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Leanne Morgan, the 'Mrs. Maisel of Appalachia,' jokes about motherhood and menopause

A Tennessee native, Leanne Morgan refers to herself as the "Mrs. Maisel of Appalachia."
Joseph Llanes
A Tennessee native, Leanne Morgan refers to herself as the "Mrs. Maisel of Appalachia."

Leanne Morgan remembers the moment she realized she could make it in comedy: She was at a party, telling jokes, and a woman "peepeed on the couch."

"That was a 'God' moment for me ... " Morgan says. "I thought, 'OK, I can make it in stand-up.'"

Morgan took a roundabout route to professional comedy: She was a young mother living in Bean Station, Tenn., in the 1990s — and she started selling jewelry in women's houses two or three nights a week as a way to make a bit of extra money.

"It was like Mary Kay and Tupperware, those kinds of companies," Morgan says. "Somebody makes a dip, or a pan of brownies, and then I would schlep that big case of jewelry and put all that jewelry out on a kitchen table."

Morgan was supposed to be talking up the jewelry, but instead she found herself making her customers laugh with stories about breastfeeding and hemorrhoids.

Morgan was 32 with three young children at home when she started performing stand-up in clubs on the weekend. Every few years, someone from Hollywood would call to offer her a sitcom deal — but each time the deal would fall through.

In 2018, she nearly gave up, but she decided to make one more push. She hired two brothers in Plano, Texas, to help promote her material on social media. One clip, in which she joked about going to a Def Leppard/Journey concert with her husband, went viral.

"That [video] blew up, and I started selling out all over the United States," Morgan says. "People would see those videos ... and start calling comedy clubs and ask them to book me."

Now 57 with three grown children and two grandchildren, Morgan has her own self-produced Netflix special, Leanne Morgan: I'm Every Woman.In it, she makes fun of everyday life, from marriage and motherhood to menopause and dating apps.

"It took me a long time to find my audience ... but I always knew they were out there," she says. "I think Hollywood forgets us, and I think a lot of comedians that are cool and edgy and all of that, just forget about my demographic and I think we're the best. I think we're the people that make decisions to go buy tickets and want to get out and have a good time."

Interview highlights

On connecting to her audience

I'm nurturing. If I make fun, it's of myself, it's not of anybody else. I'm not confrontational. And so I think people find comfort with me. ... I was in LA doing The Comedy Store, which was a dream of mine, and it was all these edgy comedians that were getting up and talking about all kinds of stuff. And then I got up and talked about how somebody made me a meatloaf at my children's school the day that I got my IUD replaced. And young people came out of The Comedy Store and said, "Can I hug you?" I think that even though ... in my mind I'd have a chip on my shoulder over the years and think, Oh, I'm not edgy enough there. I'm not a cool kid in the business in the industry and all that, I do think that people were enjoying what I did.

On calling herself the "Mrs. Maisel of Appalachia"

Comedy is hard. ... It's a hard business. I resonated with that character because she was fearless and she had those babies and her husband was a ding dong. My husband's not a ding dong, but she overcame so much and kept going and men would say, "Oh, women aren't funny," and all that kind of stuff, and trying to sabotage her. I've been through all that. When young people ask me, "Do you think I should do stand-up?" I don't want to squash somebody's dreams. But it's hard for me as a mother not to say, "Listen, you're going to be driving in a car for 300 miles to make $50 and you won't have a hotel room." I mean, it's a hard, hard business. But when I saw that series, I thought, that's what I did: I had three babies. I was in the Appalachian Mountains. I didn't have a comedy club near me, and I just had to pave out another way than the traditional way that people do stand-up. And I did. I don't know how, but I did.

On the four television sitcom deals over the years that fell through

I would be devastated at the time. But those little nuggets would give me the encouragement to keep going. For one thing, because I was in Knoxville. ... I was not living in LA or New York. I was raising these children and I got to raise them in Knoxville, Tennessee, and they became who they're supposed to be. If I'd have gone to LA, they probably wouldn't be who they are. And I would be devastated [when the series fell through], but then it always kept me encouraged, like, I've got something. I know I'm not crazy. I can do this.

On ignoring her ex-husband when he advised her to get rid of her Tennessee accent

[He] said to me, "Your accent and your diction, you need diction lessons. People are making fun of me. People think you're stupid." And I remember at the time, I don't know how I had the sense to think, "No, you're wrong." And I didn't change anything. I could have. I had pretty low self-esteem and was pretty beat down at the time, but I felt like ... you're not going to change me. This is who I am. And I think now, going forward, 40 years later, that is what has made this happen for me, is I am who I am. .... I'm authentic. I feel like at my age now, it's like this is who I am. You either like it or you don't. It's OK if you don't. ... I do find humor in hard things, but I think a lot of comedians do. That's how we cope.

Lauren Krenzel and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Tonya Mosley
Tonya Mosley is the LA-based co-host of Here & Now, a midday radio show co-produced by NPR and WBUR. She's also the host of the podcast Truth Be Told.