Vermont Guardian — September 23, 2005
Finding the Doorbell, Comic storyteller Cindy Pierce: The human can opener
By Rob Williams
By day, Cindy Pierce is co-proprietor of Pierce’s Country Inn and mother to three young children. By night, however, she is emerging as one of New England’s funniest comic storytellers, a performer who draws her tales from her life’s various misadventures.
Describing Pierce’s show is not difficult to describe — Think Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” without the edge; a hilarious ode to everything about the female anatomy, from orgasms, self-stimulation, birthing, and the like. The good news here is that guys in the crowd will appreciate her humor, as well, because she guides everyone, in a genuinely non-threatening (and rather helpful) way on a tour of the female body, complete with her own trademark brand of comedic physicality, and stand-up delivery.
Born the seventh of seven children, and raised in Etna, NH, where she skied, played soccer, and made the most out of high school, this former ski coach and first grade teacher (as well as a self-proclaimed recovering Catholic and New England Patriots fan) is bringing her one-woman show to the Flynn Theatre. The Vermont Guardian caught up with Pierce recently to talk to her about her rise to fame and stardom.
Q. When did you first know you wanted to be a comic storyteller?
A. I really didn’t know I wanted to be doing this until my friends, who also make up my inspiration team, nudged me into doing a small show about a year and a half ago. The next thing you know they were encouraging me to do a bigger one at Dartmouth — 120 people — and then my last show at the Lebanon Opera House — which sold out at 840 tickets). This wasn’t really in my plan because I am buried in parenting — with three children under seven — and running an inn with my husband. But the storytelling comes very naturally to me — both finding material and delivery. And my husband feels it is about time I make money for the entertainment I have been providing for free.
Q. Have you always been attracted to stories?
A. I come from a family of storytellers — generations of storytellers. My father always called me a “raconteur” when I was a kid. I grew up in this inn, and after the guests would leave, I processed my experience and observations of the guests through imitations and sharing observations. I was a Harriet the Spy kind of kid. But the real nudge to do this came from a women’s ski trip out west. Two of the women on that trip pulled me aside and told me I should take storytelling to a professional level. I promised I would when my life calmed a little bit. Brenda Buglione was one of these two women. She was on her way to judge the Aspen Women’s Comedy Festival. The other was Kristi Graham, who lives across the river from me. Now, she is my director and is sharp, funny, and organized.
Q. From where do you draw your material?
A. After being shamed by boys as a kid, many of whom were also friends, I made a decision at some point that I wasn’t going to cower to the degrading humor they tossed our way. I developed a tough skin and an edge that helped me establish some boundaries. As I got older, the edge softened with a sense of humor. It is interesting how we all find a way to survive middle school. Redirecting negative energy is a family theme. And, I have the good fortune of being around some funny sisters and sisters-in-law who have been modeling the humor of birth, menstrual cycles, birth control, sex, hair removal, and the works since I was a kid. When you open to those topics with humor, the story supply is endless. Finding humor is a positive way to grow up, develop, have babies and age. Age brings wisdom and more material. Being the youngest in my family has helped me embrace aging.
Q. Describe the process of taking a vague comedic idea and turning it into a stage bit — how do you do that?
A. When I am discussing experiences with my sisters, husband, and friends, things strike me as funny. When I verbalize or retell these situations, I get a strong sense if the humor is universal or not. Everyone has had bodily moments that are painful and scarring. I think people are so grateful to hear someone share their own experiences so they feel normal and not alone. I feel like this is a purpose of mine on this planet: to help people feel OK about their experiences by laughing at myself. My husband calls me the “can opener” because people tell me a lot about themselves after they hear me do a show, or have a conversation with me.
Q. Do you make a distinction in your own mind between humor that is personal and humor that is political?
A. My humor is so personal that I don’t worry too much about who I offend. Hardcore Christians and devoted Catholics would not dig my show. George Bush would be horrified if he heard what I have to say. My stories are so personal that they can only pray for me to be saved. I talk about birth control with gusto. I am a believer in birth control, premarital sex, abortion, living together before marriage. I am a heathen in many people’s minds. Growing up as a Catholic helped me figure out where I stand on a lot of these matters. My mom let me choose, at age 12, whether I would go to church anymore. I chose not to keep going and found comfort and freedom without organized religion.
Q. What advice would you giver aspiring performers interested in the kind of stuff you do?
A. You know, I am such a newbie doing this full-on, grassroots style with my posse of smart and talented friends, that I can only say to recruit the help of people you trust and love to hang out with.