Wherever you are, Jeanne Robertson has probably performed in your town and you never knew it. In the past few years, Robertson has become a quiet Internet sensation. Her bit "Don't Send a Man to the Grocery Store" has been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube and her concert appearances have been sell-outs.
Robertson says it's the sort of show, "where you can bring your teenager or your mama or your grandmother."
"They laugh for an hour and a half and they go home tired from laughing and nobody has to explain things to each other on the way home."
For 49 years, though, Robertson has been what she calls "a non-celebrity professional speaker."
"Professional speakers are the people you bring in for the Tennessee Propane Gas Association or the Tennessee Educators or corporate work," says Robertson.
However, a few years ago Sirius/XM radio began playing Robertson's stories on the family comedy channels and "Don't Send a Man to the Grocery Store" went viral on YouTube. Then calls started coming in to Robertson's office asking when she was going to appear in concert at different cities. In fact, Robertson might have appeared in a certain city three times in a month speaking at conventions and private functions.
While Robertson had her doubts that audiences would turn out, a Nashville booking agent convinced her to commit to concert shows in Dallas and Durham, N.C. Both sold out.
"Since then it's just all exploded," says Robertson. "I'm 68 years old. This television station in L.A. last year did a syndicated story and called it 'Grandma Goes Viral.'" The television show "60 Minutes" has also done a feature on Robertson.
Robertson says she wouldn't be comfortable delivering bawdy humor. It isn't in her background.
And her background is unexpected.
"I was the tallest contestant to be in the Miss America Pageant, or 'Miss Ahmurrca' as we say in the South, back in the '63-'64 year," says Robertson, who is 6 feet, two inches tall.
She was voted "Miss Congeniality" and during her year as Miss North Carolina made "more than 500 little speeches."
"I found out that I was funny," says Robertson. "Word spread that, 'She can do more than cut your ribbon. She can do 25 (minutes of) stand-up, if you want it.'"
When her Miss North Carolina year was up, Robertson completed a degree at Auburn University and worked as a physical education teacher. However, she kept a side career as a public speaker. In 1976, she made public speaking her full-time career. During the past 14 years she has released seven videos and CDs and never had a dry stretch where she wasn't in demand.
She approaches concerts differently than her corporate gigs only in that the corporate talks need to make certain points. At theaters, Robertson wants laughs and a sense of familiarity.
"I want people to say, 'The same thing happened to me!' That's what you're going for."
And part of having that good story to begin with is being able to appreciate it when it happens. Robertson knows that:
"I think having a sense of humor is an approach to how you live your life."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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