Under the Sun

How Comic Joy Mamey Found Her Inner Mitch McConnell

Joy Mamey as Mitch McConnell and Aaron Matijasic as Jeff Bezos in a Capitol Comedy sketch.
Joy Mamey as Mitch McConnell and Aaron Matijasic as Jeff Bezos in a Capitol Comedy sketch. John Dlugolecki
The trick to impersonating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Joy Mamey said last week, is in getting his throat noises right.

“Mitch makes a lot of sounds in the back of his mouth while he’s thinking of what to say next,” explained the actress, who plays McConnell with Capitol Comedy, a musical comedy troupe that spoofs party politics. The group is playing this weekend at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. “Then you add a Southern accent to it, and you’ve got Mitch McConnell. I’m not going to say mine is a perfect impersonation of Mitch, but I get the gist of it pretty well. My version of him is more like a cartoon villain.”

Raised in Los Angeles, Mamey had always, she said, lived in the world of performing. “My dad was a conductor and a composer, so I was always around performers. In the eighth grade I was a Pickalittle Lady in The Music Man and I gave her a real weird voice. The audience laughed at that and that was it, I was in love with being laughed at.”

She got the gig with Capitol Comedy last summer by auditioning as Rachel Maddow. “I had her telling the story of Humpty Dumpty,” Mamey said. “I have short hair and I wear glasses, and that helped with my Rachel impersonation. They really liked it.”

But then the casting director asked Mamey to do Donald Trump. “Let me tell you, I don’t do a very good Donald Trump,” she admitted. “That’s why they cast me as Mitch McConnell. But I got the job, so that was good.”

McConnell is easier to do if you understand how people talk, Mamey said. “My mom is a speech pathologist, so I’ve always been aware of things like dialect and mouth placement and accents. It’s been interesting to dissect this kooky guy’s vocal patterns.”

Capitol Comedy is penned by comedy writer Nick Zill, though the cast suggests the occasional joke or line of dialogue. Zill’s political take is a moderate one that leans liberal, Mamey said. It’s comedy that doesn’t dig deep into whether McConnell is devious or if he deliberately stands in the way of progress.

“Nick takes one issue or topic and focuses on making it funny, instead of trying to imply the right guy or the wrong guy is in office,” she said. “We do end with a call to action about getting out to vote, and we talk about how there was a ballot box in Pasadena that got set on fire, and how voter turnout for people of color was larger than ever. But a lot of that can be hard to make funny.”

Playing a male in an age when people are learning to be more respectful of gender roles can be touchy, Mamey said.

“But I’m not dressing as a man in order to make fun of men or how men behave,” she said. “I’m playing someone in power who works to oppress people and punching up the ridiculousness of the cruelty of this person who happens to be a man.”

The other characters Mamey plays are both female, one of them a Republican southerner who advocates voter oppression. “I get to wear three different wigs in this show!” she said with a laugh. “And I get to show off my singing voice. We do this song call ‘When the Souls Go to the Polls’ to the tune of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ It’s all a lot of fun, even with all the quick changes backstage.”

These days, when she’s not impersonating infamous politicians, Mamey teaches improv to kids. Standup and sketch work is great, she said, but improv was the most exciting.

“I have a different approach to improvisation,” she said. “ The best thing you can take from it is the idea that everything you do is right. Thinking about your onstage choices as always right can lead you to all kinds of really great things.”

Like playing the Senate Minority Leader in a musical comedy spoof?

“Absolutely like that,” she said.

Capitol Comedy. 5 p.m. Saturday, November 27. Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 East Second Street, Scottsdale. Cost is $25 to $55. Visit scottsdaleperformingarts.org.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela