“Make America laugh again,” comedienne Julia Sweeney tells herself in front of an audience during her new one-woman show, “Older & Wider”, which I recently saw at LA’s Geffen Playhouse. Despite being afflicted with a case of laryngitis, the artist took the Westwood stage last week with a good blend of realism, wit and humor. By the time she’d said it, Ms. Sweeney had the audience laughing.
This is no small feat. Julia Sweeney, a former cast member on NBC’s decrepit Saturday Night Live broadcast, who writes and performs her own material, including bestselling monologues and memoirs, makes everything better. From her asexual SNL character Pat and her needy character on NBC’s Frasier to her Showtime program Letting Go of God, the cervical cancer surviving atheist from Spokane displays a keen sense of timing and a biting sense of humor.
Julia Sweeney’s “Older & Wider” builds on her brand with refreshingly rogue results.
Beginning with a hilarious tale about going to the theater while growing older and the perils and advantages of feeling invisible, she launched into a recap of her professional and personal life. The wife and mother says she took a break from Hollywood to move to a Chicago suburb north of Evanston called Wilmette. Stay at home parenting gets skewered, as does everything else, including Tesla’s eccentric Elon Musk, to whom she not disparagingly compares to John Galt from Atlas Shrugged.
The show takes off with a dig at vagina-themed spaceships and other modern peculiarities. It’s easy and natural to follow. The material is often unusual. In crisp lines, Sweeney delivers thoughts with her signature searching, freeing tartness.
After referring to President Trump as a “petulant circus clown”, Sweeney turned to the DNA test to satirize behavior by her mother, husband and child. Whether sharing her experience of telling alcoholic jokes to an Irish audience or having Chicago’s SNL alumni Don Novello officiate her wedding as Father Guido Sarducci, she’s more lively and emboldened than bitter and cruel. The show’s middle portion, which includes stories about her leaving LA like Homer in an Odyssey minivan, culminates with sharp and hilarious observations about the pleasure of having a glass of wine countered by the risks of having another…and another.
This is balanced, integrated comedy for people with brains. It’s neither an anti-Trump tirade nor a pop culture palooza.
When Sweeney recalled the time she contemplated resurrecting the non-binary Pat for a brief return on NBC’s Today Show with Matt Lauer — with Pat emerging either as looking the same following sex reassignment surgery or as totally homophobic — she sends up the utterly ridiculous. When she cleverly contrasts the selflessness of mass at St. Monica’s Roman Catholic Church with the implicit virtuousness of selfishness at an Al-Anon meeting, Julia Sweeney takes on the status quo.
But that Sweeney does so with skill, tact and fidelity to facts is an amazing accomplishment in a world going — some might say already gone — mad. The self-described secular humanist, who does funny bits on driving with her kid, whose blond boyfriend voted for Trump, for which someone dubs him Rolf from The Sound of Music, and watching The Wizard of Oz with Syrian refugees, roots her show in passion for life.
Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider, part of the Geffen Playhouse’s Spotlight Entertainment series, closed this week but catch her act if you can. Hopefully, Older & Wider leads to new career turns for an actress and comedienne, currently in a show on Hulu, whose witty and satirical insights are exactly what Americans need.