Mandee McKelvey won Comedian of the Year at the Carney Awards. | Photo by Lou Tingle

Mandee McKelvey is a hilarious Louisville-based comic, seen often in Character Assassination’s monthly Roasts. She’s also a moving and captivating storyteller and has run a storytelling event, titled “We Still Like You,” for almost two years.

She is the 2018 Carney Award winner for Comedian of the Year and recently opened for Tig Notaro at the Kentucky Center. 

This weekend, July 20-21, she’ll be performing her first-ever one-woman show, “Mandee McKelvey: Herself.”

By our math: Great Comedy + Great Storytelling = One Awesome Show.

Our interview by phone was basically 25 minutes of gold, wherein we literally laughed and cried. Here is an excerpt from that interview, but we’ve left out the really good stuff, because you should go see the show.

Insider Louisville: What made you want to do a one-person show?

Mandee McKelvey: I always go long. I always run the light. It sort of started to become lore that I wouldn’t respect the boundaries of the time I was given on stage. I did not want that reputation. But I had so many things I wanted to get out.

And doing six minutes or 10 minutes at a time, it’s wonderful if you have jokes that are interchangeable, but if you are trying to tell, like, a linear thing with a beginning and an end, then there’s just no time. Then when Vititoe (Chris Vititoe, co-producer of “We Still Like You”) and I started the storytelling show, I was doing 15 or 20 minutes, which was fantastic, but then I was like, “Oh, I need even more than that.”

Standup comedy is all I’ve ever wanted to do, but I am definitely storyteller, not a late-night joke writer. And I’m turning 40.

It also takes time to work up that material. I think I was waiting for someone to tell me I was ready, some entity … but that never came. It was just a bunch of people going, “Why don’t you just do it?”

My hope is I’ll get it all out, then my head will be empty. And then I can start over.

McKelvey played “Tetris” in the Roast of Mario. | Courtesy of Mandee McKelvey

IL: How did you compile the material?

MM: I have, at this point — and I’m sure there is a lot more in there — eight epic stories in my mind that I wanted to tell. Unfortunately, that’s about three hours. I have to pick four, and that is really distressing to me, because I feel like the eight really gives you the whole to-do.

McKelvey as Bill from the Roast of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure | Courtesy of Mandee McKelvey

I have three picked out, and the fourth is a total mystery. The three tell you the story of the beginning … the things that have made me whatever I am.

I don’t even know what I am. I am totally uncomfortable in my own skin.

I was raised in a very rural place with no real concept that that wasn’t real life. I’m actually not even sure if that was real life and this isn’t, or vice versa. I definitely left a certain kind of planet and came to a new planet.

I didn’t discover until I was an adult that a lot of things weren’t normal.

IL: Are we talking good things or bad things? Like swimming in the “crick” or what?

MM: It wasn’t until I was 30 that I thought, “Oh my god, so not everyone took a bath with their brother every day?”

I was, like, oh no — we did that far too long. Well into his puberty, and just on the cusp of mine, because my parents were, like, “You don’t throw out warm bath water. You fit as many people in as you can! What are we, rich? We can’t just run water.”

I was in my 20s and dating before I realized not everyone had a gun. At 20 years old, I was dating this guy, and he was, like, “Oh, where’s the so-and-so?”

And I was, like, “In my top drawer.”

He goes, “Is that a gun?!”

McKelvey as Hillary from the Roast of Trump vs. Hillary | Courtesy of Mandee McKelvey

And I was, like, “Well yeah. What do you mean? Where do you keep yours?”

Not to give away the show, but there’s a whole thing I forgot that a man prayed off my warts when I was young. That’s my opening story.

I was covered in warts when I was a teen. My mom took me to the dry cleaners, and a man named Bob came out from the back, circled all my warts with an ink pen, talked to them, and then did something on an index card, and said a prayer.

And then seven days later all my warts disappear.

And I know how f#%king insane that sounds. I hear myself saying it, and I’m, like, stop saying that. Stop telling people that. I have tried everything to look it up and debunk it. Maybe Bob didn’t pray off my warts. But they sure as shit went away on the exact day he said they would.

IL: Wow! What else? What other stories?

MM: I’m definitely gonna tell the story of finding my first boyfriend making out with my 35-year-old teacher. When I was 13 years old. And the fallout from that.

Then I’m going to move into adulthood. And I’m really debating whether or not to tell my abortion story. I want to tell it … I don’t really care how people feel about it. I have a couple other stories where I actually care about how people feel about it. It … kind of makes me nervous.

The reason I want to tell the abortion story is it’s different than any other abortion story I’ve heard. And I’m not ashamed, but I was raised under some serious Southern Baptists.

IL: Well, y’all were praying off warts.

MM: Right?

McKelvey calls this photo: “A bathroom selfie that turned out better than my headshots.” | Courtesy of Mandee McKelvey

IL: Go-to-church-once-a-month Christians are not praying off warts.

MM: Exactly. Like, where I’m from, they’d only heard of Catholicism, and they are not sure if Catholicism is Christian. It sounds like another religion to them.

IL: What’s next for “Herself.” You have to do it again.

MM: I’m paying Matt Gaither, the mind behind “Bagged and Bored,” all the money I have to film it for me. I’m hoping I can shop it around to people who are interested in people like me, such as Fringe Festivals.

The dream, of course, is Edinburgh.

To hear the rest of McKelvey’s stories, including her struggles with depression and her job in the field of mental health, head to The Bard’s Town, 1801 Bardstown Road, on Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21, to see “Mandee McKelvey: Herself.” Showtime is 8 p.m., and tickets are $10.  

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Eli Keel
Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.