GPB's Peter Biello speaks with Atlanta-based comedian Heather McMahan.

The last few years for Atlanta based comedian Heather McMahan have been chock full of achievements aspiring comedians dream of. She's recorded two Netflix specials and participated in the Netflix Is a Joke comedy festival, conducted interviews on the Oscars red carpet on E! Television. She's grown her audience for her podcast Absolutely Not, and she's connecting with audiences on topics both serious and silly, including the death of her father and her IVF journey. Heather McMahan spoke with GPB's Peter Biello.



Peter Biello: I wanted to ask you about your origins as a comedian because you're in your first special, Son I Never Had, you talked to some extent about Instagram being the thing that really helped you take off, but I imagine that is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Heather McMahan: Yeah, I mean, I got my start in New York and then moved to L.A. I kind of worked my way through this club called the Upright Citizens Brigade. So I was always on the improv sketch comedy trajectory. And then I kind of got back to my roots and just started doing stand-up, and I realized that I just loved it so much because I could say whatever I want. So standup is what really launched me. But I used Instagram as a tool to get all my material out there, much like all these big comedians now coming up through TikTok. It's just another vessel to get your material out there.

Peter Biello: And was it useful as like immediate feedback, like you're learning what catches on in, you're learning what doesn't, and then you can use that on the stage?

Heather McMahan: Oh, absolutely. And the way I really took off when Instagram Stories became a thing. And now it's the grandma thing to do. I would literally like write bits in like 15 second intervals. So that's kind of how I really started to hone my timing and my material. And it was immediate. Just the engagement was through the roof. My agents were like, let's put a tour on sale and see how it goes. And it sold out in like the first ten minutes. So I owe a lot to the early days of Instagram.

Peter Biello: You are very vulnerable about yourself in your podcast, on stage, and in your videos on social media. Were you instantly vulnerable like that, or did it take some time for you to open up and be comfortable with putting yourself completely out there?

Heather McMahan: My comedy has always been, obviously, from my point of view, my perspective. Right? I can't tell somebody else's story. And at the time that things really took off, I was actually at a very dark, deep, depressed time in my life. I just lost my father to cancer, and it happened very quickly. So my life was completely shaken up. I was always doing funny things on Instagram even before he died. But then I started to put these very vulnerable moments on Instagram, and it wasn't to appeal to anybody but myself. It was just very cathartic for me. And it was unhinged. I'd have like seven glasses of Chardonnay and then I'm like, "Let's try out this new bit on Instagram." And it worked. And the response that I got specifically from other women that were like, "Thank you so much for talking about this. Thank you for so much for taking us on your journey. I realized I wasn't the only one who was going through that." And it just made me double down on what I was talking about, and it just really took off from there.

Peter Biello: Okay. Well, we're going to talk a little bit about your dad, your audience, and how you connect with your audience in general. But first, I don't want to get too far before we give our audience a sense of what your comedy is like. So we have a brief clip from your first comedy special, Son I Never Had. Let's listen.

Heather McMahan: And listen. I was watching my therapist the other day on TikTok, and, oh, yeah, my therapist is TikToks. And she was saying she was like, "Heather, would you talk to your eight-year-old self the way you have been talking to your adult self?"

Peter Biello: So that's from Son I Never Had. And there's a version of this conversation happening now on video. You can watch it at, but for our radio audience, what you can't see is that in the videos Heather is dancing the way ridiculous TikTok people dance while she's saying all that. So I wanted to ask you about the physical aspect of your comedy. Because you are not just dancing. Sometimes you're lunging, sometimes you're running, you're kicking. How important is it to you to be that kind of a presence on the stage?

Heather McMahan: It's just what I know. It's in my nature. I commend other artists who just can stand there and deliver jokes. But as so much of my comedy is through my physical charisma, if you will. I just don't know how to stand still. I've always worked on stage. I've always been in a glitter suit or feathers or something bedazzled. I just like to be an old school showman. That is my performance style. If I wear an Apple Watch, I walk like 15 miles on stage, and I that's the best workout I could ever do, is just doing 90 minutes of comedy every night.

Atlanta comedian Heather McMahan has recorded two Netflix comedy specials.

Atlanta comedian Heather McMahan has recorded two Netflix comedy specials.

Credit: Courtesy

Peter Biello: I wanted to ask you about your father and his influence on you. Because Son I Never Had, referring to the thing he says about you, you're the son he never had. In the intro to that show on Netflix, you are shown bringing out an urn, supposedly your dad, although I think he was scattered at the Waffle House?

Heather McMahan: Yes, he was scattered at a Waffle House and all over the state of Georgia. But, yes.

Peter Biello: Okay. So important places to him, Georgia in general and Waffle House in particular.  And then you talk about his passing on your special and you make something very heavy, very serious and sad funny. And I'm curious about how you worked on that, how you made that happen.

Heather McMahan: Well, honestly, the whole situation in real life was actually quite funny. And I do think that that's the universe's way of just like, you know, the pendulum swings super dark, but then there are moments of levity that were so ridiculous and absurd and unhinged, I'm like, 'God's pulling a prank on me!'

Peter Biello: Like how sexy the doctor was.

Heather McMahan: Oh yeah, the doctor who told us our father wasn't going to make it was the hottest man I've ever seen in my life. Just everything. My dad ended up being too fat for the casket that we had originally bought for him. So we had to get a plus size casket, and my mom's, like, "Over my dead body and his am I going to let my husband feel like he was a heavy set, even going down into the ground." So we cremated him, because he was too chubby. I mean, there were just so many moments where I'm like, 'This is not actually happening.' So I obviously, as a professional orator, if you will, I said, I have to explain this to my audience so that they understand that, even if they're about to go through something really dark, you have to find those ridiculous moments because everything is so absurd, right? There is life before my dad or life with my dad, and then life after my dad. I think once you go through something dramatic, like losing a loved one, it completely changes you as a person. Now I feel like I'm not afraid of death. I'm not afraid of what's next, because I've already felt that horrible pain that nobody life is forever changed, so I don't know why. I just have a very, like, joyful perspective on a lot of stuff now. Because I've been there, I've been at the bottom. But now when I'm when I'm at the top, it feels even sweeter.

Peter Biello: Well, I just want to end on this: Your reputation is that you've been very kind and generous with your audience. You're giving of yourself, you're constantly generating material, and you're thinking about your audience and what your audience would benefit from, and also your reputation after shows. Being generous with fans, connecting with them, talking with them at length about their own issues after shows like you're their therapist.

Heather McMahan: Actually, the Taylor Swift of comedy, which is now I'm starting to figure this out, very kind. And I give a lot to the fans. Yes, thank you for that.

Peter Biello: So that's all I'll say, is that you've been very kind to fans and you've been very kind to come into GPB and speak with me about your comedy. Thank you so much.

Heather McMahan: Listen, I'm so honored and I'm so grateful that people come to shows and that they can relate to the material. So why would I not spend extra time with people who have invested in me? I'm just so incredibly grateful. And, thank you for having me. This has been such a thoughtful conversation.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For the full conversation, watch the video posted above.