Stepping out and Standing UP

Juanita Williams

So, here it is, my first article. That’s kind-of crazy because, I am not a writer. Up until recently, I would have told you that an article is a piece of clothing. My, how things can change. I was asked to write about what I do. Of course if you asked my husband, he would say nothing. But that isn’t true. Well. Okay most of the time it is, but not at the moment. I have a very odd career. Few people do it, although a lot of people would like to, I think. Hmm, another hint. It doesn’t pay well, has rowdy people and requires a lot of driving. No, not a bus driver. One more hint? Okay, I make people laugh. Or I try to.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m a stand-up comedian. Not just a stand-up comedian but a CLEAN comedian. That is about as rare as a truthful politician. Oh, there is a few of them but it is hard to find. What even makes me more different is that I perform in comedy clubs around the country. Real comedy clubs, not made up ones that consist of a stand and a microphone. Real ones such as Zanies, the Improv, and Comedy Zones, etc. Yep, me. Forty something year old wife mother and grandmother me. Have I been doing this my whole life, like most seasoned (nice word for old) comedians have? No, I have not. Truth be told, I had a lawn care business. When I say that I had a lawn care business I mean that I was the owner and sole employee of the business. I had a great boss though. (I will give you a minute to figure that out) It was hard work and very hot in the Florida summers but I was my own boss. That is a very important thing when you are a young divorced mother who needs to be there for her child. I am getting off track here. Basically, what I am trying to get at is that I had no knowledge that I would ever be standing on a stage telling jokes. Ever! Especially, not in my forties. Yet, here I am. I have always loved to perform and like most kids had a dream of being an actress. But, being an overweight, freckled-face redhead with buck teeth and an overbite I didn’t think that Hollywood was going to knock at my door anytime soon. So, I did what everyone else does, and got a life. I did, however, perform occasionally in a dinner theater near my home. It was an interactive mystery comedy show and I loved it.

So how did I go from an occasional dinner show actress to a nationally touring stand-up comedian? It all started with one open mic. An acquaintance from the theater said that I should do comedy because I did so much improv (unscripted comedy) and was very funny. I said that, one day, maybe I would. Well, he signed me up for a comedy night at a local club in Tampa. It freaked me out! What?! It is one thing to be an actress in a comedy show, but it is something totally different being a stand-up comedian. Although I did help the director occasionally write the scripts, I am still a “character” in the show. If they don’t like you they don’t like the “character” you portray. (That’s what I told myself) When you do comedy that is a whole different story. You are you. If they don’t like you they don’t like YOU. Also, you look at the audience in comedy and that is something you rarely do in the theater. Trust me, its frowned upon. When you talk to them they talk back, that’s not allowed in the theater. In fact, they talk back even when you don’t talk to them. Comedy is a very vulnerable profession, especially for a person like me. The main reason I even took acting in school was to get out of my shell. I was very shy. Yes, inwardly I longed to be Sophia Loren, but I ultimately knew that would never happen to someone who looked like I did. (No matter how extraordinarily talented I was. ) As a comedian you stand in front of people and tell them jokes that you have written. Unless, you have the indecency to steal other peoples’ jokes, but that is a whole other article. (Of dirty laundry!) The audience looks to you to make them laugh. To make them forget about their day, or their year, or even their life. Most of the time they have been drinking (which is not a bad thing in itself) and can be obnoxious. Sometimes they are loud and disrespectful. Sometimes they look at you as if you are speaking a language not from this planet. Sometimes, they can make you feel like you have a made a mistake in ever stepping foot behind that microphone. It can be a very scary profession. In fact, I do believe that it was in a magazine recently in the top ten hardest jobs in America. I would have to agree. So, back to my story, I was petrified! I knew nothing about stand-up comedy! Comedy clubs were not something that I went to and I didn’t have cable (not because I was against it but because I was poor) so I couldn’t watch it on TV. I wrote myself a monologue because that is the only thing that I knew to do, up to that point. It was about growing up with a hillbilly dad and a Puerto Rican mom, being married and just life in general. Stuff I thought was funny. Well, it just so happens that the audience found it to be funny also. There was a contest that night and I ended up winning! The manager said that he thought that I was lying to him about never doing comedy because I did so well. He only knew that I was telling the truth when I got off stage went to the back of the bar and nearly hyperventilated. It was a great night! Winning that contest put me through to Florida’s Funniest person semi-finals contest a few nights later. Then at that contest, I finished in the top 5 and advanced to the finals! In the finals, I finished fourth overall and they said it was because I went over my time. I had no idea how that worked. My monolog was 7minutes but I didn’t figure in the time that I had to stop while the audience laughed. That was the beginning of a whole new world for me.

As I continued to do comedy, I realized that the clean comedy that I was doing was a very rare thing in the clubs. Most of the time the language is foul and the comedy tasteless. Being that I didn’t go to clubs I had no idea. It was actually a little disturbing to me. Not that I am a prude by any means, but just in the lack of tack. (ooh, that rhymed) Don’t get me wrong. I don’t only listen to clean comedians. Robin Williams is one of my favorites and he isn’t clean, but he also isn’t crude. There is a difference, a big difference. My favorites are of course Jeff Foxworthy and the whole blue collar clan, Sinbad and of course Bill Cosby. Another thing that I realized is that there was something else lacking in the clubs other than clean comedy. God! The only time that He was mentioned is when they used His name in vain or His sons name in vain. When I sat back and looked around at the people and the comedians it saddened me. Do they know God? Do they know that He sent His son to die so that they may live? It sure didn’t seem like it. Could this be where I am supposed to be? It cannot be possible. I am a Christian and I love the Lord but I am not evangelical. My day does not consist of me walking up to strangers asking them if they found God. That is not me. Look, if God had a calling in my life, I never heard the phone. Maybe it was on vibrate. Well, it was ringing now. Would I answer? How could I? I am one insignificant person. How could I doing clean comedy that refers to God in a good way make a difference? I honestly didn’t know, but I do now. Through the years I have had people thank me for being clean. Comedians ask me how I have come so far so fast and I am able to tell them about God and what He has done for me. Waitresses have asked me to pray with them. Comedians that have stopped performing so dirty when they can see me doing well and being clean. Since I have stepped out in faith, it has been the ride of a lifetime. When I quit my job(s) I had no savings, no checking and nothing to fall back on. God said that if I did, it wouldn’t be a leap of faith. I hate it when He is right. He is always right. It’s like He is God or something  at the end of each night, before my last joke, I tell them “The reason I do clean comedy is to Glorify God. It is to Stand Up For Him. Because this is the United States of America, we should all stand up for what we believe in and In God I Trust.”

So, here I am. 4 years later, a full time comedian that travels throughout the southeast doing my “Stand Up For Him”. Do I have any regrets? Yes. The only regret that you will ever have when you step out in faith is that you didn’t do it sooner. That is my regret. Has it been easy? No. When I am on stage and I tell them about God and why I do what I do sometimes there is thunderous applause and sometimes it is so quiet that I can actually hear the crickets. Does that bother me? Of course, it used to bother me a lot until I realized that even though the audience isn’t applauding, they are applauding in Heaven. Truthfully, that is the only applause that should matter.

Leave a Comment