Veteran Stand Up Comic Brings Her Home-grown Brand of Comedy To Gaillard Center
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
Although she’s stayed busy and gained a solid reputation in the industry, comedian Leanne Morgan hadn’t quite reached the top rung of the ladder in her profession. Over the past two decades she’s garnered a small online following, appeared on Nick at Nite’s Funniest Mom, toured with the Southern Fried Chicks, and worked comedy clubs all across the country, but still wasn’t a household name. All that might change on her headlining ‘Big Panty Tour’ in 2021.
It’s been a long journey for the 50 year old Tennessee native who caught the entertainment bug at a young age. “This may sound crazy, but I was about five years old when I first got the itch. Growing up I sensed I was meant to entertain, but then everyday life happens. I grew up in a small farming community with about 500 people. During my senior year in high school my English teacher saw something in me. We use to do a little improv in high school, and that was really my first glimpse into performing. Even though I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence at that age I was still that person who would get up and act out on stage.”
Morgan continues, “So then I went on to college. I kind of got lost there, just being away from home and all. Even then I didn’t go to any theater classes, so I wasn’t honing my craft. Finally I’m getting my college degree, met my husband, got married, and had my first baby. At that time I didn’t ever think I would be in show business. I started waiting tables, but I really just wanted to be a stay at home mom at that point.”
So where pray tell did Morgan’s comedy begin. “That’s a funny story. A friend of mine got me on with this Christian company selling jewelry in homes. A lot like Tupperware, but selling jewelry. So I would be in these women’s homes, and we would sit around talking about our husbands and kids, and the ladies would tell me how funny I was. At that point I had three babies. Long story short, the company got wind of it somehow and started getting me to perform at their regional shows.”
Word started to spread around town that Morgan was funny. “It’s not like we had in comedy clubs where I lived. They were in the bigger cities like Nashville or Charlotte. I was just starting out, so I played around town wherever they would have me. I play the rotary club or the local hospital. Maybe they would pay me by giving me a meal. Playing in front of people I knew and smaller crowds helped build my confidence, especially since they were laughing at my material.”
Growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s Morgan’s earliest influences are among the who’s who of comedy. “I used to love to watch Carol Burnett, and I was a big fan of Lucille Ball. But what really turned it around for me was when Roseanne Barr appeared on Johnny Carson. She was authentic, and painted a clear picture of a housewife and mother who was just so darned funny, making fun at her own expense.” She credits Jay Leno and several of the early Saturday Night Live personalities as early influences as well.
Her comedy back then and today still revolves around the kitchen table. “A lot of my comedy does come from my family and personal experiences.” She may be a small town Tennessee girl but Morgan says her comedy reaches across the country. “Just because I come from the south, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s regional or is southern flavored. What I talk about is universal. I think it’s relatable to moms, and parents in general.”
She adds, “People I meet will often tell me, ‘Are you hiding in my closet? Do you know my kids or my husband?’. Everybody has gone through what I’ve gone through so they can relate to the humor.”.
To expand her audience Morgan knew she had to relocate. “For about five minutes my husband and I discussed about moving to Los Angeles, but sensible minds prevailed. I’m the dreamer, but my husband has a practical side. I hadn’t played in a comedy club except for Zanies in Nashville, and there I got a good reception. I guess I hit a nerve that related to audiences.”
So how did she get to the next level. “God has always been watching over me. I feel certain He has guided my path even in comedy. As divine intervention would have it, my husband sold his business and took a management position with Clayton Homes, which moved up to San Antonio. It was there that I started to get more nightclub exposure.” According to Morgan the scene in San Antonio geared more toward Hispanic comics. “Great clubs and great comedians, but I wasn’t reaching my core audience.”
She found greater response in another Texas city. “When I made my way to Austin, that’s when I began to bloom. Austin may be known for music, but it has a vibrant comedy scene. I started working in a comedy club owned by Rich Miller, who is Dennis’ younger brother and with their other brother books comedians in comedy clubs all around the country.”
Morgan’s brand of comedy hit a nerve. “They kept moving me up in the lineup. Before I knew it I went from opening to the headliner that night. So a lot of show business people make their way to Austin. Word got out I was funny, and before long Los Angeles is calling. They admired my ‘Chic Schtick’. My career didn’t happen overnight, but it did take off, and I feel certain God has directed my path.”
Like several of her childhood influences, Morgan in among the comic elite that prefer to perform clean comedy, avoiding overt sexual innuendo and expletives. “There was a short time I thought about leaning that way, and then I just told myself no. That’s not who I am. My parents raised me to be polite and never curse. I didn’t want to do a show that my family or my kids wouldn’t be proud of.” She agrees it’s often harder to be funny when not throwing around the occasional ‘F-Bomb’.
Prior to the pandemic and with her career somewhat plateauing, Morgan had considered calling it quits. “I’d been doing comedy almost 20 years and had some decent success, but I was about to turn 50, and I hadn’t got to the next level. So I said to my manager I’m going to hire some people to do some social media ,and see what that does for me.’
As the world wide web often does, it made an immediate impact. “I’ll tell you what. They starting putting short videos of my comedy online and before I knew it, my career was taking off. I was getting a lot of views, especially my bit about old people at concerts, and talking about hernias and thyroid problems. Before long I started getting bigger audiences, and started selling out this 100 city tour I was on.”
But much of that was still the comedy club circuit Morgan had worked for many years. With her new found success came interest in bigger bookings. “A lot of that was in 2019, and then the pandemic hit, and it ruined everything.”
With the pandemic scare hopefully behind us, Morgan is bringing her ‘Big Panty Tour’ to Charleston, performing two sold out shows at the Gaillard Center on August 12th & 13th. “It’s the biggest tour of my career. Here I am 55 years old, a new grandmother, been at it for 22 years, and it’s like a new chapter in my comedy life.”
Moving from smaller clubs to larger venues can be daunting. ‘There is a lot of pressure when you’re the headliner. I want people to enjoy the show. I still get a little nervous, but I’ve been doing this now for 22 years, so I’m comfortable on stage, but it’s still a whole different deal when I’m coming on last.” Aside from her solo headlining gigs, Morgan has a tour planned with veteran comic Jeff Foxworthy. “I love him. We’re a lot alike. We find humor in everyday situations.”
This is not her first comedy gig in Charleston. “I did a corporate event with the Southern Fried Chicks. But I have visited Charleston many times aside from work. Been on spring break with the kids on the Isle of Palms. We’ve taken them to Patriots Point and the Yorktown. We have some history buffs in the family.”
Is Morgan familiar with the southern term ‘Bless your heart’. “I am, and there is two ways you can look at that phrase. Several people use it to be hateful or in a spiteful way. I use it in a nice way bless people, like when something bad happens to you or you’re worried about someone, you might say in a sweet way ‘Bless your heart. I prefer to bless people rather than curse them.”
Throughout various ups and downs on her comedy journey Morgan has remained steadfast. “There’s definitely been an ebb and flow in my career. There are times I couldn’t get arrested for my comedy, and times I’ve been super busy. Thankfully the later is happening now.”
With potential television projects possibly in the works, Morgan remains humble. “I know I couldn’t do any of what I’m doing without God’s help, and His protection. I’ve turned down work because I know it wasn’t right for me. I love being funny and making people laugh, but I have to be true to myself.”
The home page on her website, says Morgan is a comedian, wife, and a mother, but not necessaarily in that order. “I am fully aware God and my family come first, way before my career.” Thankfully she is able to manage it all. “Mostly I just do shows more on the weekends. I don’t like spending too much time away from family, especially now that I’m a new grandparent.”
Now that her comedy has found new ground, how long will Morgan press on. “I do love making people laugh. My kids may be grown but I’m still a mom, I’m still married, and now I have a grandchild, so I’m certain there will be plenty of material for me to come up with.”
Leanne Morgan’s two shows at the Gaillard in August appear to be sold out, at least on opening night. “Thank you Charleston.” For those who might want to get a taste of her down home comedy, check out her Dry Bar comedy special ‘So Yummy’ on vidangel.com, or visit her website at https://www.leannemorgan.com/