Sometimes nicknames can tell you plenty about a person. Guys named "Tiny" are often anything but, while guys named "Shorty" are usually just that.
Anyone who has seen Janet Williams' comedy act knows exactly why she is known as "The Tennessee Tramp." She earns the moniker every time she takes up a microphone, and she says people seem to love hearing a 71-year-old woman speaking frankly about sex, love and the aging process.
"It's part of the novelty of an older woman talking about all kinds of topics with a lot of blue language," she said.
"I love to cuss. I don't drink, I don't smoke weed or do drugs. I just love to cuss. I don't ever take the Lord's name in vain. I live in the South and I want to stay."
One thing she stays away from is politics.
"I don't want to divide my audience."
Williams returns to The Comedy Catch, the place where her career started at age 47, this weekend for four shows. How she became a touring stand-up comic tells as much about Williams as her nickname.
After a divorce, she wanted to go on a stage somewhere and talk about her ex.
"I called [Comedy Catch co-owner] Michael Alfano and said, 'I want to do a show.'
"He said, 'That's not how it works.' He asked me where else I had performed and I said, 'I've never even been onstage before.'"
The Comedy Catch was, at the time, hosting classes on how to become a comic and Williams signed up.
"Steve Plemons taught it and it was excellent."
If you go
* What: Janet “The Tennessee Tramp” Williams
* Where: The Comedy Catch, 1400 Market St.
* When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, 9:45 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29-Dec. 1
* Admission: $11 Sunday, $16 Friday-Saturday
* For more information: 423-629-2233
Plemons taught delivery and editing of material, and "remedial things like you put the microphone back in the stand when you are done for the next comic. You take it and move the stand out of the way when you go onstage," and Williams soaked it all up. Club owners didn't bang down her door, however. Like all new comics, she hit the road and worked anywhere and everywhere anyone would have her.
"I'd call club owners and they'd never heard of me, of course, so I kept calling. Finally, I would tell them, 'Here's the deal: Advertise me as a blue comic. Pay me X amount and if I don't do a good job, I'll give you half back. And I won't be in touch with you for a year. That's a lie, I'll be back in touch in six months.' I never had to pay."
Finally, the clubs did start booking her, and for 24 years, she has been hitting the road.
"I love to travel. I go back to the same clubs and it's like going to a family reunion. I see the same people and even go to their homes for dinner.
"I've had the opportunity to go to Japan, Korea, Germany and Belize. It's taken me around the world. I especially love doing military shows. My dad was in the Navy and was at Pearl Harbor.
"They are so appreciative that you are there for them. But I always tell them, 'I couldn't say what I say without you guys.' I say 'freedom isn't free.'"
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
o Hear a podcast with Janet Williams, visit https://peoplewithbarry.podbean.com/e/janet-the-tennessee-tramp-williams-still-going-strong-at-71/