were going to name their girl Ever or their son Paul. And they had a son. And my dad and my mom loved the name so much, they said, “we just found out we’re going to have a girl. Can we use the name Ever?” So that’s how I got it. It was almost a stolen name. I like the storybook version better.
Q: What inspired “Shakespeare’s Female Women”?
A: My friend Alicia and I improvised once together when a friend had to back out and Alicia stepped in. (I do two-person improv every now and then.) We found we bounce off of each other really well. One day, she told me about an idea she had to perform all of Shakespeare’s women, but in a funny way. And I said, “Alicia, I love that idea. I could help you make jokes.”
So we started bouncing off ideas that are like Monty Python-type absurdist comedy about the type of women that Shakespeare had in his plays. You had the vixen-type, you had the shrew, you had queens, you had evil women. You rarely had moms. We talk about that.
Q: Do you have a favorite Shakespeare character to play?
A: I play one of the witches in the Scottish play. The lines in the play make me laugh. That one’s really fun for me because I don’t get to play a lot of bad or evil characters.
Q: Speaking of women, is it still a relevant question of why there aren’t more women in comedy? It seems like there really is progress.
A: Oh my gosh, yes! I feel like within the last three or four years, it’s just exploded. People are more accepting of seeing a woman on stage, which is a shame it took so long.
The really cool thing is to see all of these young women now on stage on Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, Dave Letterman, Conan O’Brien. All of those talk shows are putting young women up on stage. I don’t know about David Letterman so much, but for sure the younger generation of late night talk shows. Plus, you have Ellen Degeneres with her own show and women in general are getting more and more interested and brave about it, more into comedy.
Q: Will you be telling the “here’s your rape” story when you’re in Wilmette?
A: It really depends on the energy of the audience. With a fuller audience, with the energy high, it feels good, that story, the truth of it. The funny comes out. The story was really just a riff. I just riffed on an incident that happened to me and I knew a little of what I was going to say and then something in my brain … I think that’s where the improv training took over.
Q: Do you have a best or worst story about being a comedian?
A: The best stories always come out of when you have a good night, like, oh, my gosh, I really killed it. And now it’s getting to a point where people are like, “Hey, aren’t you … ? “Do you do stand-up?” It’s really cool to be recognized.
The worst stories…
I was really fortunate to go on tour with a woman named Sonya White. She took me on tour with her to the Upper Peninsula and we did four or five shows. I realized that even though comedy is universal, the type of comedy I was doing wasn’t hitting with these crowds.
This winter it hardly snowed and I thought that was a good thing. So I went up on stage and was like, “How about it? We’ve hardly had any snow!” And a couple of people were like, “Booo!” And I said, “Why did you boo?” And they said, “Well, there’s no snow, there are no tourists and no snowmobiles, there’s no ice fishing, there’s none of it, so a lot of our jobs are on hold.” I never really thought about that. But Sonya killed it. She has different types of audiences. She moves her jokes around easily. For me that was an eye opener, to really prepare for different types of people going into things. Of course, I got material coming out of that experience.
Q: What is something unexpected about you that the audience would never guess?
A: I hate crowds. I hate being touched in a crowd. But I love reading. I love reading Gone With The Wind and Little House on the Prairie and I love the classic books. I kind of nerd out. I get really excited about reading Jane Eyre. I’ve read it a couple of times. I tell really goofy stories and jokes and could see why you would think I wouldn’t be into books, but I really love to read when I have a chance.
Q: What’s your favorite book?
A: My favorite book is by Nelson Algren called A Walk on the Wild Side. It’s the first book in a long time where I’ve been able to really empathize with the main character. Before that, it was An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser and Sister Carrie. I love those types of books.
I’m re-reading A Walk on the Wild Side. I found it in the lost and found drawer two summers ago at my store. It had been there for two months. I had nothing else to do on my break and I was like, I’ll start reading this book and then I couldn’t put it down. My heart broke reading this book. It was the best book I ever read and it still affects me as I’m reading it again.
Q: That’s such a cool way to find a favorite book.
A: Yeah, just lost and found. Nobody’s ever come looking for it. It’s one book that I’ll never give away.
Q: I love that. Sometimes things happen in such unexpected ways and then you can’t imagine them not having happened.
A: Right. I love it.
Comedy At The 'Mette is at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 8 at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave. Tickets are $12. The show will be hosted by Paul Thomas and also features Chad Briggs. This is a 21 and over event. For more information or for tickets, call 847-251-7424 or visit http://www.wilmettetheatre.com/events/