Jessie Mae and Pearl are your sense of humor after 50 – on steroids! The comedic alter egos of Janye (Janie) Anderson, of Dallas, and her niece, Paula Coco, of Connecticut, Jessie Mae and Pearl came quite literally out of the closet to star in a new, independent line of hilarious greeting cards.
The Jessie Mae and Pearl cards are designed “for those who refuse to live in a black and white world,” and they feature photos of the two women in various incarnations addressing -- in living and generally very bright and mismatched color -- a variety of occasions including birthdays, missed birthdays, illness, anniversaries, and holidays. There are also cards that announce their unique commentary on fashion, dating, shopping, and friendship – and make you laugh out loud.
They come by it naturally. Sort of. They are related (Janye is Paula’s mother’s youngest sister) and at 53 (Paula) and 59 (Janye), just six years apart, so they spent a lot of time together growing up. In 1997, just to “contribute” to the family’s holiday festivities in Connecticut, the two burrowed into the Goodwill corner of Paula’s closet and her “prop box” (she is a stand-up comedian and was the founder and artistic director of the West Hartford improvisational comedy troupe, The WHIT), dressed up outrageously, and called each other “dah-ling.” Someone took pictures.
The next holiday, they did the same, but much more elaborately: with wigs (“We wore bouffant hair in solidarity,” Paula explains with a straight face), sunglasses, knee socks, slippers, poses, accents, names (Jessie Mae Hemple and Pearl Screed) and a story line. “We’d had a New Age Experience and were just returning from an ashram,” Paula – now- Pearl says. Again someone took pictures.
Christmas 2000 they skipped the costumes because they were sick. “We thought we had the Y-2 virus.” But they came back in 2001 – “as Mary Kay consultants going to Afghanistan to teach the newly liberated women there about moisturizing and channeling their inner goddesses” Pearl recalls. They found themselves very amusing – “Sometimes we’d get dressed and go out and ring the doorbell and wait for someone to answer the door,” Janye says. Paula even put together a book of the pictures, with captions, and gave it to Janye for her birthday.
But it was all in fun, and all in the family, until Janye, sick in bed one day in 2003, saw a segment on Oprah about “women who have taken an idea and become millionaires.” She spent the rest of the day wondering why she didn’t have an idea like that and wishing she could think of something. That night she woke up and remembered Jessie Mae and Pearl.
“It just came to me. They’ve got to be on cards! It was just one of those things you know you have to do,” she says. Paula agreed.
They say being over 50 made a difference. “I couldn’t have done this in my 40’s,” says Janye, an erstwhile interior designer, graphic designer, scrapbooker, and holistic healer. But after 50 they didn’t care what people thought. They knew enough to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses. “What she’s terrific at, I suck at,” Paula explains.
They didn’t want to sit around and watch “The Price is Right,” Janye adds. “You have to do something that keeps you interested in life. And I wanted to do something that brought me joy.”
In sum: “At our age, going out on a limb is the only option,” Paula says. “Really.”
They spent a year researching the card industry, saved each other from being overwhelmed by the minutia involved in starting a new business, and launched their first line in October 2004. They’ve been on a roll ever since. “Just check out our racks!” they crow, listing distribution in 21 states to date.
“This is our job description,” says Paula, who gave up her improv troupe when the cards came out. “We have to go shopping. We get to play dress up, like models. We get our pictures taken. We write something funny. And we get paid!”
There’s more. Last spring a new comedy Paula wrote which stars – you guess it – Jessie Mae and Pearl (among other memorable females) opened to sold-out audiences and rave reviews in New Haven, CT. Paula has written and acted on stage before, but Janye had no idea she could act. Convinced the company needed the buzz from the play to sell the cards, however, she agreed to give it a try.
“Anything she sets her mind to, she does completely,” Paula says of her aunt, and acting was no exception. She took lessons from Morgan Fairchild’s sister, the respected acting coach Cathryn Hartt, and she brought the house down – as Mavis, a wedding planner; Ms. Casey, an uptight substitute teacher, one of three sisters making different confessions about the same incident, and, of course, as Jessie Mae.
“It’s all so bizarre,” Janye admits. “But I have loved every single minute of it!” She starts giggling then, recalling Mavis’ bragging about her son, just home from rehab, and gainfully employed in the 99-Cent Store. Slipping into character she pauses just the perfect amount of time before announcing, “And we’re really enjoying our discount.”
According to the playwright, the play’s title “Nipples to the Wind” is simply “a much more colorful way to say â€˜Head up, Chin out’ to women everywhere.” Paula dedicates her work “to those who love and appreciate women, warts and all, in hopes that through humor we can all find our own self-acceptance.”
Paula lives with her husband, mother, son and cat; Janye, with her husband, daughter, three dogs, and two cats.
Additional information about their cards – and the play -- can be found at www.jessiemaeandpearl.com.
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