Valley News — May 14, 2005
By Dan Mackie
Over a year ago, Cindy Pierce of Etna went to a gathering of women skiers in Colorado and did one of those get-to-know-you exercises where people write something about themselves on a slip of paper, then everyone guesses who wrote what.
What Pierce revealed, and which won’t be described here in a family newspaper, was personal, bawdy, and, in followup storytelling, reportedly hilarious. The topic: her first orgasm.
“She had 30 women rolling on the floor for three days,” said Kristin Graham of Norwich, who also attended. “I told her, ‘You can’t keep this hidden in the woods anymore.'” Several other women told her the same, including one or two with HBO connections.
And so, a comic was born.
Pierce has been honing her skills with a series of small shows locally, and a couple of trips to New York comedy clubs. Next up: she’s booked the Lebanon Opera House Saturday, May 21, for her one-woman show, “Finding the Doorbell.”
It’s a big step for a 39-year-old mother of three who owns and runs Etna’s Pierce Inn along with her husband, Bruce Lingelbach. She describes her life as a juggling act of kids, cooking and toilet cleaning, and, now, on the side, comedy.
In an interview, she is a bundle of energy, a jitterbug talker, an alarm clock about to go off. She says she uses running and yoga to cap the volcano.
If her act’s not perfectly polished yet, friends say it’s starting to shine. They expect big things for her.
“The sky’s the limit for Cindy. I thought that from the moment I met her,” says a high-profile fan, Mike O’Malley, who starred in the network sitcom Yes, Dear and has known Pierce for some 20 years, back to when they were students at the University of New Hampshire.
O’Malley contributed a killer quote to her publicity effort: “Cindy Pierce was, is and will continue to be the funniest woman I have ever met,” said O’Malley.
In a telephone interview this week, he said he means it. “She’s just a natural storyteller,” he said. “She embraces the absurdity of life.”
What Pierce does is not the rat-a-tat comedy of the funnymen you used to see on the Tonight Show. She tells stories about things like the female condom, or the time she mistook a urinal cake for soap. O’Malley said she has a talent beyond jokes — her stories, he said, reveal a truth about life.
Getting to that truth would make the Victorians and Puritans among us blush. These are the comic vagina monologues.
“I’m not a stand-up comic,” said Pierce. “My stuff is more narrative, and comes from my life. I call it the adventures of 39 years of owning a vagina, and everything attached to that.”
The stories address orgasms, sexual gulfs between men and woman, childbirth and hemorrhoids, all delivered with a naked openness. It works as comedy, said Kristin Graham, “because it’s true, like so many funny things are true. …She’s bold and she’s generous, exposing the details of her life without it becoming sordid.”
Graham has a master’s degree in theater direction from Penn State and has helped Pierce hone her act. “I’m one of her biggest fans,” Graham said.
Pierce was born in Connecticut, but her family moved to Etna when she was 6. Her father turned his back on a New York advertising career when he bought the inn, which had a little ski school next door.
The inn is described as rambling and it really does. A series of small additions house its bedrooms and bunkrooms. Pierce said it’s “funky” and “breaking down all the time. It’s really a vacuum of needs.”
Pierce grew up surrounded by humor. “My mother is hilarious, and my father was, without even knowing it.” She’s the youngest of seven, several of whom were home-based humorists, too.
Pierce was a tomboy; she played Little League baseball, and tried out for the Hanover High baseball team in the early ’80s. “I thought I was going to replace Rick Burleson on the Boston Red Sox.” (Her father told her that was entirely possible.) Other parents were horrified, but the coach was amused, Pierce said.
In school, she was a feisty feminist, debating issues of girls’ rights with gangs of boys in the classroom. She describes the discussions in Battle of the Alamo terms. And yet, her comedy these days is fairly sympathetic to men, who she said are sometimes mystified by female sexuality. “I have seen how sensitive men are, I almost protect them,” Pierce said. “I’m not a men basher.”
After high school, she was on varsity soccer and ski squads at UNH, where she was a theater major. She went to California to work in the ski industry, returned to the Upper Valley to be a schoolteacher in Thetford and Norwich, then she and her husband bought the Pierce Inn from her parents.
Lingelbach said he’s not uneasy about his wife’s super-candid talk about sex and anatomy. “I knew what I was getting into when we got married,” he said cheerfully. “It gets a little close to home once in a while, but nothing major.”
Rather than discomfort, he said he feels pride when his wife takes the stage. “She brings a lot of energy to the room. People are laughing, belly laughing, in awe and shock.”
Pierce said she’s received the enthusiastic support of her extended family, and that most of what she’s doing goes over the heads of her three children, ages 3, 5, and 7.
There was one person in her life who might not have quite understood — her late father, Reginald Pierce. “I would not be doing this if my father was alive,” she said this week. “My dad never swore, he was very clean cut, his humor was clean cut. It would have horrified him to hear his daughter talking about her clitoris. …I had this material a couple of years ago, but I felt like it would have killed him.”
After this, Pierce hopes to perform in nearby cities like Portsmouth and Burlington, and then, perhaps, make a return to New York, where she’s made several comedy club appearances.
Sitting outside the inn on a sunny afternoon, when green hills and trees were waving for attention, Pierce said she doesn’t worry about the road ahead. “I think we’ll have to feel our way, find our way. Who knows where it’s going to go? …And you know, if it all fails, I have a great life.”