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Shannon Heupel, Montgomery Advertiser Published 12:50 a.m. CT Jan. 10, 2018
Auburn graduate and longtime humorist bringing true tales and laughs to Montgomery Performing Arts Centre on Friday night
When humorist Jeanne Robertson comes to Montgomery, there will be a huge gathering of women here waiting to hang on her every word, and probably passing on a few of their own stories to her.
And that’s Thursday, the day before Robertson’s actual big show here. She'll be among friends and Auburn alumni of her generation at a local home. She’s got plenty to talk about with them, with being an Auburn graduate, a former Miss North Carolina, the wife of "Left Brain” Jerry (also known in Robertson’s talks as “LB”), a mother and grandmother, and a professional speaker and humorist with more than 50 years of experience.
On Friday, many of those same people will likely be in the audience as Robertson takes her special brand of humor to the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre’s stage.
“I feel like I’m coming home to Montgomery,” said Robertson.
She's got a lot of tall tales, of a sort, including ones from her 6’2” life (she’s been that height since age 13). She’s bringing her Rocking Chair Tour to MPAC for an 8 p.m. show. Tickets range from $32 to $62, and are available through ticketmaster.com or the MPAC box office. Call 334-481-5100 for more information.
Robertson describes her material as family humor. “I don’t call myself a Christian comedian. I am a Christian, but I want everyone to look at each other and say we’re all different, but look, we’re laughing at the same thing. We must be alike,” she said.
For that matter, she doesn’t call herself a comedian at all. She’s a humorist.
“The comedian’s sole goal is to get the majority of the audience laughing. They can do so with any type of material. They can do so with any words. They can do so at the expense of some people in the audience. I cut them slack on that, because I think when people go to see comedians, they go knowing they might be included in the act,” Robertson said.
It’s a little different for Robertson as a humorist. “I want them to laugh just as long, just as hard, and enjoy me just as much,” she said. However, she doesn’t make fun of the audience, doesn’t use offensive language, and presents a show with tales you can bring your whole family to hear.
Jeanne Robertson offers a family-friendly and engaging
Jeanne Robertson offers a family-friendly and engaging brand of comedy. She has a show Friday at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre. (Photo: Contributed)
“They won’t be jokes. They’ll just be true stories that have happened,” Robertson said. She’s always looking around her world through humorous eyes, even in some situations that upset others. Sometimes, especially when it upsets others, like delays at the airport. The idea is to leave the audience telling themselves, “The same thing happened to me!”
So why is it called the Rocking Chair Tour? Like anything else, its a story. About two years ago, she broke her femur. She said they quickly changed the name of the tour so she could sit in a rocking chair and tell stories on stage. “People said, ‘This is funny at your age that you’re out here.’ And I’m not a rocking chair grandma-like person. I’m a professional woman."
Robertson has actually spent a lot of time just outside the River Region in places like Luverne and Auburn, where her parents were from. “And then I taught at Judson and lived in Selma for a few years,” Robertson said. “I’ve got all these old friends who are coming, and I don’t know why it’s taken us so long to have a show in Montgomery, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Unlike many women, she’s not shy at all about telling her age, and doesn’t plan on slowing down her career.
“I’m 74 years old, so I get that out of the way. I’m very, very busy,” she said. "What happened is, I was a rising junior at Auburn. I grew up in North Carolina, but mother and daddy were from Alabama, and they had met at Auburn and married. So, my sister and I would go back to our grandparents in Auburn.”
It was the early ‘60s, and Robertson - who was then Jeanne Flinn Swanner - set off on a path that would change her life forever. "My rising year - a junior, I would have been a junior - I went home (to North Carolina) one weekend and I entered my little town’s beauty pageant,” Richardson said. "I’d never been in anything like that, but I did. There were six of us, and I won. I became Miss Graham, like the cracker. That put me in the (1963) Miss North Carolina pageant. And I won. There were like 85 contestants from all these little towns around North Carolina.”
Winning in North Carolina put her in to the Miss America pageant. “I did not win, but I was Miss Congeniality,” Roberson said.
As Miss North Carolina, Robertson had to drop out of Auburn for a year to be able to travel.
“I think pageants sometime take criticism. Sometimes it’s deserved, and sometimes it’s not. But in that one year, I made 500 little speeches,” she said. “I found outing about a week after I’d won Miss North Carolina that I could make people laugh, and I did that all year.”
After passing on her title, Robertson continued to make speeches. “And I just never looked back. It was like a duck to water,” she said.
She did go back to Auburn and finish her degree. She taught physical education at Judson College in Marion. “But the entire time, the reputation had grown that I could make people laugh,” she said. “I started giving speeches, and my fees were $35, $50, $100. It just crept up being funny.”
After years of teaching, she couldn’t resist it any longer and took to talking for a living.
“I was a humorist. I would go into the conventions and open them up, or do the launching of the banquets or whatever. It was mostly keynotes,” she said. “This grew, and I became president of the National Speakers Association."
As a “non-celebrity professional speaker,” in the '60s, her humorous stories often included her own tale as a 6’2” contestant in the Miss America pageant. “We called it, as y’all do, the 'Miss Amurica’ Pageant.”
Her stories changed and evolved as the decades passed. “As my life progressed, I’d write new material,” she said. “I was as busy as I could be.”
By the time she was in her 60s, Robertson said she embraced the Internet. “I went viral. Now I’ve been pegged by that world as the ‘Grandma Gone Viral.’ Christmas Eve, I hit 48 million hits on YouTube,” she said.
She was also picked up by Sirius XM’s Laugh USA family comedy radio show. “They played me every day,” Robertson said. “With the YouTube clips flying around and the exposure on Sirius XM, these people in Nashville that do shows said we think your name can sell tickets."
It worked. Shows started selling out. “It just has mushroomed to where now I’ve been on the Grand Ole Opry,” Robertson said. “People pay me not to sing and not to try to play any instruments. I just walk out 8 minutes. I’m not a Minnie Pearl. I’m me.”
In September, she had two hour show on her own at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in front of 2,300 people.
She’s also released 8 DVDs and CDs, and has plans to tape for another DVD in March. She’s also written three books on humor.
“It’s a different world. I’m having a ball,” she said.
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