Mary Jo Pehl is a writer/performer/producer with Cinematic Titanic, the live version of the Peabody Award-winning TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, for which she was a writer and on-air actor in the recurring role of “Pearl Forrester.”In One Across, Mary Jo Pehl speaks frankly about high profile anonymity and her courageous struggle with a debilitating condition, all with the help of her Personal Assistant. We asked Mary Jo Pehl to be serious for ONE G-D MINUTE and answer some questions.
How did you get started in comedy writing?
Mary Jo Pehl: My first real job out of college (K-Tel International – yes, they exist!), one of my colleagues was really funny and we had a rapport and like-minded sensibility about humor. He was doing a lot of open mics, and he encouraged me to try one. I was very shy and introverted, and I’d never even heard of open mics, so that was a huge hairy deal. I wrote about three minutes of material, forgot two minutes, but some of that one minute actually worked! He and I and another colleague started a comedy group and that got us all writing on a regular basis. Dare I tell you our name? The Boneless Hams. Shut up. I was writing sketches and standup, showcased in our weekly Boneless Hams gigs, as well as the open mics I was hitting every week.
What’s your writing process like?
MJP: It’s usually deadline driven. I sit and write whatever comes into my head around a certain idea for a set amount of time. I set a timer so I can just lose myself in the writing. And I write it all down. I don’t edit myself in that “brainstorming” session. It’s like solo improv, I suppose! I “yes, and –“ everything that comes into my head. It just all comes pouring out around a particular idea or theme. After that, I try to focus the idea, winnowing it down, and then, corny as it sounds, it begins to “reveal” itself to me, what it’s actually suppose to be. Sometimes it becomes something different than what I intended, and I’m getting braver about letting that happen. One of my favorite quotes ever – and I think it applies to performance writing as well, is this: “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” — Robert Cormier.
What are you looking forward to at Austin Sketch Fest?
MJP: I’m working on a new piece that is slowly and surely evolving, and I feel like Sketch Fest makes for an atmosphere for experimentation (and I’m not terribly brave about experimenting). So not only does the event and organizers create a environment for having fun and pushing the envelope, Austin audiences are open and forgiving and supportive – yet not pushovers. Also, I get to be immersed in a whole lotsa funny, like some of my faves Stag Comedy and Your Terrific Neighbors.
What can we expect from your ASF show?
MJP: Turtles and wine coolers and me blanking out on at least one of my lines.
List 5 things about yourself, of which only 3 are true.
1. I’ve never had Tex-Mex food.
2. I was a crossword puzzle clue in a major magazine.
3. I went to the same high school as Vanna White.
4. I don’t have a television or car.
5. Tom Wopat of Dukes of Hazards fame once bought me a cocktail.
One Across performs at Hyde Park Theater on Thursday, May 24th at 10 PM, with The P! Company. Tickets HERE.