Mary Gallagher

UW-Green Bay Theatre alumna has stand-up date on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Gallagher also looks forward to Fox TV Pilot with ‘Empire’ star Howard

Late night, get laughing! Mary Gallagher ’90 (Theatre) will be doing stand up comedy on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Friday, May 18. She also has a pilot show set to air on May 24 on Fox, starring with Terrence Howard, the Academy Award-nominated actor from the movie Hustle & Flow, and star of Fox television’s Empire.

Gallagher’s appearance on Stephen Colbert is her first comedy gig on the national stage, but it’s certainly not her first appearance on a stage. She’s been doing comedy, and acting, since she graduated from UW-Green Bay in 1990.

“After college I went to The Second City [a nationally renown school of improvisation and sketch comedy] in Chicago and studied improv,” Gallagher says. “I always thought I would just be a Midwestern stage actor, living in Chicago or Minneapolis. But at The Second City, I met Michael Markowitz, the comedy genius behind the movie “Horrible Bosses.” We became friends, and I followed him out to Los Angeles.”

In Los Angeles, Gallagher continued to hone her comedic skills with comedy classes and by joining improv and comedy groups — people that were both supportive and critical. Mary says, “I have built an amazing network of people who continue to help me…fellow stand-ups who share jokes and people who provide me with honest opinions and feedback. I actually like hearing criticism. It helps me grow and become better. I have a thick skin…well at least professionally; personally may or may not be another story,” she adds with a chuckle. “So I can handle it.”

After performing for improv groups the first few years in LA, Gallagher wondered if she could do a solo comedic act. So she tried it, and liked it. It took a lot of work, a lot of practice, and a lot of courage. “When I first walked up on stage to do stand up, it felt like I was jumping out of a plane,” Mary explains. “I was scared. But I just kept doing it until I wasn’t scared any more.” She took the LA standup comedy scene by storm. She performed up to four nights a week, plus hosted The Hollywood Improv. She performed everywhere she could: Comedy clubs, open mics, shows in bars, shows in restaurants, shows in recovery centers (AA), at churches, outside in back yards, even at a blood drive at a hospital.

“You name it,” Mary says.  I’ve done comedy everywhere.”

Then she stopped.

“I took a break from stand up, a 10-year break to be exact,” Mary says. I had a daughter and I wanted to raise her without the late nights and pressures of performing. I wanted to be present in her life, make her my priority.”

From The TV Screen To The Big Screen And Everything In Between
Remember, Mary has “thick skin” when it comes to her profession. Good thing, because even though she took a hiatus from stand up to raise her daughter, she continued auditioning for acting roles, as she has done since college. According to Mary, acting is based on rejection. “Thousands of people go after a part, then they call in 40 people for an actual audition, then it goes down to six or seven, and then finally two or three,” Mary explains.

Mary has made it down to that final two or three, and been the number one on more than a few occasions. Her very first acting job was as “Burger Customer #1” on the show “Sister, Sister” in 1995. She has since built her resume with appearances on “Friends” (1996), “Mad About You” (1998), “The West Wing” (2003) the big screen blockbuster “Flight Plan” (2005) with Jodi Foster, “How I Met Your Mother” (2013) “Grey’s Anatomy” (2015), “NCIS” (2016) the “Fameless” TV series (2016-17), and a Lean Cuisine ad campaign. According to Mary, “It’s pure will that allows me to do this…to be an actress. I don’t think I’m particularly all that talented.”

UW-Green Bay Theatre and Professor, Jeff Entwistle, one of Mary’s theatre professors and now close friends, says, “Mary doesn’t realize how much talent it takes to move that will. She has always had such a drive to create her own work and get it on its feet. To write comedy, to create her own material, to get on stage and pull it off, to put yourself out there and act…that’s talent.”

A Pilot Ready for Take Off
Gallagher’s drive has landed her a stand up gig on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on May 18, 2018.  It has also landed her a role on a pilot show on Fox. It’s being aired on May 24, 2018 as a test show, so Mary hopes a lot of people will tune in so it tests well and becomes a series! The title: “Terrence Howard’s Fright Club,” and Mary promises it will be fun and funny. “It’s exciting,” Mary says of the project. “The concept is unique, and it’s chocked full of high-energy escapades and fun…lots of fun.” The show follows Howard’s super fans on what they think is a VIP experience on his remote estate. But instead, they are subjected to things of which their nightmares are made. Literally. “It’s crazy! This is what I love!” Mary says.

From Titletown To Tinseltown – How She Got There
Mary Gallagher was born and raised in Elm Grove, WI and went to Brookfield Central High School. She decided to go to UW-Green Bay because she heard it had an up and coming theatre arts program. “There was a program called Communications and the Arts. I was interested in the “arts” part, and I knew my parents would approve of the “communications” part,” she says.

She had never been in any type of theatre, play or performance before stepping onto the UW-Green Bay campus. “One of my electives was an acting class. As part of the class we had to audition for the university play, which was King Lear. As I was reading the lines with King Lear, who was played by Professor Sherrell (the Theatre Chair at the time), I felt like I was speaking to my own father. It was at that moment I realized that I can always relate something in my life in the arts, and acting allowed me to play that “something” out.”

She auditioned for the part of Cordelia. She didn’t get that lead role, but she was the understudy and played Cordelia’s nurse/attendant.

“Mary has a positive presence,” says Prof. Jeff Entwistle (Theatre and Dance). “She always seeks out people and places from which to continue to learn, and she is also so willing, and able, to share her knowledge and what she has learned. She is a driving force behind creating original work, but she also collaborates beautifully,” he concludes.

Mary credits her continued success to the encouragement and support from her professors at UW-Green Bay. “When I was at UWGB there were two people whose encouragement still helps me today,” Mary says. “Professor Raymond Gabica, Jr. (who moved from UW-Green Bay to Western Illinois University) was so important in my growth as an artist. I would say he was the first “artistic” mentor I ever had. Ray has a great gift to take students and make them feel like they have just entered a new family in the theatre. I adore him.”

“The other person is Jeff Entwistle, as well as his wife, Donna. I wouldn’t have believed as much in myself without Professor Entwistle’s constant pride behind me. Every time I was on TV or did a film, there would be a “Congratulations!” from the Entwistle’s. When I was first on TV – on the show “Friends” – they were so excited for me!  They know everything I have ever done and have been behind me every step of the way encouraging and celebrating my career. They have also been there for me on very personal level. Jeff is such an inspiration, and he and his wife are who I model myself after coming out of Green Bay.”

Gallagher also acknowledges her parents, who are both ex-Marines. “They are the strongest people I know,” she says. “I am so grateful for the strength, confidence, and perseverance they’ve instilled in me. But I’m most grateful for their ceaseless love and support.”

Being Present in the Present
Through all the ups and downs and highs and lows, Gallagher has learned to be present in the moment. “The stories of how actors struggle are real,” Mary says. “But you have to decide your fate.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to be present. I don’t ever want to miss experiencing THIS. This opportunity to act. This moment to do stand up. This chance to be courageous and creative. It’s a gift of which I am very, very thankful, and I’m going to experience it all to the fullest.”

Gallagher will get her moment on May 18. The Late Show airs on CBS at 11:35 p.m. Eastern/10:35 p.m. Central Time.

Terrence Howard’s Fright Club” is on the Fox Television network. The pilot episode airs on Thursday, May, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central.

Q & A With Mary Gallagher:

When is the last time you were star struck?
When I had to bring Jerry Seinfeld to the stage.

What set was the most fun to be on?
An NBC pilot where Rob Reiner played my father-in-law. Rob Reiner! The show never aired, but I learned so much from him.

Who would you want to collaborate with? One what?
Adam Sandler. Writing and producing. My writing partner and I just pitched a movie to his company Happy Madison. After I met him, he then he allowed me to bring my daughter to the set of “ Conan” when he was on, so she could meet him. She was bouncing up and down on her tiptoes while talking to him, she was so excited! We just love him.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
When my comedy partner (1990 UW-Green Bay Theatre grad Amy Ketchum-Holterman) and I opened for Pauly Shore and Sam Kinison. It was not the right audience for two young women doing comedy! There were a lot of men hecklers asking us to show them things…and it wasn’t our comedic skills! But we made it through. It was then that I realized if I could get through THAT, I could get through anything.

What’s your biggest accomplishment (besides your daughter)?
Getting my stand up on Stephen Colbert!

What’s the main difference between Green Bay and LA?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. People are people wherever you are.

Feature by freelance writer Kim Viduski ’92

Photo by sascha knopf photography, www.knopfoto.com