Maddie Wiener Penetrates Male Dominated Comedy Scene
Teenager Shows Chops In Triangle Comedy Scene
PULLING UP STAKES FOR CHICAGO
By James Scott 10/13/17 9:00PM
CARRBORO—Stephen Jay Gould once said that he was less interested in Einstein himself than in the certainty that someplace else, there was someone with a brain equal to Einstein's languishing in a cotton field or a sweatshop.
Comedy open mics bring to mind something similar; odds are that someone with the mind of an Andy Kaufman, Don Rickles or Richard Pryor is sweating under hot lights on a rickety stage somewhere in a town like Chapel Hill. They may be getting laughs, even killing. They work a day job then get up on stage. Then they leave out the same door as the club patrons, no recording, no CD, no HBO special.
Maddie Wiener is a 19-year-old standup prodigy whose name is buzzing across the Triangle's comedy scene. Wiener is an anomaly. In spite of arguably being a little green (her first open mic was at DSI Comedy Club three years ago) she has developed a commanding stage presence that some comedy veterans never attain.
At Cat's Cradle, a bespectacled, quiet-looking young woman walks on stage, grabs the mic, and begins her set by anguishing over which college she'll be accepted to. Thirty seconds later, she drops this gem: "When I get sexually assaulted, I want it to at least make the news." A joke that could stop a clock instead sets the room ablaze with laughter. She owns the room for the remaining nine-and-a-half minutes.
Her irreverent humor is alloyed with a streak of brazenness. "If I held God to the same standard that I held any boyfriend," she told an audience at 2nd Wind in Carrboro, "I would have broken up with him after the first flood. That's how people stay in abusive relationships. He's like 'I'm not gonna do it again.' . . . He's gonna do it again!"
Though her humor is irreverent, her personality is not—other comics despise authority almost by default. "I'm super super scared of authority. I wouldn't be telling rape jokes in casual conversation at work," she says. "I'm very agreeable. I think being a woman has something to do with it."
James Hodge has been a comedian for ten years and has opened for Dave Chappelle, among others. He's worked with Bobcat Goldthwait, Marc Maron, Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari, just to name a few. He had this to say about Maddie: "She's extremely talented, one of the funniest young comics I've ever seen. That's not an exaggeration for print, she's legit a monster-good comic."
In a male-dominated field, she fits in. "I've always gotten along with guys better. I've always ended up being the only girl in a group of guys, so it's not that weird to me. It's hard sometimes, because there's not a lot of other people like you doing the thing, so it's nice to have a community. . . . I'd like to see more women doing comedy, but not just for the sake of doing it."
Several things make her stand out from the mill of open-mic regulars, first of which being that she never set out to be a comic. "I wasn't doing it to pursue comedy", Wiener said. "It was a fun thing to do after school. I just kind of kept doing it. After a couple of months, I figured 'maybe I'll stick to this.'"
Comics are sometimes quick to tell you about the profound effect that a Pryor or a Bill Hicks or George Carlin had on them. "I did watch them," Wiener said. "I watched Louis C.K. when I was younger. [He] was the big one I got into…But I never thought about it as something I could do."
She has no political or humanitarian agenda, she said recently, before her 19th birthday. "No, I'm just trying to be funny. I'm 18, I don't really have a message I'm trying to get across…If I could make a living doing standup, I would be super super happy."
Comics are stereotyped to be a self-destructive lot, just as clowns are deemed sad. They take to the stage like an agonal breath, and release inner demons there. Wiener doesn't quite fit the mold. "There's definitely a lot of f--kups," she said, "but ya know, I've struggled with that kind of stuff myself. But so does everyone. There's a bunch of suicidal people [in comedy]."
It's a common saying that tragedy plus time equals comedy. Given the early deaths of Chris Farley, Sam Kinison, Lenny Bruce, Belushi, Mitch Hedberg and others, perhaps it is an inverse industry truism that comedy plus time equals tragedy. Live comedy is a pressure cooker. In a field where bombing onstage is referred to as "dying," Wiener seems to carry herself in uncommonly healthy way.
"It's the most fun thing I've ever done," she said, "and I've met my favorite people in the world from [doing comedy]. Now that I'm doing it—now, I'm watching as much comedy as I can get my hands on. . . . You're just saying silly stuff, and some people do that for a living. That's crazy. It's insane that that's a job."
She has an optimism that seems rare among gifted comics. "You have to be really confident that in a room of people that they should pay money to hear what you have to say. . . Gender roles would not have women do that. I think part of it is, if a guy is onstage and is looking gross—you have to be kind of gross to be funny, and women are taught to be attractive above all else. You're trying to make a living doing unladylike things. For as many people as have that opinion, I hear women say 'shit' and 'c--t' all the time."
"She's a natural writer with a quirky performance style that is abrasive and likeable at the same time," Hodge said. "That's a rare and cool combo, especially in someone who is barely old enough to vote and still can't legally buy a wine cooler. Because she's so young, she has a fresh point of view nobody has ever heard before. It's cool to watch."
Maddie Wiener is performing October 26 at the Local 506 in Chapel Hill.