With a droll, almost monotone delivery, and a fatalistic sensibility, stand-up comedian Martha Kelly has a style all her own. A longtime resident of Austin, Texas, Kelly was a featured act in the city’s annual Moontower Comedy Festival, a four-day event which features standup acts from across the country. While she’s still best known for her comedy, Kelly has recently taken to acting, first on FX’s Baskets, where she plays the ever-suffering insurance agent Martha, a role that was written with her in mind, and more recently as Zorya Utrennyaya on Starz’s epic new series American Gods.
We got the chance to talk to Kelly about her connection to the Austin comedy scene, as well as her growing more comfortable as an actor, particularly when she’s playing a character that has no lines.
What was it that made you decide to move to Austin from L.A. originally?
The first time I moved here it was in 2000 and I was 32. A lot of it was it just was a party town, compared to L.A. It was partly just because I wanted to come somewhere where I could drink all the time and not stand out. I also really liked the comedy scene here and felt like it would be easier to get stage time and get better at stand up if I was somewhere besides L.A.
Was L.A. too oversaturated to get your foot in the door anywhere?
At that point for me I’d only been doing stand-up a couple years. It’s dumb, but I felt entitled to some kind of a development deal, even though I didn’t have any ideas for anything to develop. I just wanted money so I could drink and not have a day job and do stand up when I felt like it. Out in L.A. I didn’t have any representation and I wasn’t doing anything to make that happen.
It’s kind of dumb because in the couple years before I started stand up, for some reason they were handing out development deals to people at comedy festivals. I just felt that’s the easy way to be able to party all the time and not have to work. Just being unrealistic about stuff, I guess. In that sense, L.A. was a frustrating place to live, because I wasn’t on that track to get what I thought was easy money. In reality it isn’t, but that’s what I thought at the time.
Now it’s more just that everything’s really spread out. You can drive an hour each way to do a four-to-ten minute set somewhere. I don’t really enjoy doing that. I’d rather be in Austin, where like tonight I have a thing I’m doing from 6:30 to 8:00, and then I’m just going to drive 15 minutes and do a show, and then it’ll be ten minutes home from there.
When did you start getting involved in the Moontower Festival?
I did it for the first time last year, and then did it again this year.
You were part of one of the most hyped events, SHEBANG, the all-female comics’ showcase. The show was great, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that green room was just overflowing with hilarity.
I don’t want to ruin your nice picture of it. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun, but it was just more like people wanting to watch each other. I was pretty much standing on the little balcony area watching the other women or downstairs watching them and I think other people were doing that, too. There wasn’t a ton of hanging out in the green room. To me, that made it more fun, that everybody seemed to want to watch each other’s sets. I loved the women that were on that show, so it was really fun. It was a different kind of fun than what you pictured, maybe.
It’s nice to know there’s so much mutual support among the comedians.
Yeah. It was really nice. It was fun to get to see some of the women that I don’t normally see, or to meet Michelle Collins who I’ve never met before who’s super funny. It was a really fun night.