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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Canadian comedian Meredith MacNeill was down to her last pair of slacks, her coat spliced with duct tape, when she landed the job of her life in her native Nova Scotia.

"I got this job as a writer-performer for a couple of weeks and on this show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which was in Halifax, back in Canada. I was so thrilled to have a job," she says.

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MacNeill had already spent 12 years in England training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and performing in such prestigious plays as Shakespeare's Richard III and The Taming of the Shrew.

She seemed destined for a career in the theater. But life got in her way.

"I was pregnant and knew I was probably going to be a single mother, so I lost everything and moved back home in my parents' house, back in the fishing village," she says. "I went home with a suitcase, just for my daughter. And I had to start over at 36. But the most incredible thing came from it."

That "incredible thing" turned out to be her joining three other women and forming Baroness von Sketch Show, which returned to IFC and for its fourth season Wednesday.

While she was performing in England, she'd landed a part in her first sketch comedy, Man Stroke Woman. "In the U.K., I noticed there were lots of female-fronted shows like Catherine Tate's, Victoria Wood's," she says.

"In the states, there was Amy Poehler, Tina Fey. And in Canada, I wasn't seeing the same thing. So I took the idea of Man Stroke Woman -- sketch comedy because I knew the model -- and put the feminist voice behind that. And I started to write just the basic idea of what the show was.

"And I met the amazing Carolyn Taylor there, and I approached her and said 'I have an idea for a show.' I literally just met her, and she was a writer on the show, and we barely knew each other. Then she said, 'Great,' and introduced me to Aurora Browne, Jennifer Whelan. They all worked together for, like, 20-plus years. And the four of us created the sketch show together.

When Baroness was picked up by Canadian television, MacNeill and her daughter (now 8) left her parents' home and moved to Toronto.

"But I still don't give up my Nova Scotia residence," she says. "So whenever the show is down, which is only two months of the year, I go back to Nova Scotia," she says.

"I grew up in Amherst, which is up against the massive Tantramar Marsh. For me, it was a really beautiful place. And in junior high I started running," she recalls. "I wasn't the fastest runner, but I just loved it. I ran on this dirt road all by myself, and having that time alone was just my own, and that really changed me. I used to spend that time visualizing how I would succeed in life, how I would tackle a problem, how I would get out of my town and move on. Running on the marsh, visualizing that, really changed me. I've always gone back to that," she nods.

She was not into competitive track, she says. "I was never really that good. I'm built like Chuck Norris -- long body and short legs. I wasn't fast, but I really enjoyed it."

From the time she was 7, she also enjoyed performing. "There were two women in town who started a theater program called Beverly True and Betty Douglas, and I owe them everything," she says.

"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be doing this. They started a group for adults and one for children, and I joined the children's group and stayed with them until I was in high school."

They not only taught her theater, they bolstered her self-confidence. "They made me feel OK at it. It wasn't like, 'Oh, I'm going to be an actor.' It was just, 'I'm OK at this,' and just kind of threw everything at that ... I just didn't know I would be good at anything else," she shrugs.

"I thought, 'Oh, if I'd joined a recorder group, would I have been a musician? If I was in a pottery class? If I was in the science program?' It was kind of what was on offer. I'm happy I did it. It turned out. I feel like I've gained so much experience from it -- to be able to travel, lived in the U.K. for a long time, the show is great. But I often wonder if I was a kid and someone came and started a group, what would I be?"

Weekend on 10/31/2019

Print Headline: Single mom/Baroness creator started late in life

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