The Appliances Banned From My House with Stephanie McMaster

Each week in Give A Little Bit, we’re talking to funny people — comics, writers, cartoonists, senators — about the first time they got a laugh. This week, Stephanie McMaster talks about being Agent Scully, banned households appliances and making out with brains.

Your first bit…

I took myself way too seriously when I was younger. I wrote awful overwrought poetry and had dreams of writing the great American novel — something thick and serious. I was in drama club and school plays and I always hoped for roles involving tears and over-the-top emotion and was frustrated that I kept getting cast in the comedic relief roles. It wasn’t until we did this play called The Case of the Missing Gym Shorts in high school and I was cast as a crazed Romanian lunch lady who, in a Scooby Doo-like twist ending, turned out to be Agent Scully from the X-Files (this was a real play I suspect my theater teacher found the scripts for in a bargain bin somewhere) that I began embracing my funny side, I suppose. I played into the role and reveled in the laughs I got from the poor parents and family members who were forced to sit through that piece of theatrical shit to begin with.

Your writing process is…

In terms of writing jokes or standup material, when I sit down and try and focus on writing, it feels forced. I generally think the jokes are best when they come to me. A lot of my writing is inspired by my life or what’s going on in the world, so the jokes come to me naturally while I’m in the shower or driving or pretending to listen to my kids and I’ll jot them down and then sit down later and polish and refine. For longer pieces, I have to make time to sit down and focus and write and then later edit in all the shit that comes to me organically.

My influences are…

I grew up pretty sheltered in a strict Christian household. My mother was so strict, that Proctor & Gamble products were banned because of rumors the CEO worshipped the devil, so I didn’t have a whole lot of mainstream influences. My dad was a huge influence, though. He kinda went along with all the religious stuff, even though it was my mom’s thing, but he was the master at making jokes and laughing at the most inappropriate times. He and I both were often scolded for laughing during church services. He had an infectious laugh, and I basked in being the source of his laughter as a child.

Anything I actually enjoyed, entertainment-wise, was pretty much considered contraband in my house, but like an addict and a fix, I found ways to sneak it and despite MTV being a banned channel, used to watch The State with my hand over my mouth to stifle laughter, lest I get caught. I did the same, of course, with The Simpsons, which was also banned. When I slept over friends’ houses, I always made them stay up and watch SNL. It was during the Dana Carvey to Mike Myers years, so naturally Wayne’s World was a huge part of my childhood when it came out. Both Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day were deemed harmless enough for the house, and I watched both repeatedly and actually crushed hard on Harold Ramis when most girls my age had declared Christian Slater to be their heartthrob.

In regards to female influences, I naturally rejected the church and societal expectations that women be demure and well-behaved, and therefore gobbled up Sassy Magazine and had a copy of Salt n Peppa’s Very Necessary (in cassette form, of course) hidden under my mattress.

How I keep it all together…

When it comes to writing, I’m both the most organized person ever and a complete mess. I have all sorts of systems. For standup, I have a physical notebook, and then notepads on my phone, folders in Evernote, Word documents I use as some sort of master backup. For longer, more complex written pieces requiring a lot of self-editing, I use a combination of the Scrivener app on my laptop and my phone’s notes for shit that comes to me when I’m not free to fully flush it out. For a while, if I had an idea as I was busy or falling asleep and too tired to fully write it out, I would set it as a short-note reminder in my phone so I wouldn’t forget about it, but kept setting them for a random future dates and was inevitably confused when they went off. I recently had a reminder go off at noon on a random Tuesday that said “Jingle bell rock crack.” No idea what it meant, but sounds like maybe I was on to something?

I wish I wrote…

I have this exact thought all the time, or maybe something more along the lines of “I want to make out with the brain of whoever wrote that line,” when I’m watching a TV show or movie. Watching the latest season of Kimmy Schmidt I’ve wished for a director’s cut where each line can be attributed to its writer because some have just landed so perfectly. I recently binged Documentary Now! — created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers — and while I don’t necessarily wish I wrote it, I found it so comedically perfect that it made me long to be part of something like it. And then there’s writers like Augusten Burroughs and Domenica Ruta who are just so goddamn talented with words that I want them to bite me so I can maybe develop writing super powers.

A new bit…

I’m working on a pretty HUGE new project now: Growing a brand new human, who’s expected to wreak havoc on my vagina any day now. Although he’s my third child, social media wasn’t around when my first two were born so I’m really looking forward to all the fun I can have posting pics of him sleeping with dicks drawn on his chubby baby cheeks or his hands arranged to perfectly flip off the camera.

Stephanie McMaster is a writer, comic, mom and LEGO enthusiast who currently resides in Texas. She has four cats, one of which she had the pleasure of washing diarrhea from in the airport bathroom at DFW airport. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @Smethanie

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