Julia Sweeney Featured

Julia Sweeney on Atheism, Saturday Night Live, and Me Too

July 25, 2019

This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes comedian, monologist, and atheist, Julia Sweeney. Many may know Sweeney from her time on Saturday Night Live, her appearances on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, and from her current roles on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Hulu’s Shrill.

Jim Underdown sat down with Sweeney at CFI West to discuss her time working on SNL, dealing with her catholic faith after the passing of her brother to cancer, how Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer, and CFI helped her become an atheist, her experiences navigating Hollywood as a non-believer, and her conflicting opinions surrounding the Me Too movement after her good friend, Al Franken was accused of misconduct.

If you’ve never seen it before, Sweeney’s, “Letting Go of God” talk is highly recommended for those who became atheists after living with a religious point of view. You can find Sweeney on twitter: @JIsbackintown.

What was that great music you heard?

“Wahre” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0

“Building the Sled” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0


Hello, everybody, welcome to another edition of Point of Inquiry. I’m your host for this episode, Jim Underdown, executive director of the Center for Inquiry W and the chair of the Center for Inquiry Investigations Group. I’m going to be talking to Julia Sweeney, who is one of our favorites around here. Julie, of course, is a television star from the 1990s. She was on Saturday Night Live and has done a bunch of other TV shows and movies. She is also a Freethought hero in our world. She’s made lots of appearances for different organizations and did the summit all letting go of God peace her one woman show. That is just a fantastic journey of hers leaving Catholicism, talking about Catholicism and making people laugh all in one performance, which is the real challenge. It’s one thing to write about religion and point out facts and figures and things like that, but to do it in a way that entertains people and makes them laugh and makes it an enjoyable experience is a real challenge. And there is none better than Julia Sweeney doing that. We had a delightful conversation in this office and talked about her journey through Hollywood and the entertainment industry and her journey through the free thought process of becoming an atheist and a nonbeliever. So with that, please enjoy my conversation with Julia Sweeney. 

Julia, welcome to the Center for Inquiry. 

I am so happy to be here. I love you here. 

Our audience knows who you are, but they might not know, like all the cool, interesting stuff about you, which there is a ton of money that I’m from Spokane, Wash. 

You did that? Yes, very. And I died from there. 

Spokane, Wash. Don’t say Spokane people, though. 

Right. Home of Gonzaga. Yeah. Gonzaga. Yeah. 

So you what you grew up there? I’m Catholic. Carrie Lee, Catholic. It’s a big Catholic town. 

We’ll get a lesson now because the Catholics aren’t having as many kids as the Mormons are. 

Oh, so it’s more Mormon now than Catholic, I think. Well, it’s right next to Idaho, which is a big name, right? Yes, they. Right. 

And white supremacists. Teria in northern Idaho. Yes. Caught. I went to a white supremacist parade and that was the first parade I took my daughter Mulan, who I adopted from China. That was their first parade. Wasn’t white supremacists. All right. That we happened upon as we were walking down the street and delays. Delays. Well attended. 

Yeah, well, you know, we’re booing. It was a complicated thing because the UCLA that UCLA, the ACLU is defending their right to be able to have this parade like. 

So it’s, you know, like like I feel like I’m on this. I’m like, well, I defend every right that you have to express your views or your view. 

Yeah. Well, we went through that in Chicago with the not the Nazis marching in scope, right? 

Yeah, I’m sure that’s the only thing I knew about Skokie before I moved there. And then it was so funny because I ended up spending so much time in Skokie. 

Yeah. Yeah. What are you doing in Skokie? 

Because I at the Unitarian Church, I joined in Evanston, we adopted a Syrian Muslim family and we who is a refugee family. 

And I was part of a small group that was in charge of them and became incredibly close to them over a couple of years. But the apartment we got for them, it was in Skokie. 

So I was in Skokie like five times a week at this apartment. I was in Skokie constantly and got to know the Skokie schools because I was getting the kids in the schools. 

And now I know probably more about Skokie than I do about Wal Mart. Huh? Yeah. So it was weird and like I’d never heard about Skokie in my whole life, except, of course, because of the Nazi parades in Skokie and all that. Yeah. 

What a shame. And Caudal Lane is such a pretty town. 

I know it is. 

I know it’s too bad that it has this undercurrent of racism and xenophobia. 

But anyway, it seems to be getting better, I think, because I don’t go there very often. 

So I’ve just decided it’s getting better. 

But your mom’s. I forgot to ask. How’s your mom? 

She just I just moved into an assisted living place, which she’s doing really well. 

And and she she’s kind of losing her memory a little bit. And it’s hard to tell because she’s on some medications that cause that is very you know, getting older is really. And it’s very sobering. 

Yeah, your mother and assisted living. But she every I talk to her every single day, we laugh and say we have her two minute phone call every single day. And she always says, I’m right where I should be. This is where I needed to be. And it’s an old contract. And half the people there. 

And they have signs that say like rosary at 3:00. Happy hour at 4:00. 

No. Yes. Oh, yeah. And they have mass every day. And you know what? I love it. 

I love it. I like it. You know, I’d like to. 

I actually have a lot of affection for Catholic culture and this pretty place, very open minded, very relaxed about Catholicism. 

It doesn’t feel strict or terrible. The nuns I’ve met, I thought I’d be friends with all of them if I moved in. 

And beautiful little church. 

Yeah, well, your mother’s still. 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. 

That’s fine for her. Yeah. 

Yeah. I’ve actually been encouraging her to go to the Bible study classes because I’m reading the Bible right now. I was telling you Robert Price his books, I’m reading it and then reading my King James Bible the same time. So this is my summer of the Bible. 

I keep trying to move on. Michael, you’re going to learn a lot about the Bible. This may not be happy about it. No, no. Every night at dinner, I’m like, do you do it? 

Do you know the writer of Maccabees really was trying to do that anyway? 

I’m trying to get my mom to go because at least we can have a discussion about something. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

There may be a she’ll be taught the Bible from a different perspective. The brightest day, will you? 

Yeah. Wow. Well, that I mean, reading the Bible is the first step toward eighth ism. 

Oh yes. 

Actually thinking I was not surprised that no one read the Mueller report. 

That should have because no one’s read the Bible. Yeah. 

The Bible is the biggest scam. Like, here’s this book. Here’s this book. We’re gonna keep the language convoluted. Don’t really read it. I mean, I don’t understand how anyone could read it and not see that. 

It’s a collection of screenplays that someone grabbed up off the floor of her room and put together and said they all were one book. 

I mean, like, fairly randomly. 

Randomly like like Chronicles is a rewrite of kings that comes right before it. 

The guy who wrote Chronicles, which they called the chronicler and higher criticism by prison, had no understanding that anyone who read King’s he was literally rewriting things for his own purposes because he was a Levi priest and he wanted to promote the priesthood. So he rewrote all the stories to say what you really should do is go to the Levi instead, you know, before you do bloddy. 

He elevated that station and then dropped things out and added things. How could you read those side by and not understand? I mean, and then that goes for the old Bible. I mean, like the whole Bible is that way. 

The Gospels, which are telling the same story or he’s going to know each other. Right. 

I have them in my show. How if you if you read the Gospels in the order they’re written, which is not the order they are in the Bible. It’s impossible not to read them as successive drafts of the screenplay written under the thumb of a studio executive who wants one. 

That’s what they’re afraid of, because each gospel has more miracles, more crazy happens until you get to John. And then that’s when the most crazy stuff happens. People are being raised from the dead. 

That’s the wedding at Cana with all the wine there like it has. It has it’s like a bigger movie. It’s has more special effects. Yeah. 

More CGI. Yeah. Well, I mean, I, I grew up Catholic too. 

I mean, did you experience the priest who were like, you don’t have to read this world, right. 

Yeah. Exactly. No, no, no. 

They didn’t push reading the Bible at all. Not like the evangelicals. But now that I’m reading the Bible again, I’ve only read the Bible once before at a Catholic Bible reading. 

So I got the apologetics right with everything. And we didn’t read every single part of it. 

There’s a lot of begats. There’s a lot. I mean, oh, my God, there’s a lot there’s a whole lot to go through. 

OK, but now I’m reading it again. 

And I because I always have said even on my show, I said, oh, the evangelicals are all over the Bible, not like the Catholics. I have a couple of jokes about it. 

Now, I don’t even understand how the evangelicals have read the Bible. I mean, it’s cray cray. Every story is just retold again with name changes and outcome being different. 

I don’t know how I guess it must be the human need to belong and say that they’re part of something and to kind of create a mythology that they insist people believe in. How could any rational person read the Bible and think that it’s the word of God or has. 

I just don’t understand it. Yeah. You have to compartmentalize. Right. 

Or anyone else’s religious. Book. You’d say this is insane, right? 

Wouldn’t believe it, but I mean, people make fun of like the Mormon, the Book of Mormon. But well, as they should. 

I know. But it’s not any crazier than the Bible. 

I mean, it’s the same level of you know, it’s the same level of craziness. Yeah. 

Yeah. The most interesting thing. And then I’ll get off. I know that. 

I’ve learned that I can’t get over. And now I have I’ve already ordered like five books from Amazon. So it’s not even like one person saying it. 

Well, here’s what we know. Exodus never happened. That was all made out. Right. That is common knowledge. But the idea that there was this Babylonian captivity and that they all came to. To reclaim their original place in Israel, that’s also made up. Right. So. It looks like there was babbling kings that the Jewish people were kind of becoming a bit of a problem. There was a big population explosion and he took this guy, Azra, who has his own book in the Bible, also who is also a Jew, and said you’re gonna take your people to Israel where you’re from. 

They weren’t from there, but they weren’t from there at all. They take them back to Israel and he makes up the Torah basically on the way like there they come up with a mythology that they’re rebuilding the temple when there really wasn’t a temple or it was a pagan temple, like they appropriate all that. 

It’s like finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because you want to go. 

They’re not really there. You’re going to come up with a metrology that makes people. And also it would make people feel like they were returning. 

And even in the Bible, it says they were in Babylon for like 400 years. So, like, how much during one? 

Could there be eight? Really? 

It turns out the whole returning the first returning was really just a made up thing. They know they were going there and displacing people. 

I mean, it’s blows my mind. 

Well, and this this claim to our God given land. 

Oh, I know. Remains today. No, I know. 

Like, I keep seeing him move on my daughter. This is so crazy. And the world could literally end over this. Right. Like, this is not jokey, archaic. 

This is relevant to today. 

Right. And people are dying today because of his beliefs. 

Right. So then you you leave Spokane, you go to school. 

I go to University of Washington in Seattle, and you get a degree in economics and European history. 

I bet a lot of people don’t know that. Not theater. 

No, but I did end up getting another degree in film later. 

Oh, you did? Yeah. From there. Yeah. 

From the MWI. And. But not film. Like filmmaking. Like film. Like English. You watch movies and wrote essays about more criticism. Yes. More criticism. So I left there. But I always want to be in Hollywood because I do love movies and. So I came. But I also took accounting classes, so I moved to L.A. and became an accountant at Columbia Pictures in 1981. 

Oh, wow. 

And that’s it. And then I lumbago. So that’s. Yeah. Over at the Warner Brothers lot. 

Now you kind of get the mixture of your training and your love for film. 

Yes. Well, I thought it was a company town. I thought all the other accountants were gonna be talking about Frank Capra, who’s going to lack Lachmann to see the president’s dirigiste series. I come to town. My I. 

Oh, this is just the company town, like in Spokane. Kaiser Aluminum is. They’re like they’re not they’re not particularly in love with movies. They’re just live in Hollywood, where you work in the industry. There’s closure. 

And that was very upsetting to realize that my fellow accountants weren’t as excited about the movie as I was. 

It was probably good goods and made you go elsewhere, maybe. 

Yeah. Like, look after I’ve wanted to. 

I didn’t know how to get ahead. I was a pretty good accountant. 

It seemed like in order to get ahead, I had to get an MBA or a law degree to really move up. And I was just not interested enough in it to do that. Yeah. 

So I had a crisis. I was crying on my way to work. Mostly I hated the two weeks of vacation here, too. Only, yeah. Because I had to go to Spokane to visit my parents. Like there was I couldn’t go anywhere. I had to be in L.A. and spend two weeks a year visiting my family. I was not enough travel for me. 

That’s a long 50 weeks between those. 


And also, I felt really a great attachment to Spokane and Seattle, took classes at the Groundlings. I saw an ad for the Groundlings, never even saw Groundling show, just went and took a class because they said they taught now nonprofessionals. 

I wouldn’t have gone there if they hadn’t said that in the first year. Yeah. It was like if you’re a lawyer, it will help your skills, which is true. All improv is. It’s really good. Yeah. Yeah. So I went just as a person, not as an actor, to take Groundlings in for introduction to graph comedy. 

And we should underscore there are huge differences between people who are actors. It’s true that it’s true. 

And I just fell in love with it. I knew right away that was I had to change my whole life. Like. And I was not good at it either. But I still loved it, just like the beginning of a whole new life. 

New York. You are naturally funny and like your dad was a funny. Yeah, you should be tall. I’ve met your dad. Yeah. The date. Yes. Nisa’s breakup ever. And we’ll say, oh, we both wanted out and we just lit out and stayed friends. 

Yeah. And it’s worked out for both of us. But your dad was a funny guy. 

He was. And this was sort of natural Irish. Yeah. Yeah. 

And I think, you know, you got some of that those rhythms and timing built in. 

Oh, yeah. For sure. For sure. 

He was my mom was a character in terms of just a crazy person. 

My dad was a wit, you know, like he was funny and he knew how to construct stories. He just had this. 

He just you could just tell he just knew what information to emphasize, what to leave out, when to bring that information in. And I think I did learn that from him. 

Yeah. So then you get some stage time out. 

But, you know, we still didn’t tell stories about myself or anything. I was just gonna be an actor for years. In fact, it wasn’t till after I was at the Groundlings. In fact, it wasn’t till after Saturday Night Live that I ever spoke as myself on stage. Yeah, I only did characters. Yeah. But then it’s because of Kathy Griffin. She was doing Hot Kopitar at the Groundlings where you just got up and talked about your week. It wasn’t really stand up. It was just sort of interesting conversation, I guess. And she got me to do that. And then people laughed a lot at what I said, and then it just kind of snowballed. I started doing the cab. I went to this terrible year and my brother got sick and I got sick. I did a show about it. And then I became a person who talks about herself. But that wasn’t really until my 30s that I did that. 

Yeah. After you found all those. So you get discovered at around these. Right. And go to SNL and Michael hires you at SNL. Yeah. And what years? 


I keep saying I’ve been saying eighty nine to ninety four. But it turns out it’s 90 to like ninety five. I was off by a year. Yeah. 

Yeah. And you had some fun cast members. Fellow cast members. 


Well Chris Farley was there and Phil Hartman to name two now deceased ones. Yeah. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. And Kevin Nealon and Victoria Jackson. This was a very different world view than me. But it’s such a sweet birth them. And Jan Hooks, we were the three women for most of the time that I was there. 

And then the last year and a half, they brought in a bunch of other women. Molly Shannon came in, some really good people and. 

Saturday Night Live. I’ve seen some old Farley clips lately. 

And I remember you talking about how hard it was to work with Farley because no one could get through a scene. 

No. In fact, his down by the river guy. 

The first sketch of that, they had to really cut around Meeks. I’m sitting on the couch. Phil and I are the parents. And so we’re sitting on the couch watching him do his down by the river guy. 

And I am laughing so hard at two feet from him. I can’t my shoulders are just shaking. I can’t control myself. I do sing. I think you have to recast it. I mean, like, I can’t sit that close to Chris personally and not laugh the whole time. 

And then they they strategically figured out how to kind of cut around me. And whenever I see that sketch, I can see them cutting because I’m like, you can you can see the side of my head, which I can keep still. But my shoulders I couldn’t control because I was laughing so hard. 

It was so friggin funny. 

Yeah. And he had that way of just like looking at you. And he wouldn’t break. I know he got it. 

How could he do that. Not break. There’s you know, we knew the ones that had a problem. I had a problem ad like we laugh like it. It feels very uncontrollable. I mean, but some people really got they just commit. 

And I don’t know how they do it, but I admire them so much. 

So Saturday Night Live happens and come. You left. 

I mean, did did you. Well, Christine Zander, who is my writing partner, also second city person, also writer in Chicago and also Chicago Bears, and she left to work on 3rd Rock from the Sun. 

A couple of people from SNL. We’re taking over to that show. 

And I was really adrift without her, like, she really was my anchor and I wasn’t getting any sketches on. 

I really needed her co writing skills and her authority there and her seniority there to be seen. 

They had brought in a whole bunch of new people. And I was just it just wasn’t I wasn’t getting on like I had a whole year where I wasn’t, like, funny in a sketch at all. Like, it was really depressing. And I didn’t really know what to do about it. And I just wanted to leave. So I left before my contract was out. 

And had you already shot Pat the movie? 

No, I went from there to shoot Pat and then Pat was such a big bomb event. 

No, I shot Pat the year before, but it was coming out so the summer before my last great shot, Pat. I didn’t know it was gonna be a big hit, but I didn’t think it was gonna be the bomb that it turned out to be. 

And then I left SNL and the movie came out and was a huge bomb. 

That was really the end of my career. Oh, no, it wasn’t, because I was diagnosed with cancer. 

So so that was a really bad time to treat. 

My brother also had cancer and no insurance. He was at the UCLA Comprehensive Cancer Center and I was like. 

Completely crazed with sadness over Mike and fear and not knowing what the hell to do. 

And hemorrhaging money that I mean lake. 

Writing checks for MRI eyes for fifteen hundred dollars, like every day we were. And then eventually we got to the end of it. And they just took him on to UCLA. But that was so traumatic. And then, of course, I loved him so much. He was so sick and trying to figure out what we could do. And my parents moved in with me. It was a nightmare. And then I got diagnosed with cancer. Then it was a terrible nightmare. Then Michael died and then I survived. 

My parents went home and I wrote a show about how all of God’s at Ha! 

And in that show. You said one of the funniest lines ever when your brother found out you had cancer. 

And he goes, Oh, he couldn’t help it, could you? You just couldn’t stand it that I was in the cancer spotlight. And then I would say I just have sympathy. Cancer. 

That inspired me. Someday I’m going to do something with this. Maybe I even mentioned this to you once. 

I want to collect jokes like that that are once in a lifetime jokes. 

You can only do this, right. And that was like a once in joke at all. You know, your whole life had to be. 

Yeah. You five under Sirkin’s or understand. Very, sir. Yeah. 

This girl I was dating in the early 2000s, we broke up and I hadn’t seen her for a few months. 

And then she was in some show and I saw her in the show and she introduced me to her girlfriend, her actual girlfriend. 

And I she said, you didn’t know I was a lesbian. 

And I said, Was it something I said? So Godson Ha. You were still believe her back then? 

Yeah, I was sort of a cat, you know, like a soft believer, I’d say, meaning that I reached for God in a crisis, but otherwise I didn’t really know if I believe it. 

But if something bad happened, I started praying right away. Certainly not enough to go to church. Yeah. 

And yeah. So God said, ha, I was a believer. And when my brother had cancer and I had cancer, I felt like there was kind of a I had this idea there was a plan for people and things happened according to a plan. 

And Michael was destined to die from his cancer and I was destined to live it. 

Sort of an ego maniacal worldview. Looking back on it, you go as it was meant to be. I go, well, that’s what happened. But at the time, I had more of woo woo kind of road view about it. And of course, I was raised Catholic and I felt like God made me Catholic for a reason why he put people in. So I didn’t think one religion was right. I never felt that. But I felt that I was Catholic for a reason. I was so proud of being Catholic to that I didn’t ever question that it was the most perfect thing for me. 

So what how when did it start to fade for you? How long? 

It was really starting to rain. Popular science and criticism, it was really started with like Michael Shermer s book, How We Believe. 

Which is such a deceptive title. That’s somebody that someone like me, like, I wouldn’t have thought the God delusion because I didn’t want to be. I like believing in God. It was working out good for me, and I couldn’t imagine why you wouldn’t believe in God. 

It just seems so beneficial in so many ways. This way I could sneak up on. Yes. I feel like I’m really glad Michael Shermer made that book. 

We believe that was one of the first ones. Also, as Carl Sagan, I kind of accidentally started listening to some audio books and. 

It was really shocking, but very slow. I would say it was over a two year period. 

And then finally, I got to. Dawkins, of course, and Dennet. And then it was like there was a tipping point where it was just like, OK. You know, just let it go. And then I have a thing on my show about how I. I was so set to be an atheist that I could only put on the atheist glasses for one day at a time. I just try them on and then throw them off. Like, how does the world look for, you know, non believing point of view? And it was very stark and sad. I mean, what I saw was sad. Definitely my believe put a rose colored glasses over the world. I felt like people in poverty. I’m such a naive view of the world. 

I mean, like it it made me not have to do very much politically because I thought, well, those people that I’ve taken care, they’ll be taken care of. Yeah. Or the there is some cosmic reason why they were born in that situation, because I thought the bad people will be punished and the good people be rewarded. And so does it matter if you are raised in poverty or not? 

There was an overarching justice. 

Yeah. There was a world there was ultimate justice that learns and how Hitler isn’t being punished. 

When I first stopped believing, it was very upsetting, mostly for that reason, because I look at homeless people go. 

Well, wow. Maybe there’s just a few different circumstances between me and that person or whatever, people are unjustly in jail, in solitary confinement somewhere. 

That’s completely wrong. Like. They’re not. 

There’s nobody looking down on them. 

Like there’s nobody looking down and feeling bad for them. I care. The world needs me to feel bad for them. Ultimately, I saw how beautiful the world was because it was so random and we’re all so connected. And it gave and gave in so many ways. It was such a huge transformation in my life. The biggest for sure, transformation in my life of anything that ever happened to me and was losing my faith. 

And while you were trying to get on with your atheist glasses, you didn’t go in any killing sprees or. 

No, no. I don’t even understand. First of all, humans don’t like doing. That’s. 

We want to get along with each other and like each other, I think. 

I mean, I think I mean, I know I wouldn’t even think of that. 

Well, I never thought things that that you might think, I would think. Like, I never had a sex hang out because of the Catholic Church. Like, I never thought premarital sex was wrong. 

I thought the Catholic Church was wrong in their attitude that God wanted people to have sex and not like. 

Hurtful, orgiastic. Not obviously were care about people, you know, like, and we care about people’s feelings and we connect with people. But the whole idea that you had there was these rules about marriage and sex. I never, ever had that. Like I’ve recently been talking to Pete Holmes. You know him. He’s a standup comic. Always a wonderful comic, but he was an evangelical and he did a show on HBO called Crashing. And his wife leaves him and he’s really an evangelical. And then he gets into the New York standup comedy scene. This is all from his real life. And he starts losing his faith. And he’s and it’s very funny. And he’s a wonderful guy. 

But like for him, he really wanted to have sex. 

Like, his reason for leaving the church was wanting to have sex. That was the number one reason. And for me, that was not at all. I wouldn’t I didn’t really. That was so obviously a weird rule that you had. Like, I never had any issues with that. So it wasn’t really that bad anyway. No, I didn’t go on a killing spree when I realized there was no God. 

What’s the journey between saying, OK, I have to admit it. There is no God, I’m not religious. 

You can I’m pretty active in the. 

We’ll only be old. Well, well, first when I started coming here. 

You’re a CFI here at CFI. 

That’s right. 

No, because I had this moment was reading Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel. And where I really did have a moment where I was like, just. Except what you think the evidence points towards a world without God. So powerfully, it’s not even a debate. The world doesn’t even make sense with a God. It only makes sense without a God. And all the terrible and wonderful things in the world makes sense without a God. So just accept it. So then I was. So then, you know, I’ve been going to St. Monica’s in Santa Monica. And and, of course, I’m socialized to think you have to have a group. So that’s when I looked up. And I found. On the computer, it’s the early days. The computer CFI and the Skeptic Society and I knew of Michael Shermer because I had read his book, How We Believe. So I showed up here. I showed it, I was like, well, I guess I have to join a group. And then I started going to the Skeptic Society. I really love that. He used to have these lectures at Caltech on Sundays. No longer does. And. And then I said, because I’m a model, Auguste, and a storyteller, I started to tell and start why I had a challenge to myself. Could I come up with a funny monologue that showed this very dramatic thing that happened in my life. But it was really just about a change of mind about religion. And it didn’t have big dramatic moments in it. Could I write about that? And and then it took a long time for me to do it. But then I did do it. 

And I remember I mean, you have gotten a lot of feedback from believers who also enjoy. 

Oh, yeah. Letting go of a lot. 

Like, I have to say, one of her. I don’t go to the conferences as much as I used to, but I people really I mean, I can’t compare it with anyone else because I’m everyone a lot of other people write books too. But or do what I did. But I get a lot of people write to me and say, you changed my life, which feels so great. In fact, just this weekend, somebody in Chicago. I just moved here from Chicago. What was it like? 

The Independent Film Festival of Chicago and somebody they had had to write moments that changed your life in cinema and they were wrote about letting go of God, changing their life. Wow. And this thing, they had taken a picture of it and sent it to me. 

And I was and I actually that happens pretty frequently. I have to say. It’s really satisfying. I have to say it’s very. 

I take a lot of comfort in it because I paid a big price for it. 

You know, my parents were horrified and and people in Hollywood, I think, were weirded out by me, mostly because I had been religious. But then also that I was so clearly not religious right. In Hollywood, you’re supposed to really accept a lot of WUS stuff. Astrology is OK. Going to a psychic is perfectly normal. But anyone in a formal, organized religion is an idiot. Like, they’re very hypocritical. So like for me to reveal that I had been actually religious as a Catholic and then actively not religious was like two things people didn’t want to hear about. 

So there was a price to pay for it. It really was. 

And I was it was very satisfying now to think that people are still like it and are moved by it. 

But also people who didn’t convert after seeing it. I mean, almost just people who stayed Catholic. 

Yeah. Yeah. No, no. 

I have a lot of people, a lot of people who wrote me and said I don’t. I’m a Catholic still. But I understand my child now who isn’t. It’s reasonable to me. What you went through. And it was a heartfelt, true thing, even though I don’t agree with you when you talked about Hollywood. 

Woo, Gwyneth Paltrow. 

Oh, yes. Just flat. I mean, sure. I mentioned her in my new show, too. Oh, do you. No one ever. It’s just really embarrassing. 

I say something like Alex Jones so sells the same elixirs on his website that Gwyneth Paltrow sells on her goup website. Which is true, by the way. Yes. 

They’re the same cognitions, eggs, but not the eggs. But just like the energy, you know, it’s just like all the crap people look down at. Alex Jones. But Gwyneth Paltrow does that same wacky stuff. 

When you were in Chicago, you still. You wrote a book. 

I wrote a book. If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother. Which is really not about my mother. But it was just about being. 

Married and leaving Hollywood, kind of, but otherwise I didn’t. 

I was mostly stay at home mom and I mostly read and watch movies and I did write that book. 

But I didn’t perform really very much due to very sporadic. Wait, wait. Don’t tell me. 

Yeah, I’ve got. It was so bad that were you. Yeah. I was not a good panelist. I’m a good guest. 

It’s just kind of tough to bring stuff to mind that quickly evolved for me. 

I would it just didn’t make sense to do the show just from an economic standpoint, because I don’t know. It doesn’t give you a thousand dollars or something to be on it. 

I literally would take me 40 hours of study and current events for me to go like it was a full time friggin job. 

Then I would go and like I’m terrible at testing. I don’t remember things quickly. 

I couldn’t make it for me. I was terrible. I thought I was terrible. I think I did it five or six times. And I think we all agreed it wasn’t for me, even though I’m a fan of the show. 

Yeah, it’s a fun show. And I always thought it was more about the humor anyway than. But you try to you want to do well. I know what all of Poundstone is so brilliant. 

Shihan Ray. I love her so much. They all are. The reason why I want to be on it was just to be around those other people. 

Yeah. You miss that. Yeah. A little bit. Yeah. Like, yeah. Out there. Yeah. But you’re back now. You’re back doing. I’m acting. Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. 

I’m on two different show. I’m sorry. Usually Cheryl, I’m play 80 Bryant’s mother on a show called Sharell. 

I saw you play a crazy woman on Brooklin nine. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That was so much fun. Yeah. Oh my God. 

That was fun. I’m going to Andy Samberg. So hilarious. Bomb or so. Yeah. I had a bomb. That was fun. 

In fact, I just think today I’m going to send him a tech thing, bring my character back. That was my. That was great. 

And then I’m on the show on Hulu called Shrill. And I’m about to be on this show, which I’m assuming weren’t deals going to get done in the next couple of days called Work in Progress? That’s going to shoot in Chicago. So I’m going to go back to Chicago and shoot four out of there. Eight episodes for show. 

Showtime. You’re also doing these stage play stage. 

Well, I did. I developed the show at Second City last year called Julia Sweeney Older and Whiter, and I opened it at the Governance February and did like two weeks there. And then I started doing it at Largo and the Groundlings, sort of like every other month alternating. And it’s been really fun. And now the Largo shows have done so well that planning wants me to do it. 

He does this thing where you do like an M friends show, like Sarah Silverman has won and Captain Oswald has won. And I’m so much lower down on the fame. 

Pecking order is in them. 

I don’t know why he wants me to do it, Julie. 

I said I’ll do it, Julieann friend. But you have to call it Julia, an alleged friend. 

So I think that’s it. We’re gonna call it. And then I just got Richard Dawkins to agree to do one in October. 

Oh, fantastic. That’s right. Yeah, I can tell. He is gonna be in town after the conference. And I’m also going to I’m going to do my show at the conference, too, right? Yeah. Part of it. 

They’re giving me an idea that I might have to shave it down a little bit. 

Yeah. Now, I’m very excited about doing these shows and I want to have an offer this. 

I’m gonna have Onaka Harris come. She wrote this book Conscious. She’s the wife of Sam Harris, but also a wonderful writer in her own right. I love this book Conscious. It’s just about explaining all the science where we are right now and what’s still mysterious about it and what isn’t conscious about consciousness. Now, those just called conscious. She’s gonna be my guest on July 17th. 

And I can have really funny comedians and really good music to meet. Now, it’s like I don’t even care about being on a TV show. I just want to do these shows at Largo. 

Yeah. That sounds like a lot of fun. 

We’ve talked about another show. You were kind of toying around with the idea. 

Oh, I as well. Yeah, I got the meeting stuff. Yeah. 

Yes, I’m going back to it. I did like 12 shows at the Groundlings last fall and just ended up in tears over it because I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. 

Is it OK? It’s a comedy show. It’s really just I’m trying to just do an hour. It’s not even supposed to be a big, long day’s journey. 

And tonight is one with the heart when the Miccio stuff broke. It’ll be now two years ago in the fall. Of course, I was all for it. I’ve witnessed I mean, women. It’s just terrible how women are treated not just in show business, but everywhere. 

And this is a revolution that needs to have been so long ago and yay, everything about it. Yay, yay, yay. All of this should come out. 

Harvey Weinstein. I didn’t it was shocking to me about him, but I believed all the allegations that I read about and he produced God said home, my first film of my monologue. So I had some contact with him, but I didn’t. I thought, oh, he’s a flirty guy, you know, like I did. How would I know those things? 

But I was all for these women getting to say what happened to them and how they’d been shut out of Hollywood because of it, which is so tragic because there’s so many of them that are so talented. 

Then the Al Franken thing happened. 

I kind of lost my mind for about five months over it because, well, from Neil Al from SNL, totally one of the good guys never let jurors or even Hanzi like not that guy. 

And it’s not like I know him in every situation, but just God, I knew him for five years in a pretty tough situation, putting on live TV. It just was really upsetting. It seemed like a hit job to me. I was incredibly upset by Kirsten Gillibrand making that public statement, forcing him out of office and everything that happened that made him resign, which I disagreed with. And I think he regrets. I don’t. I’ve only talked to him a couple of times. I don’t really know. Anyway, the point is it made me have a very complicated relationship with me, too. There was the true stuff or the true ish stuff, and then there was just insanity. And I put the Al Franken stuff in the insanity category and a lot of people disagreed with me. They felt like the allegations. There was enough of that. There was eight that they added up to a probability of likelihood, which I probably think, too, until I became like crazy CSI investigator for those eight accusations, like I even had, you know, like three by five cards up with each allegation, like I could not let it go. 

And I felt like at the end of two months of researching, literally every word that I could find said about every allegation that it was like a terrible car wreck that happened because every somebody really suspect suspected of being malicious. 

But mostly they were things that you could just interpret a couple of different ways. 

He took a picture with somebody at a vent and she said, oh, I’m going to go to the bathroom. And he said, oh, I’m going to follow you there. 

She thought he meant he was going to follow her into the bathroom for some sexual activity. 

That is something. 

How you know, that just easily be misunderstanding. And that’s just one. 

I felt like all of them were like that. All of them. Wow. And I was so overcome with anger at how that played out. 

Helped places like the Atlantic magazine put on their cover. This woman, with her allegation against Alex that he put his hand around her waist during a picture and she just gained 30 pounds. And she was self-conscious about her waistline. And she felt that his hand on her waistline. 

What the hell? Why let him or her? 

Jesus Christ. That is so. I had a very complicated feeling about me, too. And the thing that I had to say besides yay was there’s a tragedy that’s happened here. 

And I feel like the Z’s on sorry thing was ridiculous. 

I just got very nervous about this call out culture and this kind of Victorian like, oh my God, I’ve been the I have been the victim of an unwanted advice. And I wanted to say something about it. 

And I couldn’t figure out how to make it funny. I couldn’t figure out how to make it not shocking. I couldn’t not become just a soapbox or on behalf of Al, which no one wants to pay to see. I couldn’t crack the friggin nut of it, so I did 12 shows and ended up in tears. I would say four shows went great for shows went terrible and 40 shows were like 50 50 and not in any particular order, like it wasn’t heading in any direction. The show’s the last one. I sat in the driver and just sobbed and my driver in my car because I felt I and now I feel like I could cry. Right now I couldn’t make it work. 

And so and then I had people coming to me saying, you can’t see that. What you’re saying you can’t see in Hollywood. Do you want to work in Hollywood? If you get these call out, people will take something out of context that you said. It’s going to blow up on social media. And you literally will get fired after the shows you’re on, like it really seems crazy. 

So I had conflict about that because as I thought. 

Look, I’m not going to put Al back in office. I’m only going to hurt myself. 

I don’t have a simple thing to say. I have a complicated thing to say. So I let it all go, but felt terrible that I let it go. I concentrated on older and whiter, which is a very mainstream kind of show. Like it’s my most mainstream show. It’s really about getting older. 

Launching a kid. And it’s fun to do. I concentrated on that. Now I feel, damn it. I do want to do it, but I’m going to do it more as a standup like I’ve read all this week. I went through all the material that I wrote last year. I can see my tone. I can change my tone. And I’m going to get away with it, I think. And I feel prepared. If I don’t get away with it, then screw it, then I don’t get away with it. 

But I can’t let it go. 

You are a woman who’s who and out in the world. 

You have things to say about this. It’s a complex issue. 

Yes, it’s very complex. 

Should at least be able to express your opinion about it. I now do disagree with it. 

Why food with social media, though? Things become so simplified? 

It’s hard to say. I have a complex view of me, too. I have I don’t think it’s just an easy black and black and white. 

What’s hard is that I’m ninety nine percent for everything that’s happening with me too. 

I mean, so it’s like who wants to come out and say be the lone voice that seems to be against this wonderful thing that’s happened and you’re not again. 

And I’m not against it. I’m just saying that you have to be careful with it. And I think I actually think people I think even in one year, people’s minds have changed this way. 

I think people will be more receptive to what I have to say now than they did even a year ago. It’s obvious that people getting all riled up, pointing fingers at somebody and forcing that person out of their job or out of office has a lot of negative consequences. 

Sometimes it’s good deserves. But it when you base it on people just pointing fingers and getting riled up, you know, it goes both ways. You get people that are really on our side and our wonderful people like I think Frankenmuth. 

And you lose a great asset. I think it has to be more measured and we have to have more discussions in the culture about how norms are changing. And we have to kind of give somewhat of a pass. I actually think we do. Two people who came up in a different set of norms when I was helping to teach this film class at Second City. We would watch because it was a history of comedy and film and people get completely freaked out by the norms being so different. You know, they watch something like even a Preston Sturges film and somebody would say the mighty white AVF fell a mighty white of you. 

Oh, my God. Now, they can’t like this movie. 

And so this is the analogy I came up with that I thought work in 30 years from now, we’re probably going to eat meat that was never in an animal. Right. We’re gonna figured out a way which I think is a wonderful thing. It reduces the amount of suffering in the world tremendously. Bill, to come up with steaks and meat that didn’t come from animal. OK. 

Are they going to condemn us right now? 

It’s like, are they going to watch when Harry Met Sally and say, I can’t bear to watch that scene where her orgasm scene because they’re eating hamburgers? 

And that was an animal that well, that came from an actual cow. I can’t even watch this movie. 

You don’t even know what the morality is going to be in 30 years. 

And yet you think you’re so moral right now. 

Well, you’re going to find out when you’re a 16. You did. Weren’t that moral, you know. Society will have developed in certain ways that you’ll be embarrassed by how you behave before. That’s guaranteed. 

So don’t condemn these people or these movies from the past because they were operating in their mill. 

You if there’s anyone on the face of the earth who can crack this nut. 

Oh, I don’t know who you guys who’s ever listening. The CFI, the new buildings. Great. Yeah, it’s all men are so good. I’m so excited to do a show on it and to attend shows that you know. 

Yeah. You’ll be here for sure. And you’ll be a part of it. 

Yeah. I can’t wait. Thanks so much for doing this. Thank you, Jim. 

Thank you for listening. Point of Inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry. The Center for Inquiry is a five or one, two, three charitable nonprofit organization whose vision is a world in which evidence, science and compassion rather than superstition, super science or prejudice guide public policy. You can visit us at point of inquiry dot org. 

There you can listen to all of piecewise archived episodes and support the show by clicking the support button on the site were available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and your favorite podcast app of choice. Special thanks to Pamela Crosslin of Coastland Law, located in The Miracle Mile in Los Angeles. She does business and intellectual property law and helped us out with some of the valuable intellectual property information for this program. Thank you. And see you again in two weeks. 

Jim Underdown

Jim Underdown

Jim Underdown is executive director of Center for Inquiry–Los Angeles, and the founder of the Independent Investigations Group.