Leanne Morgan: Hard Laughs

For anyone who thinks – or has been told – they are not good enough to make it in their chosen career, then Leanne Morgan is someone you might want to know more about.

Leanne Morgan is a 57-year-old married mother of three grown children and grandmother of two. She lives in Tennessee and has become one of the most in-demand comedians on the circuit. She tourns nationally and has a new self-produced special on Netflix called I’m Every Woman.

As Tonya Mosely noted in her introduction to her Fresh Air interview, Morgan is not an overnight success. Morgan has been doing comedy for thirty years, starting as a jewelry saleswoman doing three engagements per week in living rooms. After a time, women began booking her for her comedy rather than for jewelry.

Morgan hit the comedy circuit, starting in Austin, Texas, at age 32. She also did four different pilot episodes for television sitcoms. None was picked up that, while disappointing at the time, turned out to be better in the long run. She was able to spend time raising her children and perhaps honed her comedy chops even sharper. 

In 2019 she hired a firm comprised of two brothers who distributed clips of her show via social media. One clip went viral and bookings took off. Morgan continued posting throughout the pandemic. “I just really did what I thought… was authentic.” Her clips addressed caring for her elderly parents and family. “And I had no makeup on. I looked like a picked jaybird.”

Heartland humor

Leanne Morgan is funny. “I’m nurturing,” says Morgan. “If I make fun, it’s of myself, it’s not of anybody else. I’m not confrontational. And so I think people find comfort with me.”

Here she is talking about her marriage. When her husband first met her, he “was so enthralled with me and so in love with me and pursued me and bought me presents and vacuumed out my car… And did all kinds of things for me. And we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this year. [PAUSE] And now I truly believe he would not pull me out of a burning vehicle.”

“I praise God Weight Watchers doesn’t have a limit on how many times you can join,” jokes Morgan. “I’ve joined WeightWatchers nine times… And lost seven pounds. Turns out you got to do it… 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.”

Lessons to learn

Those who do not make a living telling jokes in front of a live audience can learn a few things from Leanne Morgan.

Believe in your talent. Morgan calls herself the Mrs. Maisel of Appalachia. “Comedy is a hard business. I resonated with that character because she was fearless and she had those babies and her husband was a ding dong.” Like the fictional Midge Maisel, Leanne battled the odds, especially those telling her that women were not good at comedy. “When I saw that series, 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, and I just had to pave out another way than the traditional way that people do stand-up. And I did.” 

Know your audience. “It took me a long time to find my audience … but I always knew they were out there,” Morgan says. “I think Hollywood forgets us, and I think 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. I think we’re the people that make decisions to go buy tickets and want to get out and have a good time.”

Trust yourself. Morgan’s first husband, to whom she was married for a short time in her early twenties, told Morgan that she needed to take diction lessons to lose her Tennessee drawl. Her refusal reminded me of an entertainment executive advising comedian legend Bob Newhart to lose his stammer. “This stammer,” replied Newhart, “bought me a house in Beverly Hills.”

Leanne Morgan, like Newhart, knows her talent and herself. “I’m authentic. 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. … I do find humor in hard things, but I think a lot of comedians do. That’s how we cope.”

First posted on Forbes.com 8.08.2023