, Salem, MA

April 25, 2013

Wicked funny gal

Comedy tour comes to North Shore Music Theatre

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — BEVERLY — Kelly MacFarland could always find the humor in almost any situation.

“I was always making people laugh,” she said. “A trip to get a cup of coffee — I could make that into something hilarious. It’s just looking at things from a different perspective, and making it obvious.”

Early last Friday would be an exception, however, when MacFarland was locked down in her Watertown apartment and listened as the Tsarnaev brothers — alleged bombers of last Monday’s Boston Marathon — exchanged gunfire with police.

“I was petrified, it was so close by,” she said. “I could hear the officers, which made it even worse. I spent a good 45 minutes crouched down in a safe place in my apartment.”

As one of four comics in the Wicked Comedy Tour this Saturday at North Shore Music Theatre, in a show to benefit North Shore Elder Services, MacFarland will try to bring a smile back to everyone’s lips.

She has appreciated comedy’s double-edged ability to harm or heal from an early age.

“I remember my mother saying, ‘That mouth is a gift, but it’s also going to get you in trouble,’” she said. “When you think a 4-year-old might have that as their earliest conversation — how fast-talking is this little jokester?”

The potential for comedy to alienate, as well as entertain, may stem from its origins in a comic’s own insecurities.

“Everybody has got this baggage,” MacFarland said. “Mine was, I’m 5 feet tall. I have the curves of a 5-foot-8 woman, squashed down into this sexy garden gnome of a body. To deflect that, I started using humor.”

MacFarland has mastered her gift over time, and far more people have been amused than offended by her shows. Indeed, if anyone was ever bothered when MacFarland got onstage, it was the comic herself, who battled stage fright in her early years as a performer.

After winning several rounds of a comedy contest in Portland in her native Maine, MacFarland worked stand-up there throughout her 20s, and her nerves gradually settled down.

She moved to Boston about 12 years ago and has worked at local clubs, from the Comedy Connection (“when it was in Faneuil Hall”) to the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square and the former Grill 93 in Andover.

She has appeared on Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend” and in the first season of the all-female comedy series “StandUp in Stilettos” on the TV Guide Channel.

MacFarland said she was lucky in the beginning to have worked with veteran comics like Tony V, Jimmy Dunn and Don Gavin, who were always supportive.

“They said, ‘You have something, people like you. You just have to figure out how to be yourself onstage,’” she said.

“You have to find the place where you can be the person that can captivate everyone. For me, it’s probably a little more of a sassy, amped-up version of myself.

“But I’m that girl. Every girl wants to be friends with me ’cause I have this crazy confidence. And the guys, too, because I’m not bad on the eyes, but I’m not going to make the girlfriend mad. And I get the joke.”

As a longtime member of the Wicked Funny Comedy Tour, MacFarland has had plenty of opportunity to see the stage personas of the three comics she will appear with on Saturday.

“I would say Kevin Flynn is Mr. Suave,” she said. “He is super-handsome — all the guys are handsome, but we’ll give him the title. He’s got this charm about him, even though he’s got a warped sense of humor, but it makes you love him because he can do no wrong.”

“Dave Russo is every Boston guy you ever met,” she said. “He’s the good old boy, he’s homegrown.

“Chris Zito is that cool brother ... who’s always got a funny line. He definitely will make you laugh.”

One thing this gang of four have in common is working in a variety of venues and modes, beyond stand-up comedy.

Zito has hosted a radio show for 30 years, while Flynn is a former professional soccer player and commentator who also hosted “Ultimate Collector” on HGTV. Russo has appeared on NESN’s “Dirty Water TV,” and MacFarland inspires audiences, in addition to making them laugh, as a wellness speaker.

“At a certain point in your career, you don’t master stand-up, but you get really good at your craft, and maybe you grow up a bit,” she said. “I want to spread some joy. There’s got to be another way for me to use these talents, in another avenue.

“When I started doing wellness, eight years ago, I wanted to help people not take themselves so seriously and feel good about who they are right this second.”

Saturday’s routines will be strictly stand-up, however, and all the healing will be through laughter.

“New England folks appreciate a genuine, down-to-earth human being they can relate to,” she said. “Boston’s a really tough, resilient city. The crowds have a good sense of humor, they’re not pompous, and they don’t put on airs.

“The comedy here is easy if you’re just a human being.”

If you go

What: Wicked Funny Comedy Tour

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly

To benefit: North Shore Elder Services

Cost: $40-$50

More information: 978-232-7200 or