Saturday, March 27, 2010

Present Laughter: Maggie Hall LeVine

It’s all in her expression, in the way she talks to folks in the audience as though they’re friends she’s sitting down to coffee with. Receptionist by day, stand-up comic by night, New Yorker Maggie Hall LeVine has a down-to-earth style that works well for her, both onstage and in her blog, “Maggie’s Musings.” “Hey, I like yapping about myself,” she observes. “Why shouldn’t I make it my life’s work?”

Technically speaking, LeVine started doing comedy in the fall of 2006. But, in a very real sense, she has been doing it most of her life…if, as she remarks in that fast-paced way of hers, “you want to call being in seventh grade and wearing clothes that didn’t match and wearing too much make-up because I didn’t know how to wear make-up funny. People laughed at me then, but it was unintentional. Now it’s intentional.”

She acted for a few years, doing some television, indie shorts, dinner musicals, and off-off-Broadway plays. Then she landed a part in George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s “You Can’t Take It With You” as Alice, the one normal person in “a family of whack jobs. Even though she was the straight one, you have to have a sense of humor. And, ironically, my next major role was the comic relief in a murder mystery[, ‘A Murder Is Announced’]. I liked it – I felt more natural. And I knew that I preferred doing comedy to doing Shakespeare.”

A life coach advised her to do stand-up comedy: “She thought it would be a good thing for me.” So LeVine started combing craigslist for gigs. She landed a lot of “bringer shows” – i.e., shows that she could do as long as she brought five people to each performance. “It’s very commonplace for new talent to bring in some audience,” says LeVine, adding that doing this is “sort of like your entry fee.”

In the fall of 2007, she began “barking,” which basically meant going out into Times Square to pull in her audience. She now barks three nights a week, which enables her to perform the same number of nights that week. “Every so often, we have a chance to audition with Al, the owner of the Broadway Comedy Club and the New York Comedy Club,” LeVine explains. He sits down and talks with you about how you can improve. Even if he doesn’t pass you, he doesn’t make you feel bad about it.” She also interns at the New York Comedy Club, seating people and making sure they don’t leave without paying. She earns an extra spot during the week for doing that.

Some of LeVine’s favorite bits involve telling long stories, “but you might lose the audience, so I don’t do that too often. I tend to do personal stuff. I try to stay away from sex jokes because people can only take so many. I try to stay away from topical jokes….When the audience is laughing, you know that they get you – or that they’re roaring drunk.”

She definitely prefers stand-up comedy to acting. “The other barkers or performers are like family,” she observes. “Yeah, I think that’s what we are. There’s too much competition in acting – maybe three of you auditioning for one role – whereas in comedy, people are very supportive.” To underscore her point, she tells about a fellow comic who’d been barking for four or five years before he was “passed” and could “get extra spots during the week without having to do extra work for it. That’s a major goal for most comics starting out – to get stage time based on being funny, as opposed to how many people they bring….We were all very happy for him. He’d been working very hard.”

It has been tough.  Once, three years ago, she got shot down in 10 seconds after spending all night in the street, waiting to audition for “Last Comic Standing” – but LeVine, like Simon & Garfunkel’s fighter, still remains. “It’s like a lifestyle,” she muses. “Y’know, I don’t think I ever had a conversation with another comic that didn’t involve comedy. We don’t talk about family. We don’t talk about the weather. It’s ‘I’m doing this club.’ Or, ‘I’m doing a spot.’” Eventually, LeVine wants to perform full-time. She’s that determined. Or, as she puts it, “I guess comedy is one of those things where it’s harder to quit than to keep going.”

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