Mo Welch on Larry Bird, Qweirdos and Laughter in the Dark
Whether she’s hosting The Mo Show, performing standup, making music videos, drawing her hilariously depressing cartoon, Barely Blair, or bringing her A-game on the basketball court onto the stage for the Larry Bird Variety Hour, the impossibly cool Mo Welch is constantly stretching the boundaries of her comedy and devising new ways to find the funny.
I got a chance to talk with Mo about the antics behind the making of her CBS sports special, Foul Ball, what it’s like to be Larry Bird, getting her start with The Grawlix, joining the Qweirdo community, and her unexpected moment of brilliance with a Pop-Tart.
My sources tell me you are an all-star basketball player. How long have you been playing?
Forever. I haven’t gone a week without playing basketball since I was 11. I can’t believe my body still works!
Wow, that’s impressive. How many times a week do you usually play?
I’m obsessive…I have a Saturday guys game, a Sunday girls game, a Monday college girls game and usually Tuesday I have League…and then if I can on Thursdays…I play another girls game on the Westside. [laughs] I’m not much of a team player, I’m really just a street baller. Although, I did try to contact the Sparks to get on their practice squad because I heard they had open tryouts. I’m sure I couldn’t, but I thought it would be really fun. My friends ask me if I’d quit comedy for basketball and I say If I had the opportunity to be in the WNBA for one year, and I had to step away from comedy, I’d totally do it. Or I’d do both, I’d open the game with standup, and then go on the road with the Sparks performing and playing at all of the biggest arenas.
Yeah! You could do a set instead of the National Anthem! What inspired you to try performing after so many years as a street baller?
When I was a kid I always wanted to be on the stage, but I had really bad stage fright. I always had performing in the back of my mind, but I was just a jock, playing sports all day long. I watched SNL a lot with my siblings. We used to die laughing over all of those movies with SNL characters that got like 20% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. I remember watching SNL one night while I was at my apartment in Wyoming and saying to myself, “I think I can do that.” Then I woke up the next day and signed up for an Improv class.
Where did you do comedy when you were just starting out?
I started doing Improv in Denver and then tried standup and then literally never stopped. I would drive from Wyoming for 3 hours, do an open mic in Denver and then drive back. I would practice my lines on the way down. But I still had stage fright so I’d get on stage and just crumble and then have to think about that on the whole drive back. It took a while to get used to it.
Did you get a good response right away?
I think so. Yes, because there weren’t a lot of females on the Denver scene at that time. The Grawlix guys were still there. Ben Roy, Andrew Orvedahl, and Adam Cayton-Holland, all of those guys were still there and super supportive of me, so that was good. It’s nice to have support. But I’m pretty sure that I bombed for a year [laughs]. I can tell when I’m bombing.
You combine your love of basketball and your love of comedy in your hilarious Larry Bird Variety Hour. Why retired NBA legend Larry?
I was Larry Bird for Halloween one year in Chicago so I went to an open mic dressed as him and just opened up the floor to questions. I know so much about him that I was like, oh, nobody is going to be able to stump me. Even if they do, I just make it funny and call them a liar [laughs]. So that’s where it started, just doing Larry Bird Q&A. Out of all the shows I’ve ever done, The Larry Bird Variety Hour is a show where from beginning to end, everyone is laughing.
What are some fun facts about Larry Bird?
Oh man, I don’t know if they’re fun. I always tell a very not fun story about how he initially denied paternity of his daughter Corrie. He was also recruited at the University of Indiana but then he quit after 2 weeks. He couldn’t handle the big city of Bloomington, Indiana after living in French Lick, so he moved back in with his mom and started doing maintenance work for Parks & Rec. But then the coach from Indiana State lured him in and he went on to the national championship and faced off against Magic but Michigan State beat them. He said that was the hardest game of his life.
As a diehard sports fan, co-writing and starring in the CBS baseball special, Foul Ball, must have been a dream. The sketches were so funny. Were there any pranks that didn’t make it to the final show?
One sketch was Adam streaking across a field, but on crutches, so the security guard comes running but can’t tackle him because he’s, you know, on crutches, so he ends up just sort of helping him across [laughs]. Apparently a grown man in his underwear was a little too inappropriate for the younger demographic watching the show so it got cut. I also wasn’t in the concessions sketch too much because for some reason people didn’t say anything when I took sips out of their drinks and ate their popcorn. It was like a weird gender thing. They cared when the guys did it, but they were so nice to me, so I wasn’t in that sketch very much.
We have standups, a house band, circus acts and sometimes we make music videos with Alana Johnston from her album Self-Esteem Party. We had Dallas Clayton on who is a children’s book author, so sometimes I’ll go that route, or Tom Wilson who was in Back to the Future. Rich Fulcher was on last year from The Mighty Boosh, we had someone come and teach us balloon animals. Let’s see…we had Red Bastard. Do you know Red Bastard? He’s a super experimental clown. At one point he licked someone’s face. I knew him because…well, I dated a clown [laughs] so that’s how I know so much about clowning. We pretty much just invite whoever is available.
What is your favorite part of the show?
I love the games. I come up with a couple of games and they are always so…dumb. They are so dumb, but they’re so fun. One I like is Name That Baby. It’s a slideshow of random babies I found on the Internet and then the crowd has to guess what I named them.
That’s funny [laughs]. What does the winner get?
A couple bunches of bananas. They get to walk away with fruit. It’s just silly. [laughs].
That sounds great. You also host a show called Qweirdo at UCB Sunset.
Yes! It’s really nice. It’s queer performers and a queer friendly crowd. It’s a show that originally started in Chicago and I just asked the guys if I could open an LA branch of it when I moved out here. A lot of gay people I know will come and say it’s their first good experience at a comedy show. Maybe they’ve gone to some show in Hollywood where they saw a comic who has only been performing for 6 months and says Faggot or something, and hearing that scared them away from comedy. I want to tell them, “no! that’s not representative of the whole comedy scene.”
What’s the best part about being part of the Queer comedy scene?
It’s fun because when I curate a show like Qweirdo we all have this one thing in common, but everybody is so different. We’re all our own person. But the crowd is usually like 70% gay so they all get to relate to the material. At any other show, it’s like one gay performer on an entire bill or none. But at Qweirdo the crowd gets to be like, “Oh! I know what it’s like to for my mom to call my girlfriend my roommate!”
Your comic, Barely Blair is wonderfully dark. How did you come up with her?
That came from a really bad summer. I didn’t have a place to live in LA because I’d moved out of my place with my girlfriend. So I went to Chicago to film something and ended up staying there for 5 weeks at my Mom’s house in Lombard, Illinois by myself because they were out of town. I was depressed as all hell, because I wasn’t sure if I should go back to LA cause I thought I had nothing left there, but I also really didn’t want to stay in Chicago. So I just started to draw in this sketchbook I found in the basement. I think the first comic was, “my friend just bought a house, I’m eating this Pop-Tart for lunch.” [laughs] My Mom always has Pop-Tarts in the house. Then I drew like 50 more Blair comics in a week and posted them on Instagram and my friends liked them so I just kept doing them.
Then it really blew up.
Yeah! Blair was featured on Buzzfeed and some foreign publications so now it’s creeping at like 15K followers. It seems like the moment I kind of gave up, Barely Blair happened and then I got the call from CollegeHumor for Foul Ball all in the same week.
Some of your best jokes are your darkest jokes. Why do you think people respond so well to jokes inspired by your personal pain?
Maybe people can just see you releasing, like the balloon popping. People can see that you’ve moved on from something and its okay to laugh. For example, there’s this story I told at Nerdmelt that I feel like changed my comedy…because I never thought anybody would laugh at it. The story starts out talking about how my Dad was this guy who went to prison for stealing TVs. And that’s funny in itself. And then there are some jokes that I tell with that. And then it goes all the way around and starts describing — its about to get serious — I tell stories about him being abusive or punching my mom…and then it comes all the way back around and I tell this story of him throwing an atlas at my head and me ducking…because I’m an athlete [laughs]. And then the book hits the TV instead, and the TV falls out the window. But it all goes back around, and the punch line of the joke is, “Was he so upset because he just ruined what he went to prison for?” [laughs] You know, people tell you no one can duplicate your story, they can duplicate one-liners, but nobody can say that they’re you and get away with it. So I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. You know, nobody has had my childhood. It’s weird to put in all these silly moments into this really dark stuff. People were right though. It actually works!
Photo by Mandee Johnson.
Sydney Parker is a writer who hopes to engage the community in seeking new experiences, asking interesting questions and finding the humor in humanity.