Why Emily Maya Mills Could Be the Next Carol Burnett

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Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Emily Maya Mills as Eve proves to God that women are knee-slap funny. - ANTHONY D'ALESSANDRO
  • Anthony D'Alessandro
  • Emily Maya Mills as Eve proves to God that women are knee-slap funny.

"By any chance, are there a couple of boxes out there on stage?"

Such was comedienne Emily Maya Mills's query to a fellow performer in the dressing room at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Mills needed a nook or two to stash a slew of props -- in the Lady Gaga number range -- for her 35-minute show God Hates Figs.

"There are minimal costume changes. I wear no shoes in the show, but everything else is the craziest prop situation I've ever handled," explained Mills about her 60th show at UCB -- her second one-woman -- directed by fellow UCB vet Julie Brister. "This is going to look like a living cartoon."

Though we live in a city that's a comedy bellwether, in particular the alternative comedy queen scene -- which over the last decade or so has been punctuated by such greats as Beth Lapides, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Maria Bamford, Natasha Leggero, to name a few -- we can lose track of what's new. Let's add Mills to that group of next-gen femmes helping to obliterate the women-aren't-funny cliche -- which, incidentally, is part of her act.

click to enlarge A few of Mills' favorite things: horse legs and furry sashes - ANTHONY D'ALESSANDRO
  • Anthony D'Alessandro
  • A few of Mills' favorite things: horse legs and furry sashes

I arrived Tuesday night expecting to be treated to her stand-up (see it check it out here), which she flexes around town at such rooms as What's Up Tiger Lily, R-Bar and The Virgil. To label Mills' material as strictly being related to current affairs is an understatement, because it's so much more, often underscoring or prognosticating the outrageousness of a situation (see her take on over-aggressive Los Angeles Times customer sales reps, or her extrapolation on the woman CEO of the extramarital affair site Ashley Madison). Accentuating this is Mills' easygoing cadence reminiscent of Teri Garr and fetching looks that arguably could get her mistaken as Carey Mulligan's sister. For Mills, the comedians she admires are Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner and contemporaries like Bamford.

In God Hates Figs, Mills displayed a melange of female characters evolving through time. But this wasn't merely a wig-swapping stock character revue, despite Mills' penchant for continually creating a zany dramatis personae. (Check out her promiscuous period lady opposite Thomas Lennon in Invention of the Zipper from her sketch group Birds of Prey.) "They're fragments of real people, for sure," asserted Mills about their grounding. Not to mention, she had some heavy philosophical issues on her mind -- in the Terrence Malick Tree of Life sense.

"I'm in a constant state of existential crisis, trying to figure out why we belong here and how people react and treat each other. I'm constantly searching through philosophy and physics," said Mills backstage, dabbing base on her face.

The show's title is a riff on the satirical protest slogan generated against the Westboro Baptist Church's anti-gay chant. "If you take the Venn diagram of the show and all the characters of the show, the show's title is in there," she said. "'God Hates Figs' was a joke that came up between my neighbor and I as we lived across from a Lassens. They gave a bunch of money to Prop 8 and they have these zany names for their food like 'The divine bovine turkey jerky.' We started joking that they're selling 'Hate hummus' and 'Hate wraps.'"

As the lights rose on God Hates Figs, "Carmina Burana" swelled and we found ourselves at a museum for humanity, overlooking the female exhibits. As Mills has done in some stand-up bits, she hits her laughs via an old vaudeville technique -- using sounds instead of spoken-word dialogue. Here, she is a grunting cave woman, displaying that women were even bulimic for the sake of their figure back in the stone age.

click to enlarge Not Swiss Miss -- Heather Littlefeather - ANTHONY D'ALESSANDRO
  • Anthony D'Alessandro
  • Not Swiss Miss -- Heather Littlefeather

Then there was Heather Littlefeather, a Massachusetts-accented, iron-fisted woman of Irish descent clad in Native American garb who recently learned that her real father was from the Piqua nation. "Now I know why I get in trouble for smacking cops. The white man is my mortal enemy," blared Littlefeather, who's filled ironies, such as she's allergic to corn and "that Iron Maiden is my spiritual band. I should be pissed at them for whatever they did to my people."

Backstage, Mills told me that she drew her inspiration for Littlefeather from a personality she spotted in a documentary. "Initially, I had a hard time identifying with her, but there was just something so visually juxtaposing in terms of who she was and how she sounded."

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