Metro Weekly

Unmistakably Retta

The Parks & Rec star is doing her stand-up thing at the Bentzen Ball


So, what will Retta be doing at BYT’s Bentzen Ball comedy festival?

“I have no idea,” she laughs, heartily. “Tig Notaro sent me an email a couple of weeks ago and asked if I could come out and do a show.” It’s a testament to the tug of Tig that Retta simply agreed without questioning the details. Still, she concedes, “My schedule is so hectic, I have to rely on my management and assistant to tell me the night before where I need to be [the next day].”

Born Marietta Sirleaf (Retta was a college nickname that stuck), the comic has gained national recognition for her role as the frank-talkin’, man-lovin’ Donna Meagle on NBC’s Parks & Recreation, one of the best, most genuinely heartfelt comedies currently on television. The show is entering its seventh — and final — season.

“It’s nice knowing that it’s ending as opposed to getting to the end of the season and then finding out you don’t have a next season,” says Retta. “If it was two years ago, I would have been in a complete panic, like ‘What am I gonna do, where am I gonna go everyday?’ But I’ve gotten to a place where I feel confident enough in myself…[to] look for other things.”

There’s a small-yet-significant twist this year, in that the Parks & Rec action is set ever-so-slightly in the future. While Retta won’t reveal any details, she says that setting the season in the future has allowed the writers liberties they might not otherwise be able to take.

“You can make up jokes about stuff that never happened,” she hints. “So you can make up who is president at the time — and use real people even though it’s obviously fake. There’s a particular joke about a celebrity feud that is is so outrageous…” She stops herself. “Who knows? We could be prophetic,” she says coyly.

Retta says she’s similar to Donna in that “she’s a little boy crazy, and she likes the finer things in life.” She’s dissimilar to Donna in that “[Donna] knows exactly how to get what she wants, whereas I feel like I’m still working my way through and deciding what exactly I really want and how I’m gonna go about getting it.”

Her comedy is mainly of the self-referential, observational style, but there are things in our society that trouble her, chief among them racism.

“This whole Michael Brown thing has really got me so stressed out,” she says near the end of a 20-minute phone conversation. “We have a black president, true. But you feel like you take one step forward and it’s another step back. The Ferguson, Mo., thing has made me so worried. We don’t really have the equality that we think we do. I want it to get better.”

Retta performs at BYT’s Bentzen Ball Comedy Festival, curated by Tig Notaro, on Saturday, Oct. 4, at 6 p.m. at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. Tickets are $20. For more information on the full lineup, or to purchase festival passes, visit

Follow Retta on Twitter at @unfoRETTAble.

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