"As Seen on Court TV!"
Karen Morgan doesn’t use that phrase on her promotional posters, but she could: As a trial attorney with a high–profile Atlanta law firm, she made her first–ever TV appearance on cable’s most realistic reality show.
That was quite a few years ago (her specialty was medical malpractice suits). These days, Morgan is a standup comedienne, so good that she was twice a finalist on Nick At Nite’s Search for the Funniest Mom in America – bringing her full circle, back into the bizarro world of reality TV.
She was, of course, a mom by then – as a matter of fact, that’s why she left the lawyer biz.
Morgan performs, with fellow comedian Nancy Witter, at the Lucas Theatre Saturday. The show is called Laughs For Lemonade, because it’s a fundraiser for Mom’s Lemonade Fund, a support group for ovarian cancer research at Memorial University Medical Center.
Morgan, her Boston–born husband and their three children live just outside of Portland, Maine. A Georgia native – she was born and raised in Athens and graduated from UGA – Morgan speaks in a very familiar, honeyed drawl – sort of a cross between Paula Deen and Nancy Grace (that is, if Nancy Grace had a sense of humor).
You moved your practice to Maine when you got married. How much of a culture shock was that?
Karen Morgan: I was in the thick of it in Atlanta, and then I moved up to Maine where there’s only a million people in the whole state. So the way I talk, I very quickly became an anomaly. I’ll never forget the first day I had a court appearance. It was snowing; I’m used to going to court in my suit, my pantyhose and high heel shoes. My husband said ‘Well, you’ll have to wear your L.L. Bean boots, because that’s what everybody wears up here, in the snow.”
I wore those, and I put my dress shoes in my briefcase. As I was walking into the courthouse, evidently I dropped one of my little dress shoes in the snow. I didn’t have time to go back and find it, so I’m standing there in court with my nice suit on and my L.L. Bean boots and my briefcase. I thought “I’m gonna have to argue this motion in this outfit.”
I looked around, and everybody in that courtroom had on L.L. Bean boots. I was the only one that had them on with a skirt, but I felt like “OK, this is a good place to be. I like this place.”
How does one make the transition from trial attorney to standup comedy?
Karen Morgan: The answer is, you have to have a bump in the middle, and the bump is called “Have Three Children in three and a half years.” Motherhoood sorta bumped me off the sanity track, the track of doing anything normal.
But after I had children, I wasn’t afraid of nothin’! Comedy’s harder than being a trial attorney, it really is. It’s very challenging, but I’m not afraid. I had babies in a room where 18 people saw my bottom. You just have to go with it. Nothing scares me any more, and nothing embarrasses me, and the fear of failure is just not on my list any more.
OK, but what happened?
Karen Morgan: I was home with these three babies and I told my husband, “I have got to get out of this house. I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna kill the dog – I won’t kill the kids, but you’re in danger.” There was a little comedy club that was having a standup comedy class, and so I said “That sounds kind of fun.” I signed up, I went and I just loved it – mostly just to get out of the house.
My teacher for that class was a guy that had a lot of connections down in New York, and he told me that Nick at Nite was having this contest for the Funniest Moms in America. He said “I know you’re new, but I’m going to send your tape in.”
I got to the final seven out of a thousand people; we ended up doing the TV special, and that’s how I met Nancy, who I tour with. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
There’s a YouTube clip from America’s Got Talent, from a few months ago, where judge Howie Mandel is saying to you, “you weren’t that funny.” You look horrified. What’s the story with that?
Karen Morgan: Talk about not being afraid or embarrassed! That was an interesting piece of editing. He didn’t even say that – that’s the irony of how they edited it. It probably would’ve helped if I had seen America’s Got Talent before I went there. Because there was a guy who was a speed–eater, another guy doing a drill through his face. Those people got through, I didn’t.
I had a nice, five–minute conversation with all three judges before, and afterwards. I may be opening for Howie Mandel this year.
He didn’t ever say “you weren’t that funny” – I think they edited that in from another performer. And the clip that they used with my face scared like that was from the buzzer sound – it scared the crap out of me.
Ironically, none of it is reality–based TV. With television, I’ve learned that you just can’t rely on anything. They edit how they want to. Of course, they didn’t put it in the nice things that people said.
With Funniest Moms, did you have to tailor your act to mom–styled humor?
Karen Morgan: At the time, my kids were pretty small, I was in the house with three kids. So I write about what’s going on around me. My material was actually perfect timing for that particular contest, because I was writing about “the trials of motherhood that require you to either laugh or cry.”
These days, I don’t talk about that kind of stuff. There’s no more bottles and diapers, because my kids are out of bottles and diapers.
In the second year of that particular contest, they wanted the next Roseanne. And you know what? I ain’t it. And I knew going into it that I wasn’t gonna change my material or change my personality. If you’re not yourself, you come across as being disingenuous, and it’s not funny.
Men tend to be a bit leery of female comics. Should we tell them that you and Nancy aren’t really doing “chick comedy”? Or “mom–com”?
Karen Morgan: If there’s any man–bashing going on on the stage, it’s our own husbands, who are really good sports. I have a 20–minute bit about my husband’s vasectomy, and thank God he’s a good sport. The best comedy has a pretty big grain of truth in it, and we just sort of manipulate what we need to.
Nancy’s remarried; she has an older husband and they’re in a different part of their lives. She talks about being a little older with her husband, and what’s funny about that.
It’s all life stuff; it’s all about marriage, parenting and everyday–observation stuff. Men should not be afraid at all. They should come with their wives and be prepared to laugh.
Laughs for Lemonade
Karen Morgan, Nancy Witter
Where: Lucas Theatre for the Arts,
When: At 8 p.m. Saturday, July 17
Tickets: $25 general admission, $100 VIP seating (includes "meet the performers" reception)
Phone: (912) 525–5050