Physical Comedy

Burlington Free Press — September 24, 2005

By Sally Pollak

Cindy Pierce is a mother, a jock, an innkeeper, a wife, a comic and a conversationalist who can turn even hipster heads at a cool Burlington coffee shop.

That’s because she’s likely to be talking about vaginas.

Loudly, happily, passionately, physically — with her bold gestures focused below the waist. If the female body has inspired great art through the ages, its most intimate component (or mysterious or frustrating or used or fill-in-the-blank), is, for Pierce, the springboard of her comic creativity.

“I rely on my body, heavily, to convey most of what I’m saying,” Pierce, 40, said the other day at Muddy Waters.

This is true in both substance and style. If Pierce were a ballplayer, she’d be a major-league cup-adjuster.

Pierce will take her comedy act, heavy on body language, to the Flynn on Oct. 1, when she presents her one-woman show, “Finding the Doorbell.” While her stories are home-grown and family-centered, these are edgy tales that are adult in nature.

The stories developed over the years in the living room of her family’s inn in Etna, N.H., where Pierce grew up the youngest of seven siblings. She and her husband, both former ski coaches at Burke Mountain Academy, now operate the inn, where they live with their three children.

The inn’s living room is still a staging ground for her stories. It’s the room where she calls out “Story Respect!” when one of her brothers or sisters or 18 nieces and nephews is trying to tell his or her own story in the competitive world of Pierce family story-telling. “Story Respect” means lay off, give so-and-so a chance to speak. It’s her turn to talk and our turn to listen — and maybe even laugh.

“I don’t even register as extreme in my family,” Pierce said.

From the inn to the Flynn is an accelerated story of a comic-on-the-rise. It’s also an unusual story, said Arnie Malina, the Flynn’s artistic director who oversees programming. He wrote in an e-mail that it’s “unusual for someone unknown to self-promote and book the Flynn stage.” Rental and promotion is costing Pierce about $10,000 she said. She’s making the investment because she wants to broaden her exposure and take her comedy as far as she can, Pierce said.

Her performing began informally, telling stories to family and friends, and took a turn about 18 months ago on a skiing trip with other women in Colorado. Pierce told some stories on this trip, and the women encouraged her to tell them to a larger crowd, she said. Mother’s Day would be the right time to talk about virginity, birth control and child birth.

So Pierce sent out an e-mail inviting people to gather around the fire at Pierce’s Inn to hear stories that centered around “the gnarliest” topics, she said. About 60 people showed up for this event on Mother’s Day Eve of 2004, she said. Pierce kissed her children goodnight, then slipped into the next room and transformed from sweet mommy to bawdy storyteller.

She expected to be told: Stop, you can’t talk about these things in public. Instead, she was encouraged to keep going.

In May of this year, she won an amateur night at the Comedy Cellar, a club in New York City. Eric Hanson, who scouts comedy talent and runs the club’s amateur night, remembers Pierce as “very good.”

“She had an original voice, and she’s very charismatic on stage,” Hanson said. He added that she has a new perspective on an age-old comedic subject, sex. “Maybe it’s because she’s not New York-based,” he said, “so she’s not tainted with the regular antics of the New York comic scene.”

Back in the untainted New England, she booked the Lebanon (N.H.) Opera House, where she played to more than 800 people at a standing-room-only show in late May. This inspired her to move to a bigger theatre, setting the stage for Saturday’s show at the Flynn.

Keep the kids at home for this on as Pierce — a former first-grade teacher — talks about things like her preferred synonym for vagina. One of these is “v-piece,” which she learned from a college-age niece. Pierce finds “swagger” in the term, she says in her performance. “V-piece,” she said, sounds like “a cross between a weapon and an accessory.”

“I’m telling the story of my vagina because I own one,” Pierce said. “I’m willing to be the social lubricant. I’m not embarrassed. At some point I really stopped caring about what people thought about me.”

Pierce’s sense of owning this private part of her body helps give her the courage, the pride and the insights, to create and perform the material in her show, she said. “Having this,” she said, pointing south, “creates so much: birth, bras, relationships. Your vagina is a metaphor for yourself. I had vaginal pride early.”

If you are born male, pride in your genitals is a birthright, Pierce believes. For females, it’s not so straightforward, she said.

“We’re practically forced to hate our bodies,” she said. “I never did.”

She speculates that this is, in part, because she developed late and played sports. Pierce competed in soccer and alpine skiing at the University of New Hampshire.

Pierce throws like a boy and swears like a truck driver. But she cleans like a woman: With the money she made from her performance at the Lebanon Opera House, she bought a deluxe vacuum cleaner.

As she moves to the Flynn, Pierce is hoping to find story respect from a growing audience. “It comes to me so naturally,” Pierce said. “I want to do the show and work it till it’s finished.”

What more can you say about a body part, however multifaceted, once you’ve got the story down?

“I’ve got menopause around the corner,” Pierce said. “I have decades of humor ahead of me.”

Copyright © Burlington Free Press

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