"Love, Gilda" Movie is a Must See!

My Personal Gilda Story

Gilda Radner's movie is just out, “Love, Gilda.” Anyone who is into comedy MUST see this hilarious and moving film about SNL's beloved, first cast member, Gilda Radner.

Source: By Solters and Roskin (ebay) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
She was not only an incredible talent but also, an extraordinary person.  My story, when I met her, takes place at the height of her success in 1979 on a cold, snowy NYC night.

I was the opening act at New York’s Bottom Line for the Roches, a band that was on Saturday Night Live a lot. The audience was full of showbiz VIPs who schmoozed and talked loudly while I was onstage. I made some jokes about it to the civilians in the first row, but the big shots studio execs continued to talk during my act. And if that wasn’t bad enough, when I got offstage I found out that the club owners had let these VIPs in and kept my seventy-five-year-old aunt Edith and her family standing in the snow outside. I went backstage in a fury. A woman asked me, “What’s the matter, honey?” I burst out crying. She pulled me into a small backstage bathroom. This complete stranger sat on the toilet in this tiny New York cockroach-infested bathroom, holding me on her lap while I sobbed on her shoulder. “That’s OK, honey. I know how hard it can be.” When I looked up I realized, “Oh my God, you’re Gilda Radner.” At that time, Gilda was a big star on Saturday Night Live. She was there to introduce the band but took the time to care for a complete stranger. Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

How do you want to be remembered? Sometimes it’s the little moments, when we take the time to recognize others, that we truly are a superstar.

Comedy Updates and Contests: Female Comics are Rockin it!

Former Student Hannah Gadsby Nabs Netflix Special

If you haven’t seen, Australian comic Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special, STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND WATCH, here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aE29fiatQ0.


I met Hannah when she was a student in my standup workshop in Melbourne, Australia. Five years later, she is an international sensation. Why? Because she is not only funny, she goes BEYOND FUNNY to create a new form of comedy that leaves the audience not just laughing, but INSPIRED.  

After watching her Around forty minutes into her act, she announces that she’s quitting comedy.

“It’s probably not the forum, to make such an announcement, is it? In the middle of a comedy show,” she laughs, explaining that doing self-deprecating jokes about being a masculine-presenting lesbian no longer makes her comfortable. “It’s not humility, it’s humiliation,” she says.

She goes on to DECONSTRUCT COMEDY, telling that when you restrict yourself to jokes, you can’t tell the full story. By recounting traumatic experiences and raging against sexism and homophobia with passion and authenticity. 

Inspired by Hannah, I decided to experiment with NOT BEING FUNNY in a gig I did for Genentech, a pharmaceutical company in Northern California. 

I was hired to perform for three days, opening up each morning with 15 minutes.

Day 1: I made people laugh.

Day 2: I was super funny.

Day 3: I worked up the courage to do something incredibly scary and told a powerful story with NO attempts at being funny. It was a story that I told in my book The Message of You that was about connecting to an audience at the Spinal Injury Unit at the VA hospital with a story about my sister Marsha who was severely disabled. I allowed myself to cry onstage. It wasn’t at all comfortable. But…

THAT morning I got a STANDING OVATION. THAT was the performance that caused the head of the event to take me outside and tell me, with tears in her eyes, how moved she was. 

Thank you, Hannah, for inspiring me to take a chance. Not going for laughs made me feel vulnerable and wobbly, creating the feeling that I was bombing. I’d been operating on the premise that in these times of uncertainty, fear and hopelessness, people want to laugh. But, they also respond to hearing a personal story that’s meaningful and not necessarily funny.

Have you ever watched a comedian or humorist on stage and thought...I can do that! Good news - Enter the Jeanne Robertson Humor Competition to get cash and a gig.

First place receives $1,000
Second place receives $500
Third place receives $250

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Paula Poundstone Launches Free Podcast

Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone is a comedy field guide to life, or at least a set of IKEA assembly instructions. Where else can you find advice on topics from "How to Keep a Friend" to "How to Translate Your Verizon Bill" Or even "What Do I Do if I Encounter a Bear” and "Should I Get a Penis Piercing?”

Paula and her co-host, Adam Felber, bring on leading expert guests and use their unique comedic sensibility to help us navigate life in the 21st century. 

This is a must listen. Click here

Can We Ever Get Over Stage Fright and Performing Anxiety?

Stage fright and performance anxiety is a real thing. 
I’ve been a performer my whole life. At 8 years old, I was doing magic at birthday parties. It was never fun. I would practice. Then fret. Before each gig, I’d throw up because of nervousness. The thing with magic is if you forget one object, it’s a disaster. If you forget the plastic gimmick, instead of the cup of sugar turning into a goldfish, you’ll have a dead goldfish with kids screaming. I worry that the children in the audience when I messed up are still in therapy dealing with their PTSD.
So, it’s 50 years and thousands of shows later as a magician, then standup comic, then professional speaker, I’m still fretting. I’ve performed in front of an audience of 10,000 with President Clinton. I’ve done shows all over the world, winning over audiences in China, Russia and maybe the toughest one being in Long Island. I’ve gotten standing ovations after my hour-long corporate gigs and have done a TED Talk. Audience members have laughed so hard there was pee on the floor. 
All that success allowed me to buy an apartment building, build a house in Venice Beach, and travel the world. But, none of that is in my head when I’m getting ready for a new gig. No, what I hold onto is the look of horror as those children screamed at the dead goldfish. Another stuck memory is the man at a show in South Carolina who threw down his napkin and stomped out when I made a joke about then President Bush. Oh yeah, and I picture the guy I spotted looking at his watch ten minutes into my hour presentation. Each one of those images is there before I start a gig to punch me in the gut, creating scar tissue that hurts, like an old injury that swells when it rains.
My whole career, I’ve waited to have my performing anxiety go away and be replaced by the security you hope will come from practice and pleasing your audiences. But, no, anxiety refuses to make way for it. Heading to the stage, I’m frantically worrying that this is the time I’ll be exposed as the fraud I believe I am. This is the audience who’ll make me wish I’d heeded my Jewish grandmother, who’d said, “You should have been a bank teller.”
The bank teller isn’t expected to keep someone entertained for an hour. Making change isn’t as terrifying as making jokes. I continue to fear doing my job, which I bet bank tellers don’t. The fear starts as I start preparing. That makes me over-prepare. If I’m lucky, when I step onstage, something magical happens. Some call it talent, but the name isn’t important. It’s the fire that explodes, propelling me. And it’s best when I ignore what I’ve prepared, let go of the order of the material and trust it to lead me. Letting it be the boss, I ride it as if I’m on a wild horse that can jump higher than I’ve ever imagined. I leave the stage, high, breathless and excited. It all feels so right. 
What was I so worried about? See, I can do what I have to. And then… oh, no. There’s that gig next week. Yipes. Back to the beginning.
After posting this to Facebook, so many people came up with solutions, including hypnosis to get over childhood scripts, meditation, and finally the best – to enjoy my stress as if I’m not scared, it means I don’t care. That stress is a motivator. Here is what one of my standup students, Nadia Witt, wrote, which I thought was very profound:
"Here is my philosophy: Cherish stage fright. Love it. Enjoy it. Talk to it. Thank it for helping to make you prepare and prepare and prepare. And then relish it no matter how prepared you are. Most people in life don’t get to feel this alive as often as we do. Most people go through life without actually feeling alive. Some people try to use drugs or something outside themselves to experience the thrill and excitement we get by doing the thing we love. It is magic. Even if a trick doesn't work or a joke doesn’t work or a dramatic moment doesn’t land ... that flutter of life in our gut is our talent... and our talent is our soul alive and visible to everyone around us. How often does the average person get to show off their soul at work? We are so lucky. Give your stage fright a kiss and a hug. She is the highest form of greatness begging to be revealed."
Great advice on dealing with performing anxiety.

Goodbye to Mitzi Shore, The Godmother of Comedy

The comedy world mourns the loss of Mitzi Shore, mother of Pauly Shore, godmother of comedy  

For those of us comics whose careers started at The Comedy Store, the Sunset Strip was dark on April 11th, when the owner, Mitzi Shore died. She contributed profoundly to many lives, including mine. She was a champion for us funny women, giving us the chance to find our authentic comedy voice, to perform in front of an audience, and to showcase our talent for bookers.

Founded in 1972, The Comedy Store originally looked like an Italian restaurant with checkered, red tablecloths. Mitzi’s son, Pauly Shore was a little kid running around; Steve Landesberg and Michael Keaton were regulars, working out their voices like the rest of us. Yakov Smirnoff washed dishes.

This was before everyone and their gynecologist was a stand-up comic, so I got to perform there pretty much every night and develop my act.

Two years later, when Mitzi divorced her husband, Sammy Shore, she took over full ownership of the club and began her legacy as a comedy icon. She painted the entire showroom room black and put red candles everywhere, apparently she believed comedy worked better if the audience felt they were in hell. The comic was the focus: lit by spotlight, the audience could see nothing else.

Petite, with curly locks covering her face, Mitzi was a dark goddess. She held court in the kitchen's darkest corner known as the “Mitzi Booth” or in the show room. I'm not sure I ever saw her in daylight, or if I had, I probably wouldn't have recognized her.

She could make or break a career so we were all psyched to have her hear our material. New comics eyed her booth, not wanting to go on until they had a shot at her attention. She did the thing that so many comedy pros do: they don’t laugh. The best you could get was a nasal, "That's funny."

Because she scheduled the performers, Mitzi wielded an enormous amount of power, the Queen Mother of stand-up, each of us were trying to kiss the proverbial comedy ring, hoping she'd propel us from wannabee to stardom. The 9 PM spot was prime: by 1:30, you were playing to a room populated exclusively by the hammered, the homeless and the heartless.

We treasured her words, elevating them to comedy scripture. In the nasal tone we all learned to emulate, she once said to me, "You are so kooky, Judy. Use that.”

I went home and pondered, "Is kooky good? Am I too weird? What?" But when Mitzi gave me a big break, in 1976 -- opening for Jackie Mason in the newly built, 450-seat Main Room, gone were the insecurities about how she thought of me.

There was no shortage of drama at the comedy club. Comics accused each other of stealing material. We behaved like siblings, competing, striking for pay, doing drugs and having sex in the parking lot. The saddest moment was the comic who, after not getting a spot, jumped to his death, and left a note that read, "My name is Steve Lubetkin. I used to work at the Comedy Store.”

Male comics dominated the stage with sexist, homophobic, and racial stereotyping jokes. In the 70’s the feminist and gay rights movements were just starting to make a cultural impact, as this was long before there was a #metoo campaign or “Will and Grace.” We were all fair game, bodies to pounce on. After all, this was the place that gave birth to Andrew Dice Clay.

But Mitzi created a safe space. She turned the upstairs storage room into The Belly Room-- a place for female comics. There were mixed feelings about it. I remember Marsha Warfield feeling it was a disgrace, saying, “Separate is not equal.” On a good night, there were eight people in the audience. But, many of us appreciated that Mitzi was recognizing the differences between female comedy and the hard-hitting punchline-oriented routines men were doing. (Listen to the story of the The Belly Room on NPR.)

Our room was even darker than the original room, with more red candles, making it womb-like and intimate. Since there was no danger of a Tonight Show booker venturing in, we could take chances. Sandra Bernhard worked on her sardonic rants; Lotus Weinstock brought her daughter Lili Hayden (now a successful rock violinist) onstage; Robin Tyler and Pat Harrison became the first lesbian feminist comedy act. I did a song about my clitoris (though I knew better than to use it at a gig in Utah).

Mitzi was one of the first to have an all-woman bill. A group of us that included Lotus, Sandra, Emily Levine, Diane Nichols and Lois Bromfield were taken by limo to the La Jolla Comedy Store, where we performed for sold-out houses.

Many of Mitzi’s comics went on to become stars, tour the comedy scene of the ‘80s, and branch off into writing and speaking. She touched so many lives, and we now mourn the loss of hers, the woman who helped everyone see that women could be funny and powerful.

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Judy Carter Story/Speaking Workshop

This last week I did a leadership training program on how to use humor and stories to influence others. One of the most powerful parts of the workshop was an approach to a question we get asked routinely by strangers,

“What do you do for a living?”

Most people respond easily with something like, “I’m a teacher…I’m a realtor…I’m a therapist.” By answering this way, you are cutting down on the chance to attract new clients, get paying speaking gigs, and certainly will not inspire conversation or create a connection. Describing your occupation can be boring. Rather than reducing your profession down to your job title, explain the RESULTS YOUR JOB CREATES.

Next time someone asks you what you do for a living, try this:

1.     Dodge the question and ask them about what they do and inquire about their CHALLENGES. Remember what they say as you are going to be repeating it.

2.     Use this script:

“So, what do I do? Well, you know how…" INSERT WHO YOUR OCCUPATION HELPS, i.e. people looking for homes to buy, sick people, people in the workplace…

"They have this problem, they…  "INSERT PROBLEMS YOU FIX IN YOUR OCCUPATION. TRY MIRRORING SOME OF CHALLENGES YOUR PROSPECT HAS. For instance, burnout, employ engagement, finding the right help

"I’m a… INSERT YOUR PROFESSION. “Teacher, Speaker, accountant…” 

"And I…” (teach, show, help) REPEAT OF PEOPLE YOU HELP 

“How they can…”  DESCRIBE THE RESULTS YOU CREATE. For instance, stress reduction, hitting project deadlines... 

When a woman sitting next to me on a plane told me how overworked her department was, I used this formula and that resulted in my getting over $160,000 of speaking engagements. Now, you’re listening!

I asked her what she did (in HR at a naval base) and what challenges she faced. She told me they’d had some downsizing and everyone left was expected to pick up the work load. She also expressed that there was more conflict among co-workers now because of people having added stress.

OK – I got the info I needed to redesign my pitch.

So, I said, “You know how people in the workplace are overwhelmed by what they have to do? They’re not able to spend as much time with their family and their stress causes turnover and possibly taking additional sick leave."

At this point, she said, forgetting that this was what she told me and said, “Yes! That’s exactly what’s happening in our place!”

Knowing we’d connected, I continued by telling her, “I’m stress reduction speaker.” Now, if she were in healthcare, I would say, “I’m a healthcare speaker.” Depending on the need, I adjust how I describe what I do.

"As a former standup comic, I teach comedy skills to help people in the work place laugh their way out of stress and turn the work environment to a place where stress levels decrease and laughter increases, with people saying, “Thank God it’s Monday!”

Her next comment was, “OMG! We could sure use that! Can I have a card?”

Not only did this conversation lead to a speaking engagement at a naval base, but she referred me to speaking for the army, navy, air force, and 10 navy seal events. One plane flight got me two years of bookings.

Now you try it. You’ll need to look at what you do, not just as a job, but as the results you create. That transforms the perceptions of your occupation. “I’m a receptionist” turns into “I’m a maker of first impressions.”

“I’m a project manager,” becomes, “I bring together teams to hit deadlines while adjusting client’s exception (did you mean exceptions or expectations?)and creating unity in the project vision.”

“I’m a relator” is expressed as, “I make dreams come true, create security and a place to build a future.”

I’m an admin turns into, “I’m tamer of chaos.”

I hope you’ll let me know how it works for you. Then you can turn your job into a TED talk and  let me help.

Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.