Interview with Julia Sweeney on Standup, Storytelling & SNL

Julia Sweeney

“Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider” is a standup show in the making! And fortunately for Rebellious, the actress/author and Grammy-nominated comedian made time to chat with us about workshopping the act and more.

Janet Arvia: You were on Saturday Night Live” for five years, so its hard to believe youre making your standup debut now. What took so long?

Julia Sweeney: Ha! I love that you say it that way. I always hung out with standups, and performed at alternative comedy clubs with them, but never actually considered myself a standup…I see it as a challenge to shape the things I want to say into short bits that are funny. So for me, it’s a very different area of comedy. But to almost anyone else, it’s practically the same thing I was doing before.

Pat, the iconic androgynous character you inhabited on SNL during the 1990s, spotlighted gender ambiguity in a time when it seemed taboo. Have fans shared their stories with you throughout the years?  

Yes! To my surprise I got many letters from people who are intersex…You know, the androgynous aspect [of] Pat was an afterthought. I was actually trying to play a male character and didn’t pull it off quite convincingly. So I threw a joke in about Pat’s gender being hard to nail down and it got such a laugh, it really took off. But then people liked the questioning almost too much. It got to be creepy to me how some people were so uncomfortable not knowing Pat’s gender…I think we’ll have truly evolved as a society when Pat is no longer funny.   

Storytelling is at the heart of your art. Why is it important, and how does humor help deliver the message?

Storytelling is the way the mind knows itself, and that means every human being is a storyteller. I always did love to tell funny stories. When I was young I didn’t think about the grand meaning of it, or understand the architecture of it, much less the psychology of it. But as I got older, I got curious about this aspect of myself and of everyone else. So, yes, it’s very important to me. And the humor, well, it’s the sugar that keeps people listening. For me it’s essential.

What are your goals for Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider?

I hope to have a 75-minute standup set that works. That’s my goal…I love this process so much. It’s like getting to work on a machine, and tinker and tinker. Or another good analogy is that it’s like doing experiments in a lab, and the [laughs are] your results and based on that feedback you make other experiments. IT’S SO MUCH FUN. There is literally nothing more interesting to me right now than doing this show.

“Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider” performs through March 18 at Judy’s Beat Lounge at The Second City, 230 W. North Ave., Chicago. For tickets and more information, visit

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to contribute to our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.