From UNL Theatre to mom to web star, Hensley returns for popular #IMomSoHard live shows
calendar icon29 Sep 2016
Lincoln, Neb.--Their online videos feature casual conversations about school picture day, good lies to tell your kids and friends, the challenges of finding summer activities for your kids, wearing Spanx, removing body hair from various locations on your body, and the lack of sleep that mothers endure.
Kristin Hensley (B.A. Theatre 1998) and Jen Smedley are two Los Angeles-based mothers originally from Nebraska, who created the highly successful web series #IMomSoHard.
Find them on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and You Tube, where they have racked up more than 20 million views of their videos. They are returning to Nebraska this weekend for five sold-out live shows, titled “IMomSoHard: A Mom’s Night Out Live Comedy Show,” in Omaha and Lincoln, including Oct. 1-2 at the Rococo Theatre, sponsored by Fat Brain Toys.
Hensley thinks their honesty about these topics is what resonates with their audience.
“I think women communicate much differently than men. We do it in the privacy of a small group, sort of like, ‘Hey, come over, oh my God, let’s have a glass a wine. I’m going to tell you what I did. I really screwed this up,’” she said. “But it’s not something you usually broadcast, and we broadcasted it. And I think it’s like letting women open the curtain and be like, ‘Oh my God, I dropped my kid when he was nine months old, too, and he’s fine.’”
It’s almost like giving women permission to laugh at those honest moments in life.
“I think there’s this idea that we can laugh at ourselves,” Hensley said. “We’re always going to try to be better than we are. Always. That’s who we are as moms. I haven’t met one mother who has been like, ‘I’m nailing this. I’m awesome. I’ve got it all figured out.’ Because you know their kid is going to come out with like a tattoo on their neck when they’re 7. I think there’s this need for us to say just because you’re not perfect, it doesn’t disqualify you from being attractive or cool or fun.”
Hensley returned to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln on Sept. 28 to visit with students in Professor of Theatre Paul Steger’s class about what her life has been like since leaving campus.
#IMomSoHard uploaded their first video just this past Mother’s Day in May.
“Five months in, and we’ve had 20 million views, so it’s super intense,” Hensley said. “We toyed with the idea after a night of wine and bawling because we thought we were failing miserably as mothers. And we were like, ‘I’m sure when we’re done crying, this will be funny.’”
In their video conversations, they are friends who talk to each other, and the viewer is like the third friend who watches and laughs.
“I think we just felt that there is this idea that, as a mother and as a woman, you 1) have to be perfect and 2) you don’t have a good sense of humor,” Hensley said. “You can’t make fun of yourself or find comedy in these situations. Everything is serious. I just don’t think women are like that. I think women like to have a good time, and I think the videos prove that. The more honest we were about ourselves and our own experiences, and when you take out the snark and you’re just honest, the better it was.”
Hensley is originally from Central City, Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Smedley went to Nebraska Wesleyan University and is originally from Bellevue, Nebraska. They were in similar circles in both Lincoln and Los Angeles, but it took a while for their paths to cross.
“Our worlds were like this [circling each other] down to people we’ve performed with that we never met,” she said. “My roommate and her performed together, and I never met her. It’s so bizarre. And then we moved to L.A. and lived four blocks from each other in little, tiny Venice near the beach. Always riding our beach cruisers. Never met. Had done comedy in the same circles. Never met. Then one day, we were in this super, weird little theatre, and we were back to back and Nebraska came up. I turned, and the rest was history. We met our now husbands and had our kids within this same time, so our lives melded together because of that.”
Hensley said her parents weren’t initially sold on her being a theatre major at UNL.
“My parents were not thrilled at the idea of me being a theatre major, so I wasn’t a theatre major,” Hensley said. “But I heard about auditions, and I always kind of snuck around here. My freshman year, I came in here and auditioned and was like, ‘Yup, this is my home.’ So then I just told my parents I was an education major, but I just became a theatre major for the next four years.”
She had, indeed, found her home.
“I have such wonderful memories of this place—that I fit,” she said. “It was fun and creative, and you’re around great people and everybody is inspired. It’s really the most remarkable time of your life as an artist and as a creator. It’s a safe place to make mistakes.”
Steger was an important professor in her life.
“He was the first teacher I had where I was like, ‘He gets me. He speaks my language,’” she said. “I got in trouble with him for being 15 minutes late to a rehearsal one time, and I’ve never been late again. He didn’t even have to say anything. He just gave me a look and was like ‘Never again.’ I think I started crying. Never again will I be late. He talked about physicality and trusting yourself. Those are all things I carried with me to Los Angeles.”
In addition to #IMomSoHard, Hensley has filmed between 120-150 commercials and had roles in “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
“I hit the ground running in commercials when I first moved to Los Angeles,” she said.
Her advice to students is to find what makes them happy.
“What I would tell them is if that thing in their gut is telling them this is what they’re supposed to do, to listen to it,” she said. “It may not be when they’re 25. It may be like me when it was a little later. Be happy in your life. Follow happy. Don’t follow fame. Don’t follow trying to get fancy agents. If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, you have to change something. You have to create and you have to be happy.”
Hensley said her and Smedley are somewhat surprised by the success of #IMomSoHard.
“I think it hasn’t set in yet because it’s all been virtual,” she said. “I think what we’re surprised by is the outpouring of support. We had no idea there were so many voices out there that wanted to be heard. You feel like there’s been this big community that you missed. If the social media world can provide that, it’s a nice thing to have in your hand when you’re nursing at 2 a.m., and you feel really lonely and things feel really dark. If that community makes you feel better, then I think we’re doing a good thing.”
In addition to the live shows in Nebraska, Hensley and Smedley have shows planned in Irvine, California, and Phoenix. They are also in talks to turn #IMomSoHard into a sit-com on TV.
“I think we’ll hit some major cities, but Jen and I are moms and that always comes first,” she said. “We are very committed to our kids. It’s always been that way, and it always will be that way.”
She’s not sure what to expect from the live shows.
“We’re just going to try to talk to the audience,” she said. “We don’t want to feel performance based. We’re literally trying to translate that we’re sitting in this playroom, and we’re talking to this third friend. We’re trying to create this feeling that it’s not about us being up here. We’re all up here. Women. Single moms. Single dads. We don’t care who’s there. Let’s all party together as if we’re in a living room.”
While they found success on social media, Hensley said live interaction is important.
“Social media is an excellent tool, but it should never take the place of actual human interaction,” she said. “It can very quickly become a false identity. The number of likes you get on a picture shouldn’t determine how you feel about yourself, nor should the number of views determine if a video is good or not in your head. For me, it’s hard to talk about social media because I have a hard time e-mailing, but I always remember that you still need your privacy, the things you do and post affect other people, and to be positive.”
Visit the #IMomSoHard website at http://imomsohard.us/.