Hometown Funny Girl Finding Local Sidekicks

By Liz McConville   Photos by Jamie Wikeen

Alamance County residents got a treat in early May when local celebrity Jeanne Robertson performed for her new DVD and CD. What the crowd didn’t realize as they were laughing was that this performance had been over a year in the making with some of the best local talent going into its production.

Jeanne Robertson is a well-known figure in Alamance County and throughout the nation. Many local people know that she represented Graham in the state beauty pageant and earned the Miss North Carolina title. She went on that year, 1963, to win the Miss Congeniality Award in the Miss America Pageant, which catapulted her into becoming a nationally-known and respected speaker. She has won countless awards such as the Cavett Award and the Golden Gavel over hr career of 43 years. But mainly, she is known for her humor.

Jeanne and her husband Jerry (a.k.a. Left Brain) have lived on Forestdale Drive in Burlington for over 30 years. Quietly behind the scenes, Jeanne has worked for several local groups such as the Christmas Pride Store which benefits the Positive Attitude Youth Center.

Jeanne has always marketed herself. Since 1998, that marketing has included CDs, videos, DVDs and audio tapes. Each program is more sought after than the last. Stories from her CDs are aired daily on XM Satellite Radio Channel 151, The Family Comedy Channel.

Jeanne had used the same group of people in Kentucky for several years to produce and put together her previous products to reach the Motorcoach Tour audience. While it has helped her in many ways to get her stories heard, for her upcoming product, she decided it was time to find local resources.  "I've learned over time how to do it,” she says of the project.

So, she went to work booking various local business such as the Paramount Theater as the location, Elon Television Services as the production team, and AMI for the duplication. As time went on, the production became a community affair.

This was not the first time that Jeanne has used Elon University Television Services. They filmed her previous DVD, “Southern Style.” Jeanne was eager to use Elon again because she said that when she used them, it was “the best production that I’ve done.”

Because of the University’s prior commitments, editing Jeanne’s production couldn’t be done until June, but she felt Elon was worth the wait.

When asked about working with Jeanne again, Elon Television Assistant Director Linda Lashendock said, “The number one goal is having fun with Jeanne. Our number two goal is to super excel her production so that it’s highly stylized and improved from the precious production. We want to
increase the production value.”

Her main concern was that the seats during the filming were filled and everything worked for Jeanne. “I have no worries about the technical problems. Everyone has a role and works well as a team. It’s all about communication.

The production was different mostly because of the location of the event. The previous taping occurred on Elon University’s campus. But this production had more of a red carpet feel. As Linda said, “Community members can feel more engaged.”

By having the taping at the Paramount Theater, Jeanne went into the heart of Burlington for her fifth DVD. The historical gem, the Paramount, was recently remodeled and can now showcase live acts and plays. This was not the first time that Jeanne graced the stage of the Paramount, but unlike her performances on May 1 and 2, Jeanne was acting in stage productions. The prior experience helped Jeanne to know the facility well.

Paramount Acting Company Director Dave Wright jumped at the change to work with Jeanne. “We were thrilled and honored that Jeanne wanted to do the show here,” he said. “The Paramount is a relatively intimate setting and is particularly well suited for this kind of show.”

But being at a different location offered new challenges as Jeanne and her National Coordinator Toni Meredith set out to fill all the seats for both nights, which turned out not to be as difficult as once believe. Toni, the “Queen of the Tickets,” sent out the letters informing Jeanne’s fans than she was having the shows and 36 hours after starting to give out tickets, they were gone. Further proving how well Toni does her job and the popularity of Jeanne.

American Multimedia International, Ltd. is doing the duplication of the DVDs, CDs and videos. AMI is well known and respected for its customer service and expertise in the handling of printing and packaging of these products. AMI’s services were highly recommended to Jeanne by Elon University who has used them on various occasions.

“We put the whole package together for her. She brings in the original master and we print the graphics and replicate the CD, DVD and video.” Lisa Ray of customer service said about AMI’s part of the process.

Even the jacket cover is being handled here. Jeanne hired a local freelance designer, Debbie Blackwell, to create a brand-new cover for the “Flat-out Funny at the Paramount show. Although the picture was taken previously and outside Alamance County, the jacket will be something different from what has been seen before.

Jeanne got Debbie’s name from someone in customer service at AMI. This is not the first cover that Debbie has done, but it was the fist time working with Jeanne.  “She’s really easy to work with. She had a look she was going for, and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out,” Debbie said.

But the production itself wouldn’t be the only hometown talent. Jeanne also uncovered a local entertainer to be her opening act. Patrick Henry is not just a county singer but also a motivational entertainer as well. He uses music and humor, yet similar to Jeanne, has a sincere message in his shows. He moved to Burlington from Nashville, where he was a songwriter, about two and a half years ago. Jeanne has known Patrick for years, and she was instrumental in helping him get into the world of professional speaking.

“I’m excited to let the Burlington community see what I can do live,” Patrick says of his part. “My role in the show was to be solely entertaining.”

And there was a philanthropic spin to the two evenings in May as audience members brought cans of food for Loaves and Fishes, a Burlington food bank.

Executive Director Brenda Ingle of Loaves and Fishes said, “I think it is great that everyone brought canned food items to the show. It heightens the awareness of hunger in our community, and this time of the year people aren’t thinking about giving food for the hungry.”  When asked about working with Jeanne, she said, “Jeanne and I have worked together before. She is a warm and caring person and very much connected to her community, even though she is a celebrity.”

Brenda concluded, “The show is always so funny. She is a great woman in so many ways. We appreciate all she does for our organization and also for all the others in Alamance counties.”

Cary Worthy, the executive director of the Arts Council, is happy to be selling the DVDs in the Art Council’s gift shop, Piccaso’s. They had worked together previously when Jeanne was the honorary chairperson of the Art Council’s capital campaign.

“We’re hosting a signing party for her in August. She’ll come here and people can either buy it or if they already own it, they can get it signed.” Worthy said of the upcoming event.

Although her first DVD came about to expand her market, Jeanne was excited that “Flat-out Funny” was filmed in her stomping grounds. She made a conscious effort to work with the community and their talents to create yet another great product.   “Sometimes when you’re a professional speaker, people start to think you don’t use your hometown.” Jeanne Robertson proves them wrong.

“Flat-out Funny at the Paramount” DVDs and CDs are being sold on Jeanne Robertson’s website www.Jeannerobertson.com and through the Arts Council.

Liz McConville, a recent graduate of Elon University, received a B.A. degree in English.
Reprinted with permission from Alamance Magazine.