- Giles Clement
- Which one is Nancy and which one is Beth?
Megan Mullally is nothing like Karen Walker — the shrill, gin-soaked socialite from television's beloved gay comedy Will & Grace, and a character she has embodied on and off for nearly 20 years. But in the same way that Walker is unphased by combining prescription pills and martinis, Mullally herself is equally unphased by concocting what she has referred to as "punk showbiz" and tent revivalism — the very ingredients in her gypsy-fied Americana music duo, Nancy And Beth.
Actress Stephanie Hunt (Friday Night Lights, Californication) met Mullally on the set of an indie film in 2011. It wasn't until 2017 that the duo saw the release of its self-titled debut which takes on George Jones, Rufus Wainwright, and Gucci Mane with chilling harmonies and a tangible whimsy which plays into the surrealist nature of the band. In person, though, Nancy And Beth's choreography, chair-work, and crotch-grabbing could rival Miranda July's Instagram videos or Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation."
As perplexing as their choice of material, it's a public inside joke that Nancy And Beth are the exact same age — though there are actually 30 years between Hunt and Mullally. Similarly, don't expect a straight answer as to why the "And" is capitalized or who identifies most as Nancy or Beth. Laced with subtleties, absurdity, and delightfully unexplainable charm, Nancy And Beth is a clever cover band with an underpinning of female empowerment.
Against a chorus of dog-on-dog fornication, Hunt and Mullally discuss past lives and what makes them great.
Metro Times: What is comedy in 2018?
Megan Mullally: Well, I think there's an aspect of being an escape route because life and reality are kind of intense right now, but also reflecting back a sense of truth that's comforting. At least that's what's inspiring to me. And with us being two women who are singing in harmony, metaphorically speaking, it's like a powerful visual and statement in and of itself. But it's really just for fun and entertainment to be able to think about beauty and art amid the chaos.
MT: There's an element of silliness that I think gets lost in the shuffle of grim and troublesome headlines. Are you hesitant to call Nancy And Beth a comedy act? Because it flirts most with being performance art but with an element of absurdity.
Mullally: We don't think of it as a comedy act, we think of it as a band. I think that humor comes from us as people, but also from our take on certain songs. Every song is chosen very lovingly, with a lot of enthusiasm and respect and all good things, but some of the songs have a wry undertone to them, or some of the songs have a wry overtone. It's not a comedy band, it's just a band. Am I saying that right, Stephanie?
Stephanie Hunt: It's absolutely a band with a serious approach to music but Megan and I happen to be funny at times.
MT: You met one another on set while filming Somebody Up There Likes Me. How does an on-set meeting turn into a revivalist tent cabaret? Does music lend itself to a different type of performative release than acting?
Hunt: Absolutely. I mean for me, I've always played music in tandem with acting. I've done both of them since I was a child. My father was a musician and my mom was an off-Broadway actress. You can perform music anywhere, whereas with acting you need an audience. But with Nancy And Beth, we do get to perform while singing the song, which is kind of a rare breed. The songs are kind of like monologues in some way, and we do like to choose a variety of songs that have like an emotional or crazy backline in them.
MT: Like Gucci Mane's "I Don't Love Her"?
Mullally: Yeah, like Gucci Mane. Which is actually super empowering to perform. Being able to go from being a victim to not a victim and the performance of pretending to be Gucci Mane, in a sense, is really empowering.
MT: The lyrics are pretty horrible but it softens the blow, or in some way makes it more poignant, when you perform it with choreography.
Mullally: Yeah, that's kind of how we felt about it. We felt like just the mere fact of us doing it really makes you stop and think. ... after the song we'll say that it was written by Gloria Steinem. When you take a song like that and then you have our band performing it with Stephanie and I at the helm, it changes your thinking dramatically and kind of underscores what's really going on in the world and offers relief.
MT: Who is the Nancy And Beth audience?
Mullally: Who isn't! You know, it's funny because the audiences are really mixed, right?
Hunt: I was just trying to imagine, it really is all over the map. I mean we have our 15-year-old girl fans, which are very sweet and they're learning the routines and sending us little videos...
Mullally: I guess it's kind of a date night thing and it's kind of a gay thing and it's kind of a super-young girls thing, and then a lot of older people because we do covers of older songs. But for some reason, even with the older people, when we do a song like, "I Don't Love Her," it's not like anybody gets up and walks out, people understand the spirit in which it's being offered.
MT: You're unique messengers.
Mullally: We're trying to make a point in an entertaining way (dogs barking.) Sorry about that ... afternoon delight.
MT: Stephanie, what makes Megan a great partner? And Megan the same question.
Hunt: Megan is a great partner because we understand each other intrinsically and we have an unsaid syncing of tastes because if you're going to be partners with someone, a lot of energy can be wasted on trying to explain things, you know? And also, I'd say the biggest thing is that we're able to communicate so well. Obviously Megan is hilarious and so fun, and we're able to allow ourselves to be in a creative space together which is kind of a sacred space. You can't always be creative with people in a stream of consciousness type of way, but we're able to do that which is few and far between.
Mullally: Wow, that's a really good answer. I would echo a lot of that right back to Stephanie, but I would also say that for me, I have often called Stephanie the human Xanax because she's so chill. It's impossible to be around Stephanie and — if you're in some kind of unpleasant space — if Stephanie were in the room, that unpleasant state would dissipate within three minutes. It's not like she's trying to do it, or saying hey calm down or rubbing your back, it's not like that. It's just like whatever frequency she is vibrating on it's like a super Xanax-y one.
MT: Do you guys have any bucket list items as Nancy And Beth as far as who you might want to perform with or venues you dream of playing?
Mullally: Vegas. We definitely want to do Vegas next.
Hunt: We've been planning it for years.
Mullally: It's a lot of big plans. We have a plan for a number in a giant tank — an underwater number in a giant tank of water. A number on horseback, on a course of people on golf carts. A lot of stuff. Big-production numbers.
Hunt: That's our big vision. Vegas.
MT: If Nancy And Beth had past lives what do you think they might be?
Mullally and Hunt: Wow, good question. Oh my god.
Hunt: There are so many answers.
Mullally: Maybe the court of Louis XIV. It's definitely going to go back. There's a possibility of mermaids.
MT: My instant thought was mermaids!
Mullally: That's amazing. I love mermaids! That is it, Stephanie!
Hunt: And sirens!
Mullally: I can see it! That's our record cover. We could do it. We could have tubes in our mouth and stay underwater. I'm so happy you asked that question!
Nancy And Beth will perform on Monday, April 23 at The Ark; 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-1800; theark.org; Doors at 8 p.m.; Tickets start at $30.