Thursday Spotlight: Meet Greenpoint Comedian and Actress Mary Houlihan

Full disclosure: Mary Houlihan and I used to carpool. The guest star on “Difficult People” and I would be shuttled to Brookside Middle School by my neighbor’s mom, but it was always a mystery whether or not Mary would join us on a given school day. Hers was the last house on our carpool journey, and — after a few car honks — Mary emerged, or didn’t. I was always grateful for the mornings she did. Even then, she had a stupefyingly offbeat wit — generous but dry, subdued but bonkers. Chipper as we were bitter with her tardiness, Mary would enter the car and chime, “Good morning, friends.”

We once shared a commute; we now share a neighborhood. Houlihan embodies the best parts of Greenpoint in her life and career — she builds community, as with her Three Chickies musical improv series, and maintains a signature self-awareness, even as careers (and neighborhoods) change. I’m happy to have caught up and discussed the comedy scene with the sly wizard behind “Learn To Paint With Mary Houlihan!“.

Greenpointers: How long have you been in Greenpoint?
Mary Houlihan: About six years. When I first moved here I lived off the Myrtle/Willoughby G stop in Bed-Stuy, then I moved to a big building that flooded in Hurricane Sandy after living there for just a month. Then I moved in with my parents in New Jersey. Then I moved to a green house off Calyer Street, then I lived near Grandma Roses, and now I’m in my current location. I’ve moved a lot.

The neighborhood’s treated you well?
It’s treated me well, me likely. It’s quiet. It’s hidden but not insane.

Some of your comedy and performance will bring you to LA. Do you feel like this is home, and how do you balance both locations?
There’s a zillion showbiz gigs there, so when I think of my career I think I’ll have to live in both places. A few years here or there. It makes sense for me to be here; it’s where all the cousins are — the New York metro area. So I’d feel very lonely and strange living in California, and if I had babies I’d have no grandparents to take care of them.

You created a local musical improv series called Three Chickies, hosted weekly at Threes Brewing. Can you discuss how that came to be?
I’m really bad at singing and I wanted to do singing really bad. I have some talents — singing is not one of them. So I got a singing app to help me sing; I’ve been told to just sing more to get better. So I started a free musical improv show with a pianist. And my friend Adam said you gotta check out this bar, they have a weird piano situation — and Threes Brewing does have a weird piano situation. There’s a backroom with an old piano and it’s called a Wurlitzer Funmaker. It’s from the 1970s and has a built-in drum machine, and it’s like three synthesizers stacked on top of each other. [Episodes of musical improv can be found on her Podcast.]

You also paint!
Yes, I did the painted title cards for Joe Pera’s “Adult Swim” series, “Joe Pera Talks With You.”

Does one tickle your fancy more, the acting or the visual art?
They feed each other. I don’t really love the art world. Sometimes I have a fantasy of getting cast on a sitcom so that I get famous and then can sell paintings and circumvent the whole gallery process. I find the entertainment biz a lot less annoying and a lot happier than the art world, so I think it’s more fun to be in and has more fun people to be around.

Is there anything you would change about the local comedy scene?
I think a thing that would make it better — and this goes with any creative community — I think everyone needs to take a second and remember that we’re going to be doing this for the next 40 years or whatever, so we don’t need to be psycho or worrying about having our big break or getting super famous or who’s successful faster. I think that’s unhealthy and makes it less fun. I think people need to remind themselves that we’ll be doing this for a while, so just relax.

How was it working on Difficult People?
So sometimes I go on this radio show called “The Best Show” with Tom Scharpling and Julie Klausner heard me on that, so then I auditioned for the show and they picked me. It helped that she already kind of knew me. Ken Burns was in my episode so I got to hang out with him, and it was a really nice time.

Do you have any upcoming shows we could check out?
Yes! More details below.

11/23 Sopranos: The Play, Brick Theatre, 9:30pm
11/26 Future Forms, Alphaville, 8pm
12/18 Mary Houlihan: Me & Jack, Caroline’s, 7:30pm

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Brooklyn Magazine, Indiewire, HowlRound, Eclectica Magazine, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

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