Kenice Mobley knows the title of her new solo show, “Don’t Kill Yourself Yet,” which she brings to the Rockwell in Somerville, Friday, may cause her audience to worry. So she offers an affirmation to kick things off on a positive note. “Right off the top,” she says, “despite the content of this show and what it may suggest to you, I am OK. OK?”
Mobley deals with weighty subjects like depression, anxiety, mortality, and her recent stroke in the piece, but she wants people to know it’s funny, even light in places. That’s why she starts by talking about how, when all the other kids were playing “wedding” with their Barbies, she was playing “funeral.” And how, in college, she posted instructions on MySpace for her own funeral, including a dance number choreographed to a My Chemical Romance song.
“I do think bringing people in with lightness and silliness about a dark topic does set the stage for [the audience] to be able to come with you on the path to like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna get a little heavier here — still making jokes, still pointing out the silliness of this — but we are gonna get a little bit heavier,’ ” she says, speaking by Zoom from her New York City apartment.
In the stand-up act Mobley performs in clubs, she’s always been frank about matters like sex and relationships. But this new show is something different. Mobley grew up in Charlotte, N.C., but started her comedy career in Boston during her college years. She’s performing “Don’t Kill Yourself Yet” in the Boston area for the first time and may have friends in the audience who don’t know some of what she has gone through.
“It feels more intimate, and therefore more risky,” she says. “This is me saying I, in fact, do exist. These are some of my weaknesses. And these are the troubles that I go through. And, man, that it feels vulnerable.” She has felt that rush since the first time she performed the show earlier this year. “This is a little scary. And I like it. But it is a little scary.”
There is a striking phrase in the show that illustrates Mobley’s attitude toward mortality, when she says she has a “fear of and desire for death.” It’s a duality she grapples with in the show, and one she found difficult to describe. “The thing about a fear of heights is that, both you know that it is bad, the height would result in your death. But when you look over, you have this desire for it. Part of you is worried that you’re going to jump or something. That’s what it feels like and to let people know that, yes, we were having a perfectly pleasant conversation, but sometimes I’m thinking about ending things.”
Planning her own funeral seems more practical than morbid to Mobley. Marriage isn’t a guarantee, but death comes for everyone. “It’s a great way to worry constructively,” she says, laughing. “Since I am thinking about and worried about death, making plans for death seems to be the natural outgrowth of that. And so it feels productive instead of pathological. It feels productive if you’re like, I happen to know the funeral home that I would go with. I happen to know where it would be. I happen to know who I’d invite. I happen to know how this would be laid out. Because it then feels like, ‘No, no, I’m helping people.’ ”
On July 27, 2022, Mobley, who is in her mid-30s, came as close as she ever has to facing her own mortality when, as she says in the show, her body tried to kill her. Just five days after she recorded her debut album, Mobley had a stroke. She was back onstage a month later, but she still hasn’t regained feeling on her right side. “The skin doesn’t have feeling,” she notes. “If an ant were crawling on my skin, I probably wouldn’t notice that or feel that. But if someone pushed me, I’d feel that. So it is like this weird feeling where it’s almost like half of my body is in a rubber suit or something.”
There are some lingering side effects. Always a book lover, she can’t read as fast as she used to. Explaining on a first date why she was abstaining from drinking or sitting a certain way has felt awkward.
Ultimately, Mobley would like her audience to know that none of what she’s endured — depression, anxiety, the stroke — has broken her. And that there is laughter to be had in those experiences. “I’m writing from scars, not writing from wounds,” she says. “I’ve thought about this. I’ve processed it. Thankfully, I have a nice therapist, and I’m working through a lot of it.”
KENICE MOBLEY: DON’T KILL YOURSELF YET
With Tooky Kavanagh. At the Rockwell, 255 Elm St., Somerville. Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. $20-$25. www.therockwell.org
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.