Molly Shannon loves to spin a tall tale — especially to shorties. The actress, who became famous for her hilarious characters on “Saturday Night Live” (Mary Katherine Gallagher! Delicious Dish! Helen Madden, Joyologist!) lost her own mother, younger sister and cousin in a car accident when she was just 4 years old. Even in the wake of that tragedy, she grew up with a deep appreciation for the silly side of life thanks to her fun-loving father. These days, Shannon gets a kick out of making up stories for her two children, Stella and Nolan (Dad is her artist husband, Fritz Chesnut). And now she’s turned one of their favorites into a wacky and witty new book, “Tilly the Trickster.” Shannon talked to Bookish about her favorite practical jokes, and what’s on Mary Katherine Gallagher’s reading list.
Bookish: Was there a specific children’s book that inspired you to go out and write your own?
Molly Shannon: Not really. I had it in my head that I would love to write a kids’ book, but I wanted to wait until I had kids to see what they were interested in. I would practice storytelling with Stella and Nolan, and they really loved that. I told them a story about this big Irish family called the Maloneys with 10 kids — they would want me to tell them that story over and over again. They really liked the part where the Maloney kids played tricks on one another. I thought: Ha! Maybe I could turn that into a book.
Bookish: Is the Tilly character in “Tilly the Trickster” based on anyone in your life?
MS: No, not really. My dad raised my sister and me from the time we were really little and he was a lively, fun guy who loved to be very silly. He liked to play games a lot. We’d be going to a candy store and he’d be like, “Let’s pretend like we’re blind.” He liked being a parent; he was almost like a kid himself, just easygoing and wild and fun. So I definitely passed that onto my kids and I encourage them to be silly.
Bookish: What’s the silliest thing they have ever done?
MS: My kids like to play tricks. I have all these wig samples from when I did the show “Kath and Kim” that I got to keep. There were 12 different wigs that I tried on to test out the right wig for that character, and I gave them to the kids once the show was cancelled. So the other day, when I’m on this serious business call, my son Nolan came into the room with a fake mustache on and one of those “Kath and Kim” wigs and it was as if I did not recognize him. I was like, “Who is this?” And then I said, “Oh my God, that’s my son.” They do stuff like that because they know that it will make me laugh so hard. I think it’s good for them to have mischief together. I love that kind of stuff as long as it’s not dangerous or harmful.
Bookish: Did you play practical jokes as a kid?
MS: No, it wasn’t really practical jokes. When I was little, though, right after my mom died, we went to go live with my aunt and I played a joke [included in “Tilly the Trickster” ] on the kids at school. I was not even five, and I was waiting for the bus, and I decided to tell everyone that the bus had already come. And they were like, “Oh. It did?” And I said, “Yeah, the bus already came.” So they started walking to school. Then I stood there waiting and I got the bus all by myself. I waved to them as we drove by. I got great pleasure from that.
Bookish: Are you a jokester now?
MS: Yeah. My daughter and her friend can make this really funny scratchy voice. And I can do it too. So we all called my husband the other day at work. I spoke first, and then I put these two little girls on — I was laughing so hard. We have fun acting around the house and playing theatre games.
Bookish: Your Mary Katherine Gallagher character on “Saturday Night Live” seems like she’d be Bookish. What would her favorite children’s book be?
MS: Anything very dramatic. “Forever,” that advanced Judy Blume book that you hide in your drawer. She would like that. Anything kind of risqué.