Mary Mack fans have long suspected that she hails from another planet. Her latest project will only bolster their theory.
In the animated series “Solar Opposites,” which drops Friday on Hulu, the Minneapolis-based comic plays Jesse, the daughter in an alien family whose spaceship crash-lands in middle America.
They spend their days bingeing on junk food, building evil robots and shrinking antagonists, collecting them like fireflies.
“It’s crazy,” Mack said of the show last week, a few days after she and her husband, fellow stand-up Tim Harmston, drove around dropping off pumpkin pies to friends. “It’s grounded in family relationships and old-school sitcoms, but it’s ridiculous.”
The visitors have little in common with Mork from Ork — patriarch Korvo (co-creator Justin Roiland) dreams of digging up corpses to have sex with them — but Jesse is their one ray of sunshine.
She’s desperate to be adored by her fellow students at James Earl Jones High School and looks for the good in Earthlings, even as she helps raise an infant blob destined to take over the world.
“She’s very much the heart of the series,” said co-creator Mike McMahan, who, like Roiland, is a veteran of the Adult Swim cult hit “Rick and Morty.” “But as Mary helped us flesh out the character and the writing progressed, Jesse became more mischievous and even a little bit malicious.”
A few times during the eight-part series, Jesse uses expletives, something you rarely hear Mack do on stage. When “Solar” moved from Fox to Hulu, the writers went to town, adding more than a dozen swear words to every episode.
“I need to go on the record,” said Mack, 44, who grew up in northwest Wisconsin but built her comedy credentials in Twin Cities clubs. “I gave them several clean versions of those lines so that they’d have some options. I said, ‘You guys might regret this.’ ”
“When you hear people who swear all the time, it kind of becomes background noise,” McMahan said. “When Mary swears, it comes out of left field. Bad words just come out funnier.”
More Midwest than L.A.
McMahan became aware of Mack from a stand-up career that had landed her appearances on “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” Her latest album, “Mary Mack: Comedy Bootleg 2020,” recorded in Eau Claire, Wis., came out last Friday, the same day husband Harmston released his record, “The Whim of Tim.” (Both will participate in Acme Comedy Co.’s streaming show Saturday, along with Jackie Kashian.)
“We wanted someone with a Midwest vibe to them and with an accent that feels like home,” McMahan said. “Mary’s voice is so down to earth, but she twists it a little with a sense of humor that sounds alien.”
Still, Mack had to audition, first by phone from Minneapolis, and then during a Los Angeles callback.
“It was all these smart, unemployed Hollywood children and some adults with kid voices,” she said. “It’s creepy. Everyone sounds like me.”
Los Angeles is not Mack’s favorite place. Even though she owns a home there, she’s not one to mingle at showbiz parties.
She wasn’t aware until the voice recording sessions were well underway that her “Solar” co-star Thomas Middleditch was the lead in HBO’s hit “Silicon Valley.” She had no interest in bumping into the cartoon’s high-profile guest stars, who include Tiffany Haddish and Oscar-nominee June Squibb. She’s never seen “Rick and Morty.”
A few years ago, while hosting a comedy show in L.A., she mistook a guest in the green room for one of the featured comedians. When he responded strangely, she thought he might have had a mental disorder.
It turned out to be Jon Hamm.
The industry has also broken her heart. In 2013, she was cast as a Minnesota goth girl in the Fox animated series “Golan the Insatiable,” only to be replaced in Season 2 by Aubrey Plaza, who was then starring in the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
“They wanted celebrities for those voice-overs,” she said. “They needed to raise the pitch of her voice so that it matched my voice.”
The series was canceled six episodes after Mack got the boot.
Mack did learn some lessons from that experience, from the vocal benefits of gnawing on a sweet green apple before recording to not taking any gigs for granted.
“Solar” has a better chance than “Golan” of lasting, in part because of “Rick and Morty’s” loyal following. Hulu has already picked up the series for a second season.
Mack was already working on those future episodes when the pandemic hit. She was forced to stay in Los Angeles because she felt under the weather and couldn’t get tested for the coronavirus. As soon as two weeks were up, she jumped into her car and bolted to the Midwest, where her brother was dying.
“I thought I could buy some snacks for the road, but you couldn’t even get into a grocery store in L.A.,” said Mack, who left California on March 14 with her two dogs. “The only human exchange I had was when I was picking up two hotel cards. There was hardly any traffic. It was surreal and pretty sad. I was just crying the whole time.”
She made it back just in time to say goodbye to her brother.
Mack, who has openly talked about her bouts with depression in the past, said the loss of her sibling has hit her hard. So has the quarantine.
“I want to be a nice person, but I’m very frustrated by this pandemic. I’ve been using Facebook to get out my rage. If people unfriend me it’s fine. Like my friend Maria Bamford says, ‘Go where the love is.’ ”
Does not being able to open up on stage make it even harder to deal?
“I wondered why I’m so depressed! That’s the reason,” she said. “I do vent a lot on stage, just vomit out information. Now I don’t have that outlet.”
Although Mack has been popping up on virtual specials, she’s itching to get back to the clubs — and into the “Solar” recording studio.
“Right now, a lot of us are looking at the world in a different way and noticing that a lot of the conventions we have don’t make sense,” said Mack, who spends a lot of time now walking her two dogs. “Then there’s this show in which these aliens come down and they’re asking a lot of questions like, ‘What are noses for? Is TV real? What is real?’ They’re more relatable than ever.”