Dr. Etta: Family Specialist
Thalian Hall Main Stage
310 Chestnut Street • (910) 632-2285
April 2, 8 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Tickets: $14-$25 • www.etix.com
“Going to see stand-up comedy is like taking a mini vacation from your life,” comic-of-the-year Etta May says. And for Wilmingtonians, that tiny hiatus is coming this Saturday, April 2. Though she is with the Southern Fried Chicks tour, May is making a solo stop in Wilmington to perform her stand-up, “Dr. Etta: Family Specialist.” She’s kicked Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura aside to start her own therapy practice, because no matter what the problem may be, Dr. Etta has already “been there, done that” so to speak—and laughing along the way, of course.
Though she hasn’t always been a professional comedian—her first career in front of an audience was driving a school bus full of unruly children—she’s come a long way. The realization that she could do stand-up hit her at a club one night.
“I wanted to be special,” May said. “I wanted to be great at something that not everybody can do. I wanted to break out of my ordinary life, my ordinary family legacy.”
After a cousin she admired suffered breast cancer, May decided to give it a go. “Why not take some chances?” May remembers asking herself. “What’s the worst that can happen?” She tried her way in Hollywood for a while, scoring her first acting job on Showtime’s award-winning show “Brothers.” She kept doing stand-up while taking on a few more roles but eventually decided to leave the West Coast. She relocated to Lexington, Kentucky, and from there she prospered into the hilarious woman some of us have come to love laughing with today.
“I like to watch people laugh,” she says. “They look so funny and sweet at the same time.” And her knack for softening even the hardest well-to-dos comes without breaking a sweat. May recalls seeing men in her audience likely to scare Charles Manson break face, watching their anger melt away. “They almost look like little kids when they laugh.”
In a pit stop in Wilmington, she will perform her two-act routine, where the ‘Dr.’ in front of her name stands for “Dang right!” Posing as a seminar, during the show May shifts audiences back to her childhood, as she explains just how she came to be the woman she is today. “There were some stories I had in me that I needed to get out, but they weren’t right for the comedy club,” May says.
Throughout the first act she touches on items of interest like the “…tions” of marriage, one of them being aggravation. May slips into a bit about snoring, telling the ladies of the audience to read the directions carefully on nose strips: “Those strips aren’t used to tape your husband’s mouth and nose shut!”
She also delves into the “…tions” of children (intoxication, impregnation, broke-ation), and even shares tales of the playground, where she remembers how tough children were because of what they played on, like the jungle gym—“welded, rusted pieces of metal with bolts sticking out!”
The stories she tells are real and relatable, and side-splitting hilarious. But humor isn’t only her likeability factor. On May’s stage, she connects with the audience, so when they leave, they know more about themselves. Even fols who think they couldn’t possibly have anything in common with Etta often learn otherwise; by the end of the show, people are singing her tune, often approaching the comedian and expressing, “I’ve had something like that happen to me, too!”
“I think Southern comics are more storytellers,” May shares. “We tell stories about our lives, and I think it’s easier to get close to an audience when you’re a storyteller and not just a joke teller. People feel much more connected. Most comics talk at their audience. In my show I like to give the feeling that I’m talking with [them]. I try to connect and really look at the people. For the most part [they] just want to be seen, to be acknowledged.”
With a supporting family behind her—“[My kids] brag about me to their friends at school,” she says—Etta May is very proud of where she is today. Even through life’s many trials and tribulations, her stories stand as a testament to her fortitude. Even the stories that have her coming out on the losing end have led her here, to this career in stand-up.
Whether in need of some therapy or just a good dose of humor, Dr. Etta will deliver the perfect medicine. “It’s a show that will make you laugh, and the next second make you cry and then laugh again.” Tickets are available through etix.com or through Thalian Hall’s Box Office 910-632-2285.