Maryellen Hooper has a reputation for being a gentle soul, on and off the stage. "Maryellen Hooper is one of the kindest comedians I have ever worked with. She is so warm and giving to her fans as well as all the comics around her," writes fellow jokester Marc Ryan of the adorably cute performer with the squeaky voice, expressive face and carefully choreographed clumsiness. Hooper, like many a comedienne, bases much of her material on the wonders of womanhood, the follies of femininity, the female experience. Unlike many funnywomen, however, Hooper never waxes bitter or cynical; she's the friendly feminist. Rather than compare and contrast herself to The Man, Hooper recounts stories of personal clutziness and exposes embarrassing anecdotes.

A fan of old-school icons such as Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and other physical comics, Hooper prefers to mock herself instead of those around her. "The reason I like comedy is because it makes you feel good," she explains, "and I don't think it's funny when you make fun of anybody else. I guess I'm just too empathetic. My ovaries get in the way." When she saw Eddie Murphy's version of The Nutty Professor, she cried watching the cruel fat jokes fly. "I could never be that kind of a comic."

Winner of Best Female Stand-up at the 1998 American Comedy Awards, the comic's holy grail, Hooper is spending the afternoon at her hotel room in Oklahoma watching Turner Classic Movies. A fan of old black-and-white films, Hooper finds humor in romanticizing life the way these old movies did -- while still recognizing how far we've come since "Oh, gee, this is swell!" was an exultation and not a sexually suggestive remark. But the life of a comic is not all watching cable television. There are early-morning radio interviews, humiliating auditions, charity showcases to organize, phone interviews and constant flights from one city to the next. It's often a hectic life, but it's a blessed alternative to any performer's early days.

Yet Hooper still finds (and fills) a need to give something back. Her charity of choice is Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing trained dogs for disabled people. She has produced a fund-raising showcase and silent auction and has involved herself in as many other ways as possible to promote the cause. "It sums up everything that touches my heart. You've got puppies, you have children with disabilities, and the ability to help everybody all at once. It's awesome." And that's just one example of the kind, giving personality people speak of.

For more amusing instances, see her on stage.

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Eric A.T. Dieckman