|Janie Condon (Josh Manning)|
The “Raw & Unchained!” subtitle of Irish-American comedian (not comedienne, she emphatically tells us) Janie Condon’s show is a little tongue in cheek. She does relate some relatively raw, relatively unchained anecdotes of a mom from Greenwich taking her comedy show on the road, but overall Janie Condon is nice. Really nice.
Which can also be funny.
In her one-hour show, the NY Audience Favorite on NBC’s Last Comic Standing riffs on some familiar comic subjects– spouses, parents, kids, jealousy– but the sweetness that shows through her cheeky grin is irresistible (we talked with her for this week’s podcast, which will be up on Friday!). That sincerity mixed with self-deprecating niceness pull you into her story about her family, then and now, and her brother’s battle with mental illness. The piece, which runs Off-Broadway at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th Street) through May (it’s an open-ended run, I think) is somewhere between one-woman play/confessional and comedy routine, hitting the former a little harder. It wouldn’t work if you didn’t like her.
Janie Condon lives in Greenwich, one of Connecticut’s tonier towns (not a huge Irish-American contingent there, she told us); she wears pearls and is married to a Republican. But at heart, she’s still a girl from an Irish-Catholic family in the tough town of Brockton, Mass.
My Irish grandmother has a crochet pillow that says, DON’T MAKE ME HURT YOU!
she tells us. Her father was in the F.B.I., and when he would tell little Janie to look for the ten most wanted men, she’d just look on the streets of Brockton. Dad also liked to dress in drag when he was tipsy. He wasn’t an alcoholic, though:
We preferred to say he was a patron of the beverage industry.
|Janie with picture of Joe Condon (Kathy Tyler Conkli|
Many female comics riff on family; Janie’s niceness is different but doesn’t always work. But then she describes the process of auditioning for Last Comic Standing, how she tried out four times, and even had to camp out overnight. Watching this nice, nice lady get sucked into the seedy, exhilarating life is completely fascinating. And then you’re firmly on her side.
Janie talks about how she came to be a comedian, describing her school days in Brockton, the fierce Sister Edwardette, and how she ended up at very WASP-y Wellesley College, but it’s her journey to becoming a professional, touring comedian that stands out. The contradiction of a people-pleasing mom addicted to life as a comedian just charms. Director Gus Kaikonnen helps her keep the pace up and make physical connections between anecdotes, though at times the throughline of the plot is a little fuzzy.
Her first performance in New York was the night of the Bush-Dukakis election, and her husbandadmitted to the MC that he’d voted for George Bush. For the rest of the night, the MC called him “Mr. Bush Voter Head.” When Janie went into her set, she did her fist ad lib ever: “Hi, I’m Jane and Mr. Bush Voter Head is my husband.”
On the road, she goes to an outlet store, and on discovering that it’s a (gulp) adult outlet store, she gives a little cheeky grin and figures she’s here already! When in one hotel the room is so damp she sees mushrooms growing on the floor, she decides to go out with the other comics after all– leading to the “raw and unchained” experience.
Which only makes it harder to take when she describes his struggles with what was then diagnosed as schizophrenia, leading to bouts of rage and violence, commitment to an institution and suicide attempt. But through all of that he had moments of lucidity and humor that continued to inspire her. And her clarity and kindness as she describes his decline in turn inspires. She chokes up when she describes the nuns who came to his funeral:
The nuns, they don’t know my brother. They’re here to support me.
Or maybe they just came for the lunch!
It’s also real.
Like Janie Condon herself.
Janie Condon: Raw & Unchained! runs Saturdays and Sundays at 5:00 p.m., Monday and Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th Street). Tickets at Telecharge, 212-239-6200 or the St. Luke’s Box Office.