Atlanta native, Instagram star Heather McMahan fulfills dream with two Fox Theatre shows

Her fans embrace her authenticity and broad humor.



Comic Heather McMahan grew up going to umpteen shows as a child at the Fox Theatre to see “Wicked” or “The Nutcracker” or heroes like Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin live on stage, imagining herself doing the same one day.

Her dream has come true. The 35-year-old Atlanta resident and stand-up comedienne has nearly sold out two shows at the venerable theater May 25 and 26.

“It’s an absolutely pinch me moment,” McMahan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I just kind of always knew this is how it was supposed to go when I was a little kid.”

She plans to absorb the theater’s history, bask in her fan base’s fervor and gaze at the twinkling stars on the ceiling. “It’s going to be a truly out of body experience,” she said. “Comedy is not a glamorous business. It takes a long time to get to this point. A lot of my material is about losing my dad and how my life changed after losing him. He used to take me here all the time. I feel like it’s a full-circle moment.”

And as a Southern gal, she said she is not going out there in jeans and a T-shirt. “I have a full sequined outfit. I have a bag of wigs,” she said. “I am really going to show up and show out. It’s old-school theater showmanship!”

McMahan has a dedicated, mostly female millennial fan base, built up over the years on Instagram, where she has 716,000 followers. She has spent years loving Old Navy, White Claw and Britney Spears. She makes fun of herself while taking trips to Trader Joe’s or opining about PMS.

“It’s the wild power of the Internet,” McMahan said. “When I started doing comedy in basement bars in New York and Los Angeles, putting things on the internet opened up a whole new world of fans and people to engage in my material.”

She noted that her broad humor translates well on Instagram: “I speak my point of view. The stories start with me. I walk through my day-to-day craziness. It’s very relatable. I’m very transparent. I have a very strong core audience of females. It’s cool to see so many women come to the show and feel they’re represented. I give them escape to giggle about life.”

Two different fan groups came up with their own names for themselves. One, she said, calls themselves McManiacs. The others? Feathers. “They make homemade T-shirts and sweaters,” she said. “It’s so sweet. It also makes me think I need to call my trademark attorney!”

She also builds her audience via a popular podcast “Absolutely Not.” (When fans yell the phrase “tiramisu bitch,” she said she knows they are dedicated podcast listeners.)

She works hard to keep her profile up. She has subbed in for Jenna Bush on “Today” with Hoda Kotb. She has done a few acting gigs including a small “best friend” role in the recent Netflix rom-com “Love Hard” starring Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang. And she recently was featured at the Netflix is a Joke Festival at the Hollywood Palladium, sharing a bill with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

“You have to keep all these balls in the air to stay relevant,” she said.

Credit: Bettina Strauss/Netflix

Credit: Bettina Strauss/Netflix

Mara Davis, an Atlanta talent booker who used to be a radio DJ on Z93 and Dave FM, said she was super impressed when she saw McMahan in 2019 at the Variety Playhouse.

“These ladies around me were losing their minds!” Davis said. “They’re yelling and screaming. People were wearing leopard prints. She had all these slogans. They were so invested in her. She talked about how her clothes don’t fit her right. She talked about how much her back hurt. She just felt real. She wasn’t one of these skinny social media influencers who portrays a perfect life online.”

At the same time, Davis noted, “she hustles. I don’t know when she sleeps. She’s constantly pumping out content.”

McMahan grew up attending Greater Atlanta Christian School from kindergarten until graduation. After the University of Mississippi, she worked her comedy craft in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta.

“Atlanta keeps pulling me back,” she said. She has been living in Atlanta since the pandemic began with Jeff Daniels, a consultant (not the actor). They got hitched at the end of 2020 in the courthouse, masks on, in part for tax purposes. An extravagant post-wedding party with friends is planned, belatedly, in Italy next month.

“As a touring comedienne, I see the entire country but to be able to come home Sunday night in Atlanta is the most comforting thing in the world,” McMahan said.

Her family has deep ties to the area. Her grandfather Jack McMahan was a legendary pilot at Delta Air Lines. Her dad Kyle was also in aviation. Her sister Ashley is an attorney in town running an all-female office called The Law Ladies.

“I couldn’t imagine her doing anything but what she’s doing now,” Ashley said. “She came out of college slinging drinks as a bartender, fitting people for shoes at a gym while doing auditions. We were waiting for the right person to realize how talented she was. Then she basically figured out how to do it on her own through Instagram stories. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

McMahan also appreciates about the female comics that paved the way for her. She saw Joan Rivers’ last Atlanta show at Atlanta Symphony Hall in 2013, a year before she died. She also got to meet the legendary comic in person before that.

“I was in New York and she had seen me in a couple of clubs,” McMahan said. “She put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You have chutzpah. Keep going!’ I walked out of that club dry heaving I was so excited. Comedy is such a sink-or-swim business. To get her blessing was incredible!”

McMahan is also obsessed with the HBO Max show “Hacks” featuring Jean Smart as a veteran female stand-up comic. As a child, she adored Smart on “Designing Women,” which was set in Atlanta. “I feel like I’m looking in the mirror,” she said, while watching Smart play the surly Deborah Vance. “I would be so lucky to have a Diet Coke fountain machine built into my kitchen. Then I know I’ve made it!”

Credit: NBC

Credit: NBC

McMahan hopes she can keep doing what she’s doing for decades to come like Rivers did.

“Nothing is cooler than being in front of your biggest fans laughing at your jokes,” she said. “It’s a high I’m forever chasing.”


Heather McMahan

7:30 p.m. today and Thursday. $36.50-$140.25. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta.