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Coming Back: Spokane’s favorite daughter, Julia Sweeney, brings her one-woman show to town

September 27, 2018

That didn’t take long at all.

The boxes were not even unpacked in Julia Sweeney’s Hollywood home when the call came: She got the part.

And not just any part, but the kind of part she’s coveted since she decided to relaunch her Hollywood career this summer after a decade as a stay-at-home mom.

She’s playing the mother of a comedian on a sitcom.

The comedian is Aidy Bryant, from “Saturday Night Live” and “Girls.” The show is “Shrill,” based on the acclaimed memoir by Seattle writer Lindy West. Oh, and her new boss is her old boss: “Shrill” is being produced by Lorne Michaels, the creator and longtime producer of “Saturday Night Live.”

The six-episode series for Hulu recently wrapped up shooting in Portland and is expected to be available in March 2019.

“It was the most fun, fun, fun thing,” Sweeney said in a recent phone interview. “I’m still pinching myself about it. I really can’t believe that happened. It was like, in a second, I was back in the game.”

The actress-comedian-writer, who starred on “Saturday Night Live” from 1990 to 1994, had a busy acting career and earned acclaim for her one-woman shows, “God Said, ‘Ha!’ ” and “Letting Go of God.” Then she moved to the Chicago suburb of Willmette with her husband and daughter Mulan, worked as a homemaker and put her career on hold for a decade. With Mulan off in college, Sweeney vowed to get back to show business.

As part of this plan, the Spokane-born Sweeney is coming home to bring her new standup comedy show, “Older and Wider,” to the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Friday.

It’s a show she developed at Second City in Chicago as her daughter wrapped up her final year of high school. It touches on suburban motherhood, living in a multiethnic family, family vacations and the 2016 presidential election. In preparation for a family trip to Vietnam, the family watched Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, a move that had Mulan wondering why Americans would be at all welcome in Vietnam. She reflects on Pat, her most famous character from “SNL,” wondering if she was the “Al Jolson of androgyny.” She talks about returning to Hollywood as a 58-year-old.

In its review, the Chicago Tribune writes, “Great autobiographical comics need a sense of their own ultimate insignificance, and Sweeney … always has enjoyed a rare ability to stand outside her own self and view her own life as no different from any other character.”

“Older and Wider,” which she performed at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle in July, is filled with bits that are at once funny and profound. Sweeney, who first developed her acting skills as a member of the iconic Los Angeles improv troupe The Groundlings, can easily hold the stage and tells stories that draw on her own life to paint a larger picture.

She’s booked a two-week run of “Older and Wider” at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in February and still hopes to take it on the road and film it. But at the same time, she admits, “Older and Wider” is about a chapter of her life that is now closed.

“Even the end of that show is like, ‘I’m going to go to Hollywood and try to make it,’” she said. “And two months later, that’s old news.”

Working on “Shrill,” which also stars John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Itch”) and Luka Jones (“Her”), reminded her again what she loves about working on a series.

“I love being on a series. I love the regularness of the whole crew, this whole big concentrated effort with all these people,” she said. “I love everything about it.”

If “Shrill” gets picked up for a second season, something they should know by early next year, she’s completely up for another summer of shopping at Powell’s Books and eating in Portland restaurants. Meantime, she’s still auditioning for roles and is already at work on her next one-woman show. Tentatively titled “I, As Well” – she expects that title to change – she’s trying it out over 13 Sundays at the Groundlings.

“I’m hoping after 13 shows, I’ll feel like it’s going to be another show,” she said. “Then by the time ‘Older and Wider’ opens in February, I have another show almost ready in my back pocket.”

Overall, Sweeney is finding her decision to return to Hollywood to be a fortuitous one.

“I’m so happy here,” she said. “I keep saying to my husband that if I get hit by a bus today, just know I reached peak happiness.”

And while it didn’t take her long to scratch one job off her bucket list – playing a comedian’s mom on a sitcom – she’s not ready to let go of the dream.

“Now I want to play another comedian’s mother!”

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