Connecticut Valley Spectator — May 19, 2005
By Aaron Nobel
Call her a late bloomer.
But launching a comedy career at age 39 mirrors a lifelong pattern of gradual development for Cindy Pierce, the Etna innkeeper who is blossoming into a cross between Lily Tomlin and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
Female anatomy is a central theme, as Pierce draws on regions of her psyche forged long ago in the mind of a consumate tomboy whose athletic prowess drew off-color comments from male peers.
The boys “were threatened,” she said. “If I was chosen before them for kickball, they would say some unbelievably mean things to me. I think I did feel shame about being a girl.” There’s still “a hurt middle-school child trapped inside me.”
She embraced the tomboy role, one made easier by her body’s late onset of puberty, which didn’t take hold until 10th grade. “People thought I was in fifth grade,” she said. “People asked my older sister if she was my mother.”
“I feel like being a tomboy saved me from what most girls and young women experience,” Pierce said. “It was my ticket to sidestep a lot of issues.”
Julie Maurer, her best friend, was also a tomboy, and the two combined to freak out a lot of less-athletic boys. Pierce even played Little League at the position of shortstop, the prestigious slot reserved for the team’s best infielder.
“My mother got calls from boys’ dads: ‘Your daughter’s gonna be a lesbian…I don’t want my son to hurt your daughter.'”
When Cindy was 6, her father Reginald left his job as a high-powered advertising executive and the family moved from Connecticut to Etna to run Pierce’s Inn and its adjoining ski school.
Mr. Pierce was a man who valued and preached nonconformity. Even as an executive he “loved to stick it to that scenen,” Pierce said, explaining, for example, that he would often accessorize a business suit with a funky belt.
“Going against the grain was a family theme,” and Cindy was the seventh of seven “very different” children.
Her wildest dreams were encouraged wholeheartedly. “I wanted to be president. I wanted to have 10 kids. I wanted to be an advertising executive, and an actress, and to play for the Boston Red Sox.”
Moving to Etna “allowed me to get to know Dad,” she said, and baseball was the medium through which they most readily bonded.
“We had a normal dysfunctional family,” Pierce said, explaining that, as much as she felt loved and supported, there were shortcomings when it came to emotional expression.
“It almost scared (her dad) when we were feeling emotional, and it pained him when we would express ourselves too much — he would put the fire out.”
And while both parents had well-developed senses of humur, they never encroached on the physical themes of Pierce’s material.
“I have bodily humor because they had none,” she said.
Pierce’s powerful instinct toward nonconformity made her not only comfortable, but avid about remaining a virgin and avoiding drugs and alcohol. Her older siblings told her she would grow up and drink, just as her friends urged her to rush into sex and masturbation, but peer pressure just doesn’t work on some people.
“My favorite part about myself is that I never started drinking,” said Pierce, who remains a non-drinker to this day. “I feel healthy. My decisions are clear.”
Thus she keeps her sharp wits about her, wits she wields as “daggers” in a sometimes hostile world.
“I can verbally castrate anyone,” she said, adding that she keeps this power in reserve unless pushed to the limit. “And I know the weaknesses of men, because of my dual citizenship (in the worlds of men and women). That’s why I root for them, but it’s why if they piss me off they’re going down.”
This “dual citizenship” gave her a window into the guys’ world — producing a lasting tenderness toward men that remains in her material, but also showing her the ugliness of males’ kiss-and-telling ways, keeping her from ever wanting to be “that girl” about whom they were talking so crudely.
She remained a virgin until her senior year at UNH, when her early sexual follies laid the groundwork for her comedic material.
She reveled in being “a social security number” among the masses at UNH, wehre she writes in the short biography provided on her Web site, she was “elected captain of both the ski team and the soccer team based on my spirit and leadership (big mouth and sass), rather than skill.”
After graduation she worked as a ski instructor in California’s Squaw Valley, and thought she’d never come back to live in rural Etna. But she “kept running into people from the Upper Valley,” and eventually was drawn back, where she taught elementary school for six years in Norwich and one year in Thetford.
Some still peg her as the California type.
“People are like, ‘You’re so open, you’re so California,'” Pierce said. But “I’ve got some New England parts to me…I like things planned, predictable — I like coziness.”
That east-west dichotomy was well illustrated during an interview Sunday in which she had no qualms discussing her vagina over a sandwich at Salt Hill, but was exceedingly concerned that the punk from the weekly newspaper would screw up the facts of her story.
Today Pierce is busy raising three young children while tackling the daily mountain of innkeeper’s duties — and cultivating her incipient hit show on the side.
“Finding the Doorbell,” as you may have guessed, is a euphemism for Pierce’s pivotal moment of anatomical self-discovery at age almost-22, but it’s also a broader metaphor for unlocking the door to life, emotional discovery and appreciation for being a woman.
Inducing guffaws is among the show’s priorities, but its mission is deeper, blasting the lid off taboo topics and providing a shining example of the frank discussion we’ll all be capable of without the inhibitions Pierce seems to lack.
Pierce feels blessed to be a woman: “I got it made. I can work full time, not work and be with kids, be emotional…There’s so much freedom being a woman — in general, I would not trade these things.”
She stumbles daily across comedic material just “by having a vagina and growing up as a female. I can’t get out of bed in the morning…you just know each day something comical will come up in your femaleness — and it’s funny.”
Her comedy draws on debacles such as the 36-hour birth of her first child, a terribly stressful experience in which she finds endless humor — from her “out-of-control” hemorrhoids to a “pasty white” mortified nursing student to Pierce’s decision to finally use suction to “get this baby out.”
She also muses on the idiosyncracies of each woman’s body, which provide endless puzzles for men. “Isn’t it too bad,” Pierce said, “that each vagina doesn’t come with a little flight attendant who steps out” and explains how everything works?
Pierce said her husband sees her shocking comments as a sort of test for new acquaintances. “I unconsciously used it as a filter,” she said, “that’s how you weed out the riff-raff…If they can hang with our vagina talk…”
Pierce recently fared well in a competition among a field of risque comedians in a New York City club, and her quickly blossoming comedy career will open another big petal this Saturday when she dominates the Lebanon Opera House stage with her one-woman show.
Pierce will perform “Finding the Doorbell” at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Lebanon Operal House. Reserved seats are prices at $15. Call the Lebanon Opera House box office at 603-448-0400 or visit www.lebanonoperahouse.org.
The show is for adults only.