Valley News — October 28, 2006
By Dan Mackie
I am a person who can string together a funny thought or two, or so people tell me, but I would rather go over Niagara Falls in a barrel of alligators (or congressmen) than attempt what Cindy Pierce is doing.
Comedy. On stage. Frank talk about anatomy — and sex. My jackhammer stammering would loosen my fillings. I grew up in a religious tradition that promoted the Joy of Guilt, not sex, and after maladjusting this long, I’m not likely to change.
But Pierce, a soccer mom and Etna innkeeper by day (and night), says standing on stage isn’t daunting. “If you can tell a story to 10 people, you can tell a story to a thousand,” she insists.
Last year, Pierce’s one-woman act, Finding the Doorbell, filled the Lebanon Opera House as she made her local stage debut in a big way. She returns next month for two shows, Saturday, Nov. 4, and Thursday, Nov. 16, the second a benefit for the Hanover Nursery School, as she continues her longshot quest for showbiz success.
I interviewed her last year before her breakout performance. I thought I’d check in with her to see how the funny business was going.
She’s “cleaned up” her act, she says. That doesn’t mean she’s eliminated references (and I might blush as I type this) to sex and body parts. She’s been working with a New York director to tighten her material, sharpen her delivery.
If less is more, she likely will still have a lot. Pierce has the energy of an aerobics instructor. In an interview a table and chair seem to confine her. She crackles and pops with energy and her fingers snap. She speaks with such vigor she provides her own comic drum roll.
The director told her all her bopping around on stage could tire the audience, so she she’s working to rein it in, to make every movement work to enhance the stories. “Now it flows better,” she says. “I’m less exhausting to watch.”
Her act is more comedic storytelling than stand-up comedy. “I can’t retain a joke; I can’t deliver a joke,” she says. Pierce, who says she has never been afflicted by inhibition, readily shares stories about herself and her not-so-private parts. It’s all about sex, and personal plumbing, about discoveries and delayed revelations. Pierce was a tomboy, a girl jock who got into the womanhood thing later than most. She hung out a lot with men in high school and college (future sitcom star Mike O’Malley was a pal at UNH), and she learned to see their point of view. Unlike some women comics, Pierce does no male bashing.
She talks about sex with a frankness that makes people laugh, and feel relieved. “I get e-mail from people thanking me for helping them, for helping their marriage,” she said.
How’s that? In her act she tells women that men aren’t mind readers, that women should tell them what they like and want. If that sounds like Communication 101, consider that while Paris Hilton rules the airwaves, Queen Victoria still presides over many a bedroom. Pierce says her mission is to promote communication and bring some levity to the process. “Part of the goal is to prevent sexless marriages after babies,” she says. “I encourage women to be kinder to their bodies, to live in their bodies, and not be so self-conscious. … Their husbands are not that critical.”
Pierce has come to this point from an unlikely start. A couple of years ago, she was at a reunion of women skiers who were sharing personal stories. Her tales unleashed an avalanche of laughter, and the women said she ought to work up a professional act. She tried it out in front of smaller audiences, then larger ones. The Lebanon show was something of a triumph, but Pierce has had her ups and downs. Comedy club appearances in Boston and New York have gone well — she won a prize one night — and less well. After following raunchy stand-up comics, going on stage with her routine, which depends more on a we’re-all-in-this-together vibe, Pierce didn’t always connect.
But when audiences “get it,” in her words, it works. She has spoken to medical students at Dartmouth and Harvard and college audiences elsewhere; both present promising niches for future tours. Pierce and a friend have started work on a book based partly on her act — and New England Cable News has shot a documentary about her life as mom, innkeeper and performer.
Like many a would-be artist, it’s not her craft that she has to force herself to work at. “It’s the promotion that’s really intense. That’s about three hours a day, heavy-duty, relentless,” she says. “Promoting yourself is the most painful part of the process.”
Pierce, 41, has a somewhat harried, unconventional life even without the stage work. She and her husband have three children, ages 4, 6, and 8, and run Pierce’s Inn in Etna, where she grew up. She says she was only middle-of-the-pack funny in her family of seven kids — she learned a lot from their funny stories — and that living in an inn provided plenty of opportunity to observe the best and worst of human behavior.
These days, temporary setbacks don’t faze her, she says, because it’s all a learning process. And when something funny happens, it’s all material. “I don’t have a second to be embarrassed,” says Pierce.
There’s no stage fright in her, either. Under the spotlight she finds that time goes by quickly, and feels that an audience is just a cozy gathering — “I feel like some of my friends have invited a lot of their friends. It’s so word-of-mouth.”
Pierce says she isn’t in a hurry to get to the big time. “I feel that this has unfolded at just the right pace,” she says. “I’m resilient.”
One thing she won’t do is spice up the act with narratives that are better than real life. “All my stories are true,” says Pierce. “I want to stick to the truth.” And, of course, she’s not afraid to take a risk.