As a stand-up comedian, comedy writer and storyteller Monica Piper has toured the country, starred in her own Showtime comedy special, been nominated for an American Comedy Award, written for numerous notable sitcoms and won an Emmy for her work as a head writer for a popular children’s cartoon. Her fulfilling professional career, however, began in an unconventional way.
Before Piper was making people laugh, she was helping students expand their vocabulary as a high-school English teacher. Thankfully for fans of her comedy, teaching was just too much for her. “I had to leave teaching,” she jokes. “I couldn’t handle the money and prestige.”
Piper, a New York City-native and Los Angeles resident, is now bringing “Farmisht, Farklempt and Farblungit,” her one-woman stand-up and storytelling show, to Jewish organizations and synagogues across the country. Her next stop is the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia for its ninth-annual Comedy Night on Feb. 8.
“The whole idea is that Jews get through the darkest times by finding the humor in life,” she says of her show, which she notes is about being human. In one of her stories, “Schmatitude,” she delves into how she first became interested in comedy. “It’s because I grew up with a very funny father.” Watching him and learning to “find the funny” in situations, it just came naturally, she says.
You could say her career started when she lived in Chicago in her early 20s and joined The Second City, an improv school and comedy club. It was there she became fascinated with that comedy genre, and later joined an improv group in San Francisco called Holy City Zoo, where she got to perform alongside Robin Williams and Dana Carvey.
When she got to Los Angeles, she auditioned at The Comedy Store, and says she was put on the roster immediately and began performing improv there. Soon after, she was getting jobs on the road, which led to writing jobs for popular ’90s sitcoms, most notably Roseanne and Mad About You.
Seeing Roseanne Barr recite lines from her script and getting compliments from Helen Hunt were a thrill, she says, but after she gave birth to her son, she found it difficult to juggle motherhood and the long hours that accompany sitcom-writing.
Eventually, Piper landed the job as the head writer for Rugrats, the popular animated Nickelodeon series about the lives of toddlers, which ran from 1991-2004.
“That was absolutely great,” she says. “I got paid well to think like a 3-year-old, which came easily to me.” It was a thrill for her son as well, she notes, as it was everyone’s favorite show when he was younger. Piper loved writing for the show, the people she worked with, being with the actors while they were recording for their characters, and she especially loved the hours. She was able to spend more time with her son and attend his little league games.
Piper says winning the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Children’s Program for Rugrats in 2003 was definitely a highlight of her career, as her son had a little league game that same night. “The ceremony was the same time as his game,” she says. When she won, she called a fellow team parent and he informed her son and the rest of the team, to which one kid replied, “What’s an Emmy?”
Piper has enjoyed both stand-up and comedy writing, but says she had missed stand-up and is thrilled to be back on the road. “I’m so happy to be performing and making people laugh again,” she says. “Stand-up is instant. It’s there, it’s so in-the-moment.”
Whether she’s performing for an audience at an Alabama shul or at a women’s expo in Montana, Piper says there’s nothing quite like seeing people laugh heartily and loudly at her jokes. A motto she always remembers is something her father once told her: “Making people laugh is a gift, kid. It helps them take their mind off their troubles.”
A pre-show happy hour for JCCNV’s ninth Annual Comedy Night begins at 7:45. For more information on ticket prices, call 703-537-3000 or go to jccnvcomedynite2014.brownpapertickets.com.