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February 13, 2011

My Mother, the Comedian: A Life, with Kids, in Comedy
by WomenInComedy - 0

By WICF Contributor Rachel Klein


"Confessions of a Juggler," Tina Fey's article on working moms in the entertainment world and the rude questions which are so often posed to them, has touched off a storm of words within the blogosphere. WICF contributor Rachel Klein has her own compelling take on being a mom, being a comedian, and putting together the puzzle pieces of a life onstage. "Confessions of a Juggler," Tina Fey, The New Yorker, February 14 & 21, 2011, pp. 64-67.

Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: I am done having children. Contrary to what some people who clearly just got out of a time machine from the 1950s ask, I’m not interested in “trying one more time for a boy.” I don’t miss nursing, or changing diapers, or waking up every two hours in the middle of the night to feed a human being the secretions of my own body. When all of my friends are finally sending their kids of to their first days of kindergarten, I’ll be dropping mine off at college, and I can’t freaking wait. I also don’t regret having children when I was twenty-four, or getting married when I was twenty-two. I love my husband. I love my kids. Plus they’re always saying awesome stuff like, “Harry Potter is basically just Luke Skywalker, right?” and “I hope Nicholas Cage’s daughter appreciates what he went through to bring her that bunny!” And there’s something else: I don’t regret the time I took off from comedy, because it was those life experiences that I had in the intervening years that have given me my unique comedic perspective.

It’s a little strange, feeling like the people I perform with every day are very much my peers, and yet so disconnected from one of the most important parts of my life experience. And it goes both ways. When my twenty-something friends ask for dating advice, I tell them the seemingly shocking truth that I literally never dated as an adult, and so, were I to give them advice, I’d probably just try to recall what Rachel did in a “Friends” episode or something. They, for their part, don’t know what it’s like to have to negotiate nights out with your husband, since any night you are gone at rehearsal, or a show, or “team bonding” is a night that you are asking him to stay home with the children—or pay $60 for a babysitter to do it. I once had the members of my improv team in Chicago literally chip in five bucks each so that I would stay another few hours with them at the bar when I complained about how much the babysitter was going to cost. Being a wife and mother in comedy is not really living two different lives; it’s cramming the commitments, relationships, and ambitions of two lives into one life-sausage. And sometimes it’s a tight squeeze.

Rachel and her beautiful girls
A few years ago I was coaching a high school improv team. One night we had particularly low numbers at rehearsal, and no one had let me know beforehand they’d be out. I launched into a tirade about how every moment I was choosing to be with them was a moment I was spending away from my children. That I was okay with making that choice if I knew the time would be well spent, but that I wasn’t going to tolerate them just blowing me off because they were watching “Gossip Girl” and couldn’t be bothered to make it out to rehearsal. The next week the student leaders made a reminder notice with a picture of my kids (that they’d found on my blog) and the copy: “What are you doing Wednesday night? Spending it with your children? Ms. Klein isn’t. Feel the guilt.”

Everyone showed up.

But, I will say this: there is something about the crystalline clarity that the life I live provides. Because every choice carries with it such a clear set of options, and because every moment I’m choosing one thing I love I’m actively choosing to spend time away from something else I love. I make my choices wisely. I don’t have time to not love what I’m doing, and whom I’m doing it with.

That’s led me to create a Harold team at ImprovBoston, Maxitor, consisting of like-minded performers with passions and empathies that match their talents. When I choose each week to spend time rehearsing and performing with them, it feels like the right choice. It’s time away from my family, but it’s time that enriches my life, and I bring that feeling back home. One of my favorite questions I get asked by my sleepy kids when I come home from a show is, “Were you funny?” Of course, my other favorite question they ask at those times is, “Why do you smell like pine trees?” (The answers to those questions, of course, are “yes” and “gin”, respectively.)

Of course, the reality is that there are a lot of great opportunities I pass up because they would just push too far into the time I’ve already set aside to be with family. And the opportunities I do take on beyond my regularly-scheduled rehearsals and performances have to be carefully chosen and planned for. When I choose to go to an improv festival, I have to plan for my children to have playdates, for their lessons to be rescheduled, and for all this to happen without my husband feeling overwhelmed by a weekend of single parenting. And my experience at that festival, or show, or rehearsal, is heightened by my understanding of all of the sacrifices and rearrangements and compromises that went into making it possible. Of course, it’s also heightened by the all-night rager involving way too many people crammed into my hotel room until way too early in the morning, drinking PBRs chilled in the bathroom sink — but that’s a different kind of heightening.

Really, though, what I’m talking about is a feeling I think anyone who pursues a life in comedy feels. As my friend and teammate Natalie Baseman recently said to a group of students for whom we performed at a local school when they asked us why we seemed to be having so much fun onstage, “None of us get paid to do what we do, so we have to do it because we love it.” Comedy, like any art form, is a labor of love. Sort of like being a mom.


Rachel Klein began in comedy in college, performing with The University of Chicago's Off Off Campus. After a fi ve year getting-married/baby-making hiatus, she returned to the stage at the Second City Conservatory and with the Harold team Chopper at the iO theater in Chicago. She joined ImprovBoston when she moved to Boston in 2008, and currently coaches and performs with t he Harold team Maxitor. She was in the cast of the popular ImprovBoston showcase show This I mprovised Life, and has directed and performed in several other groups and shows in the Boston area. She also teaches improv at ImprovBoston and Gann Academy, where she teaches English. Rachel blogs about the comedy that is motherhood at accidentalfeminist.com, and her comedy writing has been featured on the popular humor website McSweeney's Internet Tendency.
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