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|Not Ready for the Rocking Chair: Comedienne Grandma Lee, February 27 & 28 at the Rhythm City Casino|
|News/Features - Comedy|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Wednesday, 18 February 2009 08:02|
At one point during my recent (and rather terse) phone interview with comedienne Grandma Lee, the performer explains her interest in stand-up by saying, “You gotta do somethin’ you love. I’m 74 years old, but I’m not ready for the rocking chair.”
It would be understandable if you responded to those statements with, “Aw-w-w, how cute!” But with her voice pitched just a tad higher than Bea Arthur’s, and with her Web-site introduction providing a memorable image of the comic with a beer and a don’t-piss-me-off deadpan, this 74-year-old is hardly your everyday, adorable, cookie-baking granny. (On Lee’s MySpace profile, “Drink/Smoke” is followed by “Yes/Yes.”)
What she is is a nationally touring comedienne whose observational humor and bone-dry deliveries won her first place in 2003’s U.S. World Talent Competition – Comedy Division, held at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. Over the next three weeks, the comedienne will bring her act to Wisconsin, Virginia, Mississippi, and Nevada, and she’ll appear locally at Davenport’s Rhythm City Casino, with two shows each on February 27 and 28.
It must be said that this obviously no-nonsense performer isn’t exactly the most enlightening of interviewees; she’s remarkably circumspect about why she enjoys stand-up (“’Cause I love it,” she says ... followed by a full, three-second pause), about the appeal of her act (“It’s shock value” ... followed by another three-second pause), about whether she’s an R-rated or family-friendly entertainer (“Both”), and even about her actual name.
As guarded as her responses are, however, Lee’s comedic appeal – that of the plain-speaking senior who’ll say whatever she likes, damn it – is evident even in our brief conversation. “I’ve met some wonderful comedians on the road,” she rasps, “even though, every once in a while, you run into a real jerk.”
A resident of Jacksonville, Florida, who worked for the Southern Bell Telephone Company for 22 years, Lee says she didn’t attempt stand-up until 1997. “But I always wanted to do it,” she says. “Always. And so I went to an open mic one time, and I just thought of some stuff, and I just got up and said it, you know? Just off the cuff.”
While her comedic repertoire consists primarily of “some politically incorrect stuff, and I make fun of TV commercials, and stuff like that,” Lee says that a large part of her routine is devoted to tales of her family (among them sons Kevin, Timmy, and Kelly, and daughter Joy), all of whom “were a little skeptical” about her nascent comedy career when she began performing comedy clubs in late 1997. “But now they really like it.”
Plenty of others have liked it, too. After years spent on the Southern stand-up circuit – with the comedienne making it to the final rounds in the Aspen Comedy Festival competitions in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina – Lee eventually took her act West, not only winning Vegas’ 2003 competition, but emerging as a finalist for the 2004 season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, and among only three comics asked to perform in the program’s season finale.
Nowadays, says Lee, “I’m pretty much on the road all the time. A little bit off here, and a little bit off there, but I work at least three weeks a month.” She’s also managed to see quite a bit of the country over the last decade. “I’ve been in every state now except Montana and Oregon and New England.” (Regrettably, I fail to ask for clarification on this last “state.”)
And Lee says that one of the great perks to touring is the chance to visit family members, including her grandchildren in Florida, Alabama, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa – yes, Grandma Lee is an actual grandma, and a proud one at that. (Lee’s MySpace page offers more details on her 10 grandkids than it does on Lee.) Asked if her relations are proud of her late-in-the-game accomplishments, Lee replies, “Oh yeah,” although she amends the sentiment with, “Some more than others. My daughter’s embarrassed. But if she needs a loan, she calls me.”
Grandma Lee performs at the Rhythm City Casino’s Rock Around the Clock restaurant at 7 and 9 p.m. on February 27 and 28. Tickets are $10, and more information on Lee – though not a lot more – is available at GrandmaLee.com.
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