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Laughter: stronger than fear

KEYSTONE – Apparently, laughter is stronger than fear.

If it weren’t, Margaret Smith wouldn’t have earned a name as the funniest female stand-up comic in 1996 from the American Comedy Awards.

Even after studying improvisation at the Second City Theater in Chicago for four years and having success in New York City’s stand-up scene, Smith had a lot of fear.



“I thought I’d be a writer, not a performer,” Smith said. “I was shy. I used to stand holding (tightly) onto the microphone, and people called it a style, but it wasn’t a style. It was terror – fear. I started getting laughs, and it helped my self-esteem. It used to pump me up. Now, I just like doing it.”

About seven years ago, she made her debut on “Late Night with David Letterman” and found out the crowd wasn’t as tough as she thought. Two years ago, she performed on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” for the first time.



“I had to put a note in my shoe that said “No Fear,'” she said. “It was the first time I ever enjoyed doing a television spot. It was easier, because Leno had twice the audience size. When you got a big laugh on the Letterman show, you earned it.”

After stints in Chicago and New York, Smith moved to Los Angeles, where she finished a season on “That ’80s Show” last year. She’s currently pitching shows to television networks, writing a book on single parenting called “What Was I Thinking?” and writing a screenplay.

Most of Smith’s material revolves around family, mothering and relationships. She avoids political topics.

“I think people come to my show not to forget their problems but to laugh at them,” she said. “My comedy is strong but subtle. I don’t beat people over the head with punchlines. If you like to participate mentally, then you’ll like my show. I’m not just one of those comedians you sit there and drool – though I don’t mind the drooling – I have kids now.”

One of her favorite moments while performing happens when she looks into the audience and sees everyone – from men in their 20s to women in their 60s – laughing at the same time. Her biggest compliment came when two 80-year-old men in red sweaters approached her after a show and said she reminded them of Jack Benny.

“Just when you think you’re not doing anything important in your life, two Jack Benny fans walk in and make it all worthwhile,” she said.

Saturday’s show (at 8 p.m.) at the Park Lane Pavilion is for people 16 and older. Tickets are $15 in advance and may be purchased by calling (888) 222-9306. Tickets are $17 at the door.

For Starters S

Nancy Norton’s opening act revolves around her work as a nurse and her tomboyish tendencies as a child.

“Part of my angst comes from the fact that I always wanted a gun and holster, and I got an EZ Bake oven,” Norton said. “So, I played cowboys and Indians with an EZ Bake oven on my hip.”

She has performed nationwide, and her one-woman show, “The Yellowish-Green Girl” aired on PBS.

Norton’s comedy is fast-paced, emotionally and observationally based.

“It’s a little neurotic, but most people like it,” she said. “My inspiration is being born the fourth of three children. If you do the math on that, I was the unplanned child. I just love the ironies, and there’s so many in life. And, I have a willingness to be vulnerable. I think we’re a lot more vulnerable than we let on. There’s a sincerity behind my humor.”


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