Julia Sweeney (born October 10, 1959) is an American actress and comedian who lives in Hollywood, California.
Sweeney was born in Spokane, Washington
, the daughter of Jeri, a homemaker, and Robert M. Sweeney, an attorney and federal prosecutor who made an appearance in her movie It's Pat
as a priest
. The oldest of five children, she was raised in Spokane, and quickly found a talent for imitating voices and inventing characters. Despite successful appearances in high school plays, she decided to put acting aside to pursue economic
studies at the University of Washington
where she became a member of Delta Gamma
sorority. After graduation, Sweeney moved to Los Angeles
where she worked at various odd jobs, and as an accountant for Columbia Pictures
and United Artists
, before turning her attentions again to acting.
In 1988, while still working as an accountant, Sweeney enrolled in classes with the improvisational comedy
troupe The Groundlings
, eventually being selected to be part of the troupe's Sunday Company. It was at The Groundlings
that she began to develop personae she would later bring to the stage, film, and television. They include Mea Culpa, the title character of Mea's Big Apology
(co-written by then-husband Stephen Hibbert), which won the Best Written Play Award from L.A. Weekly
in 1988 and has been developed by Sweeney (in collaboration with Jim Emerson) into a screenplay; and the androgynous Pat
, whose impossible-to-determine gender
was the basis for Sweeney's popular It's Pat!
skits on Saturday Night Live
, and later for her feature film of the same name, which never received a national release but has since gathered a small cult following.
In 1992 she also worked with the rock band Ugly Kid Joe, performing in the music video for their hit "Neighbor" and contributing introductory audio to two tracks, "Goddamn Devil" and "Everything About You." The latter was on the soundtrack to the Lorne Michaels movie Wayne's World
Saturday Night Live
At a Groundlings performance in 1989, Saturday Night Live
(SNL) producer Lorne Michaels
discovered Sweeney and offered her a spot as one of SNL's featured players. She joined the regular SNL cast the following year and remained with the show through four seasons, from 1990 to 1994.
Sweeney's 1993 impression of Chelsea Clinton caused somewhat of a stir when Hillary Clinton found it offensive and sent an angry letter to SNL's Studio 8H.
Sweeney has created and performed three autobiographical monologues, God Said Ha!
, In the Family Way
, and Letting Go of God
God Said Ha!
After leaving the cast of Saturday Night Live, Sweeney returned to Los Angeles where, shortly afterwards, her career was put on hold by a series of personal traumas. Her brother Michael was diagnosed with lymphoma
, and shortly thereafter Sweeney discovered that she had cancer
, too. Following the ordeal, Sweeney began to tell of her experience in serio-comic performances at L.A.'s alternative comedy
club, the "Un-Cabaret
", eventually developing the stories into a one-woman stage show, God Said Ha!
, which debuted at San Francisco's Magic Theater in 1995.
Sweeney's unusually candid, humorous, and moving treatment of her painful and personal story won her a large new audience. God Said Ha! moved to Broadway, winning the 1996 New York Comedy Festival's Audience Award, and a CD recording of the show earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album that same year. Miramax released a film version of the show in 1998, directed by Sweeney and produced by Quentin Tarantino. The film earned the Golden Space Needle Award at the Seattle Film Festival. It was released on DVD in 2003. Portions of the monologues from Un-Cabaret were featured on This American Life (TAL) in January of 1996 in episode 9. (This American Life was then known as "Your Radio Playhouse.") TAL rebroadcast the original episode in June of 2006. Since her initial monologue, she has been a frequent contributor to TAL, with several of her monologues featured for broadcast.
In the Family Way
Sweeney's second monologue chronicled the adoption of her daughter from China
. In the Family Way
started on stage in NYC
in early 2003 at the Ars Nova Theatre. The show was directed by the esteemed Broadway stage director, Mark Brokaw. The show then migrated to the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles. Sweeney has also released a CD recording of In the Family Way
, and in 2006 she performed a twenty-five minute excerpt of this show at the Hollywood Bowl
with a new orchestration written especially for her piece by the composer Anthony Marinelli and performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Letting Go of God
Sweeney's third autobiographical monologue is entitled Letting Go of God
. In it, she discusses her Catholic
upbringing, early religious ideology, and the life events and internal search that led her to believe that the universe can function on its own without a deity to preside over it.
She work-shopped the show in small theaters and clubs around Los Angeles for three years and then opened it at the Hudson Backstage Theater in October 2004. The show garnered great reviews and ran for ten months. In June 2005, it gained a much larger audience when an excerpt of the show was featured on American Public Radio's This American Life in an episode entitled Godless America.
Sweeney's public declaration of her atheism has brought her substantial attention from secular groups around the world, as well as new fans who share similar, personal loss-of-faith stories.
An audio recording of Letting Go of God was released on CD in 2006, and it was filmed live on stage in May 2007. The film premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival on June 13, 2008.
Sweeney has also appeared on the big screen in Pulp Fiction
, Whatever It Takes
, and Stuart Little
. A veteran of live television, Sweeney made her mark on primetime television as a series regular on George & Leo
and Maybe It's Me
and she guest starred on 3rd Rock from the Sun
, Hope & Gloria
, Mad About You
, and According to Jim
. In 2004, Sweeney co-starred in two episodes of Frasier
(as Frasier's litigious unwanted houseguest, Ann) and had a guest role on Sex and the City
. She served as a consultant on Sex and the City
for its last three seasons. She also consulted on season two of Desperate Housewives