The year is 2019. Vampires are out; witches are in. You’ve already binged all of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Charmed on Netflix, but you’re still hungry for more witchy content. Allow me to introduce you to comedian, actor, musician, and Harlem native Maggie Lalley. Is she a witch? We’ll get there; calm down.
Lalley's comedy gets personal and sometimes dark, but she delivers her punch lines with an upbeat tenacity that keeps the audience invigorated and ready for more. Watching her, you’ll find yourself hanging on every word, unable to look away… almost as if you’re under a spell.
Maggie Lalley isn’t a witch (sorry), but she is familiar with witchcraft. Over the past few months, she has been workshopping her one-woman show, Cold Blooded Witch: The Sex Musical! (which you can catch May 30–June 1 at Under St. Mark’s Theater). You might be thinking: Witches, sex, music…I’m in! But what exactly am I getting into? Answer: an intimate look at a time in Lalley's past that she has kept secret until now, when her childhood best friend convinced her that they were both witches who, according to witch law, had to engage in sexual rituals. And thus began Lalley’s introduction to witchcraft and sexuality. It’s a tale about the trauma of being a vulnerable teenage girl. But Lalley is able to make it uproariously funny, weaving comedy, music, and storytelling together for a, yes, spellbinding performance.
Photo by Sayaka Ueno
What Should We Do: So you're a former witch and current stand-up comedian/comedy writer—very New York. What made you decide to write and perform a one-woman musical comedy?
Maggie Lalley: To be honest, a deadline. I was scheduled to perform a one-woman show on November 16, 2018, at the Solocom Festival at the People’s Improv Theater. Three weeks prior to the show, I had nothing prepared. The festival allows you to submit premises, and all I’d written down was "Magical-Poetry-Music-Freak Comedy Show." Beyond that, I was at a total loss for content.
With the show date rapidly approaching, it finally hit me. I wanted to do a show that would tell the true story of the craziest time in my life: my time as a teen witch. But it has turned into so much more than that. I’m taking the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer and will perform it 25 times, which is very exciting!
I wanted to do a show that would tell the true story of the craziest time in my life: my time as a teen witch.
WSWD: With the popularity of shows like Sabrina, it does seem as if witches are making a deserved comeback. What do you think it is about witchcraft that is so tantalizing?
Lalley: Witchcraft makes you feel powerful, special, and chosen. Those are the feelings I sought as a teen, and, admittedly, continue to seek as an adult. Hello? I’m a comedian. Today I am decidedly more grounded, but when my creepy teenage best friend, Bethany, told the 12-year-old me that we were both magical witches destined to be as powerful as the women in Charmed and Harry Potter, I couldn’t resist the excitement. In terms of the show, my understanding of witchcraft is seen through the lens of my own adolescent experience. And that experience just so happened to be a two-person cult—a kind of folie à deux if you will. Amazingly, that very scary experience—the scariest experience of my life—provided me with great material for a very funny witchcraft cabaret show.
Photo by Sayaka Ueno
WSWD: You perform stand-up all over New York City on a nightly basis. What has it been like experimenting with other elements of performance for this show?
Lalley: I love comedy and am drawn to many facets of it. I write sketches, do stand-up, and perform musical improv. Sometimes it feels a little scattered, so the idea of synthesizing everything I love about comedy into a single performance was very appealing. I had to go to open mics to work out the stand-up portions, sit at my piano and think of music and lyrics to write, all the while making sure that the arc of the show not only made sense but was also funny.
WSWD: This show is hilarious, silly, and at times bizarre…but it’s also very personal. Were you scared to share this secret onstage?
Lalley: It was invigorating. Sometimes, because I’m so focused on putting on a good show, I forget that I’m singing about my deepest, darkest secrets. I’m suddenly disconnected from the pain of it all, and I can’t stop laughing at myself! If that’s not witchcraft, I don’t know what is.
WSWD: What do you hope audience members will walk away with after seeing your show?
Lalley: I want them to have the time of their lives! And I also want to give them the opportunity to think, Wow, who knew something so scary could turn into something so therapeutically comedic—just as I did while writing the show. Ultimately, I want them to feel that they too can tell their deepest, darkest stories and put any shame they may have about their pasts to rest.
It was a two-person cult—a kind of folie à deux if you will.
WSWD: Your show deals with the sexuality of a young woman. This is a topic that is often seen as off-limits, and when you add in cunnilingus, it teeters on the edge of taboo. Are you usually drawn to these sorts of things in your work and art?
Lalley: I am drawn to honesty and vulnerability. For years, it was hard to admit that my best friend convinced me that she was a witch, ate me out constantly, and had a psychological and sexual power over me that, frankly, I’m embarrassed about. But today, I have a shocking musical that makes me laugh really hard, harder than I ever came—which was never.
Photo by Sayaka Ueno
WSWD: Does laughing help you work through trauma?
Lalley: Comedy is therapy for me. But don’t worry, I’m also in real therapy. Weirdly, my sex musical hasn’t fixed me and I need outside help? But yes, when you make fun of something terrible that’s happened to you in front of an audience, you’re able to let go of your shame.
WSWD: Are witches real, and if so, when can we start our coven?
Lalley: Witches are real. To be clear, however, I am not a witch, and neither was my best friend. Without revealing too much, she was a liar and I was a victim. But I’m there if you want to light some candles, do some affirmations, and dance around a fire in the nude. I do have great respect for actual witches, and if I had the discipline and spirit, perhaps I would be one myself. However, I am not a real witch. I never was a real witch. But I do have a teenage witch sex musical, and I’m excited to keep sharing it with all the witches and nonwitches out there!