Gender-queer comedian Petey Gibson and his hilarious ‘Meals with Mary’

Jennie McNulty columnBY JENNIE MCNULTY

It might have been about a choice of bread for a sandwich, but, in the second episode of “Meals with Mary,” Mary Dolan offers the advice: “Choose wisely, love depends on it.”

Mary Dolan is the 86-year-old, spicy, “former Vaudevillian legend” character created by the talented actor and comedian Petey Gibson. Mary Dolan is just like your grandmother, if your grandmother was a bawdry burlesque babe who may have slept with Bing Crosby.

Gibson, as the delightfully impertinent Ms. Dolan, hosts a popular monthly variety night in Los Angeles and has started touring with the show as well. And, when not wearing the wardrobe from a trunk of clothes inherited from Petey’s actual grandmother (named Mary, of course), Gibson has been lighting up the LA comedy stages (Last Comic Standing) and studying with the Groundlings. And, the latest Mary Dolan project is a really tasty morsel.

“Meals with Mary,” is a new crazy cooking web series created by Gibson and Satya Bhabha (“New Girl,” “Key & Peele”). Bhabha also appears in the show as “Kaz” the producer of the cooking show that we see briefly in the “show within the show” format.

According to Petey, “We put so much emphasis on the stars and not how something is made. I like the idea that every person in important and I like that we see not only the show, but what’s behind the scenes — kind of like ‘The Larry Sanders Show.’”

Also starring in the show is Ruby Hanger who plays the chef that Mary works with and is the perfect foil for Mary’s brazen, unabashed barbs. And, amongst all the sassy comedy, some great, easy recipes are featured leaving you hungry not only for more comedy, but for whatever the Dynamic Ms. D is actually dishing up.

You may be wondering why is featuring someone named Petey. Or, perhaps, you may have noticed that I have yet to use a pronoun in this story. I met Petey when we were both working in Provincetown. Petey was Jill Gibson then and was performing with the Boston based group, All The Kings Men (Play in the Gray, Huffington Post).

When Petey moved to Los Angeles, I welcomed the chance to use his talented stash of characters to perform on some shows I produce out here. I was making up a flyer to advertise the show and he said, “I’m going by Petey now.” I assumed it was another of his characters and made the flyer with “Petey” in quotation marks. On the night of the show, he told me, “No, I mean I’m not going by Jill anymore, I’m going by Petey.”

I said something profound, like, “oh, OK, no quotes. Got it.” But, in my head, I thought, “so, I guess you are transitioning then?” But, that seemed like a rude question to ask and, I figured, eventually, it would all become clear and didn’t say anything else.

It’s not like it’s a problem for me or I don’t “get it.” I actually do, very much, “get it.” At the risk of sounding like the racist who says, “I’ve got a lot of black friends…” I really do have a lot of very close people in my life who have transitioned. But I wasn’t sure here. And, my main question was just that damned pesky pronoun. Which one do I use? And, why am I having such a hard time here? Was I born in 1926?

After 2 or 3 shows of introducing Petey sans any pronoun, I thought, “OK, this is dumb. Just ask.” But, it felt weird. At that point, we’d worked together a lot since he told me and it was kind of like that awkward feeling when you can’t remember someone’s name but you’ve known them forever and you’re just too embarrassed to ask.

Three stand up introductions without a pronoun is hard enough, but I couldn’t do this entire blog with no pronouns so, I put on my big girl pants and called.

“Uh, Petey, uh, well, so, uh, OK, dumb question: What pronoun do you prefer?”

“Thanks for asking,” was the cheerful reply. “I don’t really care.”

“I answer to either,” he said with a chuckle. “I feel very ‘in between.’ As a young dyke, I tried to be tougher and more held back — a lot of those butch ideals — I don’t know, I’m just not good at being tough. I’m a 5-foot-two emotional person! Parts of me do feel female and I don’t want to reject that.”

“So, you feel that you relate to the Trans community, but wouldn’t necessarily call yourself Trans?”
“I do — big time — relate to the Trans community. And, I feel like the Trans community has broadened and really makes room for gender-queer people. Which is not a word that I’m afraid of. I think gender-queer makes a lot of sense. I guess I don’t make a lot of pronouncements about it, I feel like I kind of live my life and I’m pretty comfortable being right in the middle of things. My dog calls me ‘Dad.’

“Whenever I’ve think about having kids someday, I’ve always thought, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to be a Dad.’ But I also don’t know if it’s true to myself to completely transition my whole body. I don’t feel female. But, I don’t feel comfortable making a hard and fast statement like, ‘I am a man.’ I don’t feel that way either. Which would be a lot easier I think, in some ways, if I did.

“There is such a huge spectrum. And, I think when people think of transgender people, it’s like, ‘you were a woman, you rejected that 100 percent and now you’re a man.’ I think that is usually very untrue. And, a lot of the Trans men I know really value the body and the life they had before. It’s not a rejection of that.”

So, there ya go. Well, that was easy. I should have just asked a long time ago. To paraphrase Mary, “Just talk to people. Life depends on it.”

Currently in pre-production for season 2, you can catch all 8 shows of Meals with Mary but, in old school style (would Mary do it any other way?) one week at a time. You can get caught up on the tasty shows you missed and tune in on Wednesdays for the next hilarious home cooked concoctions. And, to see Petey as Petey, check out episode 7 of Transparent, “Trans Got Talent” in which Petey plays “Butch the slam poet.”

Jennie McNulty was named one of Curve magazine’s Top 10 lesbian comedians. She can be heard weekly as co-host of LA Talk Radio‘s “Cathy Is In: The Cathy DeBuono Show.”

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