Pregnant pause for punchlines: Ali Wong’s “Baby Cobra” (Netflix), Kira Soltanovich’s “You Did This To Me” (Amazon) and more experiences from comedy moms
We've all seen pregnant woman perform comedy before, even if the memory isn't on instant recall for you.
Saturday Night Live reminded us this past Mother's Day with a primetime run from Mother's Day past -- circa 2011, hosted by a then-pregnant Tina Fey and featuring also flush-with-baby SNL alum Maya Rudolph. SNL also boasted an all-time classic moment three years before that, just before the 2008 presidential elections when a ready-to-go-into-labor Amy Poehler rapped about Sarah Palin from the Weekend Update desk, in Palin's face.
And yet this year's Mother's Day seemed to provoke a fresh wave of headlines and hot takes when not one but two stand-up comedians released new babies -- both literally and professionally -- into the world. Both Ali Wong and Kira Soltanovich were pregnant when they filmed their hour stand-up specials, releasing them just days apart in May on Netflix and Amazon.
Wong, on Netflix with Baby Cobra, is a writer on ABC's sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, and watching her stand-up gives you an extra appreciation and knowledge from where Constance Wu's brilliant performances as the Huang family's mother are coming.
Wong admits in her hour that getting married and being with her husband makes her seem much different offstage should you meet her.
Onstage, though: "Don't try to tell me to get my shit together when I heard you not have your shit together." She means that quite grossly literally in terms of hearing co-workers in the office bathroom, even though she jokes that she married her husband precisely not to have to work at all. Lean In? She wants to lay down.
I've been a fan of Wong for years. Her appearance on the New York City comedy scene back in 2009 (she moved from San Francisco to NYC before heading to Hollywood) inspired me to launch my Meet Me In New York profile series.
Part of what makes her so memorable to audiences is her fierceness belies any meekness you may have implied by looking at Wong onstage. She admits to exhibiting raw tendencies. Heck, she even openly talks about her perverse thoughts on sex, and blames it on seeing porn while still young -- it translates into a bit encouraging couples to engage in anal sex to "change it up" and not cheat on one another, into telling women to help their men discover their own prostates and break through men's fears of being gay. "You're the first lady to show him that he had a magical clit in his butthole, and then you as the woman in his eyes just become the Lord of the Rim," she jokes.
The other remarkable aspect of Wong's hour is that she waits some 38 minutes until even addressing her pregnancy. When she does, though. "I don't know if you can tell, but i'm seven and a half months pregnant," Wong said. "It's very rare and unusual to see a female comic perform pregnant. Because female comics don't get pregnant."
Of course that's not true.
"Just try to think of one. I dare you." OK.
Rivers performed three times on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967 while pregnant with her daughter Melissa, in October, November and December. Melissa was born in January 1968. Of course, TV censors of that era wouldn't allow Rivers to use exact language to address her pregnancy, so she relied on hints and allusions instead.
Roseanne Barr was TV's most popular mother in the 1980s, the self-proclaimed "domestic goddess" ruling the roost over the Conner household as the #1 TV show in 1989-1990, and one of the top-four most popular series for six seasons, attracting some 20-million viewers weekly.
Nickelodeon's NickMom programming block included a stand-up showcase for comedians who have children in 2012.
There have been the aforementioned SNL ladies, as well as Samantha Bee, who birthed multiple children while serving as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, coming back from maternity leave each time until she didn't and got her own show on TBS.
Tonight, musical comedian Jessica Delfino performs while eight months pregnant at Joe's Pub in a one-woman show called "Before My Water Breaks," described as her "attempt to get some things off her (newly enlarged) chest just weeks before her due date and her life changes, forever."
"I don't know," Rodriguez told me. "I wouldn't want to be onstage pregnant."
"Well, I actually did stand-up until two weeks before my daughter was born," McFarlane said. "But I wouldn't have done it -- I said to Rich (Vos), 'As soon as I start showing, I'm going to stop doing stand-up, and he was like, 'No. There's no way you're quitting. You've got to do it.'"
Vos interjected: "I didn't make you do it!"
McFarlane: "The thing was, you're weren't like a controlling jerk about it. You were just saying, like, what else are you going to do? You're going to sit at home for seven months?"
In her Netflix special, though, Wong said that's exactly what happens to women in stand-up who get pregnant.
"There's none of them. Once they do get pregnant, they generally disappear," Wong said. "That's not the case with male comics. Once they have a baby, they’ll get up onstage a week afterwards and they'll be like, ‘Guys, I just had this fucking baby. That baby’s a little piece of shit, It’s so annoying and boring!’ And all these other shitty dads in the audience are like ‘That’s hilarious! I identify!’ And their fame just swells, because they’ve become this relatable family funnyman all of a sudden. Meanwhile, the mom is at home chapping her nipples, feeding the fucking baby, and wearing a frozen diaper because her pussy needs to heal from the baby’s head shredding it up. She’s busy!"
"So I don't know what's going to happen to me."
In actuality, it's more like this.
Tammy Pescatelli joked in her special that when people asked her upon becoming pregnant, "What are you going to do?" her response was: "What do you mean? Never forget to take my birth-control pill again. What do you mean? They didn't know what do with me, because most female comedians, their wives have their babies for them."
Veronica Mosey made a short film, "From Here to Maternity," and wrote about her plight getting booked at comedy clubs while pregnant -- although she was able to still get regular spots at The Comedy Cellar and even an appearance on FOX News' Red Eye.
On the other hand, Mary Lynn Rajskub recently scored a deal to develop her one-woman show about becoming a wife and mother, "24 Hours with Mary Lynn Rajskub" -- it previews next week at Montreal's Just For Laughs before an August run at Edinburgh Fringe with eyes toward a TV special or more.
And McFarlane still recorded her half-hour Comedy Central Presents special just after giving birth.
"Three weeks after!" she said. Vos stood near the back of the theater watching with their infant daughter in a stroller. "I was breastfeeding in the green room...but I did that because honestly, I had to get my insurance. It became a weird timing thing, because the baby was late, and I knew I had to have the baby because I had to do the special. If I didn't do the special, I wouldn't have gotten my insurance in order to cover the kid. It was like this thing. It became tick-tock-tick-tock."
Do you feel like it's a real concern for women in comedy -- aside from all of the other concerns for women in comedy -- to decide to have a baby?
"When I was doing stand-up pregnant, it actually -- thank you for asking these questions," McFarlane said. "I really felt like it finally gave me, the audience liked me finally. Do you know what I mean? I was relatable to them. Because before that I was this L.A. comic doing these weird jokes. It wasn't really biographical or anything, and I think it was a little hard, especially..."
Rodriguez: "I'm not criticizing them for doing it. I was just speaking for myself. I was watching Ali's special...she was irreverent, she was bold, and she was fearless. And I was like, I wish I could do that. I'm just, I'm 5-10, I'm Puerto Rican/Dominican, just put me pregnant and it's a whole different dynamic. She's this cute little Asian girl with these flats and the most adorable glasses."
McFarlane said performing while pregnant finally removed heckling from her shows. "I only got heckled one time badly really one time by someone who said, 'You're just fat,' while I was pregnant. But otherwise, I never got heckled. Everyone was really friendly and nicer. I thought, this is the way to do it!"
Kerri Louise is a working comedian who has three children with her husband, comedian and former America's Got Talent runner-up Tom Cotter. They've both appeared also on Last Comic Standing, and Louise wrote about balancing stand-up and motherhood in her book, "Mean Mommy: Tales of Motherhood Survival from the Comedy Trenches." Louise told me the same thing McFarlane did, that performing while pregnant made her more likable to audiences.
And as she wrote in her book, Louise wouldn't stop performing just because she became a mother. "We will stop at nothing to get to a gig. Having kids is no different. When the babysitter calls in sick I gather my kids in their PJs and take them to my show, trusting that the comics I'm working with are not drug-addicted assholes and will watch my kids while I'm onstage. Then I fire the sitter the very next day."
Louise did have to cancel a series of gigs when she was nine months pregnant with her third child, though, based on advice from her gynecologist -- calling one of her club bookers to cancel "was one of the saddest times of my career," she wrote. "First of all bookers of almost all comedy clubs hate dealing with women, not to mention women's issues! This is by far the biggest women's issue ever."
Wong joked it took a while longer for her to become with child, learning her hormone levels were low and turning it into a bit in which she took pills which dissolved into her underwear -- while in the writers' room for Fresh Off The Boat.
More significant is what Wong does in the final 10 minutes of her hour, revealing she'd previously suffered a miscarriage, and then not allowing the audience to sit with it or wallow in that tragedy. "It's super common, and I wish more women would talk about it so they wouldn't feel so bad when they go through it," she said.
"Where I'm from, it's like losing a pair of shoes," her mom told her. "I've picked boogers larger than the twins I lost." Wong said.
Moreover, Wong talked about making her husband watch her go through the miscarriage, and held it over him for a month to get gifts out of it. Balancing motherhood with a career made her resentful toward her husband because of "this crazy double standard in our society of how it takes so little to be considered a great dad, and it also takes so little to be considered a shitty mom." And yet, after hoping that a husband would make life easier for her, Wong realized the exact opposite ended up happening.
Kira Soltanovich opened her Amazon special, You Did This To Me, with no such suspense -- instead opening during a recording of her podcast, asking her guests if it's a bad idea for her to record a stand-up special while pregnant. "Is that good, or do you think people are going to look at me and think it's, like, a gimmick?" Matt Kirshen offered funny titles. "Bring the Guffaceps" "Stirrup Yourself In" "I give it four centimeters," jokes Paul Provenza for a potential review. "Well, I am the Rosa Parks of pregnant comics," Soltanovich said.
And then onstage, she welcomed her audience with this: "Hey, guess who doesn't use condoms!?"
You may recall seeing Soltanovich first alongside a then-unknown Chelsea Handler on Oxygen's Girls Behaving Badly.
Soltanovich, now in her 40s, joked in her new special about how she could mock her pregnancy for shock value onstage, too. Her ideas included saying she's only three weeks pregnant, or walking onstage with a hand coming out of her crotch, or a water-pouch device. "Just pull the cord, 'It's happening!!!" she said. "Would that scar you for life?"
The big reveal, if there is one in Soltanovich's special, is that she already was a mother to a four-year-old son.
Which means she already had jokes about giving birth and new motherhood. That first time, she joked: "My nipples looked like angry junkyard dogs, that had been chained up to a fence. You know junkyard dogs always have like one eye split open, and they're all foaming at the mouth...rawrRAWRrawrRAWRAWR. They're just angry and aggress-rawrarrwrwrar. And I had to wear a diaper. I'm not ashamed to tell it. I had a big baby. I wasn't allowed on the furniture."
Soltanovich joked about what that must have looked like, as well as life lessons from having her son that perhaps she or others could apply this second time around. But plenty of her stand-up hour revolved around general topics, too, including the experience of having someone walk in on her in a public bathroom stall, and eating at salad bars.
But it eventually circles back to motherhood, and a closing bit about Soltanovich trying to handle her kid's temper tantrum in a supermarket, followed by even more title suggestions for her special from her comedian pals.
No gimmick. Just doing her thing.
When we can look at pregnant women in comedy not as gimmicks nor as stigmas -- hell, when we can do that with any women in comedy -- then we're on the right track.