Who says mothers can’t have it all? Certainly not Heather McDonald, as the comedian, actress and author expertly balances marriage, motherhood and her multi-faceted career. The former writer and story producer for Chelsea Lately, who will be headlining LaughBoston from March 10-12, took the time to chat with the Boston Comedy Scene Examiner about her extensive career, and yes, that very public feud.
“I feel like it’s really over with now,” McDonald tells the BCSE, regarding a recent incident in which McDonald’s statements on a podcast were taken out of context, ultimately leading to a barrage of disparaging comments from her former boss, Chelsea Handler. “A lot of people, even though it seemed the whole world knew, hadn’t even heard of the story. I went to Nashville and I sold out the shows there, and so many people were like, ‘Oh, you talked to Chelsea!’ So I felt, maybe it wasn’t as big as I had first thought, I don’t know. But it was awful when it was happening.”
The one line that took on a life of its own was when McDonald appeared on the podcast “Allegedly”, stating that she ‘lived in fear because of Chelsea Handler’ – however, the context surrounding the statement was merely McDonald admitting to normal job insecurities, particularly when said job is in Hollywood.
“I was just being frank and being open about my own insecurities on a job in Hollywood, where you can feel like it can be taken from you at any moment,” states McDonald. “It was just really unfortunate that a line was taken out of context, and turned into that salacious headline. It was unfortunate that she [Handler] didn’t listen to the whole podcast before she got angry and chose to lie about me. It’s really hard then, to convince people of the truth once they’ve heard the lie first, so that was really hard. At a certain point, there’s only so much you could do; you just have to say, ‘I never sold stories’, I mean that’s like the most ridiculous thing.”
Handler had accused McDonald of selling stories to the media about her, something that McDonald had never done.
“I don’t know anyone who sells stories, but I assume they pay like fifty dollars. She was never in the magazine. Everything about her life, she shared on stage or on the show. Whether it was about her relationships, her partying, whatever, she shared it. So what could I have said, that she had a glass of milk that day and she’s really back into dairy? I mean, there’s nothing to have shared.”
The feud shone attention down on McDonald, whose name became much more familiar to comedy fans. The experience also helped McDonald decide to be more open about her personal life, realizing that fans not only wanted such insight, but could benefit from the insight as well.
“I guess for some people that wouldn’t know who I was, I mean when I was trending number one on Yahoo and Facebook, but then I got a lot of hate, which I’d never really received before. I’ve really been unscathed for this whole social media craze in the last eight years so, and people just think you’re ungrateful,” cites McDonald. “Then I would get these people that are like, ‘Oh my God, I listened to the podcast that started it all, I listened to your podcast where you explained it, and you really didn’t say very bad things at all in the first one.’ I really didn’t. At one point I even said, ‘God she may have wanted to get rid of me on year two but didn’t, so who knows?’ I was just being really, really honest, and I am honest, and right now I’m doing my podcast Juicy Scoop, and I’ve finally decided to share the story of why my sister and I had this tumultuous relationship, and we’re estranged, and why I actually have a restraining order and stuff. I’ve hinted at it and people kept asking about it, and I realized, ‘You know what, it’s probably the one thing I haven’t shared in my life’.”
While not everyone may be receptive to such openness, family rifts and toxicity are certainly not issues McDonald faces alone. Sometimes, knowing that someone else – in this case, a successful comedian, actress and writer – has been through a similar experience helps others put their own issues in perspective.
“Whether it’s in my books or on stage, maybe it’ll help somebody who is really in a shit situation with a sibling, that there’s a time in your life where you can just say, ‘I enjoyed our childhood together but I’m going to protect myself, my current family, and step away,’” McDonald reflects. “I don’t know how else to be authentic but to really share the truth, and it is amazing how many people have written me and had stories like that, and people really struggle with it.”
As a mother, McDonald has no fears when it comes to her children knowing the adult topics their mother talks about on stage and on her podcast. Even if they were allowed to watch it, McDonald describes their total lack of interest in most of what she does.
“They have a sense of what I do, they’re not allowed to watch – well, All About Sex is not coming back, but when it was on, no, they couldn’t watch it obviously. They didn’t even really like watching Chelsea Lately unless it was a sketch,” McDonald says. “We didn’t even have it on, and we’d get the east coast feed so it’d be on at 8:00 p.m., and if I was on the show, I would watch it that night after they went to bed. Sometimes if there was a funny sketch or something, they kind of liked it, but they didn’t like the talking panel, they were too young for that. Now my son is 13 and he’s actually best friends with Jo Koy’s son, they go to the same Catholic school.”
Also, when your children feature so heavily in your material, it adds a whole new level of awkwardness to household life.
“I’d rather them watch stuff when it’s older because then they’ll go back and go, ‘Oh, when I was 10, I was like that’”, then they won’t mind so much. Definitely Brandon, my 10 year old, would be hurt and wouldn’t get it. My older kids might, but I still don’t want them to watch it. I just don’t bring it up and they don’t care. They would rather watch something else than their mother. They’ll often tell me it’s not funny. I get it just like every other parent.”
McDonald’s debut book was released in June 2010, entitled You’ll Never Blue Ball in this Town Again, and spent seven weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. It climbed to the #1 position on Amazon’s “Bestsellers in Entertainment” list. McDonald released her follow up to Blue Balls in February 2013 entitled My Inappropriate Life: Some Material Not Suitable for Small Children, Nuns, or Mature Adults which also became a national bestseller. The book is an irreverent account of McDonald’s attempts to balance fame with family time, all while doing it her way. McDonald also contributed a chapter to the New York Times #1 bestselling book Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me. Her writing has also been featured in Redbook Magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Hollywood Reporter and she has contributed to New York Magazine’s Vulture. Last September saw the release of McDonald’s first hour-long special, I Don’t Mean to Brag, which debuted on Showtime and can now be streamed on Netflix and Amazon Video. With such achievements under her belt, one naturally wonders what’s on the horizon for McDonald.
“This past year’s been really great. I’ve just been able to do a lot more stand-up than I normally have. I started a podcast back in July which has been really, really great for the live show,” McDonald dishes. “I’m pitching a bunch of shows in different genres: some non-scripted reality, some almost like formatted-type reality shows. As far as being like a staff writer, I don’t really have aspirations to do that right now. I’d like to try to get my own thing going and in the meantime, just really build up my name as a stand-up, so that’s what I’m currently working on. It’s great – I love doing the podcasts, and I love doing the stand-up. After being on a show for so many years, as great as that stability was and collaborating with people, it’s really kind of nice to just be completely in charge of your own thing. At the podcast, they don’t tell me what I can and cannot do at all. I just decide what I’m going to do. I don’t have to run anybody by anything. I never thought that I would get so much out of it; I didn’t think that it would be this popular. I’m really surprised by it and so happy to get that kind of feedback every week, it’s been really amazing.”
Heather McDonald is an incredibly talented comedian whose performances at LaughBoston later this month should not be missed. McDonald kicks off three nights of shows on Thursday, March 10 through Saturday, March 12 with tickets available here. LaughBoston is located at 425 Summer Street in Boston, Massachusetts.