Before her mother’s funeral, a rabbi asked Jennie Fahn if she wanted to do the eulogy. She declined.
“It was just too raw, and I knew I would get too emotional,” Fahn said.
However, she told the rabbi someday she would do a one-woman show about her mother. He thought she was joking. She wasn’t.
“That was the only way to really pay tribute to her,” Fahn said. “She is a larger than life character.”
“Under the Jello Mold” comes to The Argyros Friday, Sept. 16, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range $10-$40.
“Doing this show—about the death of my mom—is a very joyful way of paying tribute to her,” Fahn said.
Her mother was the life of the party. Delightfully irreverent, she never missed the chance to embellish a story or drop a name.
“People enjoy meeting her—it’s my privilege to introduce people to her,” Fahn said.
Her mother hid postmortem instructions under the jello mold. No one could have expected the secret she was hiding.
In an interview with the Express, Fahn’s energy burst over the phone. For a show about death, it is quite funny.
“We all think absurd thoughts. Comedy is the freedom to say them out loud,” Fahn said. “We need the release of being able to laugh in that absurdity. It’s the reason some people laugh at funerals. It’s very freeing. You have to be able to laugh, even through pain.”
She used to warn people not to attend the show if they had recently lost a loved one, worrying it may hit too close to home. That was until a woman came up to her after a performance and thanked her. Hugging Fahn, the woman said her mom had just died a week ago, and she hadn’t laughed in a year and a half.
“She felt so much better because she was given the permission to laugh,” Fahn said. “There’s something healing in being able to laugh. I don’t know if it’s the opposite of crying or if it’s another way of crying. It’s very therapeutic. People look at you funny when you laugh while talking about something tragic.”
In fact, many people come to her after the show.
“Me talking about it helped other people talk about when they experienced death in their family. Everybody experiences it—it’s inevitable. People often don’t feel they have permission to talk about it,” Fahn said. “I don’t just want to do this; I feel like I have to do this.”
This is her first time in Idaho.
“Do a lot of people come to Idaho with preconceptions?” Fahn laughed. “I don’t want to bring up a lot of stereotypes, but as a person bringing a show about my Jewish mom to Idaho, I’m going to guess there may be a slight cultural difference.”
But the beauty of the show is that it relates to anyone.
“Everyone has moms who drive them crazy, and everyone has family secrets ... and we love them anyway, and we will miss them when they’re gone,” Fahn said.
Usually, she knows at least one person in the audience. Friday will be one of the first times she performs to an entire audience of strangers.
“I know there will be a connection,” Fahn said. “I don’t know when it will happen, but I’m looking forward to that moment. The beauty of live theater is making that connection.”
She doesn’t get stage fright anymore, just excitement to tell the story.
“Are they going to receive this in the way I hope they receive it? It’s a little bit of a nervous anticipation, but it’s a good type of anticipation,” Fahn said.
She has worked on TV shows such as “The Walking Dead: World Beyond,” “Grey’s Anatomy: B-Team,” “The Middle,” “Heroes,” “Without A Trace,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “My Name Is Earl” and “Will And Grace.”
Growing up, she performed puppet shows with her best friend for all the neighborhood kids.
“It was in my body, I was born this person who wanted to be onstage,” Fahn said. “That’s just who I was.”
They organized carnivals and sold tickets for 10 cents. The script for the show “Happy Birthday Mommy Show” is still in the attic somewhere. To this day, Fahn has the same best friend.
“It was a very lasting friendship and experience. I’m not sure about the quality of the script but I’m sure the adults got a kick out of it,” Fahn laughed
While still alive, Fahn’s mom first appeared as a character in her previous one-woman show “You Mutha!” She came to see it many times.
“She was very happy that people loved her character and that she was the star of the show,” Fahn said. “She denied anything in the show was anything she ever actually said, even though it was taken verbatim.”
Whenever her mom said something off the wall, Fahn would run to the bathroom and record a message into her phone to put into the script. Even her father agreed much of it it sounded familiar.
The first iteration of “Under the Jello Mold” came from a monologue about discovering her mother’s body. The morticians were running late because it was a Sunday. Fahn imagined her mother getting up, standing in the doorway and yelling “What took you so long to get here? I’ve been sitting in this chair since last night!”
At first, she was hesitant to share it with others.
“Do people really want to hear about my mom’s death?” Fahn wondered. “Can you do a comedy about death? I don’t know.”
Before presenting it to her acting workshop, she gave a trigger warning. As it turns out, they loved it.
“People were hungry to talk about this,” Fahn said.
The next day, her friend Tom Cavanaugh offered to direct and produce the show.
“You say yes when someone offers you that,” Fahn said.
Together, they fleshed the show out from that one monologue.
“Jennie was so willing to go ‘there’ and dig into the truth of the show, and that’s what makes it so personal,” Cavanaugh said. “She works so hard to not just entertain, but to tell an amazing story from her heart.”
When things got emotional during rehearsals, he told her to lean into it.
“He was always willing to be available,” Fahn said. “He was always happy to let me talk something out.”
They learned to trust one another.
“He was always open to trying anything,” Fahn said. “Tom was usually right.”
He taught her less is more.
“The better you become as a writer, the better you become as an actor. As a writer, you have to have an excellent editor. Tom was that for me. As I talk too much, I know you will have to edit the hell out of this interview,” Fahn said. “And that’s fine.”
They brought the show to the Hollywood Fringe Fest.
“It gives people with more experimental type shows or just smaller budgets a way to get their stories out there.”
She went on to win the 2017 award for Best Solo Performance. Critics lauded “Under the Jello Mold” as “unforgettable” and “a tour de force.” Now, she’s friends with many of those same critics on Facebook.
“Is it awkward now? Will they never write a bad review of me? What if I suck?” Fahn laughed. “I’m a big fan of honest feedback.” ￼