Comedians love regular gigs. So of course Laura Thorne is pleased to be performing at her fourth Minnesota Jewish Humor Festival. Except for one daunting downside: "Every year, I have to find a new 25 minutes of clean, Jewish material," she said.
It helps that the Minneapolis comedian can mine her personal life, having grown up with a devout father for whom "Wikipedia is the best invention ever because he can look up who's actually Jewish."
Thorne, who launches the two-week festival Saturday night as a "special guest" of Wendy Hammers, has been cracking jokes professionally only since 2007, when a former boss (who fired her) suggested she take up stand-up as "a better fit." Now she performs regularly at comedy clubs as well as corporate and charitable events.
And while charity may or may not begin at home, a lot of Thorne's quips do.
Q: Do you try to make your routine for this event "more Jewish"?
A: I think it just comes out because of my personal stories. I just got married, and I'll kid about the Jewish customs at the wedding. I'll tell stories about going to Jewish summer camp. I always make jokes about being frugal, but I don't make that a Jewish thing. If the audience wants to make that connection, they can, but I won't do that for them.
Q: What's something about your life that indicates how Jewish you are?
A: I have been told that I am a little bit neurotic and analytical. That's quite the Jewish stereotype. My mom is very involved in my life and calls me a lot to tell me stuff like, "Make sure to pick up peaches at Rainbow this week. They're really good and on sale." That could be construed as Jewish, but maybe it's just being a mom.
Q: Is there a joke that you weren't sure would work at past festivals that got a great reception?
A: There was one with my grandmother, a true story actually, where she calls me every week and says, "You have to be careful, people are crazy today, not like in my day." And I'll say, "Actually, Grandma, you were in the Holocaust." So I tell that and it's silent for a second — and then everybody laughs. But then I tried that with a non-Jewish audience in a small town, and as soon as I said it, I knew it was a bad move.
Q: How about one that you felt great about that might have been a bit of a dud?
A: I'm sure there have been many and I just repress them.
Q: You admit that you read "every self-help book on the market." Have any of them actually helped you?
A: I am reading this book on vulnerability by Brené Brown, and one of the things she talks about is how people's reactions to what you do should not dictate how you feel about yourself. Which kind of blows my mind because if that happens during a show, then it seems like you're a bad comedian. But I have heard from so many comedians that, on stage, you have to disconnect. And no matter how they [members of the audience] react, you have to just have fun. As soon as you show disappointment or you're embarrassed, it can spiral.
Q: If you were to write a self-help book, what would it be about?
A: Something about intentions, how you have to be in the right place, how to shape your intentions to be so pure. Not for money, not for fame, not for compliments, but because you love to connect, to tell stories, to make people laugh. Now if I could actually figure out how to do that, that'd be great.