Humorist and former Miss North Carolina to perform in Franklin
Colin McCandless
The Franklin Times
August 28, 2009

Jeanne Robertson is gushing with excitement. Her YouTube video clip has just reached a million hits the night before and she has only had it posted since July 8. SiriusXM airs her audio clips on the satellite radio’s family comedy channels more than 20 times a day and she has 60 of her stories on iTunes.

She says this has been her busiest year since she won Miss North Carolina and she has been traveling most of the summer, an average of 20-30 days a month.

Robertson, 65, may not be your typical YouTube and iTunes user, but the professional speaker and award-winning humorist, who will be performing with Carl Hurley and Jim Rittenhouse 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sep. 4 at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin, has gleefully adopted these technological innovations to successfully market herself (she does her own booking) and make her material more visible and accessible than ever.

A native of Graham, the former six-foot two-inch Miss North Carolina 1963, who won Miss Congeniality in the Miss America Pageant has seldom been one to blend into a crowd and go unnoticed.

However, after giving more than 500 speeches the year she was Miss North Carolina, Robertson, who now lives in Burlington near Elon University, also established a reputation for being funny. And not the “I believe that our education such as in South Africa and Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe” Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 confirm you stereotype” kind of funny. The good sense of humor type of funny where people laugh with you and not at you.

“They all couldn’t believe that Miss North Carolina was 6'2" and that she was funny,” Robertson recalls of her early speaking days.
“And then I just never looked back,” said Robertson of her chosen career path. I loved it when they laughed. I’m very fortunate to have had that opportunity and found what I love to do.”

In those early years though, Robertson, who got her degree in Physical Education at Auburn University, was wearing several different hats and dividing her time between speaking, teaching physical education and coaching basketball.
After nine years of this balancing act ‘something had to give’ in the words of Robertson. So she decided to become a professional speaker full time.

Her material is based on her life experiences and what’s happening now and where she travels, which helps her maintain a fresh and new approach, says Robertson. Back in the 1960s and 70s, being a six-foot two basketball-playing beauty queen provided her a whole lot of material.

Then when she had a son, she started talking about her experiences as a parent.
Her main source of material these days is “Left Brain,” the nickname she has given her husband Jerry, who she says in the typical doctoral left-brained person.

“He’s just a natural foil,” Robertson said. “He’s fine with it because he realizes we don’t think alike.”

The aforementioned million-hit YouTube clip, titled “Don’t Send a Man to the Grocery Store" features “Left Brain.”
“Left Brain” will also be accompanying Robertson on this particular trip that passes through Franklin.

“The material has just evolved,” Robertson said. “It just changes. You don’t tell the same things.”

Robertson is mainly a convention speaker, but in 2000, fellow speaker, humorist and good friend Carl Hurley asked her to do a series of afternoon comedy shows for senior citizens. Hurley is a former college professor and has a doctorate. “But he is so funny.” Robertson said.

Her speeches take her all over the country, but her comedy shows with Hurley are mainly in the South and Southwest.
Their styles complement each other well says Robertson, since Hurley does mostly quips and on-liners while she weaves longer stories. “And of course our sizes are so different which is hilarious.”

Unlike many of their comedic peers, Robertson, Hurley and baritone Rittenhouse perform a family-friendly show with language that is suitable for adults and kids.

“A lot of comedy shows are not places you can take your teenagers or grandparents,” Robertson said. “That’s why convention speaking, in particular, well, I was very comfortable there. I knew that I could tell the same stories wherever I was the next day. And so that worked for me.”

Since they are both convention speakers, she and Hurley do not have a regular comedy touring schedule per se. They will meet somewhere to do a show, then go their separate ways to do conventions and then meet up again in another location for a performance.

“It’s part of our careers and it’s a fun part,” Robertson said of their shows. This is the part they will be performing Sept. 4 in Franklin.
Robertson, who speakers to a lot of different companies and businesses at conventions, said she believes that a sense of humor is more than just being funny. It is an attitude and an approach toward working with people.

She explained that people used to come up to her after her programs and say, “Oh, Jeanne, I think you are the funniest person. I wish I had a sense of humor like yours but I can’t tell a joke.”

Robertson said she found this interesting because she doesn’t tell jokes. She realized that these audience members were equating being able to make people laugh with having a sense of humor.

“Comedy and making people laugh is a talent, like song or dance,” Robertson said. “If you have a comedic talent, it doesn’t have a thing to do with whether you have a sense of humor or not.”

“It’s two different approaches,” Robertson said. “I think you can teach people to have a sense of humor and I think people can learn to have a sense of humor if they want to,” said Robertson, adding that it could be developed like someone learning to use a computer.
“Notice I’m saying sense of humor,” Robertson said. “I don’t think you can build comedic timing in people. It can be improved. But if it’s not there, you can work a long time and you’re not going to get it.”

In fact, companies will have her talk about a sense of humor as part of a strategy for success for dealing with people.
And speaking of strategies for success, Robertson continues to embrace new technology and evolve her career along with it, and technology has embraced her back in a big way.

Robertson, who said her first speeches in 1963 were on ‘reel-to-reel’ tape recording, has just released her sixth DVD in 11 years, called “Just for fun.” It’s 100+ minutes of fun and is all new material.

Additionally, with the advent of the Internet, youtube clips (where Robertson’s clip saw a million hits within seven weeks) and satellite radio, which started playing her four years ago, have broadened the groups that contact her for speaking engagements and led to more invitations, and more chances to make people laugh.

“The amazing thing is that at this age my career is ‘hotter” than it’s been,” Robertson said. “My biggest challenge is that maybe I don’t have time to answer everyone who gets in touch with me on Face book - but I’m trying.
Whether it’s Internet audio and video, satellite radio, CDs or DVD, she has found an audience for what she does and it continues to expand.

For instance, the Internet and her audio clips on Sirius have brought in a whole lot of younger people, according to Robertson.
“And there’s such a great younger group that follow comedy,” Robertson said.
“With the population that like what I do, I don’t see a stop to it right now. It’s great. People are so nice. I’m having a good time. And people my age love to see someone their age come out on the stage.”
“This is not Robertson’s first visit to Franklin.

She has been here before to speak in a program for Angel Hospital. “I’m really looking forward to coming back,” Robertson said.

For more information on Robertson, visit her website