Stacy Mayer's grave expectations
This article is from 2009.
Funeral addict Stacy Mayer has put her bleak obsession to good use and channelled it into a Fringe comedy. Claire Prentice hears from a woman who’s not afraid of the big sleep
Stacy Mayer has an unusual hobby for an otherwise cheerful, well-adjusted adult: funerals. She experienced her first one aged six (her great-grandmother’s) and so began a lifelong obsession. It has taken her from the bottom of her garden (her pet gerbil) to cemeteries across the US and, when the urge takes her, to the funerals of complete strangers. ‘I’m actually a very happy person,’ she says, relaxing in her New York apartment, and seeming every bit the fully functioning adult. ‘In public I like to make people laugh but in private I like sad things. My secret love is watching Titanic again and again and balling my eyes out.’
The Funeralogues is an irreverent, comic look at funeral homes, rituals and eulogies and the people who deliver them. The action is set in a funeral home (for the New York run it was performed in a church; in Edinburgh it’s in a Masonic lodge) with Mayer playing herself, ‘Stacy Mayer’, a self-confessed funeral junkie, who admits to spending indecent amounts of time seeking out new material at strangers’ wakes. Luckily for the audience, Mayer is an endearing performer, with enough energy to power a small nation. The Kentucky native also slips in and out of other characters as she takes the audience on a cultural and historical tour of funerals through the ages. One of her most engaging characters is Long Island native Lara, the daughter of a funeral director. Lara grew up in and, despite her best efforts, is still living in a funeral home, much to the horror of a string of potential suitors.
‘I don’t want to just stand there behind a microphone telling jokes,’ says Mayer, who speaks at breakneck speed. ‘I like to do bigger stuff. Stuff that’s different and more in-your-face than a lot of mainstream comedy. I like to take on big themes that everyone can relate to.’ She certainly couldn’t have picked a bigger theme for her first Edinburgh appearance. And, as artists through the ages have shown, there’s a whole lot of humour to be wrung from the end of life as we know it. ‘There are sad bits and moments of reflection. But you’re definitely happy by the end of it. My take is that you should embrace life, live it to the full and think about how you will be remembered.’
The Funeralogues uses passages from real life eulogies, including a tribute to soldiers lost in Afghanistan, a passage from the performer’s own grandfather’s funeral and one for a fireman read by a Minnesota school teacher. Others run the gamut of emotion, from the deeply moving speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr for the child victims of the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama church bombing, to the ridiculous such as a ‘funeral’ service given by Mayer for a little girl whose Barbie doll’s head was wrenched from its body by the kid’s brother. Before the service has even ended, Skipper is trying to get Ken in the sack.
Mayer is a graduate of Chicago’s famous ImprovOlympic, where Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live fame started out. Like that pair, Mayer then came to New York dreaming of the big time and, sensing a gap in the market for comic theatre, set up the Manhattan Comedy Collective with her sometime comedy partner Chris Sullivan. Though she’s never performed in Edinburgh before, Mayer thinks her oddball humour will go down well, with American reviewers having compared her to Kristen Schaal of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords.
People of a delicate nature needn’t stay away from The Funeralogues. According to Mayer some of her biggest fans are relatives of the recently deceased. ‘I’ve had people come up to me after the show and say, “my friend or loved one just died and I wasn’t going to come because it seemed in bad taste but thank you for making me laugh”.’ And so, has all this funeral-crashing had an effect on her? ‘Yes, definitely. It’s made me realise that I don’t fear death.’
Stacy Mayer, C cubed, Brodie’s Close, 0845 260 1234, 6–31 Aug, 5.30pm, £8.50–£10.50 (£7.50–£9.50).