For Dallas Transplant Monna, Doing “Dirty” Comedy Bits Can Be Therapeutic For Audiences.
Welcome to Humor Us, a column in which local comedian Alex Gaskin interviews other local comedians about the ol’ funny business in order to help introduce DFW at large to the burgeoning comedy scene blooming right under its nose.
The singularly-named Monna came to Dallas by the grace of a ’93 Buick LeSabre. By her own admission, her move from Indiana, where she started comedy, was less the byproduct of long deliberations and research, and more a matter of jumping on the suggestion of a friend and making the most of it. As far as spontaneous cross-country moves go, this one seems to have worked out uncommonly well – for her, and for DFW stand-up fans.
Her winking irreverence, along with a superior talent for wordplay and misdirection, helped her establish herself as a caliber of comic who can excel in pretty much any environment. She actively performs throughout Dallas and Fort Worth, is a favorite in Denton and can be trusted to triumph at shows in the outer rings of DFW, in small towns where the crowds can be wholly unpredictable.
We discussed how she’s evolving as a writer, why jokes about sex shouldn’t be considered “dirty” material and the differences between comedy here and in Indiana.
Monna will be on a show at Dr. Jeckyll’s Beer Lab in Pantego, TX (I’ll be there, too!), a new show being run by comic Brian Breckenridge.
We’re on a show in Pantego, Texas…
Yes we are.
It’s a first show at the venue, but it’s run by Brian Breckenridge, who has done shows at Sunshine Bar forever. How do you feel when you know you’re performing in a room that’s hosting its first comedy show?
I’m excited about it, because you can’t really put any expectations on it. Because when you go up to somewhere and it’s established, you already have an expectation based on other people, or your past experiences, which may not be fair, because rooms are always changing. I think it’s exciting to do something new, and I’ve never been to Pantego. [The show]’s called what, Dr. Jeckyll?
Dr. Jeckyll’s Beer Lab. You should make sure you know where it is before you have to be there.
I’ve driven past. Honestly, I thought Pantego was the name of a shopping center, I didn’t know it was a city. So… I’m excited.
It feels like a lot of the non-club shows that are happening are out on the fringes of DFW, it feels like the closest bar shows are in Denton.
No, I mean there’s some bar shows in Fort Worth, not as many as there used to be, from what I’ve heard since I’ve been here. I think Denton kind of thrives in the bar scene because they don’t have a comedy club there, so they rest on independent venues.
There’s Denton, there’s Krugerville, Pantego.
Krugerville, yeah, which I consider Denton. All of these things, there are like these offset cities, it’s all the same to me. Addison, Carrollton, it’s all Dallas. It’s all Dallas. If I don’t have to drive ten minutes to get to your city, if I just have to turn a corner, it’s not a different city. Sorry, that’s just something I feel.
This is probably a good time to mention you’re not from here.
No. I am from Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Where, I’m guessing, the towns are a little more spread out?
Yes. Very much so.
What’s your thought, generally speaking, on bar shows versus club shows?
I personally did not come up in a scene where we had a club option. We had Snickers Comedy Club, which is no longer – for good reason, it was very antiquated, stuck in the ’80s, and the owner was very…he wanted things done a specific way. He didn’t want to book local talent. There wasn’t an open mic. We didn’t have a shot in Fort Wayne. My first performance ever was in Indianapolis at Morty’s Comedy Club. I had to drive two-and-a-half hours away from Fort Wayne to do comedy for the first time.
That is a drive.
That is a drive. So yeah, I have an appreciation for clubs, I think, maybe more than some people that have just started down here, and they started with the club scene. Because it is different. I personally love club shows because it is this payoff, because people pay to see you because they want you to be funny, and they want you to succeed. They want to have a good time, and they want you to be good. Bar shows I appreciate because they make you stronger, they make you a better comedian, because everyone wants to see you fall on your ass. [Laughs.] And people heckle you – it makes you stronger, you get a thicker skin.
You can get hecklers at a club.
You do, but other people get mad about it, because they paid to be there. They kind of police it themselves, even to an extent before the club can get there, people will say stop. I like both, there’s merit to both, but personally I love being in front of people who want to see me. That’s something special I enjoy. As opposed to fighting for it.
Do you feel like your performance changes based on the room you’re in?
I don’t think my performance changes, I think my material changes. When we host at the club, we have to be clean, or at least clean to extent when we open the show, the first couple of minutes. Whereas if I’m in Denton, I can say whatever I want. I can curse, I can say all the things, I don’t have to have these constraints to work with. I wouldn’t say I pander – I don’t change who I am as a performer, I just change what I’m talking about.
When push comes to shove, would you prefer to do the dirty stuff?
I generally don’t feel I have dirty material. I feel people quantify sex as dirty, and I don’t think that’s the case. That’s a lot of why I talk about it, is because even if people are uncomfortable about it, I get so many women who approach me at the bathroom or outside after a show, saying how much they appreciate that I talk about sex and those kinds of things – gynecologist, coming of age kinds of things. I do it for the people who want to hear that, because I grew up Catholic, and we were always very shamed with sex. To be able to have a platform to talk about that and make other people comfortable, that’s something I enjoy doing.
That’s interesting, off-color material being therapeutic.
Well, people think…I don’t know why people think sex is dirty. There was a place in Denton – this is the only place in Denton where I ever had an issue with anything like this – they didn’t want me to say the word “penis.” They were telling me there was a 15-year-old girl in the audience. They wanted me to ask her, her bartender, and her dad. So I asked three different times. “Can I say the word penis?” Me having to ask that many times was, like, five times more – I had to ask the owner, I had to ask her dad, the girl heard me say it five times. I would have just said it once, and you [the 15-year old] probably wouldn’t have even paid attention. But they didn’t want me to say an anatomically correct term that every…if you go to the bathroom, you know what you have. It’s stupid, dumb.
Is that something you’ve always focused on in your writing?
No. I started just doing one-liners. I didn’t realize it was something I was even doing until people started responding to it, and telling me how they were responding to it. I was just trying to find my voice. But when people started responding, I realized I was saying something that mattered, so I started trying to dig my heels into that area. So that’s why I started doing what I do, in the way that I do it.
The “finding your voice” thing can be interesting, because people tell you that you should be finding your voice, but you also get that “just be funny” input from people. Do you feel like you’re in that place where you’re able to start really sharpening and honing your voice, and what feels appropriate for you?
Well, the interesting thing is that in Fort Wayne, it was a very small, L’et’s Comedy, I’ll give them their due.” There were all these open mics, but none of them were comedy. So a couple of guys went and said, “Give us this night for comedy. Let us have this open mic.” So an open mic scene started to blossom in bars in Fort Wayne, but it was the same comedians gravitating to it, and the same crowd gravitating towards those comedians. So I had all this pressure – I didn’t want to repeat myself. When I first started, I hated the idea of repeating myself. Which is something I’m still getting more comfortable with, but when I moved from Indiana to Texas, I had all this material I’d only done once. So I’m still – I still have notebooks of things I haven’t touched, that I can start honing in on and sharpening. And now, however many years later, I can take a look at something I started with, that I didn’t think I could do anything with, and know exactly where that goes now, and how to work that. Time is helpful. I think I just have a bunch of stuff in my life, and I’m trying to become more a storyteller, in the way that’s still true to my style, but I’m trying to dig in a little to things that make me uncomfortable. Kind of reach out as a performer and push the boundary of things that I am embarrassed to talk about.
You came here from Indiana – why Dallas?
There was, like I said, the same groups of people who would come to the same shows. There was a girl who was kind of, like, a comedy groupie, and she was hanging out with one of the guys I was really good friends with. So we became friends just by association of alcohol. She was originally from this area, and she just asked me one day when we were hungover if I wanted to move here with her, and I was like, “Yep. Let’s do that.” She asked me that at 9 a.m, and by 7 p.m. I had four other guys to move down to Texas, because there was, I think, a lot of us were in unhealthy places at that time, so it was just a Hail Mary of, “Maybe Texas is better.”
It wasn’t so much a, “Let’s go to Dallas,” as a…
As a “why not?” It could’ve been anywhere. Because I drove down in my ’93 Buick LeSabre and there were concerns that it would just break on the way. We had an agreement that wherever it broke, we would just live. We had all our stuff with us, and we didn’t have a plan, so it’s not like we had something waiting for us down here.
I feel like you are one of those people uniquely suited to the vagabond lifestyle of a comedian.
I guess so, I mean, I like to have a shower and stuff though. I’ve dated musicians who live in their car and stuff, I don’t want to do that. My car’s not nice enough. If I had a nicer car maybe I’d want to live in my car.
Do you still keep ties with Indiana?
I went back a year after I went back, I took Jimmy Nelson, Carey Cool Tripp and Wesley Moon with me. I got asked to headline a show in this tiny town in Woodburne, and I didn’t want to do that by myself. I wanted to bring some people with me, do a whole road trip. It was really cool to see my old friends with my new friends, and it was really interesting to see my hometown through their eyes as we were driving in. “What’s this dump apartment?” It’s like, “That’s where I used to live! Thanks for mentioning it!”
When you went back, did it maybe feel like spending time and working in Dallas made you different than you’d be, as a performer, than if you’d stayed?
There’s a dirty little piece of me that…I love that I started in Indiana, I love that I have a story of, like, I busted my ass down here. I love that I have that experience, because it encourages me to know that I can do a lot. But there’s a dirty little piece of me that’s like, “If I’d started down here, I’d be much further along.” Because part of what makes me good down here, for my personal growth, is that I have to consistently go up after people I don’t think I can follow. I have to consistently go up after these super talented people who just killed the room, and have to try to be better than that. So that’s something that’s really helpful down here, there’s so much – not that there’s not talent up north, but especially for the female scene, I was the only girl in Indiana really doing anything. It’s not that rewarding when someone’s like, “Hey, you were the funniest girl on the show.” Thanks, I was the only one. It’s rewarding to see…that was one thing that was really exciting, there were girls I thought were funny. People used to say this thing to me up north, that I was too hard on the women, and that I didn’t like other female comedians. No, I just don’t like people who aren’t funny, and that’s not wrong. There are so many women down here who are killing it, and I love seeing that. I just don’t want to be pigeonholed that I have to be supportive of people just because we’re the same gender. If they’re saying stuff I don’t like, I’m not going to pretend that I like them. Not that I hate somebody as a human, but I’m not gonna say, “Hey, great set,” if I don’t think it’s a great set. Because I would not want someone to do that to me. People are gonna say, “Oh, I’m gonna laugh no matter what!” Don’t do that. That’s not an honest feedback. That kind of breaks down…The entire point, I think, of comedy, is to be genuine and to expose genuine feelings, and be vulnerable to a point. I think that just breaks down any barrier of being able to do that. That, I’m gonna say words, I’m gonna laugh no matter what, that’s not a good experience for either party.
You talked about finding funny women in Dallas versus Indiana, is it just that one scene’s bigger than the other, so percentages go up…?
Yes. I did meet some women, but they weren’t from Indiana. There were some people from Ohio, from Michigan, they were really funny. But as far as that goes, I think it’s just a numbers game. Because not as women do comedy, period.
What do you think makes a scene – you’ve lived in two, but neither have been one of the comedy havens – what do you think helps a scene that’s not really a media-present scene build up and grow?
Visiting other places. I think that’s one of the best things you can do is just see how other people are doing the same thing. Looking at other people’s cookie jars, and seeing if you can make your cookie jar a little bit the same, or better.
So stealing ideas?
Not stealing ideas, but I think just knowing what other scenes are doing so that when…no comic reasonably, I don’t think, grows in a scene to stay in a scene. That’s not the intention, the intention of comedy is to travel, to see things and experience things, and meet new people. If you just plan to stay in this spot, and you go to a place that’s completely different, you’re just set so far behind, I think, as far as having to catch up and figure out what’s going on. There are basic comedy rules that I think maybe smaller scenes don’t even have — you need to respect the light [the warning light that lets you know to wrap up your set], or you need to know how long your jokes are, you need to know what your time is. As opposed to some people, who… Even here, some open mics just don’t light you. You just go until you feel bad. [Laughs.] You go until you hate yourself. I think that’s the most valuable thing, just seeing what other people are doing, cultivating what you have, what you know you’re good at.
Any plans to travel soon?
I’m gonna be in Austin July 7 and 8, I’m gonna do the Velveeta Room, feature down there. That’s exciting, I liked being down there when I was there before. Austin’s exciting. I’m not crazy about being there in the Summer, because everything hurts-
It’s not gonna be much better here.
No, it’s not. This is terrible. My air conditioning is out right now, this is garbage.
So if you could take one thing about Dallas’ scene to other places, what would it be?
I think that there is an incredible level of respect here. That was one of my first impressions. When I first moved here – didn’t get into the scene until maybe a month after I moved here, because I didn’t have money. I was picking up coins off the ground to put gas in my car to find money to get to an interview. And I was working so many hours a week, and then… When I finally was in the scene, there was something devastating that happened to the scene, and everybody gathered together in spite of that. I saw that as being something that I had not seen a group of people really do before, the amount of support that went in throughout all of Dallas. That was really interesting to see. I think that even if people don’t like each other, there’s a level of respect and professionalism that exists in Dallas that I’m super appreciative of. I think that’s fantastic, that’s something that I like a lot. I think the level of professionalism is something I would encourage every scene to seek out.
Is there anything from another scene you’d like to bring here?
Honestly, I’ve done the same amount of time down here that I did in the scene I came from. There’s so much going down here – anything that Indiana was doing when I was there is similar to what Denton’s doing, because it’s just a bar scene-based comedy situation. There’s not necessarily anything different. There’s some people I would love to drag down here. But other than that, as the scene as a unit, there’s not a whole lot I think I could draw from. They’ve also grown as a scene since I left, so I can’t comment.
Cover photo by Taylor Higginbotham.