published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Comedian Janet 'The Tennessee Tramp' Williams lives for laughs

JANET "THE TENNESSEE TRAMP" WILLIAMS

Age: 63.

Hometown: Midway Island, Hawaii.

Vocation: Comedian.


PAST JOBS

Janet Williams derives much of her humor from the jobs she has held over the years. Her resume includes:

* Working for several years as either a full or adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and UT-Knoxville.

Counselor for delinquent boys for state of Tennessee.

Public safety officer at Sequoyah nuclear plant.

Bridal consultant at the Francis Shop in Rossville.

Ran a collection agency for two years while in law school.

Drove a garbage truck in Catoosa County.

Relationships have long been fodder for comedians, and it has been no different for Janet "The Tennessee Tramp" Williams. In fact, it was her marriage that pushed her into going on stage in the first place, she says.

"After six years of being married ... I figured I could either spend $200 an hour on therapy or I could get paid $200 to talk about it," she said of her decision to become a comedian 16 years ago.

Since first going onstage at The Comedy Catch, she has traveled the country and played nearly every club on the circuit. Last year she put 63,000 miles on her car and flew to many other shows while doing more than 42 weeks on the road.

Recently, she got a call from NBC and was told she did not get the job on Betty White's "These Old Rockers."

"First of all, I didn't know I was up for the part," she said. "They said I was too young. I'm 63. I asked them to call back and tell me I was too thin and then my life would be complete."

A while back, fellow comedian Karen Mills described the difference between her work and Williams'.

"I can be funny," Mills said. "I can write a funny joke.

"Janet is funny. She can make you laugh reading a menu or the phone book."

Q: Your comedy career started at a comedy school offered through The Comedy Catch, right?

A: Yes. The Bermuda Maverick Comedy School, which was done by Steve Plemons. The school was excellent at teaching how to be a stand-up comic. The fundamentals like how to walk onstage and carry yourself. I got wittiest in high school, so I've always been funny, but the school taught be how.

Q: What was your first time onstage like?

A: I knew it was what I should be doing. Most people go from emceeing to featured act to headliner. I went to headliner almost right away. I did every open mike I could in Nashville and Atlanta and here. I worked really hard that first year, and it was during that time I developed The Tennessee Tramp character.

Q: How would you describe your act to people?

A: I'd describe it as blue, but I had a 97-year-old woman come up to me the other day and say, "Everything you say is true, but young people today won't understand until they are older." I'd say my audience is 18- to 97-year-olds.

I don't talk about politics a whole lot, but I do talk about religion. I'm not going to be invited to perform at Abba's House, but it's stuff we all recognize, and it's not going to offend anyone -- or not most people. It takes a seasoned comic to be able to do that. I have definitely matured as a comic. I've learned how to interact with an audience.

Q: Comics often talk about their careers having stages. Where would you say you are?

A: It's funny, Ralphie May told me that at 15 years, I would get national attention. It's been 15 years, and NBC is looking at me.

You wrote the very first story on me and right there in black and white, you asked "Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?" I said, "In two years, I will have my own HBO special." That's how stupid I was. Nobody does that.

There are five-year cycles. After the first five years, the money gets better, but it's because you are doing better clubs that can afford better.

I had a guy come up to me the other day after a show and said, "You are funny. You're going to make it." I said, "Did I make you laugh?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Then I've made it."

Being able to make people laugh and forget about the family member they just buried or the cancer they are dealing with is the greatest thing in the whole world.

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