Like many good ideas throughout history, Denver natives Tracey Tee and Shayna Ferm dreamed up the Pump and Dump Show during playdates with their now 8-year-old daughters. The best friends, who grew up in Parker and have known each other since the eighth grade, were deep in the fog of new motherhood when they realized that they just needed space to drink wine and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Who would be more well-suited to lead a so-called “Band of Mothers”—their words—in a night of comedy about the all-too-real joys of motherhood than Ferm, who was a musical comedian in New York City for 12 years, and Tee, a comedy writer?
Seven years later, the Pump and Dump Show has expanded well beyond its popular live show—which is currently in the midst of a fourth national tour—to include a book, Parentally Incorrect, the Pump and Dump Podcast, and a private Facebook group that includes more than 2,000 members. Still, at the core of their brand is the same message: As parents, we’re all in this together.
“We just want to encourage a community of women who give each other ass slaps and hi-fives,” Tee says. “We need to lift each other up instead of push each other down. We’re all doing the best we can. That’s a really powerful thing, in terms of parenting, because it does take a village.”
In advance of the Pump and Dump Show’s seventh annual Mother’s Day Eve performance at the Paramount Theatre on May 11, I spoke with Tee—mom to mom—about the brand’s history, #momlife, and the importance of being authentic in parenthood.
Tell me about the humble origins of the Pump and Dump Show.
Tracey Tee: Our daughters were about a year and half, and Shayna had just had her son, who was about four or six weeks old. We were just in the thick of it. We had an idea that moms needed a night out. There’s so much pressure, especially in those early days. We thought, gosh, if everyone could just get together and have a glass of wine and laugh about it, it feels like that would help everyone out. So, we really just threw it together.
Shayna was a musical comedian in New York for 12 years. She had written this Pump and Dump song, and so we started at a bar in Northwest Denver, Local 46, sleep deprived just as all moms were. There were about 60 to 70 people who showed up for our first show. The next month, we showed up to the bar and we walked in and—I’ll never forget this—the manager was so wide-eyed. He was like, people have been calling all day wanting reservations for groups of 15 and groups of 10! We don’t even take reservations! We don’t even have tables! We don’t know what to do!
So we quickly learned that there was a need. We outgrew Local 46 and moved to the Clocktower Cabaret. And then we added a show at Comedy Works South, doing two shows a month and selling those both out. About five years ago, we decided to start touring. We hit the road, and now we are on our fourth national tour. It’s our other baby and we love it.
And your brand has expanded to other mediums, too.
We wrote a book, Parentally Incorrect, which was released in March 2018. At the beginning of each show, we pass out notecards and have parents write down the most f’d up thing their kids have done, and then we read the stories on stage. The book includes a collection of some of the real juicy gems [from this part of the show]. We took photos of the cards so it’s in the moms’ handwriting, and kind of made the Pump and Dump show in the book, so there are games you can play if you want to have a moms night in, and there are stories and fun things to read.
In October 2018, we launched our podcast, the Pump and Dump Podcast. We do a new episode every week and that’s been really fun. We’ve been growing the brand while we grow the show, and it’s just been amazing.
Clearly there’s an audience for this type of “mom” humor. What do you think makes your brand so successful?
I think really it’s a couple of things. One, it’s not about us. It’s about laughing at all the things we have in common as parents. We’re very proud of our live show. We’ve always said we’re a low-fi business in a high-fi world. We feel very strongly in the power of laughter and community that you feel when you come to see our show. It doesn’t matter if you ate your own placenta or have never tried a cloth diaper, we’re still doing the same things. We’re still struggling and we’re still questioning ourselves, and we’re still scared. The biggest surprise to us was how many moms tell us how they feel validated after watching our show.
How have your shows changed over the years?
I think it’s gone from more loosey goosey—us just up there talking—to really honing in on our message. Right now, the iteration is very tight and purposeful. We actually hired a director from New Mexico this fall, Kristin Goodman, who came in and tightened up the show. [Before that] we did everything ourselves—wrote it, produced it, blocked it, performed it, publicized it. I feel like our show now, the one everyone will see on Mother’s Day Eve, is the culmination of seven years, the best of ourselves, and the best of show.
We do get personal about some things. I talk about my struggles with infertility and breastfeeding. We try to be conscious of all kinds of moms out there. We call our moms breeders, but we say, it doesn’t matter how you got your baby—whether it was adoption or IVF or surrogate. You just can’t steal your baby. If you’re a stepmom, you’re a breeder. We know there are all kinds of moms and babies come in lots of different ways.
I don’t want to be cliché and ask you how you balance traveling for the show and family life, but in all honesty, it’s gotta be hard.
We don’t mind getting that question from women, as much as we get it from men, because they’re like, ‘Oh it’s so nice that your husbands let you do this!’ And that’s not how it is. You know, we are very busy, but we aren’t gone for more than like three days at a time. So typically, we will wake up, take the kids to school, drive to the airport, fly to another city, do a show that night, wake up early in the morning, hop on a plane, and pick the kids up from school. Nobody really even notices we’re gone anymore.
It goes back to that village…We’re lucky to have a great support system of family and friends and babysitters, and we just get it done. Honestly, it’s no different than other working moms. Think of people who work nights or doctors. Many women travel more than we do. You figure it out. Your family adapts. We’re lucky that when we’re home, we’re home. We’re in our pajamas working on our couches. We’re here for our kids when we’re not on tour, so it’s pretty awesome.
I gotta tell you, I have a copy of Parentally Incorrect on my desk at work. I can’t help but laugh at some of the stories included in the book. Are you ever surprised by what you hear?
Constantly. There are definitely a lot of commonalities—just so much poop across America—but I don’t think anything could really shock us at this point. I will say that the true, unbelievable creativity for children to get themselves in bad situations is impressive. As much as we talk about helicopter parenting and all these different things, kids are still doing the same idiotic things they were doing 100 years ago. It’s almost comforting. So many times we’ve read a card on stage and had to stop because we’re just crying, laughing at some mom’s horrible story.
It seems like there’s a tendency today to put a literal filter on motherhood, especially on social media. You and Shayna are attempting to take that filter off. Do you think there’s enough out there about the reality of #momlife?
I can’t tell. We think about it a lot, and it’s actually a huge message in our show. Our mantra for this Parentally Incorrect tour is no one is perfect. We straight up address social media and how ridiculous it makes us all. How it skews our visions of ourselves, but also about what parenting actually is.
This seems judge-y, which is not what we’re supposed to be, but we’ll see these “honest” posts on social, and it’s a mom pushing her kid through a grocery store, her hair is up, and kids are running around. But who took the picture? [laughs] You set up that shot! That’s not real life. If you were really that busy, you wouldn’t be like, hey, let’s take a picture of me being super mom right now.
Right! Do you all have Instagram husbands who are just waiting to take these photos? I have questions.
I agree! I have questions too. And my questions are: Aren’t you tired? Don’t you want to go sit down? Do you have to tell us you’re going to the park?
So your Denver show is on Mother’s Day Eve—what do you have planned for Mother’s Day?
I never really get that far! The show takes up so much time. I just want to sleep in and get some donuts. Then I’m happy. And just, like, lay in bed with my family. That’s all I need. If it’s nice out, I’ll garden. It doesn’t take much.
That sounds perfect.
Yeah it is. The night before is our big night to celebrate, we look forward to it every year. It is so fun. There is a dance party after. Because moms really only want to dance with other moms.
If you go: The Pump & Dump Show’s Mother’s Day Eve event takes place on Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place. Tickets are $30–$45.