I’ve done some great interviews in my time with TAB Media, but I’ve never had someone take so much time with me, laugh as much and make a connection like North Carolina humorist Jeanne Robertson did.
She wanted my family and me to meet her when she came to Birmingham in October, and because I told her my mom was struggling, she sent a DVD signed, “To Judy …”
Jeanne treated me as an equal. While talking with me almost an hour-and-a-half (an eternity in reporters’ terms), she said, “Now this is my cell phone so if you’re writing and you need to talk to me again, just pick it up and call.”
Since she’s such a professional, no follow-up questions were needed. How I wish I had needed to talk to her again. Jeanne died Sunday (Aug. 21) at the age of 77.
Even before I met Jeanne, she had touched my life. In September 2018, I was driving through downtown Birmingham and saw a long line waiting to get into the Alabama Theater. I later mentioned it to my parents and they knew exactly what the line was for because they intended to be in that line, before their plans changed, to see a humorist named Jeanne Robertson.
Looking for laughter
I looked her up on YouTube and I was hooked! I began watching clip after clip of some of the funniest stories I had ever heard. Above the laughs always rang her key message — look for humor every day, in every circumstance.
“I do think if we don’t find [humor], it’s not because it’s not happening. It’s because we’ve chosen not to look for it,” Jeanne said.
As someone who battles depression, I had never thought this way. I’m not saying it’s always easy to find humor, but thanks to her encouragement, I keep trying.
Here are a few other nuggets of wisdom:
Always be prepared.
Jeanne kept a notebook with her so if she heard something funny, she could write it down and remember it. When we talked, she mentioned she had more than 30 tablets filled with ideas. Once she went eight years of touring without repeating a story.
Jeanne said, “When I hear [a funny story], I get to my journal and put that thing down.”
Jeanne taught PE and coached basketball after graduating college. When the demand for her side job of sharing her humor on stage increased, she left teaching and ventured into the risky world of full-time professional speaking.
“I thought I would teach all of my life and get my master’s [degree]. You wouldn’t have dreamed [a speaking career] was possible,” Jeanne said. But it was.
When she started, Jeanne used a mimeograph machine to print flyers, and audiocassettes were still a few years away from being invented. Still, she kept up with the times as each season changed, and during the pandemic in 2020, she learned the power of Facebook Live, recording “Live from the Back Porch with Jeanne Robertson” from, you guessed it, her back porch.
“You just learn things as you go along, and you still learn things,” she said.
Jeanne’s husband, Jerry, otherwise known as “Left-Brain” and the subject of many of her stories, preceded her in death June 7. She took a week off but then got back to sharing the humor she found in everyday life.
‘Made it Home’
During Jeanne’s lifetime, she was named Miss North Carolina and then Miss Congeniality at Miss America. She graduated from Auburn University and taught at Judson College in Marion, Alabama. She wrote four books, recorded nine DVDs and CDs, won several awards for speaking or service, and was a trustee at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina. She was the mother of one son, an outspoken Christian and an inspiration to many.
Jeanne Robertson, the world and I will miss you. When I think of you passing, I’ll bow my head respectfully, shake it slightly, softly say, “I’m so sorry,” and contemplate making a 7-Up Pound Cake for your friends and family using Left-Brain’s shopping list.
We didn’t get to meet in Birmingham, but you’re not on the road anymore. You’ve made it home. I look forward to laughing with you again.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for the funny in everything.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Jeanne was scheduled to speak in several cities during her 2021–22 tour. Contact the ticket provider if you already purchased tickets.