Comedian Etta May is a proud daughter of the South, having been born and raised in Bald Knob, Ark., and milking her rural upbringing for all it's worth over a two-decade career.
Describing herself as "Minnie Pearl with a migraine," Etta May (she won't reveal her last name) takes the stage in polyester pants, a floral blouse, horn-rimmed glasses, and a print bandana over her head. She'll appear tonight and tomorrow night at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase.
In a telephone interview from her home in Lexington, Ky., Etta May, 42, says she grew up with nine older brothers, who had a habit of referring to her as "the human sacrifice."
Before getting into comedy, she was a school bus driver for 10 years, and says she came up with a great way to control unruly kids on her bus. "I'd put Armor All on the seats, then hit the brakes whenever they were getting too noisy."
While volunteering as a bingo caller one night, she says, "the ball sucker got stuck" and to fill the lull in the action, she tried a few wisecracks. People laughed, and she was on her way to a new career.
After getting a start in a Los Angeles club, she's gone on to win the prestigious American Comedy Awards' Female Comic of the Year, and she has racked up appearances on shows hosted by everybody from Arsenio Hall to Oprah. She also had a recurring role on the ABC sitcom Davis Rules, and frequently appears on syndicated radio programs such as The Bob & Tom Show.
At one time Etta May weighed well over 200 pounds, but says she finally realized she had a weight problem "when I sat in the bathtub and the water in the toilet rose." Thanks to gastric bypass surgery, she's shed 100 pounds.
Why won't she reveal her last name? "I don't want people stalking me," she says, then adds with a laugh, "But if you've seen me, I'd probably have to pay somebody to stalk me."
She says she's looking forward to her Ann Arbor appearance. "I like playing in Michigan," she says. "They're smart, they get stuff. When I play some places in the South, I have to back off to knock-knock jokes."
Comedian Etta May will appear tonight and tomorrow night at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, 314 East Liberty St., at 8 and 10:30 both nights. Tonight's 8 p.m. show is nonsmoking. Tickets are $12 in advance and $14 at the door. Information: 734-996-9080 or www.aacomedy.com.
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