Kelly MacFarland Gets Comfortable
Standup comedian and long-time improviser Kelly MacFarland is finding the funny in her new life as an “older” suburban stepmom. Her new album, You Woke Up Today!, follows her debut album Bombshell with tales of how much can change in just a few years. MacFarland treats her material — whether it be her frustrations with Pinterest, watching someone deliver a child, or masturbating to the sounds of a possible murder in an adjacent hotel room — with a confident snark. “I have more of a ‘I don’t give a shit’ kind of attitude, which I think is great and really representative of who I am now.” I talked to MacFarland about the new album, what audiences are looking for, and why she’s decided to stay in Boston as she continues to grow her comedy career.
It’s been roughly five years since your first album dropped. In that time, how do you think you’ve changed as a writer and performer?
First of all, sorry everyone. I swear I’ve still been working. I didn’t fall off the face of the Earth. I listened to the old recording of Bombshell — which came out in 2011 — and then I listened to the new one. Being on the road I’m in the car for a lot of the time. Listening to both of them I feel like I’ve grown so much, not only from a performance perspective, but also the content is so much better now. I don’t know if I even want to use the word better. It’s different. I have more of a “I don’t give a shit” kind of attitude, which I think is great and really representative of who I am now. I’m older now. I approached this album — and all of my writing and performing — from that perspective. I really want to take care of the audience and be easy. That’s what I want in my life. I really only hang out with people who are easy to hang out with. That’s how I want people to feel when they listen to my standup. They don’t have to do any heavy lifting. They can just sit back, laugh, and enjoy.
Which is what so many people are looking for when they go to a comedy show.
I feel like people are forgetting that sometimes. People got off their couch to sit in a chair that’s probably not as comfortable as their couch. They have to wear pants. They paid money to sit back and laugh. So do that. It’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. Not that I don’t want to challenge people, but I can do that in my personal life. I don’t need to do that when somebody’s paid $25 and has to buy two drinks.
I agree. I don’t think people really want to hear my thoughts on politics and social issues. Most crowds just want to hear some funny stories and some clever jokes.
We’re all getting older. I think you become more and more personal the older you get. If I’m doing my job well my personal views are going to come through either way. You’re going to know exactly who I am by the time I leave the stage. That’s part of the job. You want people to feel like they know you. You want them to connect with you in some way. Not the whole time. Let’s not be greedy. But at some point during the show not only have I tickled them, but they’ve also felt connected to me in some way. Not to get all mushy or hippy dippy about it, but I feel like that’s become more and more important to me the longer I’ve been doing this. You’re having an experience with the crowd and you want it to be the best experience for everybody there. I feel like that’s why I don’t really get heckled anymore, at all. I feel like I’m very present. It’s pretty ballsy to try to heckle someone who you can tell is in the moment and right there with you the whole time. I hear all these comics talk about being heckled and I’m thinking, “That just doesn’t happen to me anymore.” Occasionally you’re going to get someone who wants to be part of the show and that’s fine. But how you handle them — like everything else that you’re saying — is a decision that you’ve got to make for the whole audience, not just for yourself. It can’t be self-serving. It’s gotta be for the show.
What was happening on that bonus track on your new album?
Right? It’s all the things I just told you I wouldn’t do and I did them on that bonus track. I’ve listened to that bonus track a thousand times. What happened with that was I recorded at a small theater in Cambridge, Improv Boston. I also do improv. I work for both sides. Standup is where my heart is, but I really love improv. I think it feeds the monster. They’re good for each other. The theater is a beautiful little 90-seater, great for recording, really intimate. We basically told people before we started recording that they weren’t allowed to get up. Once I went on you were stuck in your seat. “If you need to get up, get up now. But once I’m on please don’t get up.” It’s very disruptive. I was almost at the end and whoever it was couldn’t make it. One got up and I wanted to wait for her because I still had stuff I wanted to lay down for the album. She finally came back and then her friend got up. It was very obvious because I think I had scared people into not getting up. Once they got up I had to address it and make it okay and make it funny. We had this wonderful little moment there that I plucked out of the recording and put it as a bonus track. It will probably get the most listens. That will be the track that is most popular.
Let’s go back to something that you hinted at earlier. When we were talking about the time in between the two albums you kind of apologized for the break. Do you think it’s a bad thing to not do the model that so many people aspire to now by putting out a new album or special every year or so?
No. I don’t feel bad. I think for me it was a little too long because I’ve had a whole other hour come and go between this album and the last one. However, I was working on other stuff. I don’t feel bad that I haven’t put anything out up until now. People are still enjoying the first album, which is great. I hope with this one out people are like, “Wow, she’s really been working.” That’s important to me. I hate to say it, but it is important that people know I’m still around, I’m still doing my thing, and growing. Things are happening with me. A lot has changed since the first album. I’m married now. I have a stepson. I live in the suburbs of Boston. It’s a different life now than it was before. That’s not a bad thing. I just feel like one other album in the middle of the six years would have been great just to kind of capture the material that was in between.
Have you stayed in Boston your entire comedy career?
What made you want to stay there instead of moving to New York or LA?
It’s a weird thing. I feel like there have been many times over the years when I’ve been like, “Okay, this is it. I’m going to move.” It was never a question of wondering if I’d be okay. I’ve been very fortunate and lucky to do the things I’ve done from Boston. That’s not lost on me. I started doing more and more work in New York over the last 10 years or so, but life would get in the way. I would think I needed to move and then something would come along anyway, so I wouldn’t move. Then one year I had a sick family member. Then more time would pass and I’d get another opportunity. I just got to a place where I liked what I was doing, liked the work I was doing, and enjoyed being here. I still haven’t ruled it out though, believe it or not.
I saw that you’ve been working on a book of short stories.
I am. I’ve been writing some short stories and I’m hoping to put them out in a book, probably later this year. I’m a stepmom to an 11-year-old boy. I’m older. This is late in life for me to have my first experience being any sort of mother. I’m writing a lot of stories about that and also marriage. I never thought I would get married, not because I was like, “I’ll never marry.” It just wasn’t something that was important to me. Now I’m someone’s wife, which is really weird. I’m embracing everything that is happening with me right now, enjoying it. I’m trying to purge it all out and write it down so that hopefully people can relate to it or at least get a different perspective.