Welcome to our series On the Verge, where our contributors highlight comedians they feel are ready for their next big break. Whether they’re already working in television or still waiting to land their breakout gig, these are just some of the comedians we’d like to see more of over the coming years – ideally with a show, film, or other comedy project of their very own.
Austin’s huge comedy scene doesn’t get a lot of respect from larger markets, but between improv and standup popping up in practically every building in the city, more and more talents are rising from its homegrown community. Though she recently transplanted to LA, the latest Austin comedian getting (and deserving) that spotlight is Maggie Maye. The Harlingen, Texas native started doing standup at Austin open mics in 2009 and quickly became a favorite performer around the city. Since then, many a list of up-and-coming comedians has included her as “one to watch,” and it’s understandable why. A punchy observer of others’ foibles, prone to covering topics from Harry Potter to the ways trashy white guys can ruin a woman’s credit score, Maye’s brainy, geek-inflected style leaves audiences all over the country doubled over.
Maye is often described as “sassy,” though that doesn’t track with her actual comedic style. She writes geeky jokes with a smartass edge and has the intelligence to root out hypocrisy on the fly. Many of her bits focus on the real meaning behind things, including dictionary definitions — she even has a joke on the meaning of the word sassy. And if I had to go the way of comparisons, her act feels like more like a millennial Joan Rivers. Maye possesses that same blunt punch Rivers was known for, and she pulls off the ninja feat of making her self-deprecation charming and, crazier than that, utterly confident. She’ll make fun of herself, poking fun as her own fashion sense. As she explains it, “I have a unique sense of style. I like dressing like a five-year-old whose dad has her for the weekend.” If something is nonsensical in the world, Maye will surely point it out. In another bit, she takes on the idea of what is or isn’t considered racist: “How is it racist for white people to do ‘black people stuff,’ and not racist to think there’s ‘black people stuff’? No one ever says, ‘She came up with 200 uses for the peanut? She’s acting black!’”
Maye’s been known as a standout standup for some time — she’s been a finalist in the competitive Funniest Person in Austin contest (which now has around 250 entrants every year) something like five times. Not that Maye is egotistical or even keeps track of such things — when I asked her, she had to look it up. In the last year or two, you may have caught her on Conan, Gotham Comedy Live, or Last Call with Carson Daly or touring clubs and comedy fests around the country.
All of which easily could have not happened at all. Maye wrote jokes for some time before gathering the hutzpah to get on stage. As she told me, “I’d write a set and convince myself it wasn’t good enough, so I’d throw it in the pile of things to fix later. But one day a thought popped into my head, loud as hell, that if I didn’t do it now I never would.” She called The Velv, Austin’s famous standup room, that day, got on the open mic, and just kept going despite the nerves. “I nearly threw up the first couple of times,” she said.
What’s especially enjoyable about Maye’s sets is her mastery of words and the way she invites an audience into her brain with a dazzling smile that invites viewers into her worldview. Her sets feel almost like she’s the smart bored kid in school making cracks under her breath when the teacher’s not paying attention.
But while her writing skills have always been strong, recently she’s really come into her own as a performer. She has a relaxed presence to match, commanding the stage without trying too hard. As she’d found her voice, her jokes had gotten even tighter, and more so, she looked truly relaxed and in charge on stage. More than one to watch, she’s one that’ll make you laugh even in the worst moments.
Photo by Kim Newmoney.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, TX. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Paste, The Hairpin, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.