While you were busy doing God knows what, Mary Beth Barone was studying the psyche of one of the preeminent chaotic forces of mankind: the f*ckboy. The New York City-based comedian is nothing less than a world-renowned expert in her field. From decoding toxic behavior to crawling through the trenches herself, Barone has given the best years of her life to understanding and rehabilitating the archetype into a functioning, caring member of society. It’s the type of work for which the Nobel Peace Prize was made.
What first began as a live show railing on those who turn dating into emotional war zones, Barone’s Drag His Ass has been reborn as a digital comedy special on Comedy Central. Barone tackles the serial DMers, the non-committal gaslighters, and yes, even men in finance, in a perfect display of cunning, immaculate comedy. F*ckboy redemption is possible, and those who pass Barone’s rigorous testing swear on a VHS copy of The Wolf of Wall Street to change their ways and start anew.
Whipping the degenerates of the dating pool into shape isn’t Barone’s only comedy gig. As a self-proclaimed obsessive, it's only fitting that Barone's other creative outlet is a podcast entitled Obsessed. Along with comedian (and the internet’s most prolific impersonator) Benito Skinner, the two get on the mic to gab about their most debilitating obsessions of the week. Their obsessions can be anything — a makeup YouTuber who recounts grisly true crime tales while doing a full beat? Why not! A real-time CGI recreation of the sinking of the Titanic? Do you even have to ask?
Barone is a sharp comedian, with the type of deadpan delivery and keen observations about sex and dating that drives fear into the heart of the f*ckboy, keeps audiences howling, and brings a level of amped-up glamour that’s redefined the historically upsetting schlubby comedian trope. F*ckboys worldwide, tread carefully — Barone’s on the case.
New episodes of Drag His Ass drop every Wednesday in May on Comedy Central’s website.
What are you obsessed with today?
Today? Oh my gosh, what am I obsessed with today? Today I am obsessed with my parents ditching me tonight to go hang out with other people. Well, they're all vaccinated. And they said, you know what? We're going to dinner and you're not invited.
I love it. It's how I used to act when I was a teen when I’d ask my parents to drop me off around the corner from the movie theatre. We were not together.
Exactly. I think they like having me here [in Connecticut], but it is good. I'm obsessed with them. Just being social and being like, “Yeah, we're vaccinated, our friends are vaccinated. We're going to enjoy it.” I think that's wonderful.
Not to be mean, but, historically, comedians look like shit most of the time. You know what I mean?
That's not mean, it's just true.
You are very much of a different school with comedians like Sydnee Washington, Marie Faustin, and Rachel Sennott, where you’re all always snatched and looking fab. I want to know more about how you got into that practice.
I always felt like it's a show. I'm putting on a show for people and I want to give that the weight it deserves with how I'm presenting myself. When I first started doing stand-up, I would wear dresses and heels to every show. I really wanted it to be clear that I was taking it seriously. I am a performer and I'm going to perform for you. I'm going to entertain. I would watch my tapes back and I would have to be adjusting my clothes or the shoes if they get uncomfortable or whatever.
I just said from the beginning, I'm not going to show up here in my pajamas because I'm here to do a job. This is work. I'm at work. I wouldn't show up to work in pajamas. Nowadays I sometimes wear pajama bottoms if I'm doing a virtual show, but I always want it to look like I've put the effort in, because people put effort into going out. They're out there with their tickets to the show, two drink minimum, sometimes. I don't want to roll out how guys dress.
Prior to the pandemic, you were really prolific on the scene. If I wanted to see you, I could see you five times a week. That's obviously been a big shift and I'm just wondering how have you been dealing with that?
It was so jarring to not be able to perform. And it was like one day you could, and then the next day you couldn't. I think at first I was pretty open to the idea of, okay, I'll do Instagram live shows or I'll do Zoom shows and try to scratch the itch that way. But it just became very clear to me that as a comedian, it wasn't as fulfilling to do those shows because so much of what's exciting and fun about being a stand-up comedian is hearing people laugh. And that was a very critical piece of the experience that was missing.
I was still writing a lot of stand-up. Early in quarantine I made this little weird short film called The Bird House. And then I did a sequel of it, I guess, over the summer where I would do found footage, rolling with my stand-up as voiceover. And it was fun. I really ended up loving how they came out and it was cool to be able to still put stand-up out and feel like I was not writing for nothing, but definitely still miss it so much.
How has writing stand-up shifted?
Well, you basically just have two options. If you write a new bit, you can either tweet it, which I generally don't do. I don't like to perform tweets. I always just feel weird about it. I know some people do and if that's part of their process, I totally respect that. But for me, I just like it when it's like not a tweet and I can just do it in its purest form, which is onstage. So you're either tweeting it and just letting it go, or you just have to sit on it and you can run it by friends or see if it stands the test of time. If I feel something I wrote a month ago is funny, then I know I'll do it in a live show eventually, but it is very tough. Because sometimes it's just like, “Okay, well I just have to let that bit go. Because it just doesn't work.”
How did you meet Benito and was it love at first sight?
It was in Bushwick, where all great romances begin. We both clocked each other. And then as I was leaving, we had a little quick exchange and then fate brought us together again a few months later at a show. And he was like, “I have this idea for this sketch where I'm going to play Jonathan van Ness as Jesus. And like, I think you'd be the greatest Mary Magdalene.” I was like, “Okay, cool. That sounds fun.” One thing led to another, it just blossomed from there. It's been sad because we used to see each other all the time, and now I haven't seen him in person in over a year.
Tell me more about how the podcast came to be.
As you know, we can't perform live, and we have a lot of things to say. We have a lot of fun together when we are just chatting about things that we love. I think for me, I've always thought it's more brave to publicly love something than it is to publicly hate something. I think there's a lot of negativity in the podcast space. When we were thinking about what our podcasts would be, we just wanted to celebrate weird shit that we love. Then we had the conversation with Spotify and things really clicked into place. It's been really nice and it's fun to just have an hour and a half per week where we're on the record, just being fun and funny and talking to each other and genuinely introducing each other to things that we didn't maybe previously didn't know about.
Do you consider yourself an obsessive person in general? What are you obsessed about in your life?
I get very obsessed. I used to get very obsessed with brands, and I've had to break the chain because I realized that they're not people. There's that classic movie Fever Pitch, starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. The kid when he's obsessed with the Red Sox, it's like, “You've loved the Red Sox your entire life. Have they ever loved you back?” I'm paraphrasing, but I really had to put that in perspective with brands. I'm like, they just want my money. So why am I so obsessed? I still am obsessed with brands, but I try to not follow brands on social media. That's my active resistance.
I definitely get obsessed with people and sometimes those obsessions can last decades, for example, all my best friends from high school. We're very obsessed with each other still, which is really great. The last obsession of mine is my phone. I would be remiss if I didn't mention this little thing right here.
You were recently on The Tonight Show, which was your late night and television debut. You looked really good. Those blue pants. It was very sixties. Like Don Draper would try to cheat on his wife with you.
Thank you so much for saying that. A blue pant, it wasn't what I expected going in. I met with the stylist and I had an idea of what I would wear and then I just thought, you know what? The outfit for the taped set for TV, I knew I didn’t want anything distracting. I tried on this other outfit that was so cool. It was a matching jacket and pants with this crazy design on it. And it was red and pink and purple. I just thought this would be such a cool outfit if I was going to be a guest on the show, but the fact that I'm doing stand-up, I want it to be the perfect balance of serving a look, but also I want it to just be additive instead of taking away the focus.
What was writing that set like? Did it present any other challenges because it's going to be broadcast on TV?
For The Tonight Show, it has to be a clean five minute set. The challenge about a five minute set is that you want to distill your comedic voice into five minutes. The challenge about a clean set is that if you're someone who talks a lot about dating, sexuality, and being a young woman, a lot of times that lends itself to a little bit more edgy subject matter. So basically working with the booker there, I had to come to him with five minutes of clean material and then we refined it over probably a month of going back and forth and figuring out, we need to punch up this section, or we can cut that joke. And then they have to send it to standards and practices to approve every single line.
I had to type out every single word I was going to say, and then they approve it or they have notes, and then you'd have to remove stuff. I actually found it really rewarding to challenge myself to do that and make it a clean set. I'm so grateful that it was, because a lot of my parents' friends watched it or alternatively friends' parents and people that I want to not feel excluded or alienated by any of the subject matter. I was happy knowing that one of my dad's best friends watched it and didn't have to hear about me talking about my vagina. Not to say that's not worthy of being spoken about, because it is, but I was happy with where all the material landed.
It's nice to also connect with different audiences, too. People who would be watching The Tonight Show are necessarily going to Drag His Ass.
Yeah, exactly. You have to learn how to balance it. Even doing shows in different areas of the city. Like a Brooklyn bar show won't necessarily get the same set as a club in Manhattan. So I think that it was nice to have this whole new audience to approach. That was really rewarding.
You are also a renowned scholar of the f*ckboy. We know Drag His Ass is very much based on your studies. I want to know if you have any insight into how the f*ckboy has evolved in these COVID times, and what are things people should look out for? What has your research shown you?
I think what's so interesting about the evolution of the f*ckboy is that they really have not changed that much since the beginning of time. It's only that their methods have changed. What they're doing and the damage they're causing is the same. They now have more access than ever and more tools at their disposal. So, whereas Don Draper, for example, could only really be talking to so many people at once or sleeping with so many people at once because he didn't have an iPhone. He didn't have Instagram. He couldn't DM people. He didn't have dating apps. I think it’s exacerbated the problem and the red flags are almost always going to be there. I would say my advice would be trust your gut and trust your instinct. It's hard, because you don't want to tell people, be suspect of everyone. I think it makes people earn your trust because if they're worth your time, then they will put in the work.
You always hope when there's a global tragedy that people will see the value of real connection and just respecting human life. But from what I'm hearing from my troops on the ground, that's not happening.
I've heard the same. Things seem bleak out there.
Incredibly. I've always said that a f*ckboy can look like anything, but I do just want to say that I'm hearing things, stories about both men and women that are very alarming and troubling to me.
Oh, wow. Looking forward to your eventual book of research.
It’s going to be maybe a couple of volumes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.