“Parks and Recreation” actress, comedian shares laughs at Illini Union

The Illini Union on Tuesday was full of giddy and grinning students, who all came out to see comedian and actress Retta.

Best known for playing Donna Meagle on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” Marietta Sirleaf, better known simply as Retta, originally didn’t plan to go into acting and stand-up comedy. She attended Duke University as a pre-med student, and while she was studying for her MCAT, Retta decided she wanted to pursue acting.

“I have always loved making people laugh. I started doing stand-up because by the time I graduated and was getting ready for (medical) school and was studying for the MCAT, I decided ‘maybe I want to do TV,’” Retta said. “I wanted my own sitcom. I didn’t know any better. I just knew that there were all these comics who had their own sitcoms, so I thought if I do stand-up, I could get my own sitcom.”

On Tuesday at 8 p.m., Retta strutted onto the stage in her shiny leather boots and greeted the crowd with a wave and a smile.

Before she even broke into her routine, she called up a girl from the audience whom she had promised a picture and took a selfie with her on the girl’s camera. Her casual attitude quickly set the mood for a comfortable stand-up set but had the audience riled up.

Retta, who said she suffers from nerves when traveling, seemed completely at ease on stage.

“I am a whore for attention. I like to make people laugh and be around people who are having a good time, so I try to do a fun show and that makes getting on a plane the next day a little better,” Retta said.

Before the show, Retta shared some insight about her character, Donna, and what to expect from the upcoming season of “Parks and Recreation.”

“I think this season, Mike Schur, our executive producer and creator, said that I will get more screen time, so we’ll learn more about Donna,” Retta said. “I think by the end of the season we’ll have a better idea of who she is. She could very well still be an enigma, but we will get to see more of her playful side.”

Retta’s stand-up Wednesday incorporated many aspects of her life experiences. She talked about her laziness, her friend’s wedding and a bad experience she had at KFC, and her closing act was a popular skit she performed on “Conan” about listening to classical music.

“I like to leave the audience with a simple, good time,” Retta said. “Just like when you go to a party and you want to enjoy your time at the party, I want the audience to enjoy that hour.”

Aaron Beasley, director of special events on the Illini Union Board and senior in LAS, made the proposal to bring Retta to the University.

“Nick Offerman came before, and it was extremely successful because everyone wanted to come. Since that was such a popular event and with Nick being from ‘Parks & (Recreation),’ we thought Retta would be a good person to have this year,” Beasley said.

Offerman will be performing at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 26,

Beasley said that his goal for IUB this year is to bring the students events that they want to see and can relate to.

“Knowing that people liked this show is why I wanted to pursue it. If someone walks away with saying something like, ‘Retta was a great way for my freshman year to start,’ I’ll feel like that’s a mission accomplished,” Beasley said.

Beasley, along with his program adviser Jared Eakins, put in a lot of effort to bring the actress and comedian to campus.

While Eakins reached out to Retta’s agent and drafted contracts, Beasley was in charge of the logistics and marketing of the event. His main job was to make sure people attended.

“There are 40,000 students on this campus, but it’s really hard trying to get them all to pay attention to things that are going on here,” Beasley said.

His goal was to see around 400 people at the event.

Their efforts were not in vain, for the Illini Union I-Room was mostly filled and had an enthusiastic crowd. Laughter was frequent among the attendees at the full-hour show. People lingered after the show, joking with one another about their experience.

“I loved it. It was a different character than Donna and not what I was expecting, but still really funny,” said Daniel Vanderbosch, senior in LAS.

Vanderbosch, who was on crutches, was called out by Retta during the show when she yelled, “What happened to you, crip?!”

“She played the crowd really well,” Vanderbos said. “It got real for a second when she did that.”

Saher can be reached at [email protected]