Becoming a Standup Comic at 70 — No Joke!
The outrageous Stephanie Bass pokes fun at later life and love
Why would a 70-year-old divorced woman with a house in a beautiful beach area close to her daughter and year-old grandson start a new life as a comedian? It’s just doing what comes naturally for Stephanie Bass.
“Grandmothers who have nothing to do but spend time nagging their family are just so boring. You can only say, ‘Did you see him [her grandson] do this?’ so many times,” says Bass, now 71, who lives in tony Westport, Conn. “Of course, I think he’s the smartest and most perfect grandchild that ever lived, but c’mon — who wants to hear that over and over again?”
The Funniest Comic in Connecticut?
Apparently, lots of people do want to hear Bass’ outrageous take on life. She’s been getting big laughs competing in the Funniest Comic in Connecticut at the Treehouse Comedy Club in Westport and is now in Round 3.
"When he stopped laughing at my jokes, I knew the marriage was over," Bass jokes.
Bass’ daughter Jessie isn’t offended by her mom’s digs at grandparenthood. In fact, she encourages her mother to get laughs from their family life. “She gives me very good advice. She tells me, ‘You should use that’ when we are together,” says Bass.
Known for her sharp wit and unabashed candor, Bass decided to become a standup after friends and others urged her.
“My last five shrinks all said I should do this. It just seemed to be the right time to give it a try,” she says. “I don’t really have much of a censor, which is part of my ADD. I’m the one who always said the thing when I’m out with friends that everyone else wanted to say but was afraid to say it.”
Building Up Confidence at Trader Joe's
Bass recalls the Trader Joe’s job she had several years ago, which helped give her the confidence to go on stage. “They used to call me the Queen of the Demos because I drew the best crowds for the customers seeking free samples every day.” Earlier jobs included ones in publishing, marketing, teaching and credit card redemption.
Bass doesn’t think her late ex-husband, a successful businessman, would’ve approved of her new career. “That’s why I divorced him. When he stopped laughing at my jokes, I knew the marriage was over,” she jokes.
Bass, who describes herself as financially “comfortable,” is happy to earn some money as a standup comic — the Treehouse competition winner will get $2,000. But that’s not a major reason she’s telling jokes. Her focus, she says, is “getting better” at performing.
“I don’t want to just sit at home and play mahjong. On the other hand, I don’t want to travel all over the Northeast, stay in motels and make a couple of hundred dollars being one of a group of comics performing for a night or two,” she says. “I also don’t expect an HBO special anytime soon. So the idea of a birthday celebration, gala or cruise ship with a $500 paycheck is more realistic for me.”
It’s self-expression, it’s boredom relief and maybe even an outgrowth of years of repression.
Joking About Online Dating
“People love to hear about [dating] and talk about it. It doesn’t get old if you are coming from a real place,” says Bass.
Her online dating routine is typically tactful, believable and funny, very funny. Joking during her act about dating much younger men, Bass says: “I don’t want to be a cougar. I hate having to explain things.”
Bass stays away from the kind of raunchy content she hears from some younger comics. “No one wants to hear graphic stuff about gynecology and hemorrhoids. Yuck,” she says.
Her favorite comics are familiar names to older audiences: the late Joan Rivers and George Carlin, plus Lewis Black. “They’re funny because they are intelligent and relatable,” Bass says.
Her Path to the Comedy Clubs
Bass’ path to this new act started with reading a book she bought on Amazon about how to be a standup, getting coached by a professional comedian and by taking classes at the American Comedy Institute in New York City.
At the school, Bass learned that honing an act comes from knowing your “A”s and “B”s and from practicing and critiquing a performance each time. The goal in preparing for the next show, Bass says, is eliminating any poor material, refining “B” material to make it possible “A” material and then perfecting the “A” jokes.
“Of course, you always need to add new material that you hope will be an “A,” she says. “When you start to do that, you are a professional.”
And, Bass adds, she was taught: “You have to win them over within the first thirty seconds, and you have to finish with a bang, so they will remember you that way. It’s OK if you have some ‘B’ stuff in the middle, but you need ‘A’ starts and finishes.”
Another rule she learned: “Real pros have three to six punchlines per minute. if you don’t have that, you’re not professional.”
Learning From the Audience
Bass not only enjoys playing to an audience, she takes their suggestions.
At a recent standup performance, Bass recalls, a man in the audience heckled her, but she didn’t take offense. “When the guy shouted out a better punchline than mine, I just told the audience that his was better…and they appreciated that and laughed,” she laughs.
And when a joke bombs, she turns that into a bonanza.
Bass recalls one joke that initially got more snickers than laughs, especially from the men in the room. “I told a joke that started that I don’t have to work because I had a great divorce lawyer. Only a few chuckles from women,” she says. So Bass turned to a table of men and said: ‘Ah, you men don’t find that funny, huh?’” The ad lib found its mark.
Bass has no plans to get off the stage anytime soon. “My brain doesn’t know I’m 70. I’m out there chasing life,” she says.