Acting Up? Jen Fulwiler Will Send You to the Naughty Corner!
Catholic Comedienne’s Newest Show Is Drawing Raves on Prime and Other Sites
Kids are funny. Raising a household of them, homeschooling six kids while also writing books and building a career, has its challenges but also its moments of droll humor. And for Catholic comedienne Jen Fulwiler, having a large family has actually turned out to be her ace in the hole: “If you’ve ever tried to make teens and tweens laugh,” Jen explained in a recent interview, “they’re the hardest audience!”
That “making them laugh” thing? Jennifer Fulwiler has had a lot of practice. It started, she explained, when she was blogging at the Register: “I noticed that over and over again, when I used humor in my pieces, it was more pleasant to absorb and I got a bigger response.”
Jen thought about how she might be able to reach a wider audience, and eventually, she veered toward comedy stage shows. She honed her craft at home with her six children, testing what types of stories would entice giggles. From there, she expanded into what she calls “garage comedy” — setting up chairs, and inviting her neighbors and her own kids to a stand-up routine in the garage. By watching the reactions of her small audience of family and friends, Jen was able to improve her routine. “I learned the hard way,” she confessed, “that just because something sounds funny in my own head, it won’t necessarily draw laughs from the crowd.” When she took her material to local comedy clubs, she found that the audience guffawed at the same stories that had elicited eyerolls and titters from her kids. It turned out, she joked, that a drunk comedy club audience is at about the same level as a fifth-grader.
Taking the Laughter on the Road
When Jen decided to give up her talk show on Sirius XM and take her stand-up routine on tour, she found that nightclubs were skeptical. “Your comedy is good,” the club managers would say, “we’re impressed.” But Jen was new in the comic space, and after a long line of X-rated acts, the managers just weren't convinced that there was a market for clean comedy featuring a mom with a minivan full of kids.
Not to be discouraged, Jen self-produced a national comedy tour. She used Google Maps to identify possible venues in untried markets, and she cold-called theaters. She’d put down her personal credit card to reserve a night — typically Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, when theaters were cheapest — at venues with 300- to 1,000-seat capacity. And sure enough, people just showed up. Fulwiler described her typical audience as “people who live in the suburbs and love their life, but who don’t always feel that they perfectly fit there.”
One of Jen’s self-produced sold-out shows was held at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles, Illinois, west of Chicago. In the 1920s, the historic Arcada welcomed vaudeville artists including Fibber McGee and Molly; later, the theater featured iconic Hollywood personalities such as George Burns and Gracie Allen, and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen with his comedy partner, puppet Charlie McCarthy. Jen Fulwiler’s unique brand of mommy comedy turned a new direction for the historic theater — but it was well-received. Her hour-long show The Naughty Corner touched on the absurdities of modern parenting — homeschooling her six children so that she can sleep in on weekday mornings; attending mandatory parent meetings with vodka in her travel mug; fighting off scorpions that find their way into her Texas home.
A New Turn — This Time, to Television!
And now, everyone can experience Jen’s ironic humor. Spirit Juice Studios, a Catholic production company, collaborated to film her performance at the Arcada Theater. The filming of the live event brought some challenges: For one thing, Jen realized that with eight cameras throughout the theater, a teleprompter was out of the question — there was nowhere to post a set list to guide her through the hour-long show. “So I had to do it in one take,” Jen reported, “with no notes — and I couldn’t do anything wrong!” She noted that stand-up comedy, like music, has a certain rhythm to it, and that makes it important that the lines be delivered verbatim.
Did Jen succeed in remembering the lines, the stories, with no back-up? Absolutely — and beginning in November, The Naughty Corner is now available for free on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and anywhere that comedy specials and albums are streamed, sold or broadcast.
In this time of pandemic, when we worry about our health and our families and our jobs, The Naughty Corner promises some much-needed levity for the whole family.