Kentucky comedian gets grant to produce body autonomy show
Mandee McKelvey is a Kentucky comedian and storyteller whose one-woman show touches on sensitive topics and body autonomy. Her stand-up act has received critical acclaim and has been described as ‘vulnerable stories that matter.
It’s a Friday night at a Dayton, Kentucky comedy club where the audience is excited to hear comedian Mandee McKelvey's stand-up routine.
The Louisville-based McKelvey has been doing stand-up comedy for 17 years. She was recently named one of the 50 best-undiscovered comics in the country by the online entertainment media site Thrillist. On this night the petite McKelvey dazzles in a reddish/orange sleeveless midriff top with matching pants. The 44-year-old with waist-length silver hair gets a lot of laughs with her self-deprecating act. She stretches out her arm, chest high, and jiggles it while she describes that part of her aging body.
McKelvey said that even though this industry is primarily dominated by men, she’s right where she wants to be. She’s had the opportunity to open for well-known artists like Tig Notaro and Michell Wolf.
“Michell Wolf was a delight. She’s the one that did the White House correspondents’ dinner, and she roasted them so hard that they don’t even have comedians at the White House correspondents’ dinner anymore,” reported McKelvey.
Two women watching McKelvey’s stand-up routine are enthused by what they hear. Friends Cheyeanne Salyards and Jennifer Kemper are in town on vacation and said this is their first McKelvey experience.
“She was hilarious, and I felt like she spoke our language. We have literally talked about half the things that she joked about today on stage in just the last couple of days,” said Salyards.
“I love that she is kind of an activist for women. I think all women should be activists for women,” said Kemper.
Salyards and Kemper both wish they could see McKelvey again, but they live overseas. The women might just get their wish. While Mandee McKelvey does regular stand-up routines, she’s getting ready to record her one-woman show with plans to stream it. McKelvey said the 90 minutes of storytelling focuses on body autonomy and touches on three topics.
”Each one of the three stories that I’m going to tell for this show were all separate pieces that were very confessional,” explained McKelvey.
The award-winning comic said the show begins with an infertility story where McKelvey’s friend offers McKelvey a frozen embryo. It ends with a story about abortion. And she said the middle story is about breast reconstruction.
“ It’s a beautiful dip back into adolescence where I only grew one breast and the other one didn’t grow, and they told me it would and then it didn’t. So, I went through high school, and basically, my mother and I spent all of high school trying to dress me to hide this enormous gourd that was hanging off the left side of my chest. And on the right side, I was completely flat," said McKelvey.
McKelvey knows how to find the humor in pain and grief, especially her own.
“Oh, I’m having a field day making fun of it. Cause there is nothing funnier than two different-sized breasts and all the comedy that ensues when you’re trying to hide that and the weird things men say to you and the weird things medical people say to you,” explained McKelvey.
When she performs her one-woman show McKelvey said frequently people come up to her afterward, thank her, and share their own stories.
I thought I was telling the story like it was a novelty. Like people would be like, ’Oh, that’s so weird’. And what happened was because I told all the emotions of you know, growing up as a teenage girl, trying to get through high school, trying to date, trying to have your first sexual experiences, trying to be okay when you look in the mirror, it turned out it was a completely universal thing. And now I’ve had a lot of women come up to me who have had mastectomies because they do know what it’s like to be missing a breast now,” said McKelvey.
Mandee McKelvey’s ability to tell her stories is what inspired Jessica Mathis to work with her. Mathis, also a comedian and producer, is partnering with McKelvey to create the comedy special for streaming. She can relate to McKelvey's stories.
”I had a breast reduction last year, so it resonated with me the kind of opinions that people have about that, especially men. For example, my neurologist when I told him I had planned to do that asked me if I had asked my husband. I don’t even have a husband. And so, her show really spoke to me," reported Mathis.
Mathis said The Kentucky Foundation for Women, a non-profit that supports female artists making a difference awarded McKelvey and Mathis a sizable grant to produce this show. Mathis said the grant makes sense because she said this comedy special is an important part of art.
“The important thing is, is that it reaches out, and lets others know they’re not alone and then you become aware and realize this is a thing people are dealing with and maybe we should look at it a little closer,” said Mathis.
Mathis said Mandee McKelvey’s comedy special is scheduled to be recorded in early November with plans to eventually be distributed for streaming.
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