In 1980, Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney got onstage at a benefit in San Diego in front of “throngs of screaming gay men” and improvised a couple of characters they’d invented while driving around their hometown. Maddie and Syvvie—well-meaning female alter kockers who take a women’s studies class because “we’ve got the prerequisite for this course: We’re women!”—eventually became two of many characters in The Kathy and Mo Show, which by the mid-eighties had become an Off Broadway smash. The show landed them HBO specials and sitcom offers, but by 1991 they wanted out and went their separate ways. Najimy was in Disney films like Sister Act and starred in Veronica’s Closet; Gaffney appeared in Mad About You and That ’70s Show. But this year, to help mark the 25th anniversary of Second Stage, where the show once played, artistic director Carole Rothman persuaded them to reunite for Afterbirth: Kathy and Mo’s Greatest Hits (after a trial run in L.A., the show starts previews here June 11). Jonathan Van Meter talked to them about their split—and what it’s like to be back together.
So, is it really weird doing the show again?
Kathy: It’s really fun.
Mo: It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had doing The Kathy and Mo Show. It’s the most relaxed.
What had you forgotten about performing together?
Kathy: I forgot that after opening night I am pretty much fulfilled and want to close the show and go home. Also, I forgot how much I love Mo’s cologne.
Mo: I’d forgotten how fetching Kathy looks in just a bra.
What was the hardest part about having your careers shackled together before?
Kathy: Oh, my God. Everyone thinks of you as the same person. We’d get one invitation to the same function. We would get flowers to “Kathy and Mo.” And we’d be like, “Okay. You take daisies and I’ll take carnations.” We are two separate people!
Mo: Where’s Kathy? Where’s Kathy? Where’s Kathy?
Kathy: It was like Martin and Lewis. And a lot of people thought we were a couple, which we never discouraged, because that’s lovely, but that was weird. I knew that if I didn’t stop doing Kathy and Mo, I would be Kathy and Mo for the rest of my life.
Didn’t you buy out your producers so you could stop doing the show in 1991?
Kathy: Yes. $50,000. While we were doing the HBO special in San Francisco, I got cast in Sister Act . I basically paid my whole Sister Act fee to the producer, Ellen Krass, to get out of the last several shows.
Mo: I didn’t even have a Sister Act fee. I just took my own money and said, “Here, take $18,000 and get me out of here!” We were done; we were so done.
Kathy: I can look at the first HBO special and feel that pain.
Mo: I watched it once a long time ago, but that’s the only time.
Is there anything new in Greatest Hits?
Kathy: Mo does a woman in a laundromat contemplating an extreme makeover, and I do a woman getting a pedicure talking about “How did I become this rich Beverly Hills woman?”
Mo: And we also do a new Disney-moms piece. Which is the mothers of all the Disney characters that have died.
Kathy: It’s group therapy with them saying, “What the hell?”
Are you nervous about opening in New York?
Kathy: I’m excited about being in New York. After The Kathy and Mo Show in Beverly Hills, the only thing open was the Cheesecake Factory! So we’d go to the fucking Cheesecake Factory.
Mo: Every night. Hey, Kathy, where’s your apartment?
Kathy: Fiftieth? Fifty-eighth? I’m not sure. Where’s yours?
Mo: Sixty-third and Amsterdam.
Kathy: : Oh, good. We’re close. Which is nice.