Melissa Doran is a single mom with two sons who has been doing stand-up comedy for about 10 years. She is originally from New Jersey but has been in the Louisville area for several years and is known as a tough-talking comedian who is not shy about mixing it up with the audience.
Doran will be among the comedians who are also mothers appearing in Momics on Sunday, Oct. 21, at Cabel Street Bar above Butchertown Pizza Hall. She recently did a 30-minute clean set at the Bonnycastle Club with Louisville comedy legend Mark Klein. Klein was the headliner at The Caravan comedy club when Doran was first paid to host for the week.
She talked with Creig Ewing over chicken wings and Miller Lites at The Back Door about being a comedian and mother of Brodie, 19, and Ty, 15. Brodie is a musician, and Ty wants to be an actor.
“So, we’re forever going to be poor,” Doran said. “God forbid someone wants to be an accountant or a lawyer. No. They’re very good at what they do. They’re very gifted kids.
“The coolest thing I think in them choosing to explore their passions instead of the safe road is probably me doing the comedy.”
You do material about your family. Do you run it past your kids first?
Doran: We have a pretty open relationship. I’ll tell them, ‘Hey, I think this is funny. This is a joke I do.’ Nine out of 10 times they’re not offended. They just don’t think it’s funny. Which is fair, because it’s usually not.
They use key words. My younger son is more of a pop culture kind of kid. He’ll say things like, ‘That’s cringey.’ And I’ve heard that a lot in the past year. ‘That’s cringey. You do that?’
I’m like, ‘Yeah. No one has called it cringey before, but the median age at my shows is probably 50 and they don’t know that that is.’
Luckily, they’re developed emotionally in a capacity where they don’t want to be comedians. Because they don’t need to fill that void, so I think I’ve done a good job in that capacity. I want to basically steal their humor because they’re not using it.
Do you have an example?
I have an older car, a beater car. I’m known to be very frugal. I’m a single mom. We were at a red light in downtown Louisville a couple months ago. My car and six other cars at a red light, and a homeless person came up and asked for a ride.
I said, ‘No.’ I’ve got the kid in the car. I can’t be irresponsible with his safety. We pulled away, and I was like, ‘Man, there were six cars stopped. She didn’t even try to ask anybody else.’
My younger son, without even missing a beat, goes, ‘Maybe by the looks of your car she thought you guys were going to the same place.’
I was mad, but it’s so funny I can hardly be mad. Plus, he’s right.
Do you try to make your kids laugh to try out your material?
I could never wait for them to laugh; I’d have no set. I’d have like two minutes. I have to forge ahead with my cringey material. I respect their better taste. It’s fair.
When you’re on stage, you work the crowd more than most comics.
I do crowd work. Yes. Do you want to know how that developed?
Yes. How did that develop?
Let’s ask you this. Do you feel like I’m good a crowd work?
Yes. I think you’re good.
I think that’s how you should say it. First kiss my ass. ‘You’re very good at crowd work. How did you get so good?’
You’re very good at crowd work. How did you get so good?
People will ask me that because for the last couple years especially. People will say, ‘Your crowd work is good. People talk about your crowd work.’
They do? That’s weird! You get that way from being really bad for a long time.
I like crowd work. I like people. I’m quick. And that’s kind of what I’ve got. I can on the spot do stuff. There were times at the beginning that were brutally bad. I would go in and I wouldn’t have anything. I would get lost and that would be my whole set.
You take that blow. You take that loss. I take comedy losses very hard. And you just kind of sharpen your tools. You look back and go, ‘What did I do wrong? I got nervous or I wasn’t thinking.’
I remember this one. We were doing Mason City, Ill. Me and Rich Ragains, who is a Louisville comic who has been doing this for a long time. Funny, funny dude. I was early in comedy and he took me out to do a guest spot. He was like a rock star in this little city in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois. Everybody knew who he was.
I was stoked, thinking, ‘This is going to be good.’ I go out there. I’m from Jersey. I’m just freshly here of the boat. This place made Louisville look like New York City. I go out there and it’s a sea of John Deere hats. Fifty-year-old and 60-year-old farmer dudes. I just tanked. It was eight minutes of a painful interview. Worse than what’s happening right now.
I went to two couples in the front row. I asked, ‘Are you married?’ ‘Yup.’ ‘How long?’ and they answered. ‘Kids?’ It went like that for eight minutes. Four minutes per couple. I was trying to dig for something funny. But these people have been in the same place their whole life. They got nothing to tell me. It was brutal, brutal, brutal. You learn from those mistakes and keep pushing ahead and that’s how you get better.
Have your kids seen you perform?
Ty has never seen me. He does not ask to see me. He does not want to see me. I’ve asked him in the last year, and he’s like, ‘No, Mom.’
My older boy has seen me twice. Ever. That just started last year.
(Doran explains the first time was a club in Bowling Green, Ky., with comedian Stewart Huff as the headliner – ‘I adore what he is able to do,’ Doran says of Huff. Doran was on stage and is doing crowd work on two couples up front).
It was mild. Two couples wearing flannel. I said, ‘Oh, did I miss the memo, Flannel Club?’
Brodie is losing his mind. ‘Oh my god. Why is she being so mean to them? They’re just sitting there. Why does she keep talking about them? Who cares what they’re wearing?’
I don’t heckle my kids. I don’t do crowd work with them. He has never seen this side of me. He has no idea why I’m being this way.
Stewart is in the back going, ‘Your mom knows what she’s doing.’ He’s gotta coddle him. ‘It’s OK. They don’t mind. They’re laughing. Look. They’re laughing.’ Brodie was not having it.
Stewart goes on. He does phenomenal like he always does. Everybody loved him.
We’re going in the back, I say to Brodie, ‘Why do you seem so nervous? What are you so freaked out about?’
He says, ‘I need you to go say sorry to those people.’ I go, ‘What?’
He said, ‘Just go over and say sorry. I don’t know why you had to be mean.’
And they were loving it. They were laughing.
I went over and said, ‘My kid was here. It was our first show. He was very disappointed that I was mean to you guys.’
They were, ‘No you weren’t. You were great.’
He saw us make good, and I think he felt better about life after that. Now at 19, and a year of college he’s a lot more grizzled. I don’t even think he would care now. Good. Get ‘em. Get other people too, why don’t you?
You have a tough demeanor on stage, but you show yourself to be vulnerable in your act.
Yeah. I’m like a linebacker first off. Physically, and my vernacular. I’m not exactly like a wallflower. But because my humor is self-deprecating, that’s the vulnerability. I’m very willing to say, ‘Look. You may be very intimidated about what I have to say about you, but rest assured I’m saying it about myself. I’m not impressed with either one of us.’
So many people how told me recently, ‘I’m intimidated by you.’ Maybe because of the tone and the sarcasm on stage?
People say they’re intimidated by you? Other comics?
I haven’t had just random people come up on the street and say that. I guess that’s good.
No. I mean people in the audience or comics?
Sporting events. Church. Just anywhere. People come up and say, ‘I gotta say I was really intimidated by you.’ … Comedians. Other comedians.
Comedians were intimidated by you?
Probably the sarcasm maybe. Probably too because if I’m not in the mood to be fake nice I’m just not, and that probably looks a certain way.
What’s your comedy highlight?
I love doing benefit or charity shows.
Anytime anyone has ever come to me that has had a really hard go at life and they go, ‘Hey, you made me laugh tonight for 20, 30 minutes, whatever. Thank you because I had a really bad week.’ I love that. That’s really cool to me.
Some shows are tougher, like some bar shows. Sometimes bar shows can be cool because I don’t mind a rowdy crowd. But sometimes they’re really difficult because bar shows can be very loud. They’re very distracting. They’re drinking – too much drinking is not cool because then you can’t get their attention.
They can be a challenge. You’re just kind of boxing your way out of there. It’s not just enjoying the show. For performers, they really grow you. You learn how to do rowdy bar gig, you going to learn something about commanding the stage and commanding the presence and handling a crowd. That’s invaluable. You have to do them. It’s going to give you such a poise when you’re at like a club. That will be like a cakewalk.
This Momics show will be a show by moms with a crowd likely to be a lot of moms.
I love doing shows for moms – so to speak moms. A lot of times after my shows that will be the people who come up. The moms, the wives. Moms are amazing, amazing people. The multitasking. The shit they have to deal with. All the things they have to balance. They’re such multifaceted people and such no BS people. A mom crowd is -- if you’re not funny you’re not going to get away with crap. Because I have a long week and why am I here? It’s a challenge, but it’s super rewarding.
You’re talking about people who are extremely strong, funny, down-to-earth. It’s a mom, bro. Are you kidding me? I get excited when I get asked to do this type of thing. It’s very rewarding for me. And they work hard. Especially nowadays. Lots of times moms are running around with jobs and all the things they have to do. So, I love for them to have a night where they are just laughing. Maybe having a couple of drinks and chilling out.
I take it very serious. They’re not getting out as much. Well, if they’re a good mom, you know what I’m saying? Some moms are out all the time.
This show is all female comics. Women in comedy tend to have a rougher time …
Only in comedy. In everything else they’re doing well. In comedy it’s rough…
Being a female comedian there are a lot of stereotypes or judgments. I don’t know how many people I have had tell me in the past 8-10 years, ‘Wow. You’re funny for a female comedian.’
Or ‘I usually don’t like female comedians, but I found you to be really funny.’ And I think that’s hilarious.
I’ve never looked at it like it’s a challenge. Like, ‘I’ve got to take this on because I’m a female comedian.’ I always look it like, well, a lot of the dudes that I have done comedy with I might be impressed by some of the stuff that they do, but they’re not smarter than me.
Now it’s such a cool time in the world because gender is becoming so less important about the substance of what someone has to say. I think that’s really exciting.
Now, if you can just have a level playing field where it doesn’t matter what genitalia you have because funny is funny. What does it matter? That excites me a lot.
The other cool thing in this industry that’s really, really cool – and can you actually use other words in place of cool when you write this? I’ve used cool 20 times. Say anything. I just want to look like I have a better vocabulary.
Anyway, what’s really cool is you watch people watch do comedy and you go, ‘They’re all right.’ And you see them, and they work, and they hustle and 4-5 years later and they’re like so good. And that’s cool. If you do have something and you know in your heart it’s worth pursuing, do it.
This is one of those things where the more you do it the better you get. I’ve seen guys go from OK to phenomenal. I like watching that. It’s very rewarding to watch people get so good.
What’s the future look like for you?
I remember when I started looking at people later in the game and going, ‘I will never be that.’ I mean, this is fun and all, but I will never be that. There is a point where you fall so in love with it, comedy and -- I can’t really be I’m saying this. I want to punch my own face. I’m grossing myself out now – comedy and my sons are the only things I’ve ever been committed to, and that’s real sad.
I think I’m going to do a lot better with the other two – the sons. I think they’re going to bring me much more joy. But comedy, without realizing it, I fell in love with it in a really big way.
So, at this point if I didn’t have it, or I didn’t do it, or I didn’t know comedians, or I couldn’t do a gig, I don’t know. And that’s me saying it. I’m not exactly Sarah Silverman with a show on Netflix.
I’m just a chick doing it in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a sick thing. It’s a sick thing. It’s almost like smoking. If you haven’t started don’t because you can get addicted.