Julia Sweeney

Julia Sweeney

Julia Sweeney in 2010
Birth name Julia Anne Sweeney
Born (1959-10-10) October 10, 1959
Spokane, Washington
Medium Stage, film, television
Nationality American
Years active 1988–present
Spouse Stephen Hibbert (1989–1994)
Michael Blum (2008–present)
Children 1

Julia Anne Sweeney (born October 10, 1959)[1] is an American actress, comedian and author. She is known for her role as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and for her autobiographical solo shows. She played Mrs. Keeper in the film Stuart Little and voiced Brittany in Father of the Pride.[2]

Early life

Sweeney was born in Spokane, Washington, the daughter of Robert M. Sweeney and Jeri Sweeney (née Ivers).[3] Her father was an attorney and federal prosecutor, while her mother was a homemaker. Sweeney has an Irish Catholic background.[4] Sweeney is the oldest of five children. She had two brothers, William "Bill" Sweeney, and Michael Ivers Sweeney,[5] who died, and a brother Jim Sweeney, and a sister Meg Sweeney.

Sweeney was raised in Spokane. As a child, she was drawn to imitating voices and inventing characters.[6]

Sweeney attended Marycliff High School and Gonzaga Preparatory School.[4] Despite appearances in high school plays, she graduated with a double major in economics and European history at the University of Washington,[4] where she became a member of Delta Gamma sorority.[7]

After graduation, Sweeney moved to Los Angeles where she worked as an accountant for Columbia Pictures and United Artists.[8]

Sweeney speaking at the Atheist Alliance International Convention in 2008


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 characters, which 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.[6]

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.

In 1994, she had a small role as "Raquel" in the movie Pulp Fiction.

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 a stir when Hillary Clinton found it offensive and sent an angry letter to SNL's Studio 8H.[9]


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 too had cancer.[10] Her brother did not survive the cancer. Throughout the ordeal, Sweeney told stories of her experiences 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.[11]

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 (then known as Your Radio Playhouse) in January 1996 in episode 9. Since her initial monologue, she has appeared on three more This American Life episodes.[12]

In the Family Way

Sweeney's second monologue chronicled the adoption of her daughter from China. In the Family Way started on stage in New York City in early 2003 at the Ars Nova Theatre. The show was directed by the 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 25-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.[13][14]

Letting Go of God

Sweeney's third autobiographical monologue is titled 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, and to her becoming an atheist. Sweeney shares the account of when her mother told her her birthday was really October 10 instead of September 10, and how traumatic it was to discover she was not a winsome Virgo but really a Libra.[15]

She worked 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. 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. The DVD of the show was released in November 2008.[16]

Richard Dawkins referenced Letting Go of God several times in his book The God Delusion.[17]

Other roles

Julia Sweeney was a writer for the SNL film It's Pat, in which she played the title character. She has appeared on the big screen in Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Coneheads, Pulp Fiction, Clockstoppers, 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 blind date-turned-litigious unwanted houseguest, Ann Hodges) 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 and was the voice of Margo on the ABC animated series The Goode Family, and serves as the voice of Dr. Glove on Back at the Barnyard.

In a segment for This American Life in 1999, Sweeney describes one of her first jobs, as a bartender's assistant, how she began embezzling funds from her employer, and the consequences thereof.[18]

In 2009 and 2010, Sweeney performed with singer/songwriter Jill Sobule in a revue called Jill and Julia. Sweeney and Sobule originally met at a Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) conference and performed together at TED in 2008. They brought the show on the road in 2009 and 2010, performing in New York, Denver and other locations. The show is an autobiographical mix of music, stories and commentary.

Sweeney is also a part of the regular rotation of panelists for the NPR news quiz radio show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!,[19] in downtown Chicago.

In 2013 Sweeney voiced Sherry Sqibbles in Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters, Inc..

Board memberships

Personal life

Sweeney is married to scientist Michael Blum. Blum and Sweeney, along with their adopted daughter from China, Mulan Sweeney, have lived in the Chicago suburbs since 2009.[22]

Works and publications


  1. "Julia Trust Sweeney United States Public Records". FamilySearch. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  2. Dell'Antonia, KJ (11 April 2013). "Motherlode: Julia Sweeney Sees the Absurd in Motherhood (and Shares)". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  3. "Marie Ann Ivers". Yakima Herald Republic. 25 March 2001. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 Ramirez, Marc (31 January 1993). "Pat's World -- It's Funny Business, Hard Work And A Little Too Much Attention For Julia Sweeney". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  5. "Michael Ivers Sweeney - California, Death Index". FamilySearch. 31 March 1995.
  6. 1 2 "Behind the Curtain: Julia Sweeney". PBS.org. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  7. "Celebrity Parents Magazine: Julia Sweeney Issue". Celebrity Parents Magazine. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  8. Maron, Marc (14 November 2014). "Episode 553 - Julia Sweeney" (Audio podcast). WTF with Marc Maron. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  9. Gill, Andrew (April 10, 2009). "Introducing The Wikipedia Files (with Julia Sweeney)!". WBEZ.org. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
  10. Julia tells about her surgery and treatment on YouTube
  11. "Episode 9: Julia Sweeney". This American Life. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  12. Julia Sweeney search results at This American Life
  13. Kimpel, Dan (1 January 2007). "Award-Winning Film Composer" (XXXI, No. 1). Music Connection. p. 22. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  14. "Comedy Tonight! With special guests The Smothers Brothers & Julia Sweeney". Hollywood Bowl. 25 August 2006. Archived from the original on October 13, 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2015. Saturday Night Live alum Julia Sweeney narrates a segment from her one-woman show, In the Family Way, set to brand new music by Anthony Marinelli.
  15. "How Does A Person Go From Believer To Atheist?". NPR. November 22, 2013.
  16. "Letting Go of God (2008) Plot Summary". IMDb. 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  17. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, Preface, p.4 and "Chapter 9: Childhood, Abuse And The Escape From Religion", p.323.
  18. "Allure of Crime, Act I: Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad". This American Life. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  19. Linh Pham. "NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!: Show Details and Statistics". WWDT.me. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  20. "Secular Coalition for America Advisory Board Biography". Secular.org. Retrieved 20 July 2011.
  21. "Board and Staff: Richard Dawkins Foundation". richarddawkins.net. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  22. Julia Sweeney: It's time for "The Talk" at TED.com
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