For humorist and public speaker Jeanne Robertson, life doesn't imitate art: Her life IS her art.
"When I started speaking for money in the '60s, I was talking about being a 6'2" former Miss America contestant who wanted to shoot hoop shots in the talent competition," Robertson told AXS.com in a recent interview. "And then in the '70s, I was talking about being a pageant MC. Then in the '80s I had a child, then I moved up to having a teenager. And in the '90s, I really started embracing my age and then one night, on my husband Jerry, I said, 'well, I don't call him Jerry, I call him LB for Left Brain.' And the audience reaction was so great, I couldn't wait to get off stage and start writing."
She hasn't stopped writing. Although her profession as a speaker dates back more than 50 years, Robertson's career has reached another level over the past decade, thanks in large part to her vividly rendered stories about her family, friends and experiences. To her many fans, the characters in her stories--LB, Toni, Norma Rose, her son Beaver--are an integral part of her unique appeal.
"I have a cast of characters and one of my biggest challenges is to make sure on every tape I have included a drop-dead funny story about all of my cast of characters," she says. "And people know who they are."
People know about Robertson and her colorful characters in large part because of the internet. At an age when many of her peers are settling into a comfortable retirement, the 74-year-old is more like a millennial entrepreneur, using YouTube and social media to fuel her wildly successful brand.
"I would tell people in my age bracket, embrace [social media]," she says. "I actually had professional speakers say to me, 'I'm so glad I had a great career financially and would go all these places before I had to get into this internet stuff. I just can't do it.' And I'm thinking, 'You're nuts. Because they can find us.'"
They certainly found Robertson. Thanks to her exposure on the comedy stations of SiriusXM and her thriving YouTube channel--which just celebrated more than 47 million total views--Robertson has been able to parlay her experience as a public speaker into a thriving career as a humorist who performs dozens of shows every year. Before she tapes her ninth DVD in March, Robertson has several shows booked in the coming months, including stops in Ft. Meyers (tickets), Colorado Springs (tickets) and Dallas (tickets).
It's clear speaking with Robertson that she works hard on her craft--"If you're feeling dry or uncreative, just go pick up an old joke book and start reading it and it won't take long," she says--but most of her material is derived from mundane, relatable situations.
"It totally affects how you approach living," Robertson says of how her career has impacted her daily life. "Because when I'm in an airport and the planes are all grounded and it's gonna be hours...I'll move toward a crowd of people who are traveling together to eavesdrop. Because it's gonna be funny. And then I realized one day, everybody in the gate area besides me is upset. I'm not upset because I'm still looking for humor. And it makes you have a whole different approach toward getting upset with the cab driver or the hotel clerk or the room service or whatever."
The genius of Robertson is her ability to weave a compelling story out of these scenarios. Her most popular YouTube clip, "Don't Send a Man to the Grocery Store," milks uproarious laughs from the story of her husband's ill-fated trip to get several items from the store. That bit has been refined and expanded, because, as Robertson learned in public speaking, "You change the story; the tape never changes." Other times, the material just needs a little while to sort itself out.
"There's a story that I've put up, 'A Mother's Revenge - Red Porsche.' The story happened and I got the punchline 29 years later," she explains. "And I'd tell it at a dinner party and they'd say, 'you're telling that aren't you?' And I'd say no. Because they didn't understand, it didn't have a closer until 29 years later. So you just keep working. You work at it every single day."
For tickets to select Jeanne Robertson shows, follow this link, and get a taste of what you can expect by watching the video embedded above.