A longtime student of improv and master of disguises, Mo Collins is best remembered for the rotating cast of characters she created on the late-night sketch show "MADtv" (Fox 1995-2009). Hailing from the Midwest, the versatile comedian never completely lost her accent and worked the persona into her characters and stand-up. After leaving the show, Collins made numerous guest appearances in various films and sitcoms, most notably playing the gossip-hungry local talk show host Joan Callamezzo in "Parks and Recreation" (NBC 2009-).
She was born Maureen Ann Collins on July 7, 1965 to an Irish Catholic family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Growing up in the suburbs of the twin cities, Collins was painfully shy until comedy pulled her out of her shell. While initially more interested in introspective hobbies like painting, she joined a comedy club in middle school that enabled her to write and perform sketch and improv pieces for the local high school. Her high school theater teacher was not only responsible for encouraging her to try comedy, but he also gave her the nickname "Mo," which she kept as a stage name.
While Collins leaned towards art school after graduation, she ended up attending an all-women's Catholic university in St. Paul, Minnesota, at her parents' behest. The rigid environment did not suit the budding creative and she was eventually asked to leave school. After dropping out, Collins worked a number of odd jobs before returning to improv and studying at Dudley Rigg's Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis. The workshop served as a rigorous improv training ground, with Collins practicing her craft in the touring and resident companies. It was there she realized that acting was not only her calling but she could make a living at it. Instead of heading west, Collins ended up down south, performing at the Pleasure Island Improv Theater in Orlando. While performing, she met future "MADtv" castmember Paul Vogt and became not only colleagues but also close friends. Mo then returned to Minneapolis where she starred in many theater productions and plays, got married and had a son. But family life did not stop her from doing comedy. She shortly sold her house and moved out to Los Angeles, where she landed her big break on "MADtv" within the same year.
The show was tailor-made for the talents Collins gained during all those years of improv. Six seasons and an endless amount of characters later, Collins left the show on a high note and searched for a new TV family in 2003. The transition proved more difficult than anticipated but Collins continued doing TV guest spots and voice-acting work until she landed a part on the cult-series "Arrested Development" (Fox 2003-2006), playing the receptionist/business model Starla. She quickly followed that up with a small part on Judd Apatow's "40 Year Old Virgin" (2005) and "Knocked Up" (2007) two years later. While ensemble comedy was her forte, Mo led a prolific comedy career, appearing in over 20 TV series including recurring roles in "According to Jim" (ABC 2001-2009), "Men of a Certain Age" (TNT 2009-2011) and her scene-stealing role on "Parks & Recreation." All the while, Mo continued to perform improv and even tried her hand at stand-up comedy. In the spring of 2011 at the age of 44, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called GIST. With the support of her new fiancé, she underwent surgery and therapy. Battling fatigue and side effects of the disease, she sought out more voice acting work while she eventually went into remission a year later.