‘Martha Stewart set women back a hundred years,” says comedienne Maureen Langan. “She’s all about knitting and quilting, even making your own bread.” Langan’s gripe is that her very own Irish mother came to the United States to find a different world for her daughter, not more kitchen chores. There are a lot of things in this world that make her angry and they all inform her comedy performances.
Another peeve is how everyone cheers for a messed-up celebrity who goes to rehab and comes out less messed up. “I never was a mess,” says Langan. She went to Montclair State College (now University), made good grades, never did drugs. The insinuation is “where are my cheers?”
Cheering will undoubtedly follow her appearance, however, at Comedy Central’s “Something to Laugh About! A Benefit for Women Helping Women,” on Tuesday, April 8 at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick, sponsored by Comedy Central. Langan also opens for Joy Behar on Saturday, April 12, at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City.
Women Helping Women, a 30-year-old non-profit organization in Metuchen, serves more than 5,000 women, young children, and teens each year with affordable therapy and support services. The agency’s programs are designed to assist individuals struggling with issues related to domestic violence, sexual abuse, divorce, depression, loss, self-esteem, peer pressure, relationships, and addiction.
After graduating from Montclair with a degree in communications, she built a career in journalism, which led to making award-winning documentaries for the Public Broadcasting System. She wrote and produced a prime-time piece about New Jersey’s political leaders that won a Cable Ace Award.
She began her journey toward comedy as a host on Bloomberg Radio and later, the television off-shoot from 1991 until 1998. Her contribution was a satirical look at world news, commentary, and celebrity interviews. “I could put my personal stamp on these and that made the work very fulfilling for me,” Langan says. However, when Bloomberg decided to run for mayor of New York City, the station became strictly business and “redefined” her job: no more satire was their implication. She was asked to report on money market stories aimed at older people. Her reply, as noted on her website and repeated during a phone interview, was “I’d rather stick pins in my eyes. I had found my voice doing humor on a daily show; I couldn’t put it back in the box.”
Since she had always seen the humor in everyday situations, Langan decided to try her skills at stand-up comedy. Actually, she finds very little difference between stand up and her journalistic work. “I used to look at the outtakes when I did television, and they cracked me up.” Even as a high school student in Parsippany, New Jersey, “I enjoyed getting everyone laughing. I was a good student, but in class, I always had quick one-liners to add to whatever was going on.”
Anyone who frequents comedy clubs or watches television comedy shows, must certainly have noticed that most comics are men. Times may be changing as attested to by this month’s cover story in Vanity Fair, “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” focusing on “Saturday Night Live” performers Krisen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey (a “Saturday Night Live” alum now writing, starring, and producing the television show “30 Rock”), as well as others including Sarah Silverman. Though Langan is happy for any success and visibility women comics gain, she finds the photos that accompany the Vanity Fair article — in which Wiig, Rudolph, and Fey reveal lots of skin in the back of a limo and crash out, Linsay Lohan-style, in a post-partying tableau — demeaning. “If those were men, they wouldn’t be tarted up. Those are brave, smart women. They’d still be brilliant in a potato sack or their jeans and T shirt.” In her act at a club the night before we talked, Langan told me that she had asked the women in the audience if they had gone to college, and urged them, “Throw out the books. That’s not how you get ahead. I know the proper use of the semi colon and it doesn’t matter.” She reminds me that she’s making a joke, but there is an underlying truth. And therein lies the power of her comedy.
Langan has built a busy career in stand up, appearing in clubs nationwide. She’s a regular at New York City’s premiere comedy club, Caroline’s on Broadway. She has nothing but praise for Caroline’s but notes that in general, when you look at club and television lineups of comics, there will usually be one woman and five men, occasionally, two women.
“It is at times harder for a woman, but a really good woman can stand out. You have to stay focused. It’s sad — if there are six men on a show, it’s a comedy show; if there are six women on a show, it’s a chick show. You’d never say, if you saw six men on a bill, ‘Oh, this is just for men.’ But not the other way around.”
A long-time Joy Behar fan, Langan is delighted to be opening for her at the upcoming performance at Atlantic City’s Borgata. She has done this a number of times over the past months at various locations. Langan and Behar became acquaintances partly because they are both members of the Friar’s Club, a long-standing gathering place for comedians and other show biz folk. So when Langan began her celebrity interviews for Bloomberg television, she called Behar, who became one of her first guests on that show. “She’s down to earth. It’s a pleasure to work with her,” says Langan.
A Jersey girl at heart, Langan grew up in Lake Hiawatha (which, she always reminds everyone, “is not on a lake”), with five siblings, all of whom have non-show-biz careers in fields like engineering and social work. As an Irish immigrant, Langan’s mother provides fodder for a lot of her daughter’s comedy; her dad is a retired garbage man. A few years ago, she met her husband-to-be at the Jersey Shore. When they were planning their wedding, “for a giggle” she sent an announcement to the New York Times. “You have to be the son of a shah or daughter of a prime minister to make their society pages.” She wrote that she was the daughter of an antiques collector and a “procreation expert.” To her amazement, she made the cut and their nuptials were a featured event on the society pages on September 28, 2003. An avid runner Langan also trained in Morris County for the New York City Marathon; she was dismayed when an injury made her give up endurance running. Which reminds her of another “outrage.”
“Look at Kirstie Alley on the weight-loss commercials: she was really heavy, went on a diet, lost some pounds. That’s great. But when I stopped running and went from 130 to 140 pounds, people said, ‘Look how Maureen’s let herself go.’ This is absurd to me. Even now Alley isn’t down to 140.”
It’s not “absurd” but rather apt that Langan will make the audience laugh at the Women Helping Women benefit. It’s a cause close to her heart. For two years (until last August when it went “belly up”) she was a host on Gloria Steinem’s Green Stone Media radio program designed specifically for women, which played in 12 markets around the country.
Pete Dominick, best known as the man-at-the-mike from Sirius Satellite Radio’s live daily show Comedy By Request with Pete Dominick on the Raw Dog Comedy Channel, will host the April 8 fundraiser. He appears regularly at the top clubs, including the Comedy Cellar, Gotham, the Comic Strip, Caroline’s, Comix, Stand Up NY, Dangerfield’s, and The Laugh Factory. He also warms up audiences every evening on Comedy Central’s hit show, the Colbert Report. Dominick’s act is largely inspired by his personal life, as well as his interest in politics and social issues.
Rounding out the lineup is Wali Collins, a frequent entertainer at comedy clubs from New York City to Los Angeles and as far away as Holland. He has been featured on HBO, ABC’s the View, Comedy Central’s Tough Crowd, VH1, and David Letterman. Collins is a regular on the independent film circuit, having appeared in “Clair Makes It Big” and the award-winning “Maybe Means No.” Collins’ familiar face has popped up on television in endless national commercials, on Spin City, and as host of the PBS series, Wild TV. Comedian Robert Klein has said, “Wali Collins is versatile, smart, and very, very funny.”
In addition to her comedy work Langan still does what she terms “serious and extremely personal” writing. She’s currently working on a master’s degree in non-fiction writing and working on her memoirs. This summer, she’s attending a writing program in San Miguel, Mexico, sponsored by the University of New Orleans. “It’s going to be wonderful,” she says.
Comedy Fundraiser, Tuesday, April 8, 7 p.m. The Stress Factory, 90 Church Street, New Brunswick. Three comedians. Proceeds to benefit Women Helping Women. $40. 732-545-4242.