In the comedy “The Foxy Merkins,” Margaret (Lisa Haas) is a quiet, broke, rotund lesbian who is new to New York City. She stares pie-eyed at busy prostitutes, watching how they seem to pick up women effortlessly. She ponders how to land her own johns — or should I say john-ettes? Overwhelmed and alone, Margaret serendipitously meets Jo (Jackie Monahan), an outgoing beauty with no worries. Jo is sitting pretty thanks to a wealthy family.
A self-proclaimed hetero, Jo takes on the project of teaching Margaret how to become a successful lesbian hooker. Jo passes along many helpful tips, like how to find free places to sleep. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it’s hilarious where they retire at night.
In another scene, Jo takes Margaret to a cemetery — with some vague mission of hoping to locate a dead aunt. The two women are interrupted by a dorky-looking mumbling salesman (Alex Karpovsky). “Psst. Foxy merkins? Merkins? Low price.”
“Oh, he’s a merkin salesman!” Jo exclaims, and said salesman opens up his overcoat and flashes his wares. But instead of what you might expect, like maybe joints or stolen jewelry, what he’s selling first appear to be little slices of pizza.
“What’s a merkin?” a puzzled Margaret asks (I was wondering the same thing).
“It’s a toupee for your vagina,” Jo replies.
The camera zooms in closer, and we see furry triangular patches in various sizes and colors.
That’s when I lost it and burst out laughing. I couldn’t wait to talk to Jo, err … I mean Monahan, a comedian, actor, writer and producer.
Dorri Olds: How did this movie come to be?
Jackie Monahan: Lisa [Haas] and I were on a festival together and made videos for Madeleine [Olnek], and she loved our chemistry. That’s how Madeleine came up with the idea. Then the three of us would write and shoot. Then write more and shoot again.
Was there a lot of adlibbing?
Not really. Some. We had a pretty well-developed script.
Did you ever wonder, “Is anybody going to like this?”
I didn’t. I knew it was so funny. I think Madeleine was a little scared. She’d say things like, “This is going too far.” It’s subversive humor, and she’d be afraid sometimes that people wouldn’t get it.
Have you ever offended someone or had a joke bomb on stage?
Yeah. I had a joke about rape. I said, “Music makes everything better. Um, except rape.”
Ha! I think that’s funny.
Some women were offended by that, which I can understand, but I like to take serious situations and make people laugh at everything. It’s mostly for myself. If I don’t laugh at everything I’ll go crazy.
Do you think comedy is a coping mechanism for sadness?
Yes, I think it really is. Comedians are sensitive. They feel a lot and see a lot and have to make light of it. It’s the opposite of innocence. I guess we comedians also need a lot of attention.
Were you a funny kid?
Yeah, I was really funny. When I was little my mom, who is very conservative — we’d be in the cereal aisle at the supermarket and she’d ask, “What kind of cereal would you like?” And I’d say really loudly, “Please don’t hit me again.” Then when people turned to stare, she couldn’t deny it because then it would just look even more like she really did hit me.
Ha! What else?
I’d also pretend I didn’t know who my dad was. My dad had a mustache. Whenever we went anywhere without my dad, if I saw a man with a mustache I’d run up to him and yell, “Daddy!” My mom would be so humiliated.
How old were you when you did these things?
Has your family been supportive of your career in comedy?
Uh, no, they weren’t. I don’t blame them. I’m from Rhode Island, and they never knew anybody in entertainment. There’d been no entertainers in my family. It seemed to them like it was such an intangible thing, so they really wanted me to have more job security rather than pursue my dreams, but now they love it.
Did you listen to them and study other things?
Yeah, I did. I went to school for psychology and education and got a B.A.
Do you tailor your shows to different audiences? New York and L.A. must be very different, right?
No, I do the same thing everywhere, and I figure if you don’t like it then, well … I have to do what makes me laugh.
Have you run up against sexism?
I really haven’t. I’ve been very lucky. I immediately made a lot of straight-guy comedy friends who all thought I was funny before I did. They’d see me at an open mic and say, “You’re really funny.” So, I think if you’re scared sexism could happen, then maybe it does, but I was never afraid of that so I didn’t run into any problems.
Does your girlfriend mind when you use her in your routines?
No, not at all, but I’m not with her anymore.
Why did you break up?
I guess we just grew apart. We were together for 12 years, and we were married. Our time together in that way ended, but we are still friends and love each other very much. She’s in the movie. She doesn’t have a speaking part, but she was one of the hookers. She was also in the background in “Codependent” [“Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same“] in the bar scene.
When did you first know that you were attracted to women?
I always liked women, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be them or be with them. There was Kristy McNichol, and then I was crazy about Joan Jett. I guess I kind of always knew. I’m attracted to energy so I can be attracted to men or women, but women are so much better.
You said your mom was conservative so was that an issue at home?
Yeah, it was. She was totally fine with my best friend being gay, but when I was with a woman, she went into therapy. If I had known that would be her reaction, I would’ve come out at 3 so she would’ve gone to therapy sooner. After a while, though, she did fall in love with Anne [Robertson]. They see each other more than they see me. They have a great relationship.
After a sold-out run at the Sundance Film Festival, “The Foxy Merkins” runs Friday, Dec. 5 to Thursday, Dec. 11 at The Made in NY Media Center by IFP. The movie will be available On Demand soon, click here for updates. Q&A with director and cast following each screening. Comedy. Not rated. 90 min.
Watch the “Foxy Merkins” trailer:
Watch Jackie Monahan doing standup:
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.