Monee mom’s career is a joke (or several ... )
Comedienne Tracy DeGraaf still is adding to her original comedy act from 2010 — “Life Happens, Laugh Anyway” — and that’s a good thing.
“I’ve grown so much as a comedian,” said DeGraaf, 48. “Comedy is something that takes forever to really hone. It really does.”
Five years ago, comedy wasn’t even “on my radar anywhere, ever,” DeGraaf said.
She just wanted to get her book published.
“Laugh Anyway Mom,” a story about her life in Monee with her husband, Ron, and their five sons, was completed by 2009, but DeGraaf didn’t know what steps to take next.
She hired publishing coach Steve Harrison, but DeGraaf said she wasn’t expecting his advice for marketing her book.
“It wasn’t my idea to do stand up,” DeGraaf said. “Stand up came from (Harrison), who read my book and said, ‘The book is funny. You should also do stand up.’ ”
DeGraaf said since she had talked her husband into selling one of his tractors to fund her coaching sessions, she thought she should take Harrison’s advice.
The minute she got off the phone with Harrison, DeGraaf called Chicago’s Second City, a comedy club, theatre and improv school that had just begun to offer a course in stand-up comedy.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to do this,’ ” DeGraaf said.
Her first class happened to be on a Sunday after church, DeGraaf said, and she was still in her Sunday best when she walked into the classroom.
“I opened the door and here were five or six young teenage boys who looked like they hadn’t been to bed yet,” DeGraaf said. “I was petrified.”
Despite being “out of her element,” she stuck with it, right down to doing her homework.
“One of the first class assignments ... was to go out and do an open mike,” DeGraaf said. The first led to many more as DeGraaf began regular open mike performances at the Barrel of Laughs in Oak Lawn, which is no longer in business.
“It was horrible because there were no moms there,” DeGraaf said. “Open mikes are Wednesday nights at 9 o’clock, and where are the moms? They’re in bed or sipping wine on the couch thanking God the kids are in bed.”
DeGraaf said she endured two years of open mike performances, mostly performed for small audiences of four or five men.
“I fed more people breakfast that day,” DeGraaf said.
While that was not exactly her target audience, DeGraaf said she got them to laugh anyway, a sign that she could make it as a comedienne.
“That was my training,” she said. “You have to be fearless to stand up there. I appreciated those two years.”
Then a performance in 2011 at Christian Hills Church in Orland Hills convinced DeGraaf that she found a niche for her “squeaky clean” comedy. “Well over 150 women” showed up during a snowstorm for DeGraaf’s act and responded enthusiastically to her comedy routine, she said.
“I just think that’s a testament to the fact that women want to have fun,” DeGraaf said. “I just wanted to do it more and more and more.”
DeGraaf continues to develop a comedy routine based on her life as a wife and mother of five boys, focusing on “all the seasons of a woman’s life,” she said.
DeGraaf said her mission to “encourage women with laughter and truth” includes the spiritual element with the all-important sense of humor.
“It’s kind of like Phyllis Diller meets Billy Graham,” DeGraaf said. “So we start out with getting married and then having kids and we end up somewhere around gaining weight and growing a beard. And then you meet Jesus.”
DeGraaf’s performances all end with the poignant story of DeGraaf’s last moments with her dying mom, Joan Moran, a woman who inspired DeGraaf with her grace and humor even as she succumbed to cancer at age 51.
“We played rummy,” DeGraaf said of her last moments with her mother. “And, yes, she was cheating.”
For more information, visit www.laughanywaymom.com, visit www.Facebook.com/tracydegraafcomedian or call (708) 691-5091.