Holly Henson is a 'standup' woman


Holly Henson seems faintly puzzled by by the interest in her standup comedy gig at the Pioneer Playhouse Friday and Saturday.

"I've been bowled over by the amount of interest," she says.

Then comes the zinger.

"For 10 years, people have been telling me to do my standup in Danville," Henson explains. "I always refused. I was artistic director (for several years) and that's a different skill. It's hard to switch gears and be the fun monkey."

She pauses.

"I felt like people thought I was lying about my standup career."

She says a Louisville agent associated with Comedy Caravan has been helping her line up other guests for the evening. Keith McGill of Louisville will be the emcee for the weekend, as well as a featured performer. Tim Rowlands of Detroit, a comic juggler, also will perform. A caterer is signed on for the two-night gig and will serve hors d'oeuvres.


Henson says the Louisville agent has been "gracious and helpful by plugging me into the comics."

"He has a Playhouse connection," she notes. "He said n the '60s he partied with the actresses at the pool."

She says he had stories about the diving board at the pool. "But I don't want to know what they are."

Henson lives near Minneapolis, where several years ago she opened a comedy club with eight other comedians called Minnesota Comedy Club. It was a good experience and she worked there a lot, she notes.

"In show biz, you gotta create your own opportunity and not wait for them to hand it to you," Henson says.

Now, her boyfriend and agent, Tom Hansen, owns the club, she adds. "And I still work there all time."

Show with an edge

For her Danville show, Henson says audiences should "expect the unexpected." She classifies her routine as "spirited, progressive, contemporary and pushing the envelope."

"I'm a progressive, non-traditional woman," she explains. "I've never married, and never had kids. I have a Gen-X-type act, only I'm trapped in a 40-something body. That doesn't mean the routine is risque - it's non-traditional."

She says she doesn't follow a "set up, punch, set up, punch" style of comedy.

"My jokes are considered edgy, not because of their language but because of their content," she says. "I'm a woman being very ballsy and honest, and some find that shocking."

Outside the Playhouse

When she is not at the Playhouse, Henson often does her standup routine through corporate and casino work. She's worked in television, and has appeared on MTV, Comedy Central, the USA Network, and local stations across the country. She has logged more than 250 hours on prime time teleivision as a local TV personality in the Twin Cities. She recently won first runner-up in a tri-state comedy contest, beating out over 70 competitors.

Henson says working in television is something she's yearned for her whole career. "But I've had a crisis of faith with the television industry," Henson says pensively. "I'm so disenchanted with what's on television."

She says television plays to the lowest common denominator and has been considerably dumbed down over time. She's also had ideas for television shows stolen from her. It's a rat race for which she doesn't care.

"Hollywood tarnishes and destroys anything that's good," she explains. "The shows I want to create, they don't want to buy. I want to bring heart, spirit and goodness to television."

Public access offers her a venue for some of what she wants to bring to teleivision.

"Public access is the last freedom of speech in the media," Henson notes. "I'm proud to be a public access producer.

"I play the game from the heart. I'd like to think I'll be rewarded."

Then her cynical side kicks in, she says.

"(Sometimes) I believe I'll be non-famous for the rest of my life. But I've kept my integrity.

"Television doesn't allow you to be yourself," Henson adds. "In television, I learned how to not be me. You can be fired because of you yourself. Television is all about marketing and advertising."

But she doesn't mind her standup career as it is. "I have a very successful career in the corporate, casino and comedy club world," Henson says, adding audiences respond well to her standup. "Television doesn't seem to embrace me."

Not a selfish career

Henson says that before Sept. 11, 2001, she thought her career was selfish. Since then, she finds she likes making people feel good.

"I like making people laugh, lightening people's days," she explains. "It's a thrill to be in a roomful of people and collectively making them feel happy. People need that."

But comedy has its down side, too.

"The said thing is, when it goes sour, you can't blame anyone else," Henson says. "Some people don't like my soul core.

"Standup is so hard because of the high expectations. ... You can do a show for a majority (who will like it) but there is a minority who likes Minnie Pearl or some other style (of comedy). Comedy is so subjective, and that's a challenge."

That challenge creates a "high yardstick," Henson adds.

"With comedy, the audience is there to laugh. ... You have to hit that high yardstick or they walk away.

"There's more pressure in standup than acting. The highs are higher and the lows are lower."

She pauses, then adds wistfully, "And I love for people to love me."

So doing a standup gig in Danville has its own inherent pitfalls that concern Henson because of the people's familiarity with her.

"My biggest fear is that people know me too well," she explains. "In other places, people don't know me. I like anonymity.

"If I crash and burn here, people will remember it for a long time."

She is working on localizing her show, to add a little Danville flavor to it.

"No heckling," she adds with a grin.

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