MARY Lynn Rajskub is happy that people love the hit TV thriller 24 and her character, and though she’s moving on, she hasn’t left Chloe entirely behind yet.
As Chloe O’Brian in 24, actress and comedian Mary Lynn Rajskub was used to dealing with potentially devastating terrorist threats. Over the space of 156 episodes of the hit real-time action thriller, the socially awkward yet brilliant computer analyst helped to save the world on seven white-knuckle occasions.
It was, literally, all in a day’s work for the trusty sidekick of maverick special agent Jack Bauer.
However, by her own admission, Rajskub is now facing a professional challenge far greater than any endured by her fictional alter ego. “It kind of scares me,” she says, as she brings her stand-up comedy to Edinburgh for the first time.
Despite her long-established success on television, not only in 24, but also with cult comedy landmarks Mr Show and The Larry Sanders Show, Rajskub never abandoned her stand-up career.
“I’d never completely stopped doing comedy, but in the last two or three years I just got to this point where either I’m going to dig in or give it up. So I kind of dug in,” she says. “In my actual life I’m happy to go to bed at nine or ten at night. I’m happy to not talk to people, I don’t need to hang out in bars any more. I’ve done all that. But now I find myself – for the love of comedy – back out in the clubs at night.”
A major part of Rajskub’s “actual life” is helping to raise her eight-year-old son, a commitment she talks about in her Edinburgh show, 24 Hours with Mary Lynn Rajskub. “Part of my double life is I’m out sometimes until 1-2am. I know!” she mock-exclaims, “but then I’m always up with my child.”
Her experience as a working wife and mother is a key component of the new show, which she describes as a more arc-based refinement of her usual story-based, autobiographical style.
“One of the touchstones is where I’d come home from being on the road in some small city, I’d have had all these experiences, and then my home life was just as I’d left it,” she explains. “And then I’d be unable to communicate to my husband what had happened. So it’s about how in relationships you can kind of hate the other person, but how that ends up being love. It explores that notion.”
Originally a member of the ’90s alternative comedy scene which also birthed Jack Black, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk (Mr Show; Breaking Bad and its spin-off Better Call Saul) and her ex-partner David Cross (Mr Show; Arrested Development), Rajskub is still getting used to the comparatively mainstream comedy circuit.
“When I started, we looked down on traditional comedy clubs,” she says. “So it’s only now in the last few years that I’ve done the comedy clubs proper across America. It’s been really interesting.”
Prior to her career in comedy, Rajskub was a “frustrated” art student who fell into ostensibly straight performance art as a way of dealing with her anxieties. “I was pent up and had a need to express myself. Then people were laughing at me, but I didn’t know why they were laughing, so I took that as a segue into comedy.”
What was her act like in those days?
“It was very abstract with lots of fragments of sentences, because I think it came out of my own inability to communicate. So it’s been very challenging for me to get out of my head and into actual comedy clubs on the road. There’s an active aggressiveness to getting into it with the audience, which I’m quite enjoying now.”
Nevertheless, she admits to being “much more afraid of the general public than I used to be”.
“I would say that when I first started, I was just scared of people in general. I came from a painting background where I would just be alone in a room. So I had to learn how to [deal with audiences] in what is traditionally a very male-dominated genre.”
I wonder, however, if her experience as the prominent co-star of a long-running, globally successful television series has stirred her old anxieties when it comes to dealing with the public.
How does a former performance artist and underground comic deal with being recognised in the street?
“It took me a while to adjust,” she admits. “Most people, a good 90 per cent, know me from 24, and as much as I intellectually know that, it’s not how I feel on stage. It finally clicked when I put it into perspective. I pictured myself going into a comedy club and seeing Walter White from Breaking Bad on stage. It would be a complete disconnect! I’m throwing another challenge in for myself, because people look at me and think, ‘Why isn’t she downloading schematics? What’s happening right now?’ I get the occasional person who can’t really focus on the show.”
Because they identify her so closely with Chloe? A character she last played on screen in 2014, and will most probably never play again?
“I went through a period where I really wanted some separation from it,” she admits, “because I’d moved on in my life. But to have people so invested in it is amazing, people love that character and the show so much, it’s a huge compliment. It’s a great thing, and it just becomes this nice entry point.”
As the title of her current show makes clear, she’s come to terms with the fact that audiences expect her to acknowledge Chloe O’Brian. “It’s part of the fun of the ride for me,” she says. “I start out talking about 24, addressing it and having some jokes, then lead them down this path to what’s personally going on with me.”
Long before Chloe, British viewers first became aware of Rajskub from her recurring role in The Larry Sanders Show, the pioneering US sitcom devised by and starring the recently deceased Garry Shandling. For Rajskub, it was a defining moment in her career.
“They brought me into this audition,” she recalls, “although he [Shandling] had seen this very strange stand-up set, a character piece essentially, on tape. It was the greatest audition ever, because Garry Shandling followed his instincts and came at it with so much heart, it wasn’t about filling this role in a set way. He and I didn’t do any material, we just giggled doing non-banter. I got hired from that, and I was very green, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. But what a training ground, what a show to be dropped into.”
As far as Rajskub is concerned, this “really special experience” set her off on the path to becoming the comedian she is today. “At the time I was very art school,” she says. “It was scraps of paper, abstract behaviourism and a lot of anxiety. I was funny but I didn’t really know how. I feel like I’m just now understanding how to crack a joke.”
24 Hours With Mary Lynn Rajskub, Assembly George Square Studios, until 28 August. Today, 8:20pm