Jeanne Robertson insists she’s not a comedian or a motivational speaker, and though she’s “definitely a Christian,” she doesn’t call herself a Christian speaker either.
“It really affects your crowd — who is coming. It implies your speech will be religious, in my opinion, [with] maybe an offering plate,” she laughed.
Robertson prefers to think of herself as a humorist. She doesn’t tell jokes — she just talks about the humor in everyday life.
Her routines have a message that carries through what she says: One can find humor in anything. “If we don’t find it, it’s not because it’s not happening. We’ve just chosen not to look for it,” Robertson said.
Robertson’s career started when she was selected Miss North Carolina in 1963, even though she was a 6-foot-2-inch basketball player who wanted to shoot hoops for her talent.
She got a great deal of practice speaking while on tour as Miss North Carolina before her first big break: being asked to be the “filler” act for the following year’s televised Miss North Carolina pageant.
“They’ll just call you out on stage … and you just come out and be funny,” she recalled producers telling her. “I had just turned 20, and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ When that was over, the phone was ringing and ringing. I became a hot commodity.”
Robertson didn’t imagine a full-time professional speaking career at that point. She graduated with a health, physical education and recreation degree from Auburn University, got a job as a PE teacher and basketball coach and even taught a few years at “Thuh Judson,” Judson College in Marion.
Her speaking engagements were just a side job. But Robertson became more popular, and she adapted through the years, changing her material to reflect her current life stages, finally becoming a full-time speaker.
She’s also had to adapt physically on occasion. When she broke her leg a few years ago, she started a “Rocking Chair Tour,” sitting in a rocking chair while on stage.
During the pandemic Robertson couldn’t do speeches live, so she expanded her social media presence.
She started streaming a one-hour improvisation show, “Live from the Back Porch.”
Robertson shoots the video literally on her back porch telling stories, interviewing friends and answering fan questions. Some shows have garnered more than 100,000 views.
Though a lot of her material is about life in the South, one person stands out: “Left Brain or LB,” Jeanne’s very logical, precise and frugal late husband. Calling him Left Brain started live on stage in the 1990s.
“I jokingly said, ‘My husband, Jerry,’ and then I stopped myself. ‘Well, really a lot of people call him Jerry, but I call him LB for Left Brain.’”
She goes on to share about being left brained, “If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you are probably one too.”
Audience reaction was incredible. Eventually a YouTube video about Left Brain, “Don’t Send a Man to the Grocery Store,” went viral and currently has more than 15 million views.
In addition to DVDs and CDs, in 2020 Robertson released her first book, “Don’t Bungee Jump Naked and Other Important Stuff,” which includes both older, popular stories and new ones.
It also has a unique component, “Extra Excitement for Left-Brained People!” where Robertson deliberately left a few errors for “left-brains” to find.
Another source of Robertson’s material comes from strangers. She said she has been guilty of reclining her airline seat to hear better if the passengers were laughing.
One time she met a woman whose grandparents in Luverne had an interesting relationship concerning church — during their entire 65 years of marriage, one went to a Methodist church and the other to a Baptist one across the street.
Robertson related what the grandmother said: “We ride and park together. But then I go to my church, and he goes to his church.’ Then she did add, ‘They got out later. We knew if the Baptists were already out, we’ve done something wrong.’”
Robertson always comes back to the importance of finding humor in anything. “Even during COVID, if you have some friends who look at the world through humorous eyes, get on the phone with them. Perk each other up,” she said.
But keep in mind that if Robertson overhears, your stories could end up in one of her shows.
Robertson is scheduled to be at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham Oct. 15. Her book, DVDs and CDs can be purchased through her website, JeanneRobertson.com.
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