Living on 24 Hours: Mary Lynn Rajskub interview

Feature by Tony Makos | 02 Aug 2016
  • Mary Lynn Rajskub

24 Hours with Mary Lynn Rajskub namechecks the TV series the American comedian is best known for, but her longstanding comedy smarts should make Edinburgh a natural home

Fans of noughties TV drama will recognise Mary Lynn Rajskub as the uber-grump hacker Chloe O’Brien from FOX’s almost-real-time show 24. What UK audiences may not know is that Rajskub has been a comedian since the mid-90s, beginning as part of the alternative West Coast scene alongside Jack Black, Janeane Garofalo and David Cross – even starring in the original cast of the cult classic sketch show Mr Show with Bob And David.

Aside from 24, Rajskub landed roles in countless formidable TV comedies such as It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Arrested Development and Flight of The Conchords. In 2009 she returned to her roots, touring the beautifully titled Mary Lynn Rajskub Spreads Her Legs, an autobiographical stand-up and theatre hybrid about becoming a mother for the first time.

Spreads Her Legs was very focused on me meeting my husband,” she tells us. “I had given up on men and he was just a hot piece of ass to me – and I ended up getting pregnant. That show was all about my son’s infancy and how we were thrown together. This is the next chapter of that – it’s about how you can create a family while maybe not even liking each other, which I think is pretty normal. Ultimately it becomes a story about communication with my husband and my child, and how you might hate somebody but it might end up being love.

“My stand-up tends to be story-based, but here we take these short bits and jokes, where you go, ‘What’s the story behind that?' One in particular I’m thinking of is a joke about me feeding my kid too much candy and him being constipated, but I sort of anchor that story in how my husband and I deal with it – and deal with each other.”

The more dramatic nature of the show has presented Rajskub with some unexpected challenges, such as an attentive audience: "The other night when I did my theatre piece – for the first time in an actual theatre – it was jarring because they were paying so much attention, they were listening and were saying ‘aah’ and I’m like, 'Would you just talk among yourselves? I don’t like how much attention you’re paying to me!'

I was so used to late night sets and having to quickly get the attention with a joke that it felt weird... Yes, they were completely with me, but I was like, ‘Stop being so sympathetic! Start drinking, eating, somebody yell at me, somebody fall asleep, please!'

"This show has a lot about me being on the road and grappling with being a woman in comedy, and also acknowledging that I am recognisable from 24, but also that there’s a 24-hour aspect to my life.

While the TV show was still on the air I went into clubs and they would be packed with people who just thought I was going to play the 24 DVDs. They really didn’t want to hear about my C-section or my nether regions. They were a little bit taken aback at how personal and raw it was.

"Now that the show is off the air I’m still doing that circuit – I’ll get the hardcore fans who sit at the front, with the people who don’t know why they’re there at the back. There’s the polite lady at the front who's like, ‘There’s Chloe!’ and then there’s the guy at the back who’s incoherent.”

The mixture of stand-up, drama and storytelling seems to suit someone who has spent a lot of time in front of the camera, as well as on stage. “Looking back at other stand-ups, the stuff I was always attracted to was always those spaces in between the jokes – I used to get very bored at just joke-telling because we all like it when you crack and you can see the spaces in between the funny. I really am looking for that hybrid. It’s been wonderful to have that wide-ranging experience.”

24 Hours With Mary Lynn Rajskub, Assembly George Square Studios (Two), 3-28 Aug (not 15), 8.20pm, £8-12.