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Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Nora McInerny

Nora McInerny arrives on stage wearing a hot pink suit with a black sequined halter top underneath. Her tall stature, pink hair, and chunky heels give a straight-laced earnestness mixed with a woman-ready-to-dance vibe capturing the many sides of McInerny and her show that is cheerily titled, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. She is cheerful and wide-eyed, with a penchant for unexpected swerves of thought that propels her and the audience into laughter—and empathetic contemplation.

As a conversational segue into the performance, McInerny shares a funny story from chatting with someone right before the show, where they talked about how they were going through a divorce. She responded, "I love divorce!" Her foot-in-the-mouth tendencies and unshakable sensitivity to others' pain make McInerny's show emotionally vibrant—it hums with emotion and laughter.

The laughter continues as McInerny asks for audience participation in the most ridiculous ways, bringing everyone together to fill in the end of her sentence: "In 2014, my husband, Aaron…"

"Died!" the crowd calls enthusiastically. She smiles like a teacher proud of her pupils. And then continues:

"After my dad…"

"Died!" the crowd shouts.

"And after I…"

"Miscarried!" the audience roars in completion. There is a feeling of great well-being in the room. The audience revels in this, able to repeat her tragedies so many times that they can be rendered the material for lighthearted audience call and response. She has the audience laughing in spite of themselves.

Soon enough, the show is buzzing along as McInerny shares some lighthearted memories and stories from her current family life and childhood. She layers in audio recordings of her talking to her mother and showing pictures from various parts of her life. Animated vignettes on the screen complement her storytelling. Without knowing it, at a certain point in the show, we realize we have entered deeper waters. And, suffice to say, she does not mince words. She has gently brought us to her darkest and most honest place so that we realize we are all in this together. We don't feel as if she will abandon us here. Instead, the audience may cry; she may cry. Then, she might tell everyone to look under their seats to see who received the gift card from the McNally Jackson bookstore taped below the chair.

She continues with the storytelling, sharing a story where Hulk Hogan makes an appearance. It is one of McInerny's best stories. McInerny delivers the tale in an extended confessional replete with photographs of the young Nora and Hulk Hogan himself. When she shares what happens when she and Mr. Hogan meet, her shame and obsessiveness over what she ends up saying to Hulk is the stuff of childhood drama and comedy dreams. And trauma. As she says, "Dramatic and traumatic" are both her destiny.

True to the show's central message—that we are all in this together— McInerny shares the mic and time onstage with others. The audience votes on the Bummer Award. An audience member named Taylor wins—after she shares her story of a boyfriend who had a double life and took her dog. McInerny also plays audio clips of strangers who have called in to share with her the shortcomings and mishaps of their lives. Even her sound engineer, who has manned the audio and visuals silently onstage, shares his story—a brilliant piece of spoken word that can only be described as an existential biscuit crisis.

McInerny's emotional ability to encompass all of it—the silly, the outrageous, the ridiculous, the heartwarming and the truly painful and existentially dark parts of life—all on one stage in one show—comprises the true gift the audience receives from this performance. She has a great voice that draws in audiences. Her voice is that of a podcaster, a performer, and an old friend. At the same time, her humor sparkles. It's all in the detail and the delivery—and she has them both.

McInerny doesn't pretend to have answers. Indeed, what strikes me about this show is how fresh it is. And I have the feeling that her emotional answers for what is ailing her will change week to week or month to month. Instead of this show coming across as a performance with a script, it is more like a space where she can offer her gift of honesty, reflection, and of-the-moment answers to finding connection amid the pain of living.

"Terrible, Thanks for Asking"

Written and Performed by Nora McInerny

October 16, 2022

The Opera House

288 Berry St., Brooklyn, NY, 11249


Cynthia Darling is a writer whose work covers music, education, and theater. She has written for Teaching Music magazine and New York Family magazine. Her literary work appears in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Louisiana Literature, and Wanderlust Journal. An educator for over twenty years, she loves nothing more than seeing live solo shows, comedy shows, and storytelling events!


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