Tulis McCall in ‘At Your Service,’ Directed by Austin Pendleton
Whenever Tulis McCall performs I make it a point to stop by and catch her show if I can. I primarily do this for the laughs and the uplift. Watching her top off her crowd work with original riffs and exquisite pacing and delivery, I receive a healing. I completely identify with her wisdom about sex, male machismo, the mirror, hating the “shocking” physicality of aging, and the irresponsibility and obliviousness of youth concerning aging. Her humor about the terrifying impact of being referred to as a “woman of a certain age” stings with truthful riot.
There should be more Tulis McCalls around. Indeed, let’s get real: Boomer women outnumber most generational female groups. And of course, the more hysteria (as in LMAO) we have to assist us with the aging process, the easier the medicinal truth goes down.
Tulis’ latest edition from the consciousness-raising joke-sphere is entitled At Your Service: Advice From a Woman Who Knows Better. It shone, as do all of her performances. On Monday, 3 December, Tulis came out with a drink in her hand and advised all of us to join her. And so we did. Pangea’s back-room features a Cabaret/Dinner Club. It serves a nifty menu and most everything alcoholic your heart may desire. So there we sat and laughed with Tulis about ourselves as once more she “let it rip!”
Tulis’ humor strikes with sublime prickliness. About getting older she quipped and questioned. What happened? Like all of us, first she did a few things here – and then she made some statements there. Then came a few other things over there. Then, all of a sudden, ARGH! She’s facing a number once deemed an impossibility!
Time and age don’t work in tandem. Mental oblivion and time work in tandem. And when something, some pressure, some stress, some blip crosses our path, the revelation of age comes upon us like a tree trunk crashing on our heads. We can never return to our youth. This reality, enough to send folks off a cliff or into a bottle of Wellbutrin, becomes the hammer in Tulis’ toolkit of life-bending hilarity. Better to watch a Tulis performance. The only side effect you’ll sustain is laughter, which is good for your well-being. Especially if you are a thirty-something with “the darkness” of aging approaching.
Austin Pendleton, noted actor, director, playwright, and teacher, directed the show. Under his guidance Tulis’ moments of annoyance at life’s regrets prickled with authenticity. Her emotions of hating what she sees in the mirror seemed more pronounced. And her steely deadpan delivery appeared measured, cool.
The bits throughout were great. Some stood out for me. She shared a story from her teenage years about taking a break from life, and the vitality of doing this often. A shattering moment occurred when she was a teenager. She left school one day with one of the “cool” ones, a teen whose enviable insouciance made her popular and well-liked. When they went to a hamburger joint and ordered, the teen shocked Tulis by ordering “fries and a Coke.” She took a break from the routine, the regular, the sacrosanct marriage of meat and potatoes. In going to the irregular, she refreshed herself. The amazed Tulis didn’t know the possibilities of such a “transgression” until her adventure with the cool girl. Then and there she learned the importance of stepping outside the routine and beyond the box.
Indeed, the idea enthralls. Take a break from running around. What can be gained from the accumulation of anything, including educational degrees (how many lawyers have found this out when they discover they hate their jobs?). Take a break from ambition if you can. Don’t go out and buy something when stressed. And those activities on to-do lists should be thrown out, she quipped, especially if one has yet to do them. They will always be present and turn up on another list. This entire segment wowed us because of its wisdom and the stupidity of us not “breaking away.”
Her sound advice resonates in New York City where everyone’s a climber. The fact remains that the just-around-the-corner prize may be snatched away at any moment by an irrefutable fact that no one easily acknowledges: Immortality isn’t the inevitability we think it is.
This became funnier when she asked the lifted hands of those who knew they would die. Of course all hands went up. When she asked how many of us believed it, really? Well, there wasn’t an overwhelming response. For those who fear truth, Tulis has a knack of helping one wrap one’s mind around the ridiculousness of one’s own self-deceptions.
Death is a fascist despot. There is no countermanding him. Thus one must confront one’s own conceptualizations of this despot with courage. So when Tulis cha-chinged this on her subject list to riff about, her funny approach brought miles of laughter. Twerking a blip in pacing, and timing, Tulis walked Death into our consciousness. Then she personified him/her/it with drink in hand, pulling up a a beach chair and sitting next to her. It may be my faulty memory, but Death should come calling with champagne or a martini. However, perhaps it was because I reached the end of my drink that I thought Tulis imagined him with one, too.
In any case that witty personification slays the fear and terror of death’s association. Maybe it’s because I am chilled by the horrors of Death characterized as skulls, gruesome Scream masks, and animated skeletons. So imagining Death in a beach chair suited me fine. And what I loved even more was that Tulis gave Death marching orders. Not ready to go, yet!!! Neither am I. And neither is anyone else, I imagine. The next time fears of Death poke their heads around the corner and try to dominate, I will throw a beach ball at them and picture Tulis’ absurdist personification of Death sipping a gin and tonic.
For a humorous wit and wag, Tulis is no joke, serious about her comedy as all fine comedians should be. She’s won awards including the 2016 Best Standup Award for Are You Serious? – A Woman of a Certain Age Inquires and the 2015 Best Storytelling Script Award from United Solo.
There are only three times the word “awesome” can be used, she told us. Having multiple orgasms is one. She discussed how young people refer to “women of a certain age” as “dear,” like an epithet. She has the perfect solution for correcting the gun problems in our country. I absolutely doubled over with belly laughs as she “took us to the visuals.” Her riffs about mirrors add up to a time in the funhouse. Her observations about our lives being a numbers game ring with wisdom. Indeed, she has become my expert about how to do a Walkabout in our culture as “a woman of a certain age.” This includes an addendum about how we didn’t get there, though everyone else thinks we’re past it.
Tulis McCall’s show at Pangea directed by Austin Pendleton ended the same evening it began, after about an hour and one-half. She will be performing at various venues. Watch out for notifications. In this time of raging White House infirmities, take a Tulis McCall break. You’ll be happy you did.