A lot goes into the making of a hot dog. Even more goes into the making of a hot dog person. Tracie Mauk would know. She is a 35-year-old thespian and comedian (originally from Norfolk). She’s heavily involved in the Omaha comedy and acting community today, most famously as “Your Friend Bella, an Eastern European hot dog person.”
Being so involved didn’t come naturally for this reserved woman, who admits to taking a little while to warm up. “Acting was something I never explored in high school, either out of shyness or paralyzing fear,” Mauk says. “Once I gave it a shot, the bug bit hard.”
Mauk moved to Omaha in 2008 to pursue theatrical opportunities. She soon became involved with the Florentine Players and has been with them since 2009 as an actor, writer, and director. She has served as the troupe’s secretary, chair of production, and currently holds the title of vice president.
The theatrical workload keeps her busy, Mauk confides during a break in dress rehearsals for Eric Green’s Trapped at the Florence Community Theater. Evidently, not busy enough. While her acting career began to flourish in Florence, she succumbed to the siren song of comedy.
“I started getting into improv with the Florentine Players, then became friends with Monty Eich through Capes Comics, and started regularly attending Weisenheimers shows,” Mauk says.
The Weisenheimers are an Omaha-based improv group, and she subbed at their shows for a time before meeting Andrew McGreevy. “I joined his improv troupe SkullProv and began writing comedy sketches for Skullduggery Productions,” she says.
While performing with SkullProv she began tinkering with the character who would eventually become “Your Friend Bella.”
“Bella started as a Halloween bit where I’d put on a hot dog costume, talk in a goofy accent, and pro- vide spurious trick-or-treat safety tips. I took this bit around town to as many open mics as I could around Halloween,” Mauk says.
Eventually, Bella evolved into a character that returned regularly, hot dog costume and all. “It just never felt like Bella without it. Even though I ran out of excuses to wear it. I’ve just let it become part of the bizarre experience of having someone with a vaguely Eastern European accent give heartfelt advice with the aid of cute visuals,” she says.
Mauk has been Bella and many other non-wiener characters as part of Backline, Big Canvas (a nonprofit improv group and school that she helped form in 2014), and Omaha Live, airing at midnight after Saturday Night Live.
One bit about Mauk that audiences might now know is that she was born with cloacal exstrophy (also known as OEIS Syndrome). As a result, she has lived her entire life with an ileostomy (a surgical opening in her abdomen), though she chooses not to lead with that factoid on stage.
“I don’t bring it up often because it’s not one of your sexier birth defects or conditions, and there’s really never a natural conversational way to tell all your friends that you have to go to the bathroom different than they do,” says Mauk with whimsy about the disability she doesn’t allow to define her. “I mean, do you know how your friends process and eliminate waste from their bodies? I bet you don’t. Typical.”
A goal for Mauk has been putting out the kind of change she wants to see in the world: compassion, understanding, tolerance, and kindness. Empathy for Mauk comes from being other people (even hot dog people).
“With improv and theater, it’s just a great way to pretend to be somebody who isn’t me for a while. It’s a wonderful escape to put on someone else’s life, if just for a little bit. I hope to put a friendlier face to comedy and to show that you don’t have to be crude or mean to get laughs,” she says. “Comedy gave me a through-line to unlock so many parts of myself that have only made for a better, more confident, and open human being. It’s still terrifying to go on stage sometimes, but it gives you a lot of little battles to overcome and walk away stronger.”
This article was printed in the January/February edition of Omaha Magazine.