Mary Dimino, author of Scared Skinny, has a new solo show, Big Dummy about Mary's relationship with her father, whom she describes as a simple man. As someone who grew up with a learning disability, I already feel a connection to this show! When I was a child, I was diagnosed with a learning disability called auditory processing, where it would take me longer to process information being spoken to me than someone else. It was a struggle for me to get through school. I spent a lot of time on my work. With the help of my parents and many teachers, I made it through school, but it was at Curry College where I truly learned how to overcome my learning disability. If it wasn't for their PAL program, I might not be where I am today.
Big Dummy, a heartfelt comedy about dads and daughters, is playing a special encore performance in the United Solo Festival on Thursday, October 22 at 9pm at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. Before we get to your new show Big Dummy, let's go back a moment to your award winning show Scared Skinny, just to get a little background on yourself. You have struggled with weight your whole life. When did you realize you could turn your fat into funny? My struggle with weight has always been the heart of my comedy, not only as a comedian and actress, but also as a coping mechanism as a child. In school, I’d make fun of myself before anyone else would. I’d get the bullies and the popular kids to laugh by being myself, but an exaggerated version of myself. I learned early in life that diffusing a situation with humor always renders the best results, in other words, you don’t get your ass kicked. Ironically, pointing out my flaws is what gave me my power back.
Scared Skinny: A one (hundred pound lighter) woman show - chronicles my life growing up fat, funny and afraid in an Italian family from Queens. It’s about how I lost 100 pounds, what got me to that weight in the first place, and the fears I had to overcome before I could lose it. Ultimately, it’s a story of self-acceptance and triumph, where perfection does not exist. Instead perfection is always in the moment we have now, in the bodies we are living in.
Scared Skinny debuted in the New York International Fringe Festival where it had a sold out run, and was winner of the Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Solo Show. It was also nominated for the MAC Award for Outstanding Special Production. It’s been running regularly for over a year now at the Corner Office Theater in Times Square Arts Center. Scared Skinny's next performance is November 18 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!
2. On October 22, you are returning to the United Solo Festival with Big Dummy, a heartfelt comedy about dads and daughters. Why did you want to have another show in the United Solo Festival? United Solo invited me back to be apart of their Encore series. Big Dummy was apart of last year’s 2014 United Solo. Dummy enjoyed a successful run with five sold out shows, and won a United Solo Award, so it was an exhilarating experience. I am honored to be back on Theatre Row for an encore.
What’s also news is that Big Dummy is having a run at The 13th Street Rep, opening Friday, January 8th 2016 and running regularly through January 30th. Dates and times are at www.big-dummy.com. Dummy has an exciting fall/winter season ahead!
3. After writing and performing your award winning show Scared Skinny, what made you want to write a show about your relationship with your dad? I’ve been holding Dad’s secret close to my heart, something I had told no one, and had no intention of ever telling anyone. And that’s exactly why I knew I had to do it. Sometimes it’s the story we can never tell—that has to be told.
Dad was unique, even "special" you may say, yet his story is so relevant in today’s society. Over 30 million Americans have learning disabilities. 92 million have special needs. I felt strongly that telling Dad’s story would heal others. My wish is for people to see themselves or a loved one somewhere within this play. Big Dummy is about Dad. He could be your dad, your brother, your son, your uncle. It’s about understanding someone who "is not like everybody else." His story’s take away is inspiration, and understanding that it’s never too late to fulfill your destiny.
4. In writing Big Dummy, what is one thing you discovered about your dad that you didn't appreciate until you were an adult? I discovered in the writing of Big Dummy that Dad was brilliant, as is. Accepting Dad, in all his simplicity, was the gift that writing this piece gave me. I remember, as a teenager, trying to hide him away, distancing myself from him. This piece fused my feelings, both good and bad, into unconditional love. I think I can say what I discovered is that in order to do something extraordinary, you don’t have to be super smart, or highly educated, or prideful. In fact, it was because of his lack of all of the above, that he was able to achieve what he finally did. I now understand why he was so magical. It was because of his simplicity, not in spite of it. It’s through Dad’s story that I learned miracles occur when you are within a pure state of trust. To have ONE way of being and knowing no other.
I can now appreciate the fact that all you really need to be happy in life is to be genuine, be yourself, and to keep it simple—that’s when you’re limitless.
5. Do you feel your relationship with your dad added to your weight issues? If so, how? My relationship with Dad was a positive one, so in the end, I don’t think it added to my weight issues, which is why Dad is not a major character in Scared Skinny. Skinny wasn’t his story. It was Mom’s and Grandma’s and mine. The women in my life were really the ones who unintentionally ruined me when it came to body issues. "You’re too fat to wear that dress." "You’re too fat to go out with boys." "You’re too fat to wear a bathing suit." You know, that kinda stuff. And that’s why they are the main characters in Skinny. I’m sure they were doing the best they could but wow, they certainly did a number on my self esteem.
On the other hand, Dad grounded me. He passed no judgements, he just was Dad. Always there, very consistent in his love. Dad had his own story which was way too amazing to be apart of Scared Skinny’s plot line. That’s why I gave him his own show. His story demanded it.
6. How did writing Scared Skinny and Big Dummy help you move forward in life? Skinny and Dummy helped me move forward in many ways. I was able to develop as a writer. I started out as a stand up comic, sketch player and improviser, where what you do is presented in fast chunks of material, each having multiple punch lines and very short set ups. Solo playwriting allows a writer to go deeper, to tell an audience a sustained story, with an arc and a message, providing all of the ups and downs, the emotional rollercoasters that so reflect real life. You have a chance to make people both laugh and cry, to give them poignancy along with the humor.
I also find that writing heals me. And it is through my healing that others are healed. So, I guess you can say it was a double blessing. For example, people will come up to me after a show, sometimes with tears in their eyes, saying to me that I just told their story, too. I will never forget, one time after Skinny, a teenage girl came up to me sobbing because she hated her body so much, was so depressed and was thinking of dropping out of school. After seeing Skinny, she was overwhelmed with new emotions and empowerment. It healed her, knowing that she was not alone in this struggle with weight. She felt empowered to be who she was now and not the idealized person that she wanted to be one day, or the model she saw in a magazine or on television. To know that I can be that for someone means everything to me. It’s the reason why I do this, why I go through the pains of birthing a new story.
Ironically, these stories, even though they are about my life experiences, are not really about me, or my particular story. It’s about everyone else’s. It’s through my story that people can see theirs. Sometimes something bigger than yourself goes on. And I am honored to be an instrument for that. Before I write, I always ask the universe to show me the way, to use me. I don’t want to die with my story in me. I want to use up everything so that in the end, I can say I have nothing, because I used it all.
7. What challenges do you face in putting a solo show together? Putting a solo show together is a huge feat. It involves taking everything you know and everything you didn’t know you knew. It takes both self disciple, and the ability to work with a team towards a clear unified vision. Ultimately, it is all you in the end and your play needs to reflect the vision you had when you first conceived it.
Solo shows are the best representation of what you are made of because it's your guts and your glory that are on stage every night for strangers to see. You take a thought in your head, and make it manifest - into art. Solo show writers are consciously working magic, it's alchemy of the highest order. And once the magic happens, the work just begins. You become the producer, the marketer, the actor, the writer, the publicist, the manager. You have to know when to put on those different hats and when to take them off. You need to know something about everything and admit you know a lot about nothing. You then have to get on that stage, let it all go…And. Just. Be.
8. In your opinion, what makes the bond/relationship between a father and daughter unique? The relationship between a father and daughter is unique because dad is the first man she will look up to, the first man she will subconsciously model and compare all other men to in her future. A daughter bases her ideas about men, and who they should be, and the type of man she will feel comfortable with in the future, on what a father does and doesn’t do. And for the father, every dad sees his mother or his sister in his daughter, which makes him love and respect his daughter, and womankind even more. In a way, they take care of each other, making each other live to their fullest potentials.
9. Out of all your friends growing up, did you ever wish one of their dads could have been your dad? If so, why? Sure. In fact, I admired most of my friend’s dads, they all seemed so normal, you know. Taking their kids to baseball games, helping them with their homework, doing dad stuff. My dad wasn’t like them. He couldn’t be. My dad was who he was, nothing more, nothing less. I never really understood that, or came to terms with that, until later in life. Funny how time can put the past into perspective, a perspective that brings with it appreciation. Now, I wouldn’t want anyone else’s parents but mine. Why? Because they were mine. Wanting what you have—it’s a concept that sometimes takes a lifetime to learn.
10. If you could have had any TV dad as your real dad, who would you have chosen? Fred Flintstone. A helluva guy, that Fred. He drove a car with his feet, he bowled on his toes, he was a member of the Water Buffalos, he played golf, pool, poker, he sang, he danced, he had a pet dinosaur for a dog, he worked at a quarry operating the brontosaurus crane. The guy even had a vitamin named after him.
But mostly why I think of Fred for this question is because he was lovable, down to earth, a good provider for his family, and he’d do anything for his wife and daughter. Kinda like my Dad. Yup, kinda like mine.
A Fringe NYC "Outstanding Solo Show" Award Winner for her critically acclaimed sold out hit Scared Skinny, Mary Dimino is described as "riotously funny" by The Wall Street Journal, "utterly captivating" by nytheatre.com, and "a born ranconteur with exuberance and heart" by Curtain Up.
Her book, Scared Skinny No More, based on her original autobiographical solo show, Scared Skinny, is published by Sunbury Press and debuted #10 on their bestseller list.
A 2010 MAC Award winner for "Outstanding Female Comedian," author and actress Mary Dimino also won a 2008 Gracie Allen Award for her role in the PBS documentary, Fat, What No One is Telling You and was featured on NBC’s Today Show. The Gracie Allen Award, presented by American Women in Radio and Television, honors exemplary contributions of individuals who have encouraged the realistic and faceted portrayals of women in entertainment, commercials and featured programming.
Mary Dimino's TV appearances include HBO's Chris Rock Show, VH-1's Best Week Ever, Comedy Central's Graham Norton Effect, Comedy Central's Upright Citizens Brigade, American Movie Classics' Interstitial Movie Moments, NBC's Today Show, Meredith Vieira, sketches on Late Shows with David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, and numerous national commercials. She has been heard on SIRIUS XM Radio, Howard Stern 100 News Leiberman Live. On stage she played the "Maid of Honor" in Tony & Tina's Wedding, "Carmella" in Surprise, and last season landed the role of "Vidalia" in the off-Broadway hit My Big Gay Italian Funeral at St. Luke's Theater.
Her latest solo show BIG DUMMY, made its world debut to a sold out run at The Player's Loft Theatre in The New York International Fringe Festival (2013). BIG DUMMY enjoyed a sold out run on Theatre Row (2014), where it won the United Solo Award for "First Sold Out Show."
Mary Dimino is a comedy contributor for The Huffington Post.