Mary Lynn Rajskub may be best known for her signature scowl, which she donned on television thriller 24 as Chloe O’Brian, the right-hand woman to Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. However, Rajskub’s certain set of skills includes bringing the laughs on shows like 2 Broke Girls and the recent revival of Arrested Development. She sets her sights on Laugh Boston for a series of stand-up shows on March 12-14. / Hannah Landers
Tell me about your Boston shows. What can audiences can expect to see?
Well, it’s stand-up comedy. [Laughs] It’s a lot of me talking and being ridiculous and not too dirty—a nice amount. And it’s a live show so anything can happen. Most of my material is personal.… Also a lot of people recognize me from 24 so that creates quite a bit of material, usually up top at the show. Sometimes people look at me not knowing what to expect because a majority of people know me from a very serious show, so that’s always fun.
That actually goes into what I was going to ask about. A lot of people know you best from 24, a serious drama. Do you think your stand-up side surprises people?
Absolutely, and it took me a while to understand that.… I see myself as always doing more comedy, but I get so many people that don’t know what to expect. There’s always the couple that’s like, “See? I told you she was funny!” “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never saw her smile.” The way I finally started to understand it is if I went to a comedy club and Walter White came out and was standing in front of the microphone.
You mentioned a lot of your comedy is autobiographical. Do you have a topic or subject you like to touch on during every stand-up show?
I talk a lot about my family. I have a husband and a kid. And… we actually got pregnant three months into dating. So usually at the top of my show, depending on who’s in the audience and how much I feel like they’re into 24 or not, I will address that because sometimes people just really want to talk about that. And then I kind of segue into this stuff that is very candid and comes from living life by the seat of your pants type of situations.
You’ve been a part of so many ensemble casts on shows like Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Modern Family. Who would be in your dream ensemble cast?
Oh my gosh, that is a really tough question. I hate questions like that, where they’re like, “What is your favorite all-time whatever?” And you’re like, “I don’t know! Don’t put me on the spot!”
We can come back to it if you need some time to think about it.
Yeah, that might be some homework for me.… There’s certainly tons of funny women right now, which I love. It seems like every year there’s somebody new and unique.… Like that Ghostbusters cast that they announced? I’d love to work with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy or Amy Schumer or Maya Rudolph. I’d love to do something with a bunch of funny ladies.
Which role has been the most fun for you to identify with?
I really like Gail the Snail [from Always Sunny] because she’s disgusting and I like that I was forced to identify with that. I had to dig deep inside of me and find the grossest version of me that I could possibly be and that was very liberating.
Have you always known that you wanted to be a performer?
No, not at all. I went to school for painting and I didn’t like the critiques that people were giving me so I just started speaking and doing live performance. Although I did do acting when I was a kid and in high school, but I never thought it was anything that I could go into. I just did it because I enjoyed it.
How did you initially become interested in painting?
Looking back—and even now—I would be in trouble if I had to anything other than something artistic.… My parents signed me up for a watercolor class. It was all older women and I was like 15 and we just recreated greeting cards. So you’d take a greeting card and you’d take your piece of paper and recreate the flowers from the greeting card. And I just loved it. And then when it was time to go to college… I just kind of looked up and I was like, “Oh, I don’t really want to go to school and I don’t want to get a job. I’ll go to art school!”
Between painting, stand-up and acting, what would you say is your favorite creative outlet?
I like to be able to go back and forth. Painting is definitely more solitary and more inward. I think stand-up has been a really good training ground because you have to be aggressive and I’m not really an aggressive person. So learning how to do that has been really, really, really good for me.… You have to learn how to command the stage and be really clear about what you’re talking about. And also have a good time because if you’re not having a good time, everybody else isn’t having a good time. So stand-up is tough but it’s also kind of a party. It’s gotten me out of my own head.… And acting would probably be the in-between of both of those worlds.
What would your dream role be?
My dream role would be to… almost be in a comedy where I’m a mom who’s just a regular person and then by the end becomes a crazy vigilante warrior fighter. That would be my dream, is to be able to kind of do a little bit of everything. Maybe have something that seems like a totally normal situation that ends up in a fight for life or some kind of spy situation or some kind of showdown.… So at the beginning you see me making breakfast and everything’s okay but everything’s not what it seems and then I gotta throw down. Like some movie cuts on my face and a metal bikini by the end.… That would be the dream role.