Margaret Smith (comedian)

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Margaret Smith
Chicago Illinois
Known forStand-up Comedy, Writing
AwardsAmerican Comedy Awards, Daytime Emmy Awards

Margaret Smith is an American six-time Emmy Award-winning standup comic, actress, writer, and producer. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Smith is known for her deadpan and often acerbic delivery, reminiscent of Eve Arden. She was a writer and producer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show.[1] Smith lives in Austin, Texas with her two sons.

Personal life[edit]

Early life[edit]

The second youngest of six children, Smith was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1956 and grew up there for several years before her family relocated to Florida; there she was raised by her mother and step father.[2] Smith has been very open about growing up in a "dysfunctional family", often using this as the basis for material in her stand-up comedy.[3]

Adult life[edit]

Smith currently lives in Austin, Texas with her two sons. She has written at length about her unsuccessful attempts with in vitro fertilization for several years before turning to adoption.[2] The story of her becoming a mother is what inspired her first publication: an autobiography on the subject of her childhood with her mother and subsequently becoming a mother herself.

Smith has also been quite open about her experiences with and support of attending therapy, once again in the form of material for her stand-up and book.[2]


Stand-up comedy[edit]

Studying improvisational comedy at Second City in Chicago during the late 1970's, it was after a move to New York City that she found there was no market for improv.[4] Smith began performing stand up during the early 1980's in New York as a result of this. Initial stage fright almost ended her career before it began, and the rock bottom of the worst comedy clubs in the city was only a preface to the struggle she'd face in standup that decade: "It was hard enough for [the audience] to accept a woman stand-up," remarked Smith, to the Daily Herald in May 1999.[5] Her biggest break came in 1984 when she was invited to perform on Late Night with David Letterman; she would eventually be invited back an additional six times.[4] Her performances took her onto the screen for small movie roles, and even a position opening for George Carlin on tour.[6] Despite these successes she was still described in papers as an "up and coming comedian" as late as 1988.[7] Her performances into the early 1990's would be given a great deal more weight as she could at that time be billed as a nominee for Comedian of the Year from the American Comedy Awards.[8]

She has toured the comedy circuit doing live performances throughout the United States and appeared in Amsterdam, Australia, Ireland and the Queen's Theater in London. She appeared twice at Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival.

Smith has produced and starred in her own independent projects, including her CD, As It Should Be. Released August 2000, it carries a liner note endorsement from Jay Leno: "The best comedians are the ones that write and perform their own material, and Margaret Smith is at the top of that list".

Television and film appearances[edit]

She played Margaret the record store owner in That '80s Show. Her television and film credits include roles in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, the remake of The Blob, and the Wachowskis' thriller Bound with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. She made a guest-star appearance in the Pamela Anderson series, VIP.[1]

Smith starred in a special for Comedy Central. Her other television credits include appearances on CNN, PBS, HBO, Fox Network, Showtime, E! Network, VH-1, and Comedy Central. Smith appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as Late Night with David Letterman.


Smith is most widely known for her frowning deadpan delivery and low energy performances. Despite this being somewhat of a trademark of her performances it did not resonate with every newspaper critic in the country, remarking frequently that she seemed bored.[9]

Smith tackled humor from hating her parents, to a serial divorcee sister, and even her experience in therapy. Her family would make up the bulk of her stand up routines for many years, remarking mostly on her family's lingering effect  keeping her in aforementioned therapy. Her mother would feature most frequently and is attributed by Smith the quote "If you can't say anything nice, become a comedian", advice Smith would take.[10] Despite this, she always maintained that her comedy would not become mean-spirited, ensuring that she took a stance to never "gay-bash or woman-bash", in her own words, and would become confrontational with her opening acts if they crossed this line.[11]


Her first book, What Was I Thinking? How Being a Stand Up Did Nothing to Prepare Me to Become a Single Mother, was published in 2008 by Crossroad Publishing. A reviewer at Book Apex commented:

What Sedaris, Lebowitz and Dave Eggers should aspire to. Margaret Smith is a one-of-a-kind comedian. Her off-kilter worldview and dry-as-dust delivery is fresh and real in a world of grinning comedy clones. My favorite Margaret Smith-ism goes something like "I saw my mother today. (long pause) It's okay, she didn't see me." I'm not always able to catch her on tv like I used to, so I was delighted to hear she'd written a book. The cover says the book's about becoming a mother, but you won't find overly sweet sentimentality here. Smith makes looking on the dark side into an art form. Her story is dark and horrific, and she pulls no punches when writing about violence, abuse, racism, tomatoes and her calling plan. Only Margaret Smith could make comedy of this. But she pulls it off astonishingly well—deftly balancing tragedy and humor. Ultimately, it's not a story about adopting a baby, it's a heartfelt tale of spiritual redemption. I know that doesn't sound very funny, but it really is.[12]


Year Title Role Notes
1972 Unholy Rollers Avenger
1986 New Wave Comedy Self Documentary
1987 Norman's Corner Lucy TV Movie
1988 The Blob Nurse
1989 Jackée Margaret Kemp TV Movie
1990 Goodfellas School Guard
1996 Larger Than Life Colorado State Police Officer
1996 Bound Woman Cop
2000 Rugrats in Paris Stewardess (Voice)
2011 Five Summer TV Movie
Year Title Role Notes
1983 American Playhouse Club El Guacho Patron
1987 Comedy Club Self
1987 The 11th Annual Young Comedians Self
1989 227 Margaret Kemp
1992 The A-List Self Episode: #1.15

Episode: #1.59

1992-1994 An Evening at the Improv Self Episode: #9.18

Episode: #12.2

Episode: #15.25

1992-1998 The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Self Episode: #1.98

Episode: #1.101

Episode: #2.25

Episode: #6.59

1995-1999 Late Night with Conan O'Brien Self Episode: "Al Roker/Kevin McDonald/Margaret Smith"

Episode: "Fabio/Margaret Smith/Ming-Na Wen"

Episode "John Leguizamo/Tom Green/Margaret Smith"

1995 Bob Hope's Young Comedians Self TV Special
1996 The Rosie O'Donnell Show Self Episode: October 8, 1996
1997 Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist Margaret / Writer Episode: "Mourning Person"
1998 The Roseanne Show Woman in Audience (Uncredited) Episode: #1.6
1998 The Roseanne Show Writer Episode: #1.33
1998 Make Me Laugh Self Episode: "Alex, Jonathan, Zakia"
1999 Comedy Central Presents Self (Comedian) / Writer Episode: "Margaret Smith"
2000 The Panel Self Episode #3.5
2000 The Big Schmooze Self Episode #1.2
2001 Rocket Power Delivery Woman (Voice) Episode: "Losers Weepers/Reggie the Movie"
2002 V.I.P. Besty Goldman Episode: "True Val Story"
2002 That '80s Show Margaret Episode: "Pilot"

Episode: "Valentine's Day"

Episode: "Tuesday Comes Over"

Episode: "Corey's Remix"

Episode: "My Dead Friend"

Episode: "Spring Break '84"

Episode: "Katie's Birthday"

Episode: "After the Kiss"

Episode: "Double Date"

Episode: "Punk Club"

Episode: "Road Trip"

Episode: "Beach Party"

Episode: "Sophia's Depressed"

2006-2007 The Ellen DeGeneres Show Writer / Producer Episode: October 16, 2006

Episode: January 5, 2007

Episode: February 1, 2007

Episode: May 14, 2007

Stand-up Specials
Year Title Role Notes
2000 As It Should Be Self Audio CD


American Comedy Awards
Year Category Work Result
1995 Funniest Female Stand Up Comedian Won
Daytime Emmy Awards
Year Category Work Result
2005 Outstanding Talk Show The Ellen DeGeneres Show Won
2005 Outstanding Special Class Writing The Ellen DeGeneres Show Won
2006 Outstanding Talk Show The Ellen DeGeneres Show Won
2006 Outstanding Special Class Writing The Ellen DeGeneres Show Won
2007 Outstanding Talk Show The Ellen DeGeneres Show Won
2007 Outstanding Special Class Writing The Ellen DeGeneres Show Won
2008 Outstanding Talk Show / Entertainment The Ellen DeGeneres Show Nominated
2008 Outstanding Special Class Writing The Ellen DeGeneres Show Nominated


  1. ^ a b IMDb
  2. ^ a b c Margaret Smith,  What Was I Thinking? How Being a Stand Up Did Nothing to Prepare Me to Become a Single Mother (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2005).
  3. ^ Allan Johnson, "Beneath Grumpy Exterior is a Funny Margaret Smith," Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1996, 1.
  4. ^ a b Stephanie Vozza, " Comedian Margaret Smith's Wit eases fear of meeting Travolta," The Tennessean, March 1, 1996, 49.
  5. ^ Barbara Vitello, "Funny Girls Women Shine in the Spotlight at the Second Annual Chicago Comedy Festival," Daily Herald, May 7, 1999, 9.
  6. ^ Staff, "COMEDY REVUE SPOOFS SONGS," Sun Sentinel, July 16, 1993, 33.
  7. ^ "Somers Takes a Crack at Stand-Up," Orlando Sentinel, April 3, 1988, 22.
  8. ^ Jeff Babineau, "LAUGHS MAY BE CANNED AT NEW MOON GRILLE," Orlando Sentinel, April 3, 1988, 22.
  9. ^ "Reviews: Clubs--Margaret Smith," Variety, September 24, 1990, 98.
  10. ^ Jeff Strickler, "HOT TOPICS," Star Tribune, April 21, 1993, 01.
  11. ^ Linda Terhune, "Comedienne Mines Material from Politics/ Smith Tempers Temper, but Still has an Edge," Colorado Springs Gazette, July 24, 1992, 1.
  12. ^ Book Apex

External links[edit]