Julia Sweeney: "I Feel Like I've Finally Grown Into Myself"

Sep 27, 2018

Julia Sweeney poses for a photo during a visit back to her alma mater, Gonzaga Prep, this week.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

The comedienne Julia Sweeney is back in her hometown this week. One of her main reasons for coming back to Spokane is to perform her one-woman monologue, “Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider.” That’s Friday evening at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. But she’s also here to visit her mother and see old friends. On Tuesday, she went back to her alma mater, Gonzaga Prep, to talk with students about her career and to teach them about improvisational comedy.

Sweeney recently moved back to Los Angeles after 10 years in Chicago. She did some writing, some teaching with the famed Second City improvisational group. After her talk, Sweeney invited eight students up on stage to do a variety of improv exercises.

Julia Sweeney teaches Gonzaga Prep students about improvisational comedy.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

“At Second City, I was helping with a history of comedy in film class. I fell so in love with the students. All I wanted to do was to be there, teaching this class," Sweeney said. "And then I thought, no I have more in me before I want to be a teacher or whatever. And I was performing and I was loving that. But just doing that makes me crazy about how much I want to become a teacher.”

She’s also reveling in being a mother to her daughter Mulan.

“Last summer, we went on 14 college tours. I could give the college tours by the end,” Sweeney said.

Mulan chose to attend The Ohio State University because of its engineering program. It also is one of America’s great traditional football powerhouses.

“We get the application form. We get all the tickets. It says you should buy your football tickets on this day. It doesn’t even say optional. It just says buy football tickets. This makes me crazy. I tell Mulan she does not have to buy football tickets and she says I want to try it out," Sweeney said. "So, for our family, my husband and I, who are not sports people in any way, we’re like, ok, try it out. But we’re pretty confident she’s not going to like it.

"I’m waiting that first day. I get the call from her. It’s the greatest experience of her life. She already understands everyone’s position and she had all kinds of comments that I can’t even regurgitate here that require inside knowledge of football. She had memorized the fight song. She has now gone to four games. She paints herself red and wears a red outfit and was part of a whole hashtag Buckeye thing. She’s already put down her down payment to go on a bus to go to Penn State when they’re playing them. She thinks football’s great," she said. "It is so hilarious, it’s like she’s in a cult. It’s like we have to accept her, she has songs and parades and slogans and…she’s in a whole other world.”

It’s a world that is fair game for her mother when gets up on stage.

“But I will run it by her first. She gets to say yes or no. And in fact, the show that I’m doing, 'Older and Wider,' I tell a really personal story of her, really personal of her first boyfriend and how it ended in a bad way. It’s a long story and it’s a big part of the show. And I was never going to use that, even though, I have to say, it was hilarious how it all came down," Sweeney said. "Then she brought it up to me; she said you should use that story and I said, ‘Really?’ and she said, ‘Yeah. Do it.’”
 
Julia Sweeney turns 59 in October and she’s finding a new place for herself in the performing world. “Saturday Night Live” is in her past. Monologues are her main vehicle now. But she’s eyeing new acting opportunities as well.

“I do feel like I’ve finally grown into myself. I’m the right look for my personality. I could tell in Wilmette, even before I moved back to L.A., I’m going to be the mom on either a TV show or a comedienne or something like, I won’t be the main character. But I’m going to be a good support character and I’ll probably be a mom. And that’s what happened," she said.

"I got on this show, ‘Shrill.’ It’s coming out on Hulu in March and I’m Aidy Bryant’s mom and I’ve already had other inquiries from other big comedians about playing the mom and I feel like this might be my time. I don’t know. We’ll see. I want to work until I’m 80 and then, I swear to God, I’m quitting. If I’m lucky enough to live that long, I would love to work and work. I love it. To me it’s fun,” she said.

“Did it help moving back to LA?” she is asked.

“Oh yeah. It’s so funny because my husband’s trying to retire from his work in Chicago but it’s been hard for him to figure out how to do it and then I was so hankering to get back to L.A. and then I got this part almost on my transition to L.A. and he said, ‘Well now, you could live in Chicago. Now that you have this series, why don’t you just live in Chicago?’" she said. "But I want to be in L.A. because it is where everything’s happening and I’m going on voiceover auditions, plus I lived there so long it feels more like home than Chicago does.”

When Julia Sweeney finished her session with the students, she lingered awhile, talking with kids, reveling in the few minutes she had to talk with her old high school drama teacher, posing for pictures. She’s had a few days to immerse herself again in her hometown.

“My mom lives here and she has a condo here and I love it and it looks out over the city, so my big relationship with Spokane is looking out from her condo to downtown. And I walk up to Manito Park and I walked over to Marycliff this morning and I walk over to Huckleberry’s and I walked up to 26th and Lincoln, which is where we had our old house that I grew up in," Sweeney said. 

"I have friends that live here. I’m still close with about eight girlfriends I went all the way through school with. We’re getting together on Thursday night for dinner. So I actually still have a pretty strong relationship with Spokane. Like I could totally live here. My husband wouldn’t live here, he would feel like he would be the only Jew anyone knew."

Julia Sweeney’s “Older and Wider” show starts Friday night at 8 at The Fox.