Julia Sweeney goes from SNL to SUV Strollers

The former SNL star turned solo-performer and author gives out unambiguous etiquette answers on child-rearing and drinking with the boss.

Julia Sweeney Photograph by Lauren Topel

As a “Saturday Night Live” cast member in the early nineties, Julia Sweeney created the infamous androgynous character Pat, among many others. Since then she’s written and performed in several critically-acclaimed one-woman shows.

This week she releases If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother – a memoir about deciding to adopt as a single woman, searching for (and finding) a husband, and raising her adopted daughter, Mulan. Julia tells us about Sport Utility Strollers and other hazards of parenting…then addresses foodsnobs from the heavens and drinks with the boss.


Brendan Francis Newnam: Julia, welcome.

Julia Sweeney: I’m just laughing at the searching for and finding a husband.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, yeah.

Julia Sweeney: I guess that’s true.

Rico Gagliano: It’s true.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I mean, was an alternative title search party?

Julia Sweeney: I have to go lay in the fetal position now for a minute, but then I’ll be back to the interview.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You talk about going through, you call all your former relationships Joe.

Julia Sweeney: That’s true. All the Joes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Joe #9, Joe #10, and then you met Michael.


Julia Sweeney: Yes, he gets a name.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I wasn’t lying.

Julia Sweeney: He gets a real name, yes.

Rico Gagliano: What a lucky guy.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But before we get there, let’s be honest. The title of this book, it’s a little hokey.

Rico Gagliano: I laughed.

Julia Sweeney: It is hokey.

Brendan Francis Newnam: “If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother.”

Julia Sweeney: I actually didn’t want them to name it that. I had that opening chapter which I wrote, and then the publishers really wanted that name, and I did too at first, because people did laugh, but then I wrote a lot of extra chapters in the book, and that chapter really would have been one I cut, except that it had that title in it.

Rico Gagliano: You kept the first chapter of your book just because it had a cool title?

Julia Sweeney: Well, it is a good introduction to the characters in the story, and it is kind of good thematically because it’s all about this pillow my mother gave me with that quip on it, and I really hate it, and I hate puns that are rhyming especially. I just hated everything about it.

And then when I adopted my daughter, it suddenly was hysterical to me. Like I got this weird mom sense of humor, and I put it on my daughter’s bed. I think it’s funny when it’s on someone else’s bed. And then my daughter came to me when she was six and said I don’t want it anymore, it’s not funny to me. So I thought that was a good introductory.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Completing the cycle.

Julia Sweeney: It’s okay, yeah.

Rico Gagliano: Well let’s talk about another portion of the book. You don’t have to dwell on this any further. You have a particular beef with strollers? Very large strollers?

Julia Sweeney: Oh, you’re the first person to bring that up.

Rico Gagliano: Is that true?

Julia Sweeney: Yes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: We actually read the books.

Julia Sweeney: I know. This chapter that’s in the book is just about how obnoxious to me huge strollers are, especially in urban environments when there’s a limited amount of space for people to walk, and people have these hummer-like contraptions.

Brendan Francis Newnam: They’re like SUV’s.

Julia Sweeney: At the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, these women and they’re shoving this thing up in front of the aquarium with the jellyfish that no one can see, and the baby’s asleep. It doesn’t even matter.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And you can’t do anything about it because they have a baby. You would be rude to say “Excuse me, could you move your big stroller,” because that sounds mean.

Rico Gagliano: And what’s the need of such a thing? Not that long ago we did fine with smaller strollers.

Julia Sweeney: I think it’s the obsession with safety. It’s sort of like the whole SUV thing, like you’re so much safer in a bigger car, but then it created this feedback loop of bigger and bigger cars.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well look, clearly you have some wisdom to give to the world.

Julia Sweeney: Especially about strollers.

Brendan Francis Newnam: As your stroller wisdom has lead us to believe. How about you answer some of our listeners’ etiquette questions?

Julia Sweeney: Yes, okay.

Rico Gagliano: You ready for these?

Julia Sweeney: I don’t know if I’m ready, but just throw them at me.

Talk, or Trivia?

Rico Gagliano: Here we go. This is Patricia via Facebook. We don’t know where she’s from.

Patricia writes, “What does a hostess do when a guest answers his cell phone? I have a sign at my front door that says welcome, our house is smoke free, gun free, and cell phone free. Violators will be persecuted. How do we teach manners about the use of cell phones, iPads, etc.?”

Julia Sweeney: Okay, first of all, this woman has a lot of rules. I think that’s the etiquette we really need to talk about, having a sign like that outside your house. I guess I agree with the guns.

I would say 90% of the time, people only answer the phone if it’s important. If they’re in a social situation, especially if they’re in someone’s house, they don’t take the call unless they have to.

Rico Gagliano: You have a tween now. I think you know better than this. Like, this is maybe our generation does that, but I feel like these millennials, damn it, they’ll answer their phone for any damn reason.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well they – millennials – don’t use their phone, they just text.

Julia Sweeney: That’s true. No, they just text.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, there’s no phone.

Julia Sweeney: Okay, because I was gonna say, the difference is texting and looking stuff up on your iPhone because someone said what kind of cloud this is. That is rude.

My husband and I get into that, because we’ll go to dinner, and if any question comes up where we don’t know the answer, his nose is immediately in his iPhone finding out the answer. So now I say, “Do you ever wonder – and don’t look this up if you don’t know – where in India Mumbai actually is?” And you can see how hard it is for him not to look.

Rico Gagliano: It’s traumatic, but there’s your answer Patricia. Phone calls are okay, but looking up trivia is not.

Julia Sweeney: Yes, exactly.

Drunken Snitch or Productivity Expert?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, we have another question.

Julia Sweeney: Okay.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s from Christa in Reno. Christa asks, “What is the best way to tell a boss that your coworker isn’t pulling their weight? Also, does that happen on SNL? Name names.” Now, she knew you were coming.

Julia Sweeney: Wow, I have no idea who went to Lorne and said they didn’t like who or who, but I wouldn’t have even thought about going to the higher ups like Lorne Michaels and saying anything about another cast member.

Rico Gagliano: Really?

Julia Sweeney: No, I wouldn’t ever think of it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: He’s like “Look, I survived Belushi, Aykroyd.”

Rico Gagliano: Seriously, you can handle it.

Julia Sweeney: Also their work in show business, their work speaks for itself. If you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna fail in front of the audience, and if you’re not failing in front of the audience, you can anything you damn well want.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.

Julia Sweeney: But in a normal workplace environment, like if you were working in an office, and you knew this person wasn’t pulling their weight, but others didn’t, and maybe the boss didn’t.

I would go out with the boss for a drink, and I would say something like “I have this feeling about this person that may be inaccurate, so take this with a grain of salt, but I just need to say this.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: That sounds dangerous though, because once you finish that drink, it’s no longer delicate. I have a feeling it’s like, “Look, he doesn’t ever replace the toner, he comes in a noon…”

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, you want to make sure there’s one drink, maybe not two martinis.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, maybe coffee or tea.

Julia Sweeney: Okay, coffee or tea.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Okay, well there you go Christa.

Food Snob Squared

Rico Gagliano: Okay, so here’s somebody who identifies themselves a food snob in Cambria, California.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s redundant. Just kidding.

Rico Gagliano: Food snob writes, “I attend a weekly potluck with friends. The problem is that I’m a foodie, and my friends are not. I love cooking for them, and I prepare something that is almost always a hit, but I usually don’t care much for the food they bring. How do I deal with this problem politely, without suffering through too much blah food? I feel like a bad person.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: You know what, by the way, I sense a humble brag in there. “My food’s always a hit.”

Rico Gagliano: Call me crazy, I think food snob is being a little bit of a food snob.

Julia Sweeney: No, I think you should feel good. Okay, here’s how a church person, God has put me in this situation to enlighten the other people about what real good food is.

So yes, I bring the good food, and yes she has to eat a little bit of their bad food, but so what? You can leave and eat good food later. You’re doing a service to this church group by bringing good food.

Rico Gagliano: She is literally God’s gift to this church group.

Julia Sweeney: Yes, that’s what I mean.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow.

Rico Gagliano: Nice job food snob.

Julia Sweeney: Yeah, I mean spin it narcissistically like many church group people do.

Rico Gagliano: Julia Sweeney, thank you so much for telling our audience how to behave.

Julia Sweeney: Thank you for allowing it.