Stephanie McHugh is a comedian, speaker, voice over artist, and humor coach. She has been part of the Denver Comedy scene for over 16 years. She was on Nick at Nite’s TV Show “America’s Funniest Mom” and The Steve and Stephanie Morning show on KOOL 105. Stephanie is a co-founder of the MentalPause Comedy Show and The Twilight Moan Podcast. Stephanie also coaches speakers and entrepreneurs on how they can add comedy to their own presentations to connect more with their audiences.
Listen to Episode #85 here
Relationships And Other Things With Stephanie McHugh
Our guest is Stephanie McHugh. She is a comedian, speaker, voice-over artists and humor coach. She’s been part of the Denver comedy scene for many years, although she’s in LA. She was on Nick at Nite’s TV Show Funniest Mom in America and The Steve and Stephanie Morning Show on KOOL 105. Stephanie is a Cofounder of the MentalPause Comedy Show and The Twilight Moan Podcast. She also coaches speakers and entrepreneurs on how they can add comedy to their presentations. Welcome, Stephanie.
Thank you so much for having me in LA.
What brings you to Los Angeles?
One of my best friends lives down in Carlsbad and it’s her birthday. I tried to get some things lined out. I have a gig for women entrepreneurs group. We’ll do some comedy and pitch a little humor coaching too.
If you weren’t working as a humor coach, a voice-over artist, a speaker, a comedian and you’re a mom also, what would you be doing?
I have started performing comedy on the cruise ships. I went to Alaska a couple of times and we saw some whales. I know this is random, but if I’m not doing this, I might as well do something I like. We saw some killer whales, so I would want to be a kayaking guide for whale watching. That’s the first thing I would be if comedy went away.
I’ve done close to 80 of these and no one’s come up with anything quite like that, so kudos to you. That’s got to be a cool experience. I’ve never been to Alaska.
It was so pretty. One of my jokes is as we both are from Colorado, I feel like it’s beautiful there. Everyone said, “Alaska is so pretty.” I was like, “Really? I think we know what pretty is,” but it was. I’m trying to joke. It’s like the Brad Pitt of the States and I think we’re pretty and it’s not just because we’re next to Kansas either. We’re legit pretty and it’s hard to find a celebrity that Alaska is like, that would resonate with everyone. I say Alaska is like the Brad Pitt of the States. I feel like Alaska goes, “We have mountains.” Colorado can go, “We have mountains.” Alaska says, “We have bald eagles.” Colorado is like, “We have bald eagles.” Alaska goes, “We have whales.” “Shut up, Brad. Nobody wants to hear about your whales. We have prairie dogs. They have rabies.” If it’s a younger crowd, like for example in Downtown Comedy Works opening for someone, it may not resonate.
I could see that. Do you mean in terms of who are the people you pick?
Brad Pitt seems to be the only person I can think of who’s a hot celebrity.
I have him because I was talking about him, Bradley Cooper. He’s younger. He’s a beautiful man. He was in A Star Is Born. I was talking about him because the thing that actors do the best is to look good on screen. Obviously, Brad Pitt, that’s his most solid trait as an actor. He has true acting chops, but it’s easier to be an actor in terms of being able to act than it is to look beautiful on screen. Very few people in the world have that. Brad has that and Bradley Cooper has that. He doesn’t lean into it as much because what doesn’t that guy do well? He can play music and directing is hard work.
I can’t imagine doing that, especially when you’re in the movie. You’re directing yourself most of the time in that movie.
He’s a co-star. The sticking point for that joke, which I like, it’s fun. You have the nice old rule of three in there: mountains, bald eagles and whales.
I feel like that’s a little wordy. I did say Alaska and Colorado. Sometimes I don’t say Colorado three times. I just move two feet over in the stage a little bit. It works on cruise ships too. It works everywhere, pretty much.
All you have to do is establish you’re from Denver. Everybody knows Colorado’s beautiful. You don’t have to ever been there to appreciate it.
I literally was like, “How much prettier?” I do think we’re gorgeous and I was blown away with the inner passageway. You’re on this huge cruise ship through Glacier Park and it was stunning. They do have whales.
I had this experience once in my twenties where I had the great privilege of going on this around the world trip for a Semester at Sea. I was working on this and I had a very provincial life prior to that. I grew up in New Jersey and spent most of my life there. I had moved to Santa Barbara, which is exciting for me. I’m going back to Santa Barbara to visit some old colleagues more than twenty years later. I had been to an unforgettable evening in Tijuana. I get on this ship, go around the world and see the world’s wonders. You see the good, the bad and the ugly of the world. I went to Kyoto. I saw the Great Wall, the Pyramids of Giza and so on by ship. I had a life-changing experience. I remember getting to India and being in Madras or some people call it Chennai. I was getting on a plane and going to Delhi in Agra. That is where the Taj Mahal. At the time in my life, I didn’t journal but I journal on that trip. I remember approaching the Taj Mahal with a sense of skepticism. I’ve seen the Great Wall of China and these things so far. I’m like, “Is this going to be a big deal?”
Because you’ve seen pictures of it. You know what it looks like.
I got there and it’s stunning. It is something and the story behind it. It’s one of those perfect structures. There’s all this research on symmetry and beauty. Why is Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper so beautiful? Part of the reason they are is they’re symmetrical. They’re not like me who has a twisted-up nose and lopsided ears. They’re perfectly symmetrical. You don’t notice it. You just notice how pleasing it is to look at them. The Taj Mahal is the same. It’s white and bright. It catches the sun depending on what time of day. We were there for sunrise. It changes color as the morning goes on.
Does it have curves? I know from the pictures, to me it seems very white. I don’t know what it’s made out of specifically, against the blue sky. It does seem pretty.
The other nice thing about it is they tamp down on the pollution in Agra because of tourism. It’s a much nicer place to visit because a lot of the big cities in India especially at that time, probably still now, have pollution problems in that sense. You’re not kayaking and you’re not a guide yet. You were recommended to me by a previous guest, Mark Masters. You know Mark from the Denver comedy scene and Nancy Norton, who’s also been a guest. She was guest number four or five. She was early.
I found you online when I started humor coaching and just researching. Later I go, “I saw this TEDx Talk and he’s a CU professor.” She’s like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “What?” She’s probably the comedian that I talked to the most. It was unusual that someone that I talked to all the time knew you pretty well. Wende Curtis, who owns Comedy Works said and I’ve seen you can get a following as a comedian if you get a podcast. It packs the place out with people who get you. I opened for Fortune Feimster and it was wonderful. I was emceeing and when I said her name and the podcast, they all went crazy. You can tell the energy of the room and they love comedy. I thought, “I want to find those people for myself.” I’m getting all over the place. Nancy said, “I think we should do a podcast. I broke up with my boyfriend. Let’s do something about dating in your 50s.” I said, “Let’s do it,” and then she got back together with her boyfriend.
I have a saying about those situations. When you take the milk out of the refrigerator and you smell it and it’s spoiled, you put it back in the refrigerator. The next time you take it out, it’s still going to be spoiled. No offense to Nancy’s temporary boyfriend.
We call him Henry on the podcast. We respect his privacy.
As an aside, I don’t think that the fact that Nancy’s dating someone affects the podcast in a profound way.
We originally thought it would be The Twilight Moan: Adventures in Dating After 50 because a moan could mean kinky or a kink in your act. You don’t know what it is. That could be hurt. It’s probably all of it when you think about it. We like the word adventures because we want it, but if anyone’s Googling like if you go SEO, no one’s going to be going adventures when they’re thinking about dating. We change it to relationships because Ryan, the doorman and sound guy at Comedy Works was listening to it and said, “What do you think about relationships?” We like that.
Is it relationships after 50? This is perfect because I flagged this as a question. I want us to workshop some subtitles for you.
[bctt tweet=”With dating apps, you just need a good catchphrase to start a conversation. ” via=”no”]
Nancy called me again. She goes, “I think we need to have sex in the tag.” Plan B or C would be The Twilight Moan: Love and Sex After 50. I feel like if people are going to more likely Google sex, that’s going to get more people in the seats at comedy.
Are you talking about sex? Are you over-promising and under-delivering?
I think we talk about it. I don’t think we’re as graphic as some people might think.
There’s a podcast called Guys We Fucked. You’d have to imagine, that’s what you’re competing. Why don’t you name it Old Guys We Fucked?
Nobody’s going to want to listen to that. We talked about it. I brought it up delicately in some situations. I just said, “I was with a guy who I liked. He came to my house. We went upstairs and had a great time. He asked me how I was doing. He gave me a piggyback ride up the stairs and then afterwards, I wasn’t even in my head.” A lot of times I’m in my head, but I had stuff to do the next day so I’m like, “I think I’m good if he leaves,” then I said, “Do you want me to make you a sandwich?” The fact that I had bread that wasn’t moldy and I had made a pot roast, which I don’t think I have since then or before then. I had lettuce and tomato.
You’re trying to seduce this guy.
I already seduced him but I had this sandwich and I said, “Do you want mayo and mustard?” He goes, “Yeah.” I put the mustard on the lettuce on the bread. I worried for two days afterwards. I’m like, “That’s the wrong place to put the mustard. He probably is so mad.”
Did you make this to-go? Did you put it in a little bag and handed it to him?
It was on a paper plate, which I do often have in my office, paper plate and ready to go. I worried for two days. I’m like, “That was probably the worst sandwich ever because I put the mustard next to the bread. It’s going to get all mushy.” If you’re worried about that after that whole thing, we had fun. I made him a sandwich and he left.
He is a man. You’ll know if he had fun or not.
He had a good time. I knew I had a little bit of anxiety.
Does that mean you liked him?
I did like him.
That’s exactly what that means.
It’s just in my head.
How did you deal with that? I feel like that’s the making of a bit.
It’s a little wordy. I can’t figure it out. I talked about it on the podcast.
I’m not sure you need to let wordiness get in the way of your comedy. Have you been paying attention to what these comics are doing these days?
That’s true. I did try it. We talked about it. Nancy and I did it on the podcast in my car before we had a show at the women’s correctional facility. I did try it there. That’s probably not the best place to first try that joke. I felt like earlier in my life, I would have worried about it and been in it. When it happened, I was able to observe myself. Even though I still felt anxious, I’m like, “Maybe you should find another way to relax. Is that something to worry about? How can you not have your brain go to the worst possible?”
Stephanie, you have a successful person’s disease. You are anxious. I know because I have a little of it. This has come up in the show lots of times. It costs me a little sleep, but it leads me to lots of success, opportunities and so on. You’re just a little too vigilant. Trust me, he doesn’t care where the mustard was. The sandwich was gone before he got to his car.
We talked about sex a little bit if you call it that.
I’m not suggesting that you make it anything more than PG-13. The question is what’s the lane you want to be in?
That’s the other thing. I am perfectly okay with having two completely separate lanes. If you want to be corporate like both Nancy and I would like to be in the corporate comedy lane and can do it. If you have that there, then is that going to turn off some people?
It’s also what your listeners are into. How titillating do they want it to be? Let’s get back to the subtitle for a moment. It’s The Twilight Moan Podcast, then right now it’s Sex and Dating After 50.
Technically, it’s Relationship Adventures After 50. We’re thinking about Love and Sex After 50. Peter, tell us what to do.
I don’t know. This is a female-focused podcast so I am not the target market. I’m approaching 50, but I have to assume that relationships, sex and dating after 50 probably has to be different for men and women. I’ve heard some of Nancy’s jokes, so I know it is. Let’s get into this for a little bit. I’m a bachelor. I will someday be over 50 and I hope I’m still dating and having adventures. What should I expect from the ladies’ side of things?
Here’s why I am doing it because for a long time, my kids were at home and trying to keep money coming in the door, comedy going and the kids. There wasn’t enough to focus on dating. I would say that it would happen to me. Someone would say, “My friend just went through a divorce and was looking to find someone.” I said, “I have a friend who is a comedian,” then they’re so enamored with you at first. No one had ever said, “What exactly are you looking for?” When someone’s going through a divorce or something like that, the second you become human, they’re like, “This is too much. I just went through something.” That’s tough too. Now, I’m making more of, “I am going out to find out what I want.”
I’ve been on the app. I know there’s a category of woman who is an empty nester now. The kids are away. She’s having a bit of a renaissance and wants to have some more of time and a little bit more focused on herself. Sometimes it can be quite explicit about that.
You’re being very nice with your words. I feel like the word cougar is coming up. I have a joke about that, but it’s more towards younger men.
I don’t know what her behavior is. I don’t know what her words are, but the idea essentially is exactly what you’re saying. “I have dedicated so much of my life to these other human beings that I’ve neglected a part of my life and I’d like to see what that would be like.” I always think to myself, “I hope you have low expectations.”
You just have to be specific. I did sign up for an app, but I didn’t look at it.
I think you have to. If you’re already doing this, there’s a whole bunch of tax-deductible things you could be doing to prepare for this podcast. What app did you sign up for?
I did FitnessSingles.
I never even heard of it.
Nancy first signed up for it.
I can see that you want a man who has a little more muscle mass. That’s a big problem with men. You lose 1% of your muscle mass every year after you turn 40. I don’t know if it’s the same for women, but as a man, I know this to be the case. You have to make sure you work on it. Otherwise, you turn 80 and you’re this frail old person.
That’s another one of my jokes. I talk about my dad. It’s ironic that my kids are out of the house, but now my dad needs help. He has Parkinson’s and a little bit of dementia. I take him sometimes to his Parkinson’s boxing class. There’s one up in Fort Collins. It’s specifically for people who have Parkinson’s and he can bring in guests. When I drive him, I take the class with him. At the end of the class, somebody came up to my dad and said, “Jim, thanks for bringing the eye-candy to this class.” I am the new young hot chick at the Parkinson’s boxing class.
I always like to say I want to be the youngest, dumbest and ugliest person in the room. There are times where it’s nice to be the oldest, smartest and the best-looking person in the room.
It was weird when it happened. It’s my favorite joke right now. My dad’s a big guy and 20 to 30 years ago, no one would have ever come up to my dad and said, “Your daughter is the eye-candy.” I was like, “I always have the Parkinson’s boxing class.”
It’s not a great dating pool but good for the ego.
Everybody likes a sandwich, Peter.
Trust me though, those guys don’t give a crap where the mustard is. FitnessSingles, I’ve never heard of it. Isn’t the problem with the dating apps is everybody says they work out?
I don’t think I can compete in that, then I looked at some of the guys. Nancy still gets emails every day even though she’s not. We were doing the podcast. She goes, “Let’s look at it.” I’m like, “I can totally fit in with the FitnessSingles.” I haven’t done anything with it yet though. I need to do it. I have a profile. I got to get up there. I did put my catchphrase or whatever. I use, “Maple syrup is my favorite food group.” That’s from Elf. I like small things and it’s weird. What I’ve found hearing from my other friends, you just need something so that someone can start a conversation with you. I haven’t done my description yet though. There’s nothing there.
It sounds like we have a lot to work on. We don’t have much time.
It would be great if we could do that. I’ll get my computer out and we’ll get it all set up.
I don’t have much experience with this. I do have a friend in Denver and she was on Bumble.
It sounds like that’s the one most people are on.
Bumble is probably one of the more female-friendly sites because once you match the woman, she has to make the first move. She may make it poorly but she has a second chance. Most of the first moves are rather meager. Someone could coach these ladies that all they need to do if they want to stand out is to put a tiny bit of effort into that first move instead of just saying, “Hi.”
Can you be more specific? It’s like read his profile, I’m imagining.
[bctt tweet=”Putting a smiley face or a winky face after flirtatious texts keeps the conversation moving forward. ” via=”no”]
Maybe a little cheeky or just have a little fun with the opener. It puts you head and shoulders above the rest. My friend and I sat down. We were talking about how it was going. These things are always mixed. She’s wonderful, she’s attractive and she’s got a lot going on. She’s an appealing person to be on there. No matter how appealing you are, the problem is finding a good match, someone you would like and so on. This interest lifestyle value stuff is good if it matches up early and figures it out. She had this long list of interests. I was like, “You can’t have that long list.” It’s like three things. First of all, because she’s a woman, most guys are swiping based upon her pictures and her pictures were fantastic. There’s nothing to fix there. Let’s get down to it. I said, “What’s the most important thing?” She said, “Mountain biking.” Her thing is ideally he mountain bikes, but if he doesn’t mountain bike, he needs to know that she does. She’s not giving up mountain biking on the weekends for him. That will not happen. The second one is live music. It’s fascinating that she and I are such good friends because I’m interested in neither of these things. I was like, “The third one needs to be fun.” We’re going to use the rule of three here.
Because mountain biking and live music are not fun.
We were out at dinner at happy hour and I was writing things down and I go, “You probably not going to want to do this but I got it.” I wrote down mountain biking, live music and then the third thing is cockfighting.
That’s perfect. It’s good. Did she do it?
To her credit, she did it.
You could get a couple of dick pics. You’re going to have to weed through a couple of those to get to your prints.
For her, it worked because she’s impossible to offend. She’s a very easy going person. She laughs easily. She doesn’t take life too seriously. It’s why we’re good friends. To her credit, she gave it a whirl and it was the perfect conversation starter.
It sounds like that’s what you need to do. Make it a safe place for him to volley something back.
If he’s not able to use something like that, you’re a dud. She did play with it. She’s also not going to be happy with a guy who’s super uptight and who thinks that is in any way a serious thing. It’s clearly a joke in the right way. Have some fun with it.
Texting is the other thing, like flirting texting.
I have another piece. We can go on for a long time with this stuff. I don’t remember why I picked this up from one of my female friends who picked it up from some dating guru or something like that. It’s, “Texting is for flirtatious fun and making plans and that’s it.”
That’s it, then you talk on the phone or meet in person. That’s good. I like that.
It keeps it moving forward.
You just put a smiley face or winky face after those flirtatious texts.
Versus using text to get to know someone. If you use those rules, you’ll never write the most boring thing that can ever be written in a text message, “How was your day?”
I could see that. I have to think about it here. I used to have sometimes for my username, can we workshop my user name? I used to say Longlegs321 and Kathleen Madigan, she’s another comedian, when I opened for her, she goes, “That sounds like a stripper. You can’t do that.” My birthday is on March 21st. I did Three Tough Mudders. Nancy said, “Just do Tough Mudder 321.”
I don’t think the name matters to be honest.
It’s more on the pictures. You’ve got to nail the pictures.
There are some truly bad like having the word princess anywhere in your profile. Unless you want to attract a particular type of date.
I put entrepreneur, not stand-up comedian or entertainment because if you say you’re a stand-up comic, that freaks guys out or they try to be funny. They’re aggressive.
I could see it could be a little intimidating. It’s a tough one because you are a stand-up. That’s what you do most of your time. You put entertainers or entertainment professionals. I could see the puzzle there.
I suppose I could test it each way. My friend who I’m seeing came out here to visit for a birthday. She is an executive in the dental field. For a while, she had like VP or I don’t know what the category is for upper management. She had open to the possibilities for the catchphrase of love or something like that, and then she switched it from, “That squirrel can waterski.” She said she was in the dental industry and she’s got a ton of hits. She thought that something more inspirational didn’t reach out for the catchphrase than having something funny from Anchorman. That’s from Anchorman.
You guys are into Will Ferrell.
I do like Will Ferrell. I suppose I could have it one-way entrepreneur for a little while and then switch it to see.
That’s interesting. It’s funny that these things might matter.
It’s subtle but it does matter sometimes.
Clearly, it does because you’re making decisions based on such limited information. Any information that you provide gets over weighted, especially with the crash of options. You can start to make decisions in an arbitrary way. I know how frail the male ego can be. It’s fascinating.
It’s terrifying almost a little bit. You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings but yet again, it’s the people-pleaser in me.
This is how frail the male ego is. There was a study from some Northern European country that has socialized medicine. I don’t know if it’s Belgium, Holland, Norway or something like that. These behavioral scientists got this big panel of data for the entire country, anonymized. One of the analyses they did was it was partners, husband and wives, their salaries, and then the likelihood of a drug for erectile dysfunction. It’s prescription because it’s socialized medicine. You got to get your blue pill or whatever, but a prescription for it. I’m sure it’s much cheaper than in the United States. They essentially plotted a Delta between the two salaries. On the left side of the graph, the Delta was positive. The husband made way more money than the wife. On the right side, the Delta was negative. The wife made way more money than the man and then they plotted the probability that the couple needed the blue pill. What was fascinating was it was flat as long as the guy was making more money. When the wife made more money, there’s a step function and increased likelihood. It wasn’t the amount, it was that she makes more was the biggest predictor.
I wonder, particularly for couples, if the man doesn’t make as much money, then something else is more important to that couple. That may be the physicality of sex or something.
You could be a scientist with that reasoning. You’re talking about a third variable. It could be a third variable.
Why did they get together in the first place? What was it that attracted them?
Although the step function works against that a little bit because it suggests if the woman makes a little bit of money more, there seems to be that shift. There are two things, especially over 50. A few things happen as men get older. One is they may have a testosterone drop. That affects them. As a man at some point, there’s a moment of reckoning which is, “Have you done the things that you set out to do? Have you lived the life you imagined for yourself when you were a young man?”
I don’t know if that’s a midlife crisis, but just a re-evaluation of life. “Had I done everything that I set out to do? If I haven’t, I better do it.”
The issue is if you’re not careful, life beats you down.
That happened to me with my dad. My dad was 24 when I was born. When his health was failing, I’m like, “I may only have 24 more years to get everything done what I want to do.” Although I would say that I’ve always exercised.
You probably have a healthier lifestyle than your father did. It’s interesting, I feel like our generation is on the leading edge of living healthy lives. I’m not a huge Joe Rogan podcast listener. I was on his show, which is better than being a listener. It was a fun experience. I heard him talking about this idea. He’s in his 50s. The man’s cut out of stone and I know this because I was on his podcast. At the end of the podcast, they take a picture. It’s a very funny picture because he’s not a tall man, he and his producer. I tower above them, but I put my arm on their shoulders. I’m a fit guy and I’m an athlete and so on. I put my arm on Joe Rogan’s shoulder and it was like putting it on this table. It was rock solid. He was saying that this is the first generation that there are 50-year-olds who look like him and feel like him.
Going back to the opening thing, Brad Pitt is 55. Once upon a time in Hollywood, the man does not look 55. He looks 40. This is a long lead up to say who knows what’s going to happen with at least a subset of people like you and me who figured out how to eat clean and exercise regularly and so on. Maybe the fact that my parents passed young and so I always like, “I’m going to die young. I better get it all in.” Maybe it’s not genetics as much as I think it is. Maybe it’s just that they had a generally unhealthy lifestyle. You compare it to the days of people smoking and drinking all the time.
I have listened to some of your podcasts and you said your mom was a single mom.
She raised us as a single mom. That’s hardcore stress. As a kid, you don’t understand it and she worked shitty jobs. It wasn’t like she was a single mom and working at McKinsey.
I got divorced but thankfully the girl’s dad, we split half and half and everything like that.
I think that’s almost better than being married.
We still get along pretty well.
This is me. This is my stand-up comedy. That’s my premise. It’s being divorced with 50/50 custody is better for a woman.
I could see that. My parents lived apart for nineteen years. I grew up in Durango, Colorado. It’s a small, beautiful mountain town. My mom did not like small towns. My dad got a job. He got his masters at CU and was in administration at a hospital. He moved to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, which has a hospital with 180-mile radius. It was basically farms, an Applebee’s, a Chinese restaurant and that were it. My mom was like, “I do not want to move to another small town.” She stayed in Fort Collins even though my dad went to CU. My mom liked Fort Collins. She would go up on the weekends for nineteen years to see my dad and then they moved back together.
How did that go? Did they have separate bedrooms?
She waited a year to retire because she said, “We can’t go from both working in separate homes to staring at each other all the time.” It worked for them.
First of all, there’s more of that stuff than people talk about or pay attention to. Because it’s non-normative, people don’t advertise it. We’re going to start seeing a lot more of this stuff as people start to figure out that this can’t be a one size fits all solution of the matrimony.
We can’t have the typical look.
It’s just that it doesn’t have to for it to be considered successful. It’s good for them in terms of coordinating rather than compromising.
It was tough on my dad because Scottsbluff was more of a traditional agricultural town. It’s like, “What do you mean you’re not divorced?” That’s something on the side, something’s up. He’s like, “We’re happy. We just don’t live together.”
The irony in all of that is those puritanical provincial people who are like, “Let me get this straight. Your wife lives in Colorado and you live here and you see each other on the weekends?” Those same people. The stuff they’re doing and watching. There’s a reason that porn rates in Utah are so high. Porn Hub is eager to point that out to the world. I think that’s so American.
That’s true because I lived in Chicago for a little while. You would see more of everything looks right, but it’s a crazy relationship. It’s not authentic, good or healthy or anything about them. It looked right from far away.
I could see why it would be easy to criticize because it looks like everything’s in line with small-town Nebraska. Knowing what I know about people and being a behavioral scientist, you started to peel back the layers you’re seeing. The thing is I’m not going to criticize anyone’s proclivities. It’s just don’t throw stones. That’s the whole thing. I’m sure you and Nancy had fun with this podcast. It sounds like you’re using it a little bit to workshop some ideas.
Yes, like where we are in life and then find our own community. My goal is that you shoot it out there and everybody’s like, “Fun night out. Let’s go out and watch The Twilight Moan podcast.” We have the MentalPause Show with Nora Lynch who is married to another comedian. She’s on the cruise ships a lot, so sometimes she wouldn’t be available to do the show. We tried it and we tried many speed dating during the comedy show and then follow up. The logistics and the audio was tough to try and do it on the podcast. We had a couple that won a date during the mini speed dating. We did the podcast at Bar Louie where they won a chance to be together, but the logistics of it and the audio in a bar were tough to do. That was fun. It’s something where people would want to go out and have fun.
I like everything that you’re doing. The reason that I like it is, first of all, we’re awash with podcasts but I think your target audience is probably still like a growing user base.
Do you think they would listen?
I think it’s going to catch on. There’s a reason that podcasts are surprisingly popular. Even the ones that are low editing, I’m not talking about how I built this or serial or whatever where there are huge teams of people. Even the moderate fidelity and largely unedited, but with compelling content can build a following. The problem is if you’re in a comedy, it’s hard to build a following because that’s where so much growth has been. Every comic seems to have a podcast because the overhead was so low. For example, this podcast has not grown a very big listenership. I never intended it to. You want to use it to build a platform by which to sell more tickets and connect more with fans and so on. Obviously, the content is number one. I see you figure out your voice, dynamics, topics and all the things that are going to make it worth listening to from beginning to end. Just talking to you and knowing Nancy, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. It’ll take some time to figure it out.
[bctt tweet=”Catchphrases are subtle but they do matter sometimes. ” via=”no”]
It was interesting. The first three felt effortless and then the fourth one, I was a little tired, but I still can do stand-up comedy tired. I felt like we didn’t know what to talk about. I thought, “I got to get on that Singles Fit. I got to start doing something so we have something to talk about.
You got to feed the beast. I can see that. I had Jesse David Fox. He’s a journalist turned podcaster. He has a podcast called Good One.
I know exactly who you’re talking about. I love that podcast.
He was a super thoughtful guy. I was surprised about, and I don’t remember if we talked about it offline or online, the amount of work he’s done to build that podcast. It’s no surprise that I have organically gained listeners. Anybody who’s found this podcast knows me or probably stumbled upon it in some way, shape or form. I’ve never done the hard work to promote it. This is a friendly word of warning. This is a dirty little secret of the podcast world. There’s a lot of horse-trading, which is I promote your podcast, you promote mine. There was a lot of cross-promotion that people engage in. I don’t do any of that.
You’re moving on to another project though too a little bit, aren’t you?
I’m working on a new book. I’m in a deadline hell right now. I’m mildly regretting scheduling this, but it’s been very fun. I don’t regret it now. I’m very happy I did it. I have a secret project. I am not going to tell you right now. The world’s not ready for it. Maybe once the mic is off, but that’s a podcast I’m 90% sure I’m going to do it. I’ve already been taping. I’m launching it as a podcast and doing a very quiet launch.
You didn’t say what it was? You just said, “I’m doing a new podcast.”
The secret project is going to be a podcast. That’s my first touchpoint with the idea. I’m 90% sure I’m going to launch it. I put a lot of work into it and ideas and so on. The goal of that will be to see if I can grow it. If it doesn’t grow, I’m going to kill it.
You’re going to kill it like end it. It’s not kill it like, “I’m going to nail it so hard. It’s going to be the next Joe Rogan.”
I’m going to end it. I’m going to put it out there. This podcast is different. This podcast is for me, but that podcast will be for others. If other people are not interested, I’m not going to do it. I don’t know how many episodes I’m going to give it. I’m not sure but if I can’t grow it, it’s done.
Sometimes I think of the wording, SEO and how to get yourself found. Are you going to research that?
I’m working on the copy. This is terrible for the audience. They’re like, “What the freaking hell is this about?”
It’s a good tease though.
I’m working on the copy knowing that the description that will get dropped into iTunes, Stitcher, etc., has to be SEO optimized. You need the keywords to get it right. I don’t know how much it matters, but I know it matters enough that I should be thinking about doing that.
This is why back to love and sex for the tag, but then the corporate gigs would make more money. That’s the other thing while this is going with them.
The issue though is you’re not going to be doing this for your corporate audience. I’m seeing the perception of you as a clean comic. You’re a pretty clean comic.
I can be with the sexual innuendo. I’m clean. I do the cruise ships, there’s a little boy who’s four years old on the cruise ships.
My buddy, Alonzo Bodden is like, “If you can do cruise ships, you better be able to make a joke about that doorknob.” It’s not easy being up there doing a diverse room like that.
It is wonderful. I like the exercise of it. It’s a good workout. I don’t mean to bring it back to that.
Let me put on my marketing professor hat for a moment. I think that to make this decision, you need to do three things. The first one is to take a look at the competition. Who’s out there doing something that feels like this? You have to make sure that you’re differentiated from them. How might I be differentiated? The obvious thing is the comedy side of it. I wonder if you do something more like love and laughs or sex, love and laughs after 50 or something that suggests that it has a comedic element to it. It should be the case that the descriptions of the two podcasts next to each other are going to draw some people to theirs and some people to yours. That leads to the second suggestion, which is who is the ideal consumer of your podcast? What does she like? What does she do? What does she want to get out of it? Is she looking for real advice? Is she looking for entertainment? Does she want someone to commiserate with? Think a little bit through what’s the ideal profile of the person? Do you know that person?
For my book project that I’m working on, I have two profiles of the people who I want to appeal. One is my friend Matt De Caussin. When I think about it like, “Is this something that Matt is going to get into and that he’s going to like?” Because I know what kind of books Matt buys, how Matt thinks and that kind of thing. It helps guide my decisions. The first two are competition and customer. I think a lot of small business owners, which is what you are. You’re an entrepreneur as demonstrated by your Fitness Singles.
It’s not a lie. It’s not telling everything. It’s leaving out a big part.
It’s fine to figure that out on the first date or in a phone call.
It definitely needs to be on the first date though. I don’t know how I can talk about what I do.
It’s sooner than that. The lie of the fibs is so minor. Of the fibbing that happens on the apps, it’s about as benign a fib as you’re going to get. I think that’s fine. Let’s wrap up with a couple of quick things. This is interesting where you are in your life. It sounds like you’ve transitioned. There’s all this opportunity. You’re having a bit of a renaissance and freedom.
It is interesting being a single mom and being pretty much okay, but being stressed about money and being in similar situations financially and not being stressed at all. It’s almost like you’re in your twenties like, “I’ll figure it out” type of thing. Whereas when I had the kids to take to soccer practice or whatever, it was hard.
That’s where the midlife crisis comes. There’s this U-shaped function about happiness and age. Almost all the bottom of the U is caused by raising children. It’s a wonderful, meaningful and purposeful thing, but hard.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I almost would’ve had them sooner because I lived in downtown Chicago. It’s super close to Zanies. I wanted to do standup comedy and didn’t do it. I didn’t start until I had two young girls.
How old were you when you started?
I was 34 or 36.
The ratio of male to female comics is so high for a variety of reasons, lack of mentorship, lack of opportunities and so on. Some of it is the lifestyle is brutal on anyone, but it’s not female friendly, especially is not family-friendly. That’s a hard element. What caused you to get on stage at age 34?
When I was thirteen, we moved from Indiana to Durango, Colorado, in the middle of sixth grade with a brace on my back for scoliosis.
Nothing is worse than being a sixth-grader with scoliosis.
Moving in the middle of sixth grade.
I remember those scoliosis checks.
I had to run relays with the boys and the girls because I already had it. The girls would go into the gym and get tested, while the boys ran the relay in the gym. I just stay out with the girls and the boys. I had to run relays non-stop because I already had it. I wear a brace.
You’re already planning for Fit Singles at age twelve.
It is like a plastic corset and it had four Velcro straps to keep me growing straight up and down.
Do you know how they still treat it?
I don’t know. My dad was a physical therapist but he’s out of it. He said sometimes and this was many years ago, that they can stimulate the muscles. It’s like put tabs on one side of the back to strengthen them.
I’m sitting up super straight right now.
I apologize if you can hear the chair squeaking because I’ll sit down and then stand up. That was a very awkward and awkward time for everyone. My good friend was, I felt beautiful, feathered hair and Hispanic. I’m super tall, just gawky. We would go over to her house to watch cartoons after school. Her dad would be there sometimes and he was an alcoholic. He once said to me, “You’re so pretty.” That horrified me and made it very awkward. It was creepy. She turned up the TV and told him to be quiet. He told her, “Shut up bitch” and something shot out of my mouth that made them both laugh. That was the hardest room I’ve ever had to work. It changed the tone of the room though. It went from one way to the other. You could control the room.
That had an effect on you.
Yes and that it made her happy, made me feel good and that I could stop him from hurting her. She got ovarian cancer and died when we were sixteen. I didn’t mean to keep that so short, but I did for the sake of time. As I would go visit her being a teenager, I would think nobody dies from cancer when they’re a teenager. I know I’m not visiting her much but I thought it’ll be back to normal when she gets everything taken care of. She was mad at me the last time I saw her and I couldn’t make her laugh because she’s dying. I took on that guilt. Why did I live? Why did that happen to her? When I had my kids, I felt for her mom. Her mom would say, “You should come by the house,” after she had passed. I couldn’t do it. After I had kids, I felt her death again. I wanted to let her mom know that someone still thought about her daughter.
That’s sweet. I’m getting all emotional.
[bctt tweet=”Be organized, write, and perform the whole act so when the opportunity is there, you’re ready. ” via=”no”]
I wrote to her and I always thought my friend’s birthday was November 17th because my best friends were like 16th, 17th and 18th. I’m like there’s something about people born in that. I held onto the letter for a day and then I sent it and she wrote me right back. I got this on her birthday, which was November 4th. I had her birthday completely wrong and randomly sent it to her mother so that she got it on my friend’s birthday. I let go of the guilt. I always had a little bit of guilt. I let it go and go, “Why am I not doing things that I want to do?” I didn’t specifically go to be a stand-up comedian. I took an improv class, an acting class and being tall and acting. I’m taller than a lot of the guys. There are many variables that have to be perfect even in a play and to have it work. I love stand-up comedy. I love listening to Steve Martin as a kid, the albums. I started doing stand-up comedy.
You can adjust the mic stand.
You can talk about whatever you want and you can control the room.
Stand-up comics are actors. The average person doesn’t recognize that enough. It’s a rehearsed material. They just happen to be executing. They’re both the writer, the director and the actor. It’s like Bradley Cooper. That’s so nice of you to send that note.
Thank you. I was glad I did that.
This is my hard-hitting question for you and then we’ll end with an easy softball. Now that you have more freedom, you’ve done a good job raising your kids. When are you going to start letting go of all these crushing expectations you have for yourself and the world has for you? I’m going out on a limb. I’ve only known you for 1 hour and 14 minutes. The feeling of guilt, when are you going to let that stuff go?
I think it is a constant thing.
Is this something that is an issue in your life? I can tell it is.
Yeah, it bugs me. That’s very perceptive.
First of all, it’s not a crazy prediction only because the average person struggles with that. The only thing you’d better is if you were Catholic or something like that. I’m kidding about that. The issue is I’m a little affected because it might be the podcast that gets launched. I’m not sure when it’ll get launched. It’s probably going to be after yours, unfortunately. I interviewed Ari Shaffir. That is a preview for the forthcoming podcast. Ari is one of the freest people I’ve ever met. It’s inspiring.
Would you say that’s unusual for comedians too?
I think that comedians often have the opportunity to be free, but Ari is like the next level of freedom kind of thing. It’s striking to hear him talk and see how he walks the talk and so on. There are different forms of freedom. You have financial freedom, but that freedom from guilt. What is guilt but either your own or other people’s expectations inhibiting you from moving freely in the world, thinking the way you want to think and behaving the way you want to behave?
Going back to the sandwich story, it was such a habit to go to that place like making myself wrong when nothing was even wrong. I found something to make myself wrong and that I could observe or at least be in the moment worrying and observing myself.
That’s your comedic talents coming out. The comic can have both of those things where they can have the experience and then the meta of knowing that they’re having the experience. Most of us just have the experience. You can imagine a whole other set of non-guilty cognitions, which is “That guy’s doubly lucky tonight.”
Yes, thank you. I would say that I’m getting better. You gave me something to think about. I would put pressure on myself to even be better at it. It’s the fact of letting go instead of trying to be better at something.
Maybe I’m phrasing it wrong. Maybe the better way to phrase it is what do you want to do with your guilt? In the same way that I’ve recognized that like a little bit of anxiety, I’m not sure I could ever escape it, so I should embrace it. Obviously, I want to minimize it. I wouldn’t want it to become worse. I certainly would rather sleep through the night. There are already enough things that keep getting me up at night, having to pee. Maybe the better way to have to ask that question is what do you want to do with your guilt? How might you use it? How might you have been of service to others? I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong about that. Given your profession also, there seemed to be something freeing about giving fewer shits as the comic.
I would say right now I’m learning how to do that offstage a little bit more. Onstage, I feel like I have it but now I need to let go of it offstage to experience life and then have something to talk about because that’s typically how I go.
I’ve been profoundly influenced by my comedian friends and acquaintances. I’m trying to be much more authentic at the very least with people with who I am close with. I’ve learned that from comics more than my therapist and I’ve got a great therapist.
Nancy makes me want to do that too.
Because she’s like that.
She’s very much like that on stage too. She makes an intention to be in the moment on stage.
To be authentic and be willing to share these scary things. I’m not interested in doing that stuff with strangers because it’s over-sharing. As a comic, it makes sense because it’s entertaining and compelling, but with the people, I’m close with, I’m trying to do that stuff more. You have to trust in your relationships. You have to trust that these people love you.
That can be scary like you brought upfront for a male ego.
I feel bad for these guys. In a world where we’re rightfully focused on women’s rights, trying to level the playing field, righting wrongs, #MeToo and all of these kinds of things. We have to be very careful about turning men into the bad guys because where are we going to go from there? It also ignores the fact that not every man is truly privileged, despite his maleness. There are a lot of men struggling in the world. These guys are less equipped than women getting help, building support structures and so on. I’ll be honest, there are not a lot of good resources for them. It’s why Joe Rogan is so popular. Rogan is masculine, fearless, walks the talk, successful and smart.
He’s authentic and at the moment too. He’ll say whatever.
I didn’t see it coming when I was on his podcast years ago. There’s a reason that he’s become such an important man in America. This is not a critique of him. I wish there were more men, some of which might be a little less libertarian and a little more progressive. You’ve got Peterson way over there. You’ve got Jordan who’s much more moderate in that sense, even a little more liberal, a little more cooperative. I make fun of them because I can and they’re easy to make fun of, but I also understand that you don’t have to stop growing just because you’re in your 50s. It’s hard to start growing again if you haven’t grown in 30 years. You’re not going to do it if you’re hiding away your fears and troubles.
It’s almost terrifying to make that first step.
You can get back to me on the guilt stuff. It’s more of a rhetorical question. Here’s a softball. What are you reading, watching or listening to that’s really good that stands out? That’s one or two things.
I just grabbed a Mark Masters’ book. It’s a great read like at the airport and things like that. I’m not good yet.
What an optimist that guy is.
He’s so good. It’s about him starting comedy and I think he’s in his 40s, but doing the open mics. It’s interesting being on the other side, seeing how it is being new talent and all the open mics and things like that.
Mark forced himself onto my podcast. You’re not surprised.
I’m not surprised at all. He’s great.
I don’t have many people solicit being on the podcast. I’m very happy I had him on the podcast. It was easy to say yes to him because he has an interesting story as a late addition to the world of comedy. He is like a mechanic. The guy is spreadsheets. He read the transcript of the podcast and corrected typographical errors in it. The man is so thorough. It’s inspiring. I would not bet against him for that. In a world where people might have good instincts and natural kind of comedy chops, there is the person who maybe lower on that attribute but checks all of the boxes, call the clichés, dotting the I’s, crossing the T’s, following up on that stuff. I think I called the podcast episode Being a Professional with Mark Masters because I was struck by that.
That’s how I started listening to you. I was emailing back and he’s like, “Listen to the podcast.” I clicked on it. I haven’t listened from you for so long, so I started listening again. He’s helping us on the technical side of the podcast because Nancy’s busy. He’s so good at like, “Steph, we’re at the end of the month. You should give me the MP3.” I heard on your podcast that you were wrapping this up and I’m like, “My website’s not.” “I’ll get everything perfect and then I’ll reach out. I’ll ask Nancy to do” and before he sent the email to the two of us. I’m like, “We’re going.” That was good. Sometimes I need that push, so thank you, Mark.
Mark, nice work. I’m sure this is going to pop up on your Google alerts. You finished his book.
I haven’t finished it. I’m reading it.
That probably makes you a little wishful for your early days of comedy.
I totally wished there were podcasts when I first started because having two young kids and you drive one way, you drop them off, wait twenty minutes pipe and not being at networking men like Laura Callahan, rest her soul. I was having trouble getting on the road because guys wouldn’t want to necessarily travel. I give both sides to that. She took me on the road. If you could listen to podcasts, you could find out about writing. There are so many resources. Read his book, it’ll be so much. There are a lot more people though. That’s the only other thing. There’s a ton of people in Denver doing comedy, amazing, talented people.
It’s great for the consumer. I was thinking about this. I had a guest on, Solange Castro, and she was talking about this. It’s just a crush of bodies trying to do stand-up. I was saying, “This is good for the craft because the more talent you have, the more likely you’re going to find the next Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle or someone who’s incredibly naturally talented in a way that you ought not to be.” It’s good for comedy, but if I was advising someone, I’m always like, “Escape the competition, escape the competition.” This is a business where all the competition often looks alike, sounds alike and telling the same kind of jokes.
That’s where Mark has an edge too because he’s so organized, writing and perform the whole thing, so when that opportunity is there, he’s ready.
I’m going to make a prediction about Mark. I bet he ultimately find success doing something else comedy related, not stand-up. I’m not saying that because I don’t think he’s a funny stand-up. I’m saying that because there are more opportunities in some other part of the world. Anyone who’s doing stand-up will be better at that other comedy thing because they’ve done the stand-up. You can’t skip that step. It’s necessary but not sufficient. Your other thing, you’re not good yet and then what else?
I am obsessed lately with First We Feast. Have you heard of that YouTube channel? Sean Evans is the host and he has celebrities on and they eat progressively hotter wings. To me, that’s being authentic like you have no choice.
I bet he reveals who the person is.
Yes and I’m amazed by the host too because he does it every week. If you could interview Shia LaBeouf was my favorite one. He’s in a movie that’s coming out, Honey Boy. He’s got two. It’s about his dad. My kids watched the show that he was in when he was a kid. Everyone else takes a little bite, it seems for most people.
He’s a bit of a mad man.
He is. I feel like he could take the physical pain because his dad puts so much emotional trauma on him. He put a dab, he goes, “Let’s do this.” He put an extra dab of hot sauce on each wing. The host did it with him. He just put it in his mouth, rips it off, throws it in and just keeps talking. His tears were starting to come out and sweating. Part of it is like, “I would love to be on that show but could I do it?” I go to Costco and get the medium salsa and I’m mad because it’s cheap, but it’s medium and I’m like, “This is too spicy for me.”
You might struggle. You can train for that though. That’s the thing about spice. I may be the only person in America who doesn’t watch food pornography. I don’t watch any of these shows. I don’t know anything about them. I know a couple of names but it is a never-ending supply. It’s striking. That’s fun. I will put these in the exhibits for our audience who wants to see them. Stephanie, this was great. Thank you for doing it.
Thank you so much for taking a break from your book.
It’s important to do this. This is feeding the book, so it’s not really a break. It’s a break from editing. The book is called Shtick to Business. I’ve got covered designs happening. We have a tentative launch date in February. It’s all very real. I said I was never going to do another book and here I am. Thank you so much. This was great fun.
- MentalPause Comedy Show
- The Twilight Moan Podcast
- Mark Masters – previous episode
- Nancy Norton – previous episode
- Comedy Works
- Ari Shaffir
- First We Feast
- Solange Castro – Previous episode
About Stephanie McHugh
Stephanie McHugh is a comedian, speaker, voice over artist, and humor coach. She has been part of the Denver Comedy scene for over 16 years. She was on Nick at Nite’s TV Show “America’s Funniest Mom” and The Steve and Stephanie Morning show on KOOL 105. Stephanie’s is a co-founder of the MentalPause Comedy Show and The Twilight Moan Podcast. Stephanie also coaches speakers and entrepreneurs on how they can add comedy to their own presentations to connect more with their audiences.
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