John McGivern’s new holiday show celebrates the life of his late mother with a touching tribute of love
Milwaukee native and Emmy award winning entertainer John McGivern begins performing his new live one-man holiday show at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater on December 9. It is McGivern’s first major stage production since his Pabst Theater show in April, just after COVID restriction were lifted.
Directed by Edward Morgan, “Up Close with John McGivern… for the Holidays” is filled with some of his favorite memories from past family gatherings on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They reflect his childhood growing up on Milwaukee’s Eastside as the third born of six kids in a working-class Irish Catholic home.
McGivern’s stories are always personal and funny and touching and familiar. His themes center around his family, but serve as a reminder that we all share a universal human experience. As it did for so many, the events of 2020 would have a big impact on McGivern’s professional and personal life.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Milwaukee in March 2020, his stage performances, corporate appearances, and popular TV program were all canceled. While McGivern waited over the following 13 months for conditions to change, he tried to develop the home life that he never had before.
In all of McGivern’s shows, his mother played a key part in the focus of his storytelling. Her unexpected passing in April 2020 came as a blow to McGivern and family members. His new holiday performance is only the second opportunity he has had to talk about her death in public. It is also his first show since holding his mother’s delayed memorial service last month.
McGivern uses a good portion of “Up Close with John McGivern… for the Holidays” to talk about the loss of his mother. He shares the grief of her absence and the joy of his memories with the audience. It is a deeply personal mix of vulnerability and humor, endearing McGivern for his masterful storytelling.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions last year, the McGiverns had to delay a family celebration of Joan Clare Fahey McGivern’s life. That gathering was finally held on November 27 at The Box on Wisconsin Avenue.
McGivern shared feelings about his mother with siblings, family members, and friends at the private event. Elements of that original speech reprinted here were incorporated into McGivern’s new holiday show, making part of the performance a public memorial to her.
The Milwaukee Independent was invited to the family memorial celebration and a preview performance of “Up Close with John McGivern… for the Holidays.” The photo essay presented here includes images from both of those events.
Thanks to all of you for joining us today to celebrate the life of my mom. Mom passed on April 2nd, 2020, at 9:58 p.m.
I tell you the exact time because whenever mom called me on my birthday she would say, “So…65 years ago today at 10:42 a.m. I remember… I was at St. Joseph’s Hospital… You were the easiest delivery… and the sweetest, happiest little baby… a tiny little thing… 8 lbs. 8 oz. I can’t believe it was 65 years ago… Happy Birthday.”
I can’t tell you how shocked my brothers and sisters and I were when mom died. I know she was 93 but I swear we thought she’d go another 5, 6, 7 years. My mom came from a long line of long-living-women. Her mother, Grandma Marie, died at the age of 99. Grandma’s sister – Aunt Loretta – at 101, Aunt Clare at 99. And when grandma’s baby sister Aunt Agnes died at the age of 94, I swear my mom said, “she was so young.”
There are so many stories that could be told… you’ve heard most of mine because I’ve made my living telling stories where mom was the central character… the “key lime pie” story, the “what were the results of your autopsy” story, the “teeth, toupee, turquoise keepsake” story, the “68 ceramic Santas, 28 piece Celtic Kresh – Four Wise men – Bradford Exchange” story, the “stick Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, Christmas Village never-to-scale” story, the “Char Char Char Nad Resort Years” story.
There were random people and even a few relations who thought it a bit mean of me to tell these mom stories. Mom thought they were great… I learned very early on that if mom were in my audience I would wait till the end to introduce her, otherwise all eyes were on mom.
In 1994 I did a Comedy Central Special called “Out There II.” After that special I was hired to perform on an all-gay cruise to Alaska. I could bring a guest and I asked mom if she wanted to go to Alaska… she said she’d love to and when I told her it was an all-gay cruise she asked if she had to turn gay to go?
Mom on “Around the Corner”
I’m grateful for the last 8 years when mom lived at the Catholic Home because I became the one who did her Friday morning grocery shopping and brought her to her Doctor appointments, and would stop in randomly with Jelly-Filled donuts… her favorite. She would call me on Thursday night with her grocery list for Friday morning. She really wouldn’t have to call because after eight years I knew what she wanted. I would arrive early on Friday morning and as I was putting her stuff away, she’d tell me to step away from the refrigerator… to stop checking the dates on the milk and cottage cheese and half and half. “They’re fine…” if you love curdled, spoiled, rancid, buttermilk… I’d say.
I saw mom those last few years most frequently and I am so incredibly grateful for that time. I look at these snapshots on the wall and realize that we all have our own history, our own personal relationship, our own stories and our own world with Joan Clare Fahey McGivern, and that’s why we’re here tonight.
– John McGivern
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