TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. You know, there's no such thing as overnight success, but comedian Leanne Morgan's path might come close. Morgan's career in comedy took off just a few years ago, in her 50s, after raising three children. She calls herself the Mrs. Maisel of Appalachia.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "LEANNE MORGAN: I'M EVERY WOMAN")
LEANNE MORGAN: My husband and I met. And I was so cute. And I was little. I had on little britches. And my thyroid was functioning.
MORGAN: And I felt good. And he was so enthralled with me and so in love with me and pursued me and bought me presents and vacuumed out my car...
MORGAN: ...And did all kinds of things for me. And we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this year.
MORGAN: Thank y'all. Thank y'all. And now I truly believe he would not pull me out of a burning vehicle.
MOSLEY: That's Leanne Morgan from her self-produced comedy special "I'm Every Woman," now streaming on Netflix. Morgan got her start in comedy by telling jokes while selling jewelry at home parties. And she makes fun of everyday life. And people thought she was hilarious. Since then, Morgan has performed at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal and in 100 theaters across America as part of her Big Panty Tour. It was announced earlier this year that Morgan is set to appear alongside Reese Witherspoon and Will Ferrell in the film "You're Cordially Invited," and this summer she heads out on tour again for her next tour title, Just Getting Started. Leanne Morgan, welcome to FRESH AIR.
MORGAN: Thank you, Tonya. I'm tickled to be here. Thank you.
MOSLEY: OK, I need to know this story. The spark that took this further came when you were selling jewelry at home parties. Was it basically like a door-to-door jewelry sales business?
MORGAN: Yes. It was like, you know, Mary Kay and Tupperware...
MORGAN: ...You know, those kind of companies. I had graduated from the University of Tennessee and met my husband there, and he bought a used mobile home business in Bean Station, Tenn., in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and moved me there. And I got pregnant with my first baby. And I wanted to stay at home with him and nurse. But I need - I'd like to make a little money and have a little side hustle, Tonya.
MOSLEY: A little money in your own pocket that wasn't from your husband.
MORGAN: Yes, to get my hair highlighted. And I started selling jewelry. I can meet people. And, you know, because I was isolated, I was, you know, a young mom by myself, and the - and I'm rural. I'm from the country. But I'd never...
MOSLEY: Been that alone.
MORGAN: ...Been to the foothills of the Appalachian - yeah. And I just - I didn't have any friends and didn't know anybody. And so I start selling this jewelry in women's houses every - I mean, well, two or three nights a week. And, you know, somebody makes a dip or a pan of brownies, and then I - we schlepped that big case of jewelry and put all that jewelry out on the kitchen table. And I had a little shtick I did about the jewelry. And I was supposed to be talking about putting a - like, a clip earring on the...
MORGAN: ...On the top of a pump and changing the look of your shoe. And instead, I was talking about breastfeeding and hemorrhoids. And I would, you know, talk about that. And women thought I was funny.
MOSLEY: They started booking you. Were they booking you to do comedy sets in their living rooms?
MORGAN: Yeah. I don't think we said that. But I look back on it, and I think people thought I was funny, and they had a good time. And so they started booking me, like, a year in advance. And I just didn't push sales. I did sell.
MOSLEY: They did pay you. Yeah.
MORGAN: Yeah. I just think that they had a good time. And, you know, anybody, you know, can pick up a pair of 19.99 earrings and have some dip and have a good time, Tonya. And that's what happened. And then one night, a woman named Carmen (ph), who I'm still very close to, pee-peed on the couch...
MOSLEY: From laughing?
MORGAN: ...She was laughing so - yeah. And in my mind, Tonya, that - I knew - I thought, OK, I can make it in stand-up. I'd always wanted to do it. And I thought - that was a God moment for me. I know that sounds crazy.
MOSLEY: No, I mean, your comedy is so relatable. You're joking about things that everyone deals with - hemorrhoids, motherhood, that kind of stuff, especially for women of a certain age. I read one reviewer who said that you court audiences that other comics forget. Do you see it that way?
MORGAN: Yes, Tonya. I do. I think - you know, I'm a 57-year-old woman, and I have got three children. I've got now two grandbabies. And I do, I think Hollywood forgets us. And I think people - you know, a lot of comedians that are cool and edgy and all of that, just forget about my demographic. And I think we're the best.
MORGAN: I think we're the - you know, the people that make decisions to go buy tickets and want to get out and have a good time. And I do, I think we've been forgotten. And - yeah.
MOSLEY: You really bucked this common narrative about age. We think that if success doesn't happen in your 30s or your 40s, tops, especially, I mean, especially in entertainment, it's not going to happen. You went on to start doing shows, and then it picked up from there. And then you started making your way to comedy clubs. But did it ever cross your mind that, wow, I'm of a certain age. Is this going to actually work for me?
MORGAN: Yes, my darling. It worried me to death for years. OK, so I started doing - really doing stand-up at 32 with three babies in Austin, Texas. That was considered my home club. And back then I would think, oh, nobody's going to want me. I'm a mom. You know, I'd had on a kitten heel with a capri with birds on them, you know. I mean, I just always felt kind of on the outside. And then I - but Hollywood would call every once in a while, and I'd get a television deal for a sitcom. And the first one was with ABC and Warner Brothers. And all that always encouraged me and kept me going. But I would - but then it wouldn't make it or whatever, and I'd be so devastated. And then another one would come along. But every stage I would think, oh, I'm in my 30s. Now I'm in my 40s. Like, I'm just getting - nobody's going to want me. Isn't that terrible?
MOSLEY: Well, is it true that you had, like, four television sitcom deals over the years that just fell through?
MORGAN: Yes. And - but it always - even though they didn't make it, I look back on it now and I think, oh, my gosh, that was not the right timing. Like, I would be devastated at the time, but those little nuggets would be - would give me the encouragement to keep going, for one thing, because I was in Knoxville, Tenn. I was not living in LA or New York. I was raising these children, and I got to raise them in Knoxville, Tenn., and they became who they're supposed to be. If I'd had gone to LA, you know, they probably wouldn't be who they are. And - but I would be devastated. But then it always kept me encouraged. Like, I've got something. I know I'm not crazy. I can do this.
MOSLEY: When you were in these clubs - so you were in this Austin, Texas, this - that was your main place, your main club. What were the audience's reactions to you in the beginning? You're there with your kitty heels on, as you said, in your sparkly shirt.
MORGAN: (Laughter) Well, I think they dug me, Tonya. I think - I mean, I never - I've been heckled a couple of times in 20-something years. I think people saw me as - I think they thought I was funny. I do. You know, I kept going. I mean, I did get reaction. I got laughs. And I also think that I was comforting, that there's something about me and I think I get it from my mama, Lucille Fletcher. But I'm nurturing. I'm very - if I make fun, it's of myself or it's not of anybody else. I'm not confrontational. And so I think people find comfort with me. I'll have young people now - I was in LA doing the Comedy Store, which was a dream of mine.
MORGAN: And it was all these, you know, edgy comedians that were getting up and talking about all kinds of stuff. And then I got up and talked about how somebody made me a meatloaf at my children's school the day that I got my IUD replaced.
MORGAN: And young people came out of the comedy store and said, can I hug you?
MORGAN: And so, Tonya, I think that even though, you know, I felt in my mind I'd have a chip on my shoulder over the years and think, oh, nobody - I'm not edgy enough, I'm not a cool kid in the business and the industry and all that, I do think that people were enjoying what I did. It took me a long time to find my audience. I mean, on a small scale, I would, you know, have success in clubs or whatever I was doing, or small theater runs or whatever. But I just didn't find my audience until 2019 in my 50s, you know? But I always knew they were out there, Tonya. I thought, oh, my gosh, how many mamas are out there, how many women on WeightWatchers?
MOSLEY: Oh, my God.
MORGAN: How many people feel gross in their pants? I mean, there's got to be a lot of us out there.
MOSLEY: I want to play a clip from your comedy special "Are We Gonna Eat Anything?"
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "ARE WE GONNA EAT ANYTHING?")
MORGAN: I praise God WeightWatchers doesn't have a limit on how many times you can join.
MORGAN: I've joined WeightWatchers nine times...
MORGAN: ...And lost seven pounds.
MORGAN: Turns out you got to do it.
MORGAN: And this is what's been so crazy - is that I try to beat the system. And I'm signing up, and I'm paying them. And I'm like, I'm going to beat the man. I'm going to go in here, and they're not going to keep me in those points.
MORGAN: I'm going to eat Sara Lee cakes.
MORGAN: And I'm going to figure it out. And if I have to run 10 miles, I'm going to eat more cakes.
MORGAN: It's stupid. It's really stupid. And - but I saw the last time I joined, Oprah had bought it. And I saw her on a commercial. And she was twirling pasta and running through tall grass and...
MORGAN: I thought, I think I can do it. I think I can do it this time.
MOSLEY: That's Leanne Morgan from her comedy special "Are We Gonna Eat Anything?" You know, Leanne, what is so funny is that, I mean, it's the stuff that we don't talk about, what we all do. Why do we think we can be WeightWatchers? We're like, we're going to not be in those points and still lose weight somehow. And we do it over and over again.
MORGAN: Oh, I know, my darling. You don't know how many times I've downloaded that app...
MORGAN: ...And thinking, oh, yeah, I don't have to do what they say. I've even flirted with a little elderly man that worked at WeightWatchers that took your money - your $11 every week, Ed (ph). And I scared that little thing half to death. I remember saying, Ed, I've had a terrible week. And I've eaten a lot of Dove chocolate. And he said, girl, don't worry about it. Don't weigh this week. And I thought, what am I doing here?
MOSLEY: (Laughter) It's just a support group, I guess, at that point.
MORGAN: Oh, it is a support group, and it's fun. It's funny. And if people listening need a good time, go to a WeightWatchers meeting. To me, I think it's one of the funniest things I've ever been to.
MOSLEY: (Laughter) Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is comedian Leanne Morgan. Leanne's self-produced comedy special, "I'm Every Woman," is now streaming on Netflix. We'll have more of our conversation after the break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONNY ROLLINS' "TOOT, TOOT, TOOTSIE")
MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. Today we're talking to comedian Leanne Morgan. Her self-produced comedy special, "I'm Every Woman," is now streaming on Netflix. Her brand of comedy makes fun of everyday life, the joys and perils of motherhood, marriage and everything in between. She's hitting the road soon with a new U.S. comedy tour titled Just Getting Started. And her first book is slated to come out next year.
One place that we often think of as a young person's playground is social media. But you've got, like, 2.5 million followers across all of your social. And the origins of your success actually came at a low point in your career, which was 2019.
MORGAN: Yes. OK, Tonya. In 2018, I cried to my husband. And we were out to dinner and I started crying. And I said, it's not going well. I don't think anything's going to happen, but I don't know what I'm going to do. I think I'm going to open up a mercantile in Knoxville with a big cheese board, like, one of those big old-timey cheese wheels. And we can have rocking chairs. And I'll sell canning...
MOSLEY: (Laughter) What?
MORGAN: ...Supplies. And I said, I can still dazzle people, you know? They can come in, they can get a piece of cheese. And he was like, are you crazy? What is wrong with you? And I really had a crisis. I thought, this is not going well. I didn't know anything about social media. People would tell me, oh, that's going to be the new thing. That's going to - where people are going to sell tickets. And I just could not wrap my mind around it. But in 2019, I started watching - I'm a huge fan of Jim Gaffigan, Nate Bargatze, all these different comedians. I've loved comedy all my life. And I noticed what they were doing.
And I told my manager at the time, I said, they've got social media. They've got somebody doing their social media. And he was like - and he didn't even know. And he said, oh, you can't afford that. You can't - you don't need to be doing that. And I just pushed. I pushed it, and I found these two guys, these two young guys that got me. And I just - they were the age of my oldest child. And I just thought, you know what? I trust them. I think they get me. I think - they're both comedy fans. It's brothers. They were out of Plano, Texas.
And I thought, you know what? I'll give them three months, and we'll just see if anything happens. And they started my campaign or whatever you want to call it October, 2019. And, Tonya, six months before that, I could not sell tickets. Comedy clubs - I had gone to perform in different cities all over the United States, and I couldn't sell tickets. And they were like, we love her. She doesn't get drunk and fight in the parking lot, but we're not going to have her back. She can't sell any tickets. And I would just be devastated.
MOSLEY: But then you had this social media stuff, and what did they have you doing? I mean, they were having you be yourself.
MORGAN: Well, they - well, at first, I just handed all - over all my video to them, and they put out a couple of clips that went viral. And one of them was - I know for sure was my husband. I took him to go see Def Leppard and Journey, and we talked about how everybody looked sick and had plantar fasciitis. And that blew up, Tonya, and I started selling out all over the United States. People would see those videos that went viral and start calling comedy clubs and ask them to book me.
MORGAN: And that's how that all happened. But then, you know, during the pandemic, that's when really things took off, when you're talking about me just being myself...
MOSLEY: On social media.
MORGAN: ...On my back porch.
MOSLEY: Yeah, on your back porch and taking care of your parents, cooking food.
MORGAN: And that was a very scary time. And I just really did what I thought - I felt was authentic, what I really, you know, was taking care of. And it was my elderly little mom and daddy and my family. And I had no makeup on. I looked like a picked jaybird.
MOSLEY: People just loved it, though. They loved seeing you be your authentic self. Leanne, you call yourself the Mrs. Maisel of Appalachia, which is a play on the Amazon show "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" about a wife and mother from New York in the '50s and '60s who chases her dream to be a comic. You know, that is such a vivid description for me because Mrs. Maisel was so gutsy and also pretty fearless. I'm just curious. What part of that character do you most identify with?
MORGAN: Well, I identify with that part because comedy is hard. It's a hard business. It's - I resonated with that character 'cause I - you're right - all of those things, that she was fearless, and she had those babies, and her husband was a ding-dong. My husband's not a ding-dong. But she overcame so much and kept going and kept - you know, men would say, oh, women aren't funny and all that kind of stuff and try to sabotage her. I've been through all that.
And I - you know, comedy - when young people ask me, do you think I should do stand-up, I don't want to squash somebody's dreams. But it's hard for me, as a mother, not to say, listen. You're going to be driving in a car for 300 miles to make $50, and you won't have a hotel room. I mean, it's a hard, hard business. But when I saw that series, I did - I thought, that's what I did. I had three babies. I was in the Appalachian Mountains. I didn't have a comedy club near me. But - and I just had to pave out a way - another way than the traditional way that people do stand-up. And I did. I don't know how, but I did.
MOSLEY: Well, I know men weren't supportive of you, but were there real instances where men were trying to sabotage you?
MORGAN: Well, I say sabotage, but I mean just weren't supportive. Or, you know, you just don't feel like you're one of the gang. I mean, when I was in San Antonio - and that's not a big comedy scene like Austin. But there were a lot of male comics, and they just weren't - you know, I just wasn't included. They just acted like...
MOSLEY: You weren't part of the club.
MORGAN: Yeah. And they just, you know - if they had gigs that they could have helped me out with, they didn't. But I look back on it, and they - you know, it was probably a little threatening. I'm different. I was a mom. I was, you know, a woman. I mean, there's not many of us doing comedy...
MORGAN: ...Because it's too hard to, you know, raise babies and be out on the road. And so I think they were intimidated, and I also think they - you know, they're probably just like, she's not funny. We don't want to include her. I just always - but there were precious men who also, through the years, have lifted me up and been wonderful to me. So I don't want to make a blanket statement that all men - it's just a few men, you know? It's just a - it's more of a male-dominated kind of industry. But I've had a lot of people lift me up and be wonderful to me.
MOSLEY: Have you ever bombed, like, really bombed?
MORGAN: One of the things I think about are these - and I'm sure they were precious men. They just did not get me. But I did a lot - because I had three children and couldn't do the traditional route of comedy clubs and, you know, and leave them and not raise them, I did a lot of private corporate things. That's how I would stay on stage and all that. And some of those things are wonderful. Some of them are gut-wrenching. And I did, years ago, men that make carpet fiber. And I got up and did - I was supposed to do 45 minutes, and it was just like crickets.
MOSLEY: Wait. A carpet fiber company - is that what you said?
MORGAN: Yeah. Men...
MOSLEY: OK. OK.
MORGAN: Like, a carpet company that makes carpet fiber.
MORGAN: And there were - you know, half the men were from the United States. Half the men were Japanese men that came from Japan to buy this carpet and did not speak English. And the - and it was just - I begged. I thought in my mind, somebody shoot me while I'm up here.
MOSLEY: (Laughter) Oh, no.
MORGAN: I mean, it was - you could hear a pin drop.
MOSLEY: There was nothing - crickets. Right.
MORGAN: Crickets. Well, I mean, and any time there's a language barrier, you know, Tonya, those aren't good gigs. I'm already got an accent. And then - you know, and then somebody from another country, well, lord, they don't know what I'm saying. And then I think any time there's a bunch of men - now I think I'd be OK 'cause I'm - you know, I've been doing this so long. But when I first got started and had to do something like that, like, woo, that was a - that was rough, honey. There would be many a night I'd call my best friend who does comedy, and we traveled together on and off for years. I'd call her, and I'd go, I'm quitting. I'm quitting. Tonight I'm quitting.
MORGAN: And she'd go, nope. You can do it.
MOSLEY: OK. Let's take a quick break. Our guest today is comedian Leanne Morgan. Leanne's self-produced comedy special "I'm Every Woman" is now streaming on Netflix. She'll be back to talk more about her career after this short break. I'm Tonya Mosley, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF JULIAN LAGE'S "PERSIAN RUG")
MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley, and my guest today is Leanne Morgan. She's a comedian, and proudly from Tennessee, whose brand of comedy makes fun of everything from marriage to motherhood and also hemorrhoids. Her self-produced comedy special "I'm Every Woman" is now streaming on Netflix. Leanne began her comedy career in earnest after her three children graduated high school. She's since produced two comedy specials and just finished her Big Panty Tour, where she visited more than a hundred cities in the United States.
Your family members, especially your husband, are often the butt of your jokes. I want to listen to this clip from your Netflix special, "I'm Every Woman."
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "LEANNE MORGAN: I'M EVERY WOMAN")
MORGAN: He works for a large manufactured housing company, the largest in the United States, and he's worked for them for over 25 years. And he's traveled with them Monday through Thursday or Tuesday through Friday. And that has worked for us. It really has.
MORGAN: Me and these kids had a ball without him.
MORGAN: He'd come on the weekends, come home, and really put a kink in things, but...
MORGAN: So during this whole pandemic, he could not travel. I know. He had to make an office in our home. And he would come out every morning and give me this huge list of things that he thought I should be doing.
MORGAN: Hard things, things like paint the hallway or something like - you know?
MORGAN: And I said, excuse me, but I stay in my gown until the third hour of "The Today Show."
MORGAN: I said, you don't know me; do you?
MOSLEY: That was Leanne Morgan from her Netflix special "I'm Every Woman." Leanne, the pandemic really tested a lot of marriages and relationships; didn't it?
MORGAN: It did, my darling. And let me say that Chuck Morgan...
MOSLEY: Your husband.
MORGAN: ...We - my husband. We've been married over 30 years. And I - he, you know, was just so crazy about me. And when I was at the University of Tennessee - and would not leave me alone and stalked me, really, Tonya, and worked three jobs and I - and stalked me at the same time, and then we married, and this has the - been the bottom line. We have had a wonderful life together. But I am very unorganized. I'm an artist, you know? I am an artist. And he is a self-starter, successful man who has goals and reaches them. And that's been the conflict - is that he married a kook who - and he has always been supportive of me, but he has been just Steady Eddie all of our lives, and everything - you know, he put everything in its place. And, you know, we have health insurance because of him. I don't know, Tonya.
MORGAN: I would be living in a home...
MOSLEY: If it was up to you.
MORGAN: ...If it weren't for him.
MORGAN: Oh, honey, I've had a ball all of my life, and just - when I had these kids, I'd be, like, let - every day is a good time, and thank the Lord for their daddy because he has kept us all alive. I am a dreamer, Tonya. I'm a dreamer, and I'm fun.
MOSLEY: Is there anything that's off-limits to joke about, about him or with him and with the family?
MORGAN: Yes. OK. When - first of all, with my kids, when they were in middle school, they were like, do not speak my name.
MORGAN: And that was a very dry time for me because - and I did not want to ever make them - embarrass them or make them feel bad. And middle school...
MOSLEY: Wait. Did they not want you to tell any jokes even about them...
MORGAN: They did not. No.
MOSLEY: ...Even if you didn't mention their names?
MORGAN: No, my darling, because they - you know, middle school is a horrible time in everybody's life, and everybody's self-conscious and going through puberty. And I happened to mention that my boy, my oldest, was going through puberty and had, like, one armpit under one arm...
MOSLEY: One hair?
MORGAN: ...Hair under one armpit and one he didn't. Yeah. And I was on the local radio in Knoxville, and his - and he had already gotten to school. But I didn't think he was going to think anything about it. I just said it, and one of his friends was going to an orthodontist appointment and heard it in the car. And he came home and said, don't you ever talk about that again. And I felt so bad. And so I didn't talk about all that while they were in middle school. And then high school, they were like, we don't care what you do because then they got tired of me, and they didn't care. And then - but my husband - when I first got started, I said something about wanting something but it costs too much money or something. And he said, don't ever say that again. I've always provided for you, and you know that I can do that. And he - that has been very important for him to provide for us. And I knew it hurt his feelings. And I never said another thing like that...
MORGAN: ...Because he is a good provider and he - we can get our teeth cleaned and stuff because of him.
MOSLEY: Right (laughter).
MORGAN: If it were up to me, Tonya, Lord, I would have spent that at McDonald's having a good time, you know?
MOSLEY: You've mentioned quite a few times the small town that you're from in Tennessee. How would you describe it?
MORGAN: Well, growing up, it was predominantly farming. We - all of our people grew dark-fired tobacco, alfalfa and corn and soybeans. And a lot of those little families had had those farms in their families for generations. And my families had a farm.
MOSLEY: Dark-fired tobacco.
MORGAN: Dark-fired tobacco that makes Skoal and Copenhagen for dip. And my grandparents all came and settled there - all these different families did that knew each other. And so it's very tightknit. Now, Tonya, it's - you know, you can't make a living farming much anymore. It's big farmers that lease land. So a lot of people that - when I go back home, it's a lot of people I don't know that live there because they are coming - they're living there 'cause the housing is so much less expensive than in Nashville, say.
So - but growing up, it was the same families that - and the same - we knew everybody. There was about 500 people - population. Everybody worked in the community. We - everybody - you know, if somebody died, everybody took food. It was - I - we went to the funeral home all the time. There was a little funeral home, and my little mama would say, oh, my gosh, somebody's in the funeral home. Let's go see who. I mean, we - it was just very rural and sweet and loving. And, you know, I knew all the - I went to school with everybody and church with everybody. It was precious.
MOSLEY: Dark-fired tobacco, as you mention, is the crop that your family farmed. Did you ever work in the family business?
MORGAN: I did work in tobacco, and I was not good at it. I was very sissy (laughter). I would...
MOSLEY: What does that mean? What does sissy mean?
MORGAN: Well, you'd have to get up at the crack of dawn and then go work out in that heat all day. And I was - you know, I'm worried about my hair, Tonya. It was 'the 80s. And, you know, I was - I had on thick makeup. And then my family also started - we had the little bitty grocery store in our town, and my little daddy cut everybody's meat. And they weren't making a lot of money in the grocery store. That was so long ago, Tonya, that people would charge what they needed on...
MOSLEY: On credit.
MORGAN: ...A charge account. When my little mama...
MOSLEY: So they could say, put it on my credit.
MORGAN: Yeah, until their crop - you know, until they got the money for their crop. So it just wasn't a lot of money in it. My little daddy started cutting up everybody's meat off their farms, and there was so much demand that he opened up a little meat processing plant. And that was behind our house. And my grandparents worked in it. My - both granddaddies and my aunts and my sister and I would work up there, too, and we really weren't good help up there. I mean, we did. We worked but not a lot. I think my mom and daddy worked so hard growing up and farming on farms and milking and doing all that and working in the fields that they didn't want us to have to do it.
MOSLEY: Right. Your dad told you, you're either going to the military or to college. Is that right?
MORGAN: Yes, Tonya. There was no way I could have made it in the military.
MOSLEY: If you couldn't work on the farm, I guess not.
MORGAN: No. And then - yeah, and everybody - a lot of people got married right out of high school where I'm from. And I just - I wanted to, too. And I just - but this is crazy. I always thought, well, I don't - I could go to college, and it's fine. But I'm going to be in Hollywood. I mean, it just - I always thought it. I thought - I knew in my heart I would be doing something in entertainment history.
MOSLEY: Would you talk about it with your family, and what would be their reaction?
MORGAN: Yes. I did, and my little mama always cheered me on and said, yes. You can make it. You can do it. And then my grandparents and everybody would just look at me like - when I would say, oh, I'm going Hollywood, they would just look at me like, oh, you know, bless her heart. What's wrong with Leanne? You know, like, oh, awkward. But yeah - because, I mean, you know, I didn't grow up around anybody. I mean, I saw those stars in Nashville, but, you know, being in a little town, I didn't know how I would make it and what I would even do. When I look back on it, I've met all these people that were at the Groundlings and Second City, that were on "Saturday Night Live." I would have loved to have done that, Tonya, but I just didn't know that there was such a thing, you know, how to go about it. So I went on to college, and I...
MOSLEY: University of Tennessee.
MORGAN: University of Tennessee. And let me tell you, Tonya. I was - I followed my high school boyfriend. That's the only reason why I went. I didn't expect to finish. I thought, I'm just going to buy my time because we're going to marry, and we're going to grow tobacco. He was from farming people. I was an idiot, Tonya. And then - and I get up there, and we - I nag him and - because he's in a fraternity and, you know, dancing to Rick James "Super Freak."
MORGAN: And I'm coming off the United Methodist Youth Fellowship. And I nag him, and so he breaks up with me. And I just flail around for a couple of years and don't even know what I'm doing. And I dropped out, and I went back to school at 23 and finished. It was the best thing I ever did. It gave me so much confidence.
MOSLEY: What did you finish? What did you graduate? What was your degree?
MORGAN: I got my degree in child and family studies, crisis intervention. And if I had not made it in comedy, I would be a child and family therapist. I've always loved it. I loved my degree. I love - I still think I'm a therapist, and I'm not. And I think I know how to analyze people. I don't. But I thought - during the COVID, I didn't know that thing was going to go so long. I wish I'd had gotten a masters during it online.
MOSLEY: During the - I know.
MORGAN: And, you know...
MOSLEY: You could have gotten a Ph.D., really. Yeah.
MORGAN: I know, with all that went on. But I've always loved it, and I've always thought that I could be a therapist. But I love my degree, and - but it just - I had been through a lot. I had married for the first time at 21. I'd married and got divorced, Tonya. And...
MORGAN: Yeah, and it was an abusive relationship. And it was really hard. And - but my sweet mom and daddy - I told them - I said, I want to go back to school. And I remember saying to my dad, I'm going to be 26 when I graduate. And he said, you're going to be 26 anyway. He goes, let's do it. And so they helped me and put me through school. And then I met my husband, and I had my children by him. It just gave me so much confidence to know that I could finish something that I had started that, you know, somebody had tried to keep me from. And University of Tennessee has been wonderful to me.
MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is comedian Leanne Morgan. Leanne's self-produced comedy special "I'm Every Woman" is now streaming on Netflix. We'll have more of our conversation after this break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF LARY BARILLEAU'S "CARMEN'S MAMBO")
MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. And today we're talking to comedian Leanne Morgan. Her self-produced comedy special "I'm Every Woman" is now streaming on Netflix. Her brand of comedy makes fun of everyday life, from being a housewife to sharing Jell-O recipes and being a new grandmother. She's hitting the road soon with a new U.S. comedy tour titled Just Getting Started, and her first book is slated to come out next year.
So much of your comedy is about the now. It's about raising your kids. But it's always, like, along with every stage of life for you. Do you find the comedy - do you find the levity in some of the harder things in life? Like, you mentioned this first marriage that was an abusive relationship. Is that something that you could ever conceive of making fun of?
MORGAN: I don't know that I could do it directly about that. But parts of that - I've carried parts of that with me that have encouraged me and made me who I am today. For instance, Tonya, that husband said to me, your accent and your diction - you need diction lessons. People are making fun of you. People think you're stupid. And I remember at the time just - I don't know how I had the sense to think, no, you're wrong. And I didn't change anything. You know, I could have - I had pretty low self-esteem. I was pretty beat down at the time. But I felt like, you're not going to - that's not what's happening, and you're not going to change me. This is who I am.
And I think now, going forward, you know, 40 years later, that is what has made this happen for me - is I am who I am. I don't put on. I'm authentic. You know, I feel like, at my age now, it's like, this is who I am. You either like it, or you don't. It's OK if you don't. But I do think that all that, you know, is still with me but in a good way. And I do find humor in hard things, but I think a lot of comedians do. I think we - that's how we cope.
MORGAN: And my husband - when he first married me, he said, you make a joke out of everything. And he's more serious. But I do. I think it helps to get through life to be able to laugh about things.
MOSLEY: You know, there's this narrative that you can't really have both a career and be the kind of mom that you were. You were the kind of mom that volunteered in your child's classroom. You went on field trips with your kids in school while also doing comedy. And it sounds like there were sacrifices, but it also sounds like you just had a good time along the way. That's just so refreshing. As someone who is a mother and is trying to do it all, you really buck against that narrative that you really can't do at all.
MORGAN: Well, I was very lucky that I had - I was doing comedy on the weekends when I could, when I - when somebody would let me. I mean, there were a lot of times I couldn't get a rest in, Tonya, and nobody cared. But I was lucky that - I mean, I think it is so hard on women having to work full-time or doing a career and raising children. I just don't know how in the world they do it. And I commend them. And I'm - I can't - I don't think I could have done that. But because this was kind of part-time and it kind of just fit around my schedule and I could put the children first, I was very lucky in that way.
I don't know how - women are strong. You know, when I - after I gave birth to my first one, I thought, you know what? I can do anything. And I think about my little daughter-in-law, and she worked with a baby and pregnant and got an MBA at the same time. And I just - those kind of women blow me away. I don't think I had it that hard. I really don't. I mean, I was able to do this and raise my children, but I didn't have it hard like a lot of women have it. I really didn't. I could pick and choose what I wanted to do.
MOSLEY: Yeah, yeah.
MORGAN: You know, I could make sure I got to that ball game. And, you know, I didn't have to miss a lot. I really didn't. Sometimes they bring it up to me. They go, you remember you weren't there for the international Greek festival? And I go...
MOSLEY: Don't you hate that? They always - you do everything, and they remember that one thing that happened that one time.
MORGAN: I know. I think I threw it up to somebody the other day and said, remember how y'all always saying, you didn't make it to the international festival? And they're like, we're OK, Mom. It's OK now.
MOSLEY: Oh, good (laughter).
MORGAN: They're in their 20s.
MOSLEY: Well, Leanne Morgan, thank you so much for this conversation, and congratulations on all your success. Good luck on your upcoming tour.
MORGAN: Tonya, you angel from heaven, thank you, my darling. Thank you. This is a thrill.
MOSLEY: Comedian Leanne Morgan. Her self-produced comedy special "I'm Every Woman" is now on Netflix. Coming up, a review of the podcast "Dreamtown," about a small desert city trying to revive itself through legal marijuana sales and how it goes wrong. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF FAREED HAQUE AND KAIA STRING QUARTET'S "EL ALEVIN (THE MINNOW) ALLEGRO ASSAI")
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