Jobs They Love: Stand-Up Comedian
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Lucky are they who look forward to Mondays – or their next gig -- with joy in their hearts! Meet the folks whose talents and passions are happily matched to the jobs they have.
Lisa Corrao always felt she was funny, but when the single mom and South Florida middle school teacher started leavening her classes with humor, a light went off in her head – stage lights, in fact. "I'd be teaching lessons and making my students laugh and thinking, Hey, I'm killin' over here," she told Miami New Times in 2015.
Without thinking twice, she made the life leap from teacher to fulltime stand-up comedian, taking a comedy class at Fort Lauderdale Improv and scoring club bookings almost overnight in and around her south Florida home base. Audiences immediately took to Corrao’s irresistible personality and comedic style. Only months into her new career, she was selected to compete in Nick@Nite’s “Funniest Mom in America” competition, performing at New York’s Laugh Factory as a finalist.
Corrao’s next rung up the show business ladder and the one that gained her widespread TV fame was playing the feisty character of Ramona on Nickelodeon’s “Every Witch Way,” the popular 2014-2018 teen sitcom. The role earned her nerd-cute props and a fan following at ComicCon events.
These days, Corrao headlines at comedy clubs, hotels, casinos, and events throughout the U.S. She’s toured with A-list comedy greats like Kevin Nealon, Joel McHale, Brian Regan, Arsenio Hall, John Pinette, Matteo Lane, Jeffrey Ross, Louie Anderson, Jim Norton, Doug Benson, Brian Posehn, Ms. Pat, Jeff Dunham, Doug Stanhope, Bob Saget, Tom Segura, and Bert Kreischer. She opened for Patton Oswalt’s Netflix special and most recently toured with Gilbert Gottfried until his untimely death in April.
Corrao also writes material for other comedians and has produced a series of helpful stand-up tips on TVLessonDotCom for comedians just starting out (“How to Overcome Fear as a Stand-up,” “How to Deal with Hecklers,” etc., see video below). She is teaching a four-day stand-up comedy workshop in Mexico in September.
Did you grow up in a funny family?
Oh yes. My dad and two brothers are hilarious. Any of them could be stand-up comedians too. My mom is a great audience member and has a laugh that you wish every audience member had. I guess we have always been a bunch of performing monkeys to my mom just to hear that joyous sound. My parents encouraged us to be funny by letting us get away with things as a reward for making them laugh. For example, if you shattered mom’s beloved antique vase, you’d yell, “Mom! I just got my big break!” Instead of getting punished, you’d get applause. It doesn’t take a psychologist to unravel the mystery of my origins.
To switch careers from schoolteacher to comedian is serious business, no pun intended. It must have required true self-awareness and courage. Did you ever doubt that every room you’d play would be as captivated as those giggling 6th-graders?
It’s allllll the same performance skills as stand-up comedy. You need to capture everyone’s attention with your words which is not an easy task when speaking to kids or drunk people. The 6th graders loved feeling like they were somehow breaking the rules by laughing. The teachers next door would even pop their heads in to say the laughter was too loud…a comedian’s dream! Being funny kept their attention on me. If one interrupted, you had to handle it quickly without losing the rest, not unlike a heckler!
Speaking of 6th grade, were you the smartass acting up in the back of the class, or the angel who sat up front but acted goofy and made everybody crack up behind the teacher’s back?
I’m a people pleaser through and through so I was shy and well-behaved in school. I’d quietly write jokes and draw in journals. It would break my heart to disappoint a teacher! I will say that my mom loves to tell the story of my kindergarten teacher telling her, “I’ve never met a kindergartener so legitimately funny.” I take that as a high compliment. I guess I always had the knack for reading an audience, and if I felt you had a good sense of humor then I could joke with you. Bless the teachers out there who appreciate who you are!
Is your daughter a good critic of yours? Can you try out new material with her?
When she has notes, I take them seriously. She knows comedy, so I’m lucky to be able to run ideas by her. There’s no greater joy in my life than making my daughter laugh. She has a refined sense of humor, so I love the challenge of finding the weird things that really get her. Even when she was little, my friends couldn’t believe what natural comedy instincts she had…she could spar with professional comedians! If she ever had an interest in being a comedian, she’d be a master. Here’s one I can think of off the top of my head, “Astronauts are smart, brave, highly trained heroes exploring space and advancing humankind all while pooping in their diapers.”
Do you have funny dreams?
Definitely. Once I started tweeting after taking an Ambien and there were some ideas there that I later made into jokes. Like, there was one about how when you video your German Shepherd with a baby chick, you’re either about to have an adorable viral video or less pets. At first the tweets were funny, then they got weird, and then you couldn’t even understand them. Don’t take Ambien. It was invented by Freddy Krueger.
There’s the old trope that humor comes from a dark place and that funny people, especially stand-up comedians, are really sad or depressed just below the surface. This seems furthest from the truth with you, but I wonder what your thoughts are about it.
Comedy is everywhere. It doesn’t have to come from darkness, but comedians know it’s 100% also there. It’s a coping mechanism for us, so we’ll find the jokes in the worst parts of life. When we hurt, we joke. We generally give audiences the stuff they can handle, but when comedians joke with each other there are no filters, and it might horrify people. As far as sadness and depression go, for myself, the whole reason I got into comedy was because I wasn’t happy. I can definitely dip into real depression at times, and maybe that’s why I know when to really lean into the joyful moments. I can say that I’m a very happy person at the moment but trust me when I tell you that I have given therapists some of my best comedy premises. If I fall off of a building tomorrow, I will be making fun of myself on the way down.
Most of the really hilarious and thought-provoking stand-up comedians out there today are women. What was it like for you to make your way up into what has been until recently a male-dominated gig?
That statement is so refreshing. I would say that, while it’s getting better all the time, it’s still male-dominated. I don’t think it’s because anyone is consciously going, “eww, girls.” I might be totally wrong about that, but I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I know that I grew up around two brothers and a neighborhood with all boys, so I always felt comfortable navigating the boys club.
One thing that used to bother me was that I felt like the males I came up with seemed to have more chances to fail than I did. It felt like I had to kill to be asked back to a club, and the guys could play around more on stage, fail, and still be asked back. My favorite thing to do onstage is experiment, so I hate when I feel like I have to stick to the script. I don’t want to complain, because it inspired me to work harder and also learn which stages felt safe to experiment on.
What bothered me the most was when people found out I had a daughter, they would ask where she was when I was at the club. So weird that nobody asks the guys that. Do you think I left her in my car or with a vagrant in the alley? I swear I’m not a bad mom, just because my job isn’t traditional. It forced me to strengthen my own self-image about parenting and not take to heart what others thought.
While there have been unique challenges being a female comedian, I find that as soon as I start focusing on the unfair stuff, I fall into victim mode. I don’t know, I think that we can always find how the world is against us, but you have to keep moving forward and trust that you’re on the right path, even if there’s garbage on it. I try to make up for it by supporting fellow women in the business. We don’t have to tear down men, to build up women…I mean, of course predators need to be taken out. Don’t worry, most professional comedians are good eggs.
Has anything ever made you laugh so hard that no sound comes out?
I’m the most ticklish person on Earth. If my guy hits the right spot (talking tickling here–you pervs out there) I instantly go from laughing to wheezing to nobody-can-hear-you-laugh-in-space mode. What a dork!
There’s a “celeb facts” site that says you were born in the Year of the Rabbit, have been alive for 17,318 days or 415,649 hours, and that your height and weight are under review. Surely there’s a joke in there somewhere.
My parents would just be happy that someone is calling me a celebrity. Yeah, that’s weird. It sounds like they are saying, “Lisa is a million years old and SO tiny that we are having our best scientists look into it.”
Video Extra: “How to Perform at Open Mic Nights”
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Photos (from top): Lisacorrao.com; ApplauseBreak.com; Lifestyle Media Group; Lisacorrao.com.