by Allyson Bills
“Social Savvy” is the column where we interview creatives in our community to talk about the the impact and challenges of navigating through this crazy world of social media, as well as how social media has affected promoting their craft.
For the past few years, the Phoenix comedy scene has become one of city’s best-kept secret where on any given night you can see a slew of comedy shows in bars, music venues or even houses. Now fast-forward to 2019, the comedy scene in Phoenix is taking off in a catastrophic way with established shows, such as Anwar Newton and Michael Turner’s This Week Sucks, Tonight and Courtney Wahlstrom’s and Dana Whissen’s The Bro Show, both moving their operations to the Valley’s largest comedic venue, Stand Up Live.
However, there are other comedians in the Valley who are currently making waves, but still flying under the radar (for now) in Phoenix’s comedy scene. Mary Upchurch is one of those comedians that you will be hearing more about soon. Upchurch got her start in comedy in 2013 at JesterZ, and the rest is history as her bubbly candor and wry sense of humor has landed her gigs around the country, as well as spots on comedy festivals such as Phoenix’s Bird City Comedy Festival and most recently Raleigh, NC’s Oak City Comedy Festival. Upchurch has also been a finalist in AZ’s Funniest Person with a Day Job at House of Comedy in 2017 and 2018, and Flagstaff’s Big Pine Comedy Festival’s Best of Fest in 2018. At the time of editing this interview, in improving on her successes in AZ’s Funniest Person With a Day Job, Upchurch won this year’s contest in smashing fashion.
Besides stand-up, Upchurch has has a Podcast called Wings With Friends, where she interviews comedians and other creative types while eating their chicken wings of choice. I met Upchurch in 2017 while regularly attending the now-defunct Lady Killers comedy show at Sip Coffee and Beer, and kept running into her throughout the years. So, being the Social Media Queen that I am, I was curious about how Upchurch promoted her comedic endeavors on all the social media platforms, so I met with her in the lobby of her apartment building to delve into topics such as the continued learning of how to promote her blossoming podcast, trying to strike the right balance between being a role model and artist, and her crazy Twitter interaction with Comedian Carlos Mencia.
Allyson Bills: When did you begin comedy? And what was the first social media platform that you used for promotion?
Mary Upchurch: I think I started around 2013 improv at JesterZ, a family-friendly improv comedy group here in the Valley. That’s kind of when I learned, ‘oh, you’ve got to promote and you’ve got to get people to your shows.’ So I just started using my regular Facebook account to get people to come to my shows.
About three-and-a-half years later, I decided, I really want focus on stand-up. That’s my passion. So it was good that I had built and kind of started using a platform to get people to come to shows. I’m a slow adopter when it comes to technology or platforms. I didn’t have Instagram until just a couple of years ago, but it’s kind of become one of my favorite [platforms]. But I think Facebook is still my primary platform for promoting shows and events.
What mistakes have you made promoting on social media? And what did you learn from them?
I wish I had taken a social media class, which I know some businesses do [offer].
I think one of the biggest mistakes anybody could make, and I’m sure I’ve done it, is not spacing things out because then people are going to tune out and unfollow you. I want it [my social media handles] to be fresh and I want people to engage. So one thing I’ve kind of changed over time is –and it sucks because you do have a show every night that week and you want to promote– but I do decide: who’s my audience with this particular show? What show was going to get the most people [to come out]? So I try to place my bets this Thursday show [for example], ‘I know my work will go to this because of X, Y and Z.’ So that’s the one I’m going to put [my promotions] behind.
In this case, based on your experiences with promoting on social media, what have you done differently with Wings With Friends that you haven’t done before?
Well, so launching that last year, I decided to give it its own Facebook account and its own Instagram. The thing I’m struggling right now with is my personal Facebook has all the followers, and the Wings With Friends Facebook, not as much. I want to keep it separate, and I want it to grow on its own. Thinking long-term is really important, and I really don’t want all these strangers on my personal Facebook where I share a lot.
With Instagram, I think I’m a little freer with that I will follow more people, but it (the Wings With Friends Instagram account) doesn’t have the same amount of followers as my personal one. So that’s just kind of the struggle because I’ve already built a foundation with my personal stuff, and then now I’m adding a new one and asking everybody to come with me. I think in the long run, it will pay off with hash-tagging and engaging with the masses. And the possibility of people just finding you is really intriguing.
What are your favorite social media platforms to promote on and why?
I like Facebook and Instagram. I love Facebook. O.G. because everybody’s there. I’ve been on it since ‘08 or ‘09, which I was a little late to that game, too. But you’ve got your high school friends, you’ve got your family, friends and even my relatives in Mexico, like deep down in Mexico. Relatives I haven’t seen in years are on Facebook. So I like that depth [of connections].
But I like Instagram because it can be less intrusive… you know, just a photo, you can make it beautiful and just put it out there. The commenting [on the Instagram photos] is a little bit less. So I love it for that reason.
What are your least favorite social media platforms to promote on and why?
Well, the least favorite that I engage with is Twitter. Many years ago I got on Twitter before I did comedy and it was like, ‘oh, I’m gonna be so funny on here and so edgy,’ and it just didn’t work. You think all these people are gonna retweet you. So I kind of got away from it, came back so that I could have a Twitter handle for comedy. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how it works as much.
With that being said, where do you think Twitter needs improvement based on your experiences?
I’m forty, so I feel a little behind on the technology. I don’t know if Twitter needs to be improved or I just need to “skill up?” It doesn’t feel very user-friendly, like finding a tweet or just understanding it [Twitter] is difficult.
I think also I’m afraid of Tweeting. Instagram is for your photos, Twitter’s for your words, and you have to just really be ready to stand behind it. I think the fear of you know what people could think or say, and you could get unraveled in is very scary. I don’t want to be controversial, and I don’t want to upset people or offend people. So [Twitter] is more of a “you better really own that.” So that’s scary to me. I really just want to make people laugh and make people happy. That’s kind of my brand. So I wouldn’t say it’s Twitter, but maybe [the platform] doesn’t serve me as well.
Do you ever test new material on social media before performing? If so, what have been your experiences?
I don’t. I’ve kind of been in a process right now trying to develop new material. I’m very nervous in general trying new material and so I wouldn’t do it on there [social media].
I wish I knew more, but I think that people who are really engaged in working on comedy, they’re posting everyday for comedy. I feel like I’m in this weird blend of my personal life and my comedy life, so I don’t want to disrupt my personal stuff. I wouldn’t feel comfortable right now.
What obstacles have you experienced in promoting your comedy on the social media platforms as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
That’s a great question. My only obstacle right now, I think, is balancing my comedy life with my work life. I work in a federally-regulated industry and a really conservative company. So I’m trying not to piss them off or be on their radar outside of ‘oh, how cute. Let’s go to Mary’s show.’ I think that’s who most my followers are: people who already like me or people who know me.
I have thought about the other part about “being a woman in comedy,” but I haven’t gotten really any backlash. Maybe because I stay away from controversial stuff or don’t put out my opinion like that or I don’t comment my opinion on other people’s stuff. So I feel like I’ve successfully avoided some of that criticism, but it’s always on my mind. So I censor myself a lot. I guess I try not to be too over-the-edge, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.
Also, one thing I always have on my mind, and I’m saying this on a small scale, but it’s kind of who I think my fanbase is. There’s a lot of my friend’s kids, my friend’s little girls, I think from starting [comedy] in family-friendly improv… they kind of look up to me or they like me. So I try to be conscious about not posting things they can’t see. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but because I know with my friends, their little girls that will take their mom’s phones. There was one [girl], who was adorable, like she was stalking me and she went back far [on Instagram] and was liking my photos. Then my friend texted me, “hey, that’s my daughter if you see me ‘liking’ your stuff from a long time ago.” So I do think about them, too, when I’m posting.
Recently I’ve kind of gone like, ‘I don’t care, I just want to post what I want’ a couple of times. Then I just kind of cringe and wait to see if there’s a backlash, but there hasn’t been one. Somebody said to me recently when I was I was kind of censoring them on my podcast and he goes, ‘were allowed to say f**k every once in a while’ or we’re allowed to say that in our off time. Then it just got me thinking: you’re a person and you’re an artist, you can do these things. So it’s like giving myself permission. That’s me going back on my friend’s daughters as fans.
That also makes sense because I think, as women, we are told to censor ourselves and act a certain way.
And that’s the difference there. Not to hate on all men, but men just put it out there and it’s fine. And then, here I’m going to think about it in ten different lenses before I’m going to do it [make a post] because I’m afraid of what backlash I could get.
Do you have any funny social media troll stores?
Oh my gosh, I wish I did. Now I feel like the worst interviewee because I see them from some my friends. They’ll screen shot some crazy stuff. I really don’t because of what we talked about earlier about staying out of it. I just have the random friend requests from people. So it’s not very interesting or exciting.
I don’t know, this is a troll story, but there is a comedian who I don’t know who I was [Facebook] friends with… I think what happened, if I had to guess, was his page got hacked. And I don’t know if it was a real person. Basically the outcome was his page wrote so many shit-talking comments on a lot of people’s pages. On mine, it said, “geez, lose some weight.” I was like, ‘ah, f**ck you.’ That’s shocking at first because you don’t want to see that, and it’s hard to bring back middle school. But then I realized that I wasn’t really talking to him, but I did block the account. And then not long ago, I think he kind of came back, maybe a new account, but I’m like, ‘no, I don’t care. Fool me once. I’m not letting you in my atmosphere.’ Especially since I don’t even know you.
So I try to be really careful about who is friending me. If it doesn’t look like a real account, I won’t accept it because once you let some of those people in as [Facebook] friends, they can infiltrate your friends, and then my friends get requests that aren’t from me. I feel like it can ruin your credibility.
What’s the coolest experience you had as a result of promoting on social media?
Some of it’s just the little stuff. Somebody at my level; I don’t really have fans, or I don’t have people that I don’t know, but I’m starting to do bigger shows, I’ll get one or two people who will follow me. I think that’s neat because, for me, they’re very personal, and I engage in those [followers] a lot. For somebody to follow you and want to see you on their feed and engage that way, you made an impact, you made an impression.
There’s one guy who I met and his wife at a show, and there was really not lot of people at this show. The he messaged me after, and he was, like, ‘by the way, you’re such a babe.’ And I just thought, this was just the cutest-it could’ve been creepy-but it was the cutest compliment; it was personal and I just screenshotted that to remind me like when I feel like crap. I loved that message.
Carlos Mencia [also] replied to me on Twitter. Two weeks ago, I was in New York and we were performing in the side room at Gotham Comedy Club. Carlos Mencia was in the main room. I was like, ‘I really want to meet him.’ So I tweeted at him, “I’m downstairs performing in the Vintage Lounge at Gotham-I need a pic to make m-mama happy! Or a guest set! Can I just buy you a drink?” Then we were all in the same bar next door. So I wanted a picture and then I was like ‘Mary stop being a dumb fan.’ I want to be a cool comic, but I’m just not at that point yet. Until then, I’m a fangirl. But he did reply, ‘We just took a pic and it was nice to meet you.’ I don’t know what that meant, but I kinda felt like, ‘okay, now leave me alone, girl.’
What advice do you have for other comedians on how to promote on the social media platforms?
Probably take a class. I’ve gone to a few workshops at Big Pine [Comedy Festival] about social media. Last year, we had a really good one with Comedian Trixx, and he has a huge social media presence. Some of the tips he gave us were really impactful. So I try to keep some of that in mind about posting every day or as he says, “don’t go too long without posting,” and use your page for your content, but use your story for more personal, behind-the-scenes kind of things.
It doesn’t hurt to do a little work upfront, have some best practices, and be really consistent because if you are trying to make this your business, make it a business.
We’ve heard stories about how other people get huge [that way], and you kind of go like, ‘what does it take for that to happen to me?’ I’m in a little bit of a lull, and people can discover a podcast at any time; I could be done with the podcast and then it can get popular. I think the answer is keep creating content and keep posting. I think that’s where maybe some people fall short. It’s like, you stop right there. I’m feeling that right now, and I’m telling myself ‘just push through that’ because the next big event you’ll need a good handful of people and they’ll want to engage with you. Just go talk to people you know, find a way to engage with them.