Not everyone gets a do-over in life, but Katrina Brown did. She's not only making the most of the opportunity, but everyone gets to enjoy the results.
The Canton native transitioned from a "drama club geek" in high school to standup comedy in her early 20s. Realizing that she didn't have enough life experience to make her time in front of a crowd worthwhile, she gave up performing onstage in favor of a daily job.
"I worked in corporate America as a bill collector for nine years," she said during a recent interview, "and felt my soul being sucked from my body. After the kids were born I knew I wanted to work, and comedy was the answer."
Katrina Brown returns to the Warren Comedy Club at Sunrise Inn to headline a New Year’s Eve show.
Following an open mic appearance she was encouraged by her husband to pursue standup. "I figured it would be something I did on a random night; just to have some social interaction. Get up. Tell some jokes. Have a couple drinks and be done. But I did my open mic and my husband said, 'You were looking for a career, I think you found it.' He saw it all before I did. I didn't think it would take off the way that it did, but it did pretty quick."
Since her return to the stand up world in 2007, Brown has transitioned from shows around Northeast Ohio to dates in 20 states including Michigan, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, Alabama and Florida.
Besides having to impress comedy club owners, she also had to deal with the attitudes of other performers on the standup circuit. "I was 36 when my comedy took off. Younger, new comics scoffed at someone my age starting, like there was an age cap to new comics."
She continued, "Comedy is not for the weak. I think it's because I'm a little bit older.. I didn't start when I was 20 and have the wrong idea. I've had other jobs. I know what job-related stress can be, and what is stressful in comedy doesn't bother me. I don't get worked up over the business side of it."
For her what's important and most satisfying is making an audience laugh. "It's an amazing exchange when someone will approach you after a show and let you know they were going through a very rough time and they were able to forget it for awhile."
With an attitude shaped by real world problems rather than a showbiz-centric background, she added, "It's comedy. It's not brain surgery. We may be for a moment making people forget about their lives, which is a very powerful exchange, but we're not changing lives. We're not curing anything. Have a couple drinks. Sit back and laugh."
Originally, her material focused exclusively on what she knew - bringing up her two sons who are now ages eight and 10. Not surprisingly she's had requests that situations at home don't make it to the stage. "Sometimes, I will comply, depending on how serious the request is and, sometimes, I will tell them, my stretch marks are my right to decide whatever I want to talk about onstage.
"For the most part I try to respect their wishes. I don't want it to ever be a source where they need therapy later. At the same time, this is what I do and they're going to have to understand that this is what mom does and there's no debating it."
Helpful advice early in her career that "if all you're going to do is tell mom jokes you're not going to make it" caused Brown to expand her subject matter. "You go to a college, they don't want to hear about your kids. Actually, having kids scares most of them because that's what they're trying to avoid."
She cites Christopher Titus and Robert Schimmel as inspirations because they went to raw places with their comedy - an alcoholic father and suicidal mother for Titus, dealing with cancer for Schimmel.
"I have nothing against jokes that are made up but I think it reaches the audience more when they can relate to things being said onstage. I like that connection. That's what I strive for with each show."
Besides family life, she discusses her own personal quirks including a metal plate in her head and pop culture references. "It is very much adult conversation, adult language, adult topics."
As she prepares to help local standup comedy fans ring out 2013, Brown is already looking toward the next year with plans to finally release a CD and DVD.
Overall, her goals remain as simple as when she started. "I just want to remain a working comic. When I started this I had no path in mind. I know a lot of people start and think they're going to be the Next Big Thing and they're going to be famous by the 10-year mark. I run into a lot of veteran comics on the road. They're not famous. They've been in it for 20 years. They're bitter and you can hear it onstage. They're angry. The road can wear you out.
"The only thing that I really can control is continuing to write, continuing to be funny and let the chips fall where they fall. I just want to keep working. I want to make sure when I get booked, people are happy to see me. 'Oh, she hasn't worked here in a while. Better bring Katrina back.' There's not a lot of people that can say they enjoy their job. I love my job. I'm a lucky person."