When May Lee Davis was looking for a pizzazzy name to reflect her ascending career as a standup comedian, she was suddenly inspired by a large neon sign that identified the Santa Monica Pier. She added a well-placed P, and just like that, May Lee Davis became Monica Piper.
Piper is still going strong. Her latest performance was commissioned by the Jewish Women’s Theater and tells the story of her life in hilarious detail. The one-woman show is called Not That Jewish and can be seen at the JWT in its new venue at The Braid in Santa Monica.
She talks about her father, a vaudevillian who encouraged her by passing on his particularly Jewish shticks, and her mother, who specialized in making chopped liver. “So when a Jewish person asks ‘What am I, chopped liver?’ The answer is ‘Yes,’” Piper says.
She tells of her marriage to a blond, blue-eyed Gentile god and her mother-in-law’s wedding invitation which announced her handsome Harvard-educated lawyer son’s marriage to “a short Jewish girl who smokes.”
At that point, Piper says, she didn’t know which was worse, “being Jewish or being short.”
So, after she and the god divorced, she became an English teacher, but, she says, she “couldn’t handle the money or the prestige.”
Moving on, she studied improv with Second City in Chicago and then, going solo, she became one of Showtime Network’s Comedy All-Stars and landed her own Ace Award-winning Showtime Special, No Monica…Just You.
After being nominated for an American Comedy Award as one of the top five female comedians in the country, she went on to write for Roseanne Barr on the hit sit-com Roseanne.
She also wrote for Mad About You, Veronica’s Closet, and Duckman, won an Emmy for the #1 children’s animated series, Rugrats, and developed and wrote series for Nickelodeon, Disney, and Cartoon Network.
Then, with her usual “Jew ne sais quoi”, she married again, to another blond, blue-eyed Gentile. “It could have worked out,” she explains, “if he’d been an entirely different person.”
She talks about her neighbor, whose dog was named Get off the fucking couch. “And isn’t that a coincidence,” she says. “Her husband was named that, too.”
She talks about having a yard sale and finding that “a blouse I had spent $100 on no one would buy for a quarter.”
And then, with her biological clock ticking, she decided, at 41, to adopt. Her son Jake, now a young man, provides additional spice to her story, as she tells of the challenges of being his mother and bringing him up alone.
She also tells, with great poignancy, of the death of her father, her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, and her own battle with cancer. “So what do Jews do in times of crisis?” she asks. “They complain!”
But there is little complaint from Monica Piper. Turning adversity into comedy and idiocy into irony, she presents her life with no holds barred, and, despite the vexations, she appears to have enjoyed every minute of it.
And so will you.
Monica Piper in Not That Jewish will continue at The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave., #102. In Santa Monica on Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 and 7:30 pm through December 21st. Call (310) 315-1400 or visit www.jewishtheatreorg, for tickets.