As snowstorms rage across the country, my mind is on one particular comedian. When Maggie Faris is not starring in comedy clubs across Minnesota’s Twin Cities and the Midwest, she is at the wheel of a city snowplow in Minneapolis-St.Paul.
If you’re curious about the life of this unique funny snow wrangler, you must listen to her new album Tougher Than A Honey Bee. Maggie says, “I have been doing stand-up for over 20 years, but I have always struggled to talk about my own stories and my own issues.” Listening to this stellar, very personal, consistently hilarious album, it is clear that this effervescent comedian has overcome that struggle.
Honey Bee is not just about snow plowing, although behind-the-wheel secrets are revealed. What are snowplow operators thinking as impatient drivers execute unwise maneuvers around them? Maggie has gleeful, very funny, maniacal and unexpected answers. (And some threats.) What do snowplow drivers do when it’s not snowing? Well, they’re the folks at the Department of Transportation keeping the city’s clogged, hazardous arteries running smoothly. That’s not a simple matter, either. How does one intrepid DOT employee, one of the few women, clear the speeding highways of fallen sofas, kayaks, mattresses and roadkill? No spoilers, but Maggie’s creative (and true!) answers to every one of those questions had her sold-out crowd laughing hysterically. As I listened to her album for the fourth time, I was laughing nonstop, too – it’s just as funny every time.
There’s a bit where Maggie describes her macho co-workers bragging about barbecuing as if it’s an extreme sport. Sometimes when I’m hearing comedy at its finest, I actually have visions. As I listened to Maggie, in my mind I saw her building a palace up to the sky as she riffed on her colleagues’ escalating boastful “recipes.” She builds one solid gold brick of inventive comedic imagining on top of another, up to the stratosphere. Listen to the album and you’ll know exactly what I mean by that. She is also a master of one of my favorite things, the well-placed callback.
Maggie seamlessly interweaves personal revelations into her buoyant addictive set. Where does she draw the line with her sweet-tempered vegan wife when it comes to animal rescue? I won’t give it away, but let’s just say there are some things Maggie won’t do to save a fly. She also falls into absurd marital mishaps which tend to be misunderstandings stemming from her perpetual optimism. There are countless highly entertaining family moments, like how a Minnesota State Fair ride operator destroyed Maggie’s carefully planned special day and her terrifying introduction to her mother-in-law-to-be. She intersperses her material with an astonishing repertoire of impressions and voices that are so dead-on, it can actually sound like there is more than one person on stage. Maggie also makes good fun of the LGBTQIA “alphabet mafia” with comparisons to the actual mafia. It’s all gold.
It’s no wonder Maggie is the recipient of numerous awards, including Funniest Clip of the Year, the Silver Nail award at the Aspen Comedy Festival and “Best Comedian” according to her Minnesota comedy peers. Curve Magazine named her one of the Funniest Lesbians in America and she won Advocate Magazine’s search for the Next Funniest Queer Comedian. Another competition win once made Maggie the Public Address Announcer for the Minnesota Twins’ farm team, the St. Paul Saints. She has been invited to perform at comedy festivals nationwide.
Maggie kindly spoke with me by phone one wintry night about her life in and out of comedy.
OVERCOMING A ROUGH BEGINNING
Teme: How did your comedy career begin?
Maggie: My sister was waitressing at a comedy club. I used to go hang out with her. I started watching the shows and I thought, “Oh, I could do that. That looks easy.” Of course. I decided to try the open mic there and I died a horrible death. I didn’t even get one laugh. I got groans a couple times. It took me six months to try again. But I was like, “Oh my God, I have to try again. I did so bad.” So six months later I tried again, and I got a couple of little chuckles. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Teme: How did you get past that first difficult time?
Maggie: First of all, I cried for a couple hours after that first open mic, and then I just kept thinking about it, and I just kept wanting to redeem myself. I knew that deep down, I was a little funny and I could probably figure this out. So it just kept gnawing at me to go try it again. It took me six months to do it again, but I rewrote everything. I totally changed everything from the first time and it went better.
Teme: What about comedy speaks to you?
Maggie: I love the fact that it can bring us together. There’s so many different kinds of people and we can all connect through laughing. My mindset has always been that people work their butts off, whatever they’re doing, all week long, and they just want to let go and relax and enjoy. And I think I’m pretty good at providing that service. So I like to do that for people.
There’s health benefits to laughing and enjoying, so I try not to polarize my audience, but I try to bring people together on the fact that we’re all human beings and we’re all struggling, trying to get through life. That’s the part I absolutely love about it, and that it’s something that a person is able to do and continue to do and do and do again and again and again. I still enjoy that after twenty-three years.
Maggie Faris/Photo by St. Paul Photo Co.
Teme: You’ve said that in the past, you’ve struggled to talk about your own stories and issues. Why? And does this album reflect what you’d hoped for back then?
Maggie: That first time I did so bad, I did a really personal set. So I think I shied away from that for a long time. I just wanted to be funny. So I just wrote jokes, but none that I really connected to. It probably took me ten years before I started talking about personal aspects of my life again and doing more self-reflection on stage. This album is the most that I’ve ever talked about myself and told my own stories. Up until this point, I have been doing observational stuff and things that I think are funny in the world. But this album was definitely more about me and my relationships and who I am as a human being.
Teme: How did you develop the ability to find the funny in life?
Maggie: I come from a very funny family. All of my family is very quick-witted. We would get together for holidays and the only way to get in there was to have a quick wit. Also, I was kind of an oddball in school. Having a quick wit and being the funny one got me closer to people and made me some friends. I definitely think I developed that through my childhood.
Teme: When you see something with potential for material, how do you process it and turn it into comedy?
Maggie: I think that it comes later when I reflect on it. One of my favorite things is just on stage telling what happened and then going back and listening to see if there were any funny parts. Then I cut the rest out and add in. Then every time I tell that joke, I add new lines and see where else laughs come until it becomes a great story that has lots of little punches in it.
FINDING THE GOOD
Teme: I don’t want to give anything away, but one of the things that struck me in your album is a story where someone drastically ruins a very carefully planned event. There were other challenging situations, but you are always so gracious. What is your advice for staying gracious and even funny when other human beings are challenging?
Maggie: The way you say it is so nice. This doesn’t always happen, but I try to see the good in everybody and love everybody and know that everybody is just trying to get through life and doing the very best that they can and maybe they don’t know any better. So to have a little grace and forgiveness I don’t think is such a bad thing. I think it gives room for people to grow and room for people to come around and room for people to connect when you have graciousness instead of anger and negative stuff towards each other.
Teme: Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Maggie: Did you hear the part about the meat smoking?
Teme: About your co-workers – yes!
Maggie: I’m really enjoying telling that because I keep adding stuff to it. And it gets so ridiculous, that it’s really fun to say.
Teme: You just read my mind. My next question is how did you build all the hilarious layers onto that bit, one after another?
Maggie: That is my favorite – jokes that just keep building and building. I only have a few of those, but I hope I can write more in the future. But that one literally, I just said one day. I was like, “All they want to talk about is meat and how to cook meat.” And then I just kept saying different ways. And like I said, I’ll listen and find out where funny parts are and add to it. Pretty soon, it turned into three different stories, and then that last story just got crazy. It’s so fun to tell because it’s so ridiculous.
Teme: I’ve listened to it several times and it’s just awesome.
Maggie: It’s true, too. I totally work with these blue collar dudes, and they only want to talk about hunting and cooking meat.
Teme: Again, it sounds like you’re very gracious as they’re telling these stories.
Maggie: Yeah, they’re nice dudes.
Teme: How did you develop your storytelling style? It’s very conversational and natural. How much do you plan and how much is spontaneous?
Maggie: I would say that all the bits are pretty dang planned out. I have almost every word under control, but I absolutely will go off script and talk to people and add stuff in. For me, the magic of comedy is what happens when you’re live and interacting with an audience because that part is so unpredictable. To be able to flow with that and enjoy that is a whole other skill set, which I love being challenged to do. That’s one of my favorite parts. Sometimes that’s where the really great magical moments happen – stuff that’s not planned and off script and someone yells something and you respond. Honestly, I think those things help because you can add them into shows later. You know, even say, “One guy yelled this at me and this happened.” Sometimes those moments are just gold.
DRIVING PLOWY McPLOWFACE
Teme: How did you decide to become a snowplow driver?
Maggie: I actually like plowing snow. There’s just so much to think about, like putting your plows down, putting salt down. There are a million buttons in the cab. There’s all kinds of things going on, and then you have to deal with the general public on top of that. So it’s very challenging and every day something happens different, but I find it to be a fun job. I got into that because I had my commercial driver’s license. I drove a semi for a little while, and I didn’t like that, just being far away from home. I saw there was an open house at the Department of Transportation. I went and checked it out, and I thought, “Oh God, that would be fun to drive those big trucks.” I applied, and they gave me a job, and it’s been almost six years now.
Teme: What is the training like?
Maggie: You actually go to snowplow operator camp for two weeks. They have all kinds of different challenges set up and classroom hours where you learn about safety and technical things. But until you’re really in there and it’s snowing, it’s like you have no idea what you’re doing. You’ve got to do it to learn how to do it.
Teme: What was it like to go out for the first time?
Maggie: It was so exciting. I remember the first time out, we didn’t even get very much snow, but it was so fun to just push it around with a big truck. And then the first time you get a significant snow, it’s just like, “Whoa!” That’s so fun. It’s kind of a powerful feeling.
Teme: It sounds super cool. I just realized I wrote this next question wrong, “Have you ever run into fans when you’re driving the snowplow?” I don’t mean literally run into — I’m sure you haven’t! But I mean, do fans ever recognize you when you’re out?
Maggie: No, I never get recognized while I’m in the snowplow. They have these “name the snowplow” contests in Minnesota, so they have silly names for some of the plows, like Plowy McPlowface and Betty Whiteout. Scoop Dog. There’s one that’s like “Oops Excuse Me, I’ll Just Plow Right Around You.” It’s a very Minnesota thing. The names are plastered across the plows. You’ll see people circling around them and trying to take pictures. But the trucks are up so high, you can’t really tell who’s driving it. So I’ve never gotten recognized plowing.
Teme: How do you balance a demanding and unpredictable career like that with a comedy career?
Maggie: Sometimes it’s hard. The nice thing about driving a snowplow is that we get a lot of time off. So as long as I’m planning early enough, I’m able to take the time to go do a gig. Also, I’m on the day shift. So even if it’s snowing, we work twelve hours, from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. So generally, I can get to an eight o’clock show if I need to and then go back to work at 7:00 AM.
Teme: That sounds like a really demanding schedule. What are your energy secrets? How do you keep your energy up for that?
Maggie: I can definitely get tired, for sure if you’re plowing through the weekend and you don’t get a lot of days off. I love naps. I will try to nap as much as I can. And I try not to book too much. I’ll probably book three weekends instead of four weekends a month when I’m plowing, or maybe even two. I’ve made it work so far and I really like being able to do both.
DOGS AND BASEBALL
Teme: You’ve done so many cool things! I read that you worked as a dog nanny and also as a public address announcer for the St. Paul Saints.
Maggie: I took care of one guy’s three dogs for three years. It was a fun job because you’re around dogs all day. But I needed health insurance and retirement and stuff like that. That’s another thing I like about driving snowplows. Comedy, there’s no benefits either.
Teme: What was your favorite thing about being an announcer?
Maggie: I think my favorite thing was hearing pockets of laughter when you said kind of silly things or off-the-cuff things. You could just tell when people were enjoying it. It was such a unique experience. I remember I had to lay out all my papers and tape them down on the table. I had six to eight different papers so I could follow everything that was going on and do all the ad drops and bring up all the players and all that stuff. It was really a fun job.
Teme: What were some of the announcements that you made?
Maggie: Oh man, I was controversial. Anytime there was a foul ball, I used to ask why a windshield company doesn’t sponsor foul balls because they’d go right up and hit somebody’s windshield. And then I always would say silly stuff like, “Congratulations to Michael and Megan on their engagement. Remember! Half of all marriages end in divorce.” Some people would just die laughing, and other people would be offended. But it was fun to poke around and play with that.
Maggie Faris/Photo by St. Paul Photo Co.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD
Teme: What is your most memorable story so far from your comedy career?
Maggie: I have two. One just happened. I say this little pitch when I’m selling merch, “I’ll take your credit card or Venmo.” And then I say, “In fact, you can rank my show from zero to 100. If you think I had the best show, send me a hundred dollars on Venmo. If you think my show was crap, send me ten dollars on Venmo.” This last week, a lady sent me a hundred dollars. And I was like, “Oh my God, it worked.”
Then I also did a show, God, it must have been ten years ago in a small town. This lady came up to me after the show. She was like, “I just want you to know that I’m a very conservative person, and I’ve never even met a gay person before. You really opened my eyes and taught me so much.” Then she proceeded to send me a pair of mittens that she knitted with one of my punchlines on the cuff with a really, really nice note about how I changed her perspective. That was just a very meaningful and touching gift for me.
Teme: I love that illustration of how comedy is a high calling and can accomplish so much.
Maggie: I mean, I always try to teach people a little, just push them just a little bit into being a little more open-minded and more tolerant, but without them really knowing it. I like to push them in that direction. So to have that result was just amazing to me. It was really a huge moment to me in comedy, and it was kind of what I’ve always been trying to do – to take people from the other side and just bring people together. So that felt really good. And I still have those mittens and I still wear those mittens.
Teme: What would you most like people to know about you and Tougher Than A Honey Bee?
Maggie: I hope they realize how much I love doing comedy and how much I work at it and am so happy to share the results with people. I hope that they enjoy it and get a laugh and are entertained by it. I couldn’t do it without people listening to it. So it’s just such a gift to me to be able to do it and be able to give it to people. I really appreciate every single person who listens to the album or comes to a show.
Teme: What’s next?
Maggie: I’m already writing, and I want to do another album. I just want to keep writing and telling jokes and doing live shows and writing more and more and more. I absolutely love crafting jokes. It’s so fun to me. I have to say, I’m surprised that at twenty-three years in, I love comedy so much. I thought for sure I would get burned out. I thought for sure I’d just sort of fade away. But every time, I love it more and more.
Teme: Absolutely anything else we should add?
Maggie: I’m very easily accessible. You can email me if you want to talk to me or hit me up on one of those social media platforms. I love talking to fans. I love talking about comedy. If anyone wants to connect that way, I am around for sure.
Find Tougher Than A Honey Bee on the Blonde Medicine label and on bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify
Connect with Maggie:
Facebook personal page: facebook.com/extrememaggie
Facebook fan page: facebook.com/maggiefanpage
Just released Weird Guided Meditation: maggiefaris.hearnow.com