If Laurie Kilmartin’s son has complaints about Mom mining their relationship for laughs, he doesn’t share them. He has other priorities.
“I’ll bring him on the road sometimes and he’ll sit in the back of the club with his headphones on. He looks at it as an excuse to have unfettered access to his iPad,” said Kilmartin, who performs at Acme Comedy Company this week. “He doesn’t give a crap.”
What the 12-year-old is missing is one of today’s frankest, most hilarious stand-up routines, one that relies heavily on the frustrations and failures of a single mother.
“I remember when he was so tiny that he fit on the front step of a nearby church,” she joked last year on “Conan,” where she is a staff writer. One of her sharpest bits involves throwing her son into a swimming pool and not rescuing him until he begs for help in Spanish.
It’s hard to imagine Kilmartin’s predecessors, like Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Moms Mabley, getting away with such daring material — let alone admitting they had a child at home. Roseanne Barr broke new ground with her “domestic goddess” act in the ’80s, but she quickly abandoned the stand-up circuit to focus on a TV career (and tweeting).
But Kilmartin is part of a wave of red-hot comics committed to picking at the scabs left from every mother’s war wounds, a trend also reflected in movies (“Bad Moms,” “Girls Trip”) and TV series (USA’s “Playing House,” CBS’ “Mom”).
Ali Wong shot to stardom with her Netflix concert “Baby Cobra,” graphically describing what it was like to be nearly eight months’ pregnant and how she dealt with a past miscarriage.
“Don’t feel bad for me, OK? They were the size of poppy seeds,” she said in the special, released on Mother’s Day 2016. “I’ve picked boogers that were larger than the twins I lost.”
In this year’s follow-up, “Hard Knock Wife,” Wong went even further, describing the agony of breast-feeding and how maternity leave is like “The Walking Dead”: “You’ve just got to hook up with a crew to survive.”
Christina Pazsitzky, who hosts the highly rated podcast “Your Mom’s House” with her husband, Acme favorite Tom Segura, dedicated much of her critically acclaimed Netflix special, “Mother Inferior,” to postpartum depression.
“I am a fierce mama wolf. And I would slit all of your throats to save my kid’s life,” she said during the 2017 concert. “But sometimes I might lock myself in the bathroom and clean my ears, and I might just push that Q-Tip all the way in.”
Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley recently shot a pilot for CBS based on their wildly popular online video series, “I Mom So Hard.” The network didn’t end up picking up the sitcom, but the Nebraska-raised comics regularly sell out shows across the country with their off-kilter advice for other parents.
New mom Natasha Leggero is also getting in on the act. “I just want to spend as much time with my baby and her nanny as I possibly can,” she said on “Conan” in April, just two months after giving birth.
“In the past, executives, mostly male, wanted to shop female comedians like jewelry and preferred to hear guys tell sex jokes,” said Kilmartin, who used a word less kid-friendly than “sex” as she chatted by phone last month from her home in Los Angeles. “Only recently are you starting to see mom comics getting spots on late-night TV. Maybe culture is finally ready to accept that mothering is very difficult and that people are more willing to hear women talk about it.”
Minnesota moms lead the way
The trend may be relatively new across the nation, but Twin Cities comics have had mommy issues for years. Minnesotan Darlene Westgor won Nick at Nite’s inaugural Funniest Mom in America contest way back in 2005.
“I’m not sure I had a funny thing to say until I got married and had kids,” said Kristin Andersen-Anderson, who performs July 20-21 at Hopkins’ Royal Comedy Theatre. “For 15 years, I whined about being single, going to the gym, bad boyfriends. After the children were born, good material just fell out of the sky.”
Wendy Maybury, who will play the Royal Comedy Theatre in mid-August, said she panicked that her career would come to a halt after she got pregnant.
“Louie Anderson told me: ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll get 10 more minutes of material out of it,’ ” the Minneapolis-based comic said. “He was right. It made my comedy better.”
Last summer, Maybury started “Day Drinking With Mom,” a monthly get-together at Sisyphus Brewing featuring some of the Twin Cities’ most hilarious parents.
“Laughing is scientifically fantastic for your body and it makes you feel less alone,” said Maybury, who has tabled the series for a few months but plans to relaunch in the fall. “For the last couple shows, we invited audience members to share their own mom stories. You kind of unite, like: ‘We’re all in this together.’ Motherhood is feeling isolated, not sleeping, puke everywhere. That’s not a Mother’s Day card. That’s real life and it’s messy. When you call it for what it is, that’s refreshing.”
An open invitation
Not that men are turned away at the door.
“It always surprises me when single guys come up to me after a show and say, ‘You were awesome,’ ” said Maybury, who has a new album coming out later this year. “I’m like, ‘Really? You could relate to that?’ But I guess everyone has a mom. Everyone has seen a woman explode over something and not know why.”
Getting your own kids to think you’re awesome is more of a challenge. Tiffany Norton, who has worked the local comedy circuit for 11 years, said comics need to be sensitive about their children’s feelings, especially when they’re in their teens.
“I really don’t tell jokes about my daughter. It’s more about me and my reaction,” said Norton, who is also a radio personality on KS95-FM. “Even then, you’ve got to be careful. You don’t want them to feel uncomfortable or feel bad about you. They already think you’re pathetic.”
Treated right, kids can even turn into fans. Andersen-Anderson’s favorite story happened when her son Noah, then in seventh grade, was urged by a classmate to check out a recording of the beloved Mitch Hedberg. Noah listened for a few minutes and then turned to his friend.
“Dude,” he said. “That guy opened for my mom.”
One day, Kilmartin’s son might start boasting about his mom. But first, he’s got to take off those headphones.