A little older and a little wider, as she calls herself, comedian Julia Sweeney came back home to take Spokane stage
By Azaria Podplesky
Sure, not every member in the audience of Julia Sweeney’s “Older and Wider,” which she performed Friday at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, had experience as a parent or a spouse.
And it was a given that Sweeney herself was the only person in the room who knew what it was like to leave Spokane for Hollywood, Hollywood for Chicago and, eventually, Chicago for Hollywood.
But none of that really mattered, as Sweeney, a master in the art of storytelling, made everyone in the audience understand exactly what she was talking about.
Sweeney stayed true to the title of her one-woman show, which follows “God Said, ‘Ha!’ ” and “Letting Go of God,” by kicking off the night telling the audience about how her “matronly” personality had caught up to her body.
Sweeney doesn’t mind being a little older, she said, because now that she has gray hair, no one pays attention to her.
To drive the point home, she shared an anecdote about a bus ride in Los Angeles during which the women in front of and behind her were speaking with each other as if Sweeney wasn’t there.
“I was like ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost,’ ” Sweeney exclaimed.
Sweeney shared her experience taking a 23andMe DNA test (she’s proud of her Neanderthal ancestry); stories about a family trip to Vietnam, including her disbelief at seeing an actual Hilton Hotel in Hanoi; her experience adopting daughter Mulan from China as a then-single mother; and meeting and marrying husband Michael Blum.
A bulk of “Older and Wider” concerns the former “Saturday Night Live” star’s decision to leave Hollywood for Chicago, where she was a stay-at-home mother.
As Sweeney put it, with Blum as the breadwinner, she could be the bread eater.
Sweeney told the audience about her new life shuttling Mulan to and from dance and piano classes, and the day she introduced Mulan to Pat, the androgynous character she is most known for.
Sweeney used this story to segue into her experience getting back into the role of Pat after Matt Lauer requested she help with him a Halloween episode of “The Today Show.”
Which is where the “wider” part of the show’s title came in.
“It never occurred to me to try on the Pat suit before going to New York,” she said, telling audiences of her struggle to zip up the character’s fat suit.
Sweeney then shared her trial and error with diets and the five-day water fast she and her husband completed, with mixed results.
As in her previous one-woman shows, Sweeney touched on religion (she was raised Catholic and is now an atheist) and her experience with cancer and performing at cancer benefits, hilariously parodying a gravely unfunny woman who spoke about how to bring humor to the life of someone fighting cancer (tips include telling them a joke, buying a funny card and tickling them).
Sweeney also shared the euphoria she felt when Mulan learned to drive, which was quickly replaced with the joy she felt driving members of a Syrian family her church adopted to doctor’s appointments and various lessons.
After telling a hilarious story about Mulan’s ex-boyfriend, Sweeney brought audiences up to date.
“Now’s my time to make it in Hollywood,” she said.
Sweeney is set to star in “Shrill” as the mother of a character played by comedian Aidy Bryant. The show, which was filmed in Portland, should be available on Hulu in March.
Before saying goodbye, Sweeney made a plea for the audience to vote Yes on a bond for libraries and professed her love for the Fox, where she worked as an usher in high school.
“You guys leave,” she said. “I’ll keep standing here.”
Because Sweeney is such a natural onstage, “Older and Wider” didn’t feel like a standup set, with Sweeney aiming for punchline after punchline after punchline.
The show was full of humor, yes, but it felt more like we were simply catching up with a friend we hadn’t seen in awhile.