Abby McEnany gives Showtime a fictionalized take on her life
If Abby McEnany is a “Work in Progress,” she’s about to share that information with a lot of people.
Along with filmmaker Tim Mason, the Chicago-based improv performer is the creator and executive producer of the new comedy series that Showtime acquired after its independently made pilot debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Premiering Sunday, Dec. 8, the show also stars McEnany as a fictionalized version of herself, a person who has a hard time finding her place in the world – until her sister (Karin Anglin) matches her with a transgender man (Theo Germaine) who has an unexpectedly beneficial influence on her.
McEnany describes herself as “somebody who is basically that mess you see in (the show). Comedy during really hard things has helped me survive, I guess. I think we always wanted to just tell the truth.” Still, she admits some of that “truth” is embellished for the sake of the brand of humor she delivers: “A lot of people were like, ‘Did your therapist really die?’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding? I wouldn’t be here. I would lose it.’ ”
Lilly Wachowski — of “The Matrix” moviemaking fame – also is an executive producer and writer of “Work in Progress,” which involves “Saturday Night Live” alum Julia Sweeney and her androgynous Pat character to a notable degree. (Sweeney does appear in the show.)
“Pat ruined my life,” McEnany maintains. “I’ve been called ‘Pat’ a lot, and (in) the storytelling show that this kind of came out of, one of the stories is called ‘Julia Sweeney Ruined My Life.’ It’s not really about the character. It’s about society, and (that) people feel that they can take things — characters or art or whatever — and choose those as forms of bigotry and harassment.
“And it wasn’t just those fratty guys that we see in the pilot,” adds McEnany. “I was called ‘Pat’ by lesbians in lesbian bars, so it just permeated even what I thought would be a safe space. Julia Sweeney … she is so talented, and I would hear her storytelling on ‘This American Life,’ and I am enamored and in awe of her. But Pat was really rough.”
McEnany still marvels that “Work in Progress” has found a home at Showtime, since she and Mason weren’t sure what they’d do with their pilot. She recalls, “When Sundance said ‘Yes,’ it was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I just lost it. And then, after the premiere, we met (Showtime programming executive) Dave Binegar, and he gave me his card. I’m like, ‘Why are you giving me your card? I can’t call you. You’re from Showtime.’ Anyways, it’s been bonkers. And it is still unbelievable.”