Comedienne Etta May Serves Up Comedy and Heart at the Palace Theatre
By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Self described as “clean-comedy,” Kentucky-based comedienne Etta May has appeared on Comic Strip Live, MTV, Oprah, Showtime, and as a guest commentator on CBS Sunday Morning. May is also the winner of the prestigious American Comedy Awards “Comic Of The Year,” and at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, Etta May and The Southern Fried Chicks perform at The Palace Theatre, located at 112 West Sixth Avenue in Downtown Corsicana. Tickets can be purchased here.
May was more than open to chat about a variety of subjects, ranging from how to say a town’s name properly, to finding honest humor in everyday situations.
The Navarro County Gazette had the opportunity to sit down with May over a phone interview. Bold and insighful, mixed with a cheery laugh, she was more than open to chat about a variety of subjects, ranging from how to say a town’s name properly, to finding the sense of truth found in storytelling.
“I may not be right, but I’m never wrong,” she said.
May finds a relatable balance in her monologues, stemming from the BC (Before Cellphone) days of sitting on a porch and talking. Her early days of living in a trailer park, and later on a Black Angus farm, where her father planted soybeans and corn, was a stepping stone, teaching her what she wanted out of life. Onstage, she shares a sense of candidness and purpose in reaching out to audiences who may not see that initial common ground.
“I walk on stage and people, especially in Los Angeles, they’d just cross their arms like “No. I ain’t gonna relate to this woman at all.’ And then they come up to me after the show and go ‘You’re looking through my bedroom window. You just told me my entire life.'”
“That art is not lost on most Southern comics,” she said. “Oh, there’s some lying going on, trust me,” she added with a laugh.
“We call it ’emblemishing.'”
May will be joined by “The Southern Fried Chicks,” an ever rotating roster of three headliners joining the comedienne for a full evening of entertainment.
“What’s neat about it is we’re all different,” May said of the comedy styles. “It’s not the same ol’, same ol’.”
For someone who grew up with a gift for gab, May grew up finding herself most at home telling jokes, and not working in a more conventional job. She tried employment as a school bus driver (“It just got harder and harder to hide the cooler.”), and she shared a story about being a Walmart greeter that, instead of merely saying hello, she would give customers recommendations. Customers and management didn’t always appreciate her candidness, and she was later fired.
“Now they call them influencers,” May laughed in regards to her suggestions. “I got fired for being an influencer at Walmart!”
But she has no regrets for how things turned out.
“I tell you what, I’m so lucky my life has turned out this way,” she said. “It’s a blessing that I couldn’t hold a job. I had to do comedy.”
May’s inspirations come from watching Johnny Carson every night, to legends such as Buddy Hackett, Jonathan Winters, Red Skelton, Carol Burnett, and sitcoms such as All in the Family.
Her biggest influence, however, remains her grandfather who could “spin some yarns out of his mouth.” She performs comedy bits sitting in an old chair of his where he “held court” with his own stories, and keeps a photo of him on the wall right behind her. There’s a soft fondness and sentimental tone that colors May’s voice as she likes to think it would bring him joy to see her “being stupid” on stage.
May delivers a style of humor meant to help people forget their troubles and simply have a good time. The comedienne’s website features links to her YouTube page, sharing a selection of her monologues as a sample of her comedy.
But she knows making people laugh in today’s comedy scene is a little harder than it used to be.
“Everybody’s so mad,” May said. I don’t know why everybody’s so permanently pissed off right now. We just live in the greatest country in the world, because I’ve been all over the world, and everybody’s just so mad.”
“I’ll get thousands of people telling me they love it, and then I’ll get somebody that takes what I said and construes it to jump on their soapbox and completely twists it around. It was like: ‘That is not what the whole bit is about! What didn’t you get in this story?'”
Regardless, May pays attention to the feedback in the comments section, and sometimes just sits back to watch the user interactions.
“Social media is kind of magical, and then you get these few road ragers.”
Whether online or onstage, May stages a show to interact with and understand her audience. And for an hour and a half, she wants her stories to connect with people without crowds feeling the need to “cherry pick” what offends or not.
“You just gotta do what you do,” May said. “I pride myself, and our entire show, all of the girls I work with, we do clean comedy, which is so much harder to write than the dirty stuff. And our crowds so appreciate it.”
Due to the creativity, skill, and fast thinking involved, comedy is considered one of the hardest art forms to perfect. Etta May shared her gratitude for that hour and a half she’s on stage, a moment in time she describes as “Heaven.”
“I wish everyone could experience being on stage and having all that laughter and energy coming towards you,” May said. “It’s like being in a hurricane with all of that energy coming towards you.”
“I’m truly the luckiest woman in the world.”
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