Jeanne Nott: comedian & pageant winner
By Dan England
When Jeanne Nott was a little girl, she would join hands with her family at the dinner table, and her father would say, “Heard any good jokes lately?”
At age 7, she got invited to dinner by a pastor’s daughter. They joined hands around the table, and the pastor invited her to say grace. Nott, naturally, said, “Heard any good jokes lately?”
This is why Nott no longer gets ruffled at tough audiences, a requirement for any good comedian.
Nott tours assisted living homes across Northern Colorado telling jokes. She does most gigs for free, and she does it because she likes playing to the toughest crowds. She likes trying to make seniors laugh.
Nott is 73. She knows how HARD it is to be old. You can lose your independence, ability to eat any foods with flavor or friends and family. Aches are common, health problems even more so, and staying active means balancing both those problems with an uncooperative body. You can’t see. You can’t hear. Nott feels it, too, but she goes to homes all over the area to help seniors forget all those ugly problems for a bit. The laughter, if it comes (and it usually does), helps her forget as well.
“It makes me feel really good,” Nott says. “It’s wonderful to make people laugh. It really is.”
She was already well-known around the assisted living circuit, but Nott punched an automatic ticket when she was named Ms. Colorado Senior America 2022 in October. Yes, that’s a beauty pageant, but it’s more of a talent show, which you can tell by looking at her. That’s her joke, not ours.
Nott’s parents were community theater people. Her mother always played the lead roles, and her father was the bit part jokester who stole the show. He was quiet and dry, someone you wouldn’t expect to be funny, like Bob Newhart. When people would ask why his children were seven years apart, he would answer, slowly, “Haven’t you heard of the seven-year itch?”
“That man was funny,” Nott said. “His timing was spot on.”
You’d think Nott got her talents from her father, and you’re right, but for many years, she wanted to be her mother. When Nott was 4, her father built her a stage, and Nott went after singing roles and the leads in Denver community theaters, until a decade ago, when her vocal chords were damaged during neck surgery. She could no longer sing.
Learning how to talk again was tough, but she did it, and she could still tell jokes. She got her break when she was working in a nursing home and a trumpet player didn’t show up for a gig. She asked the gathered crowd if they wanted to hear some jokes. They did, and they laughed, and they told her to do it again soon. She found a way to entertain people again.
Telling jokes is difficult, and a tough crowd can ruin you if you’re a comedian. She prefers assisted living to nursing homes after everyone in the front row fell asleep at a nursing home gig.
Seniors are challenging, not just because they’re cranky and fall asleep at inopportune times, Nott says. Ageism can be offensive, so she doesn’t want to make fun of old people the entire time. She also has to tell clean jokes: Most homes won’t allow blue humor, and the crowds don’t want it anyway.
This is why you may have heard some of her jokes before, as they tend to be classics instead of her own material: She tried to write her own jokes, but they weren’t clean enough. She keeps the time-tested and approved jokes in a notebook that she refers to during a performance.
“Remember, I’m 73,” she says. “I can have notes.”
She’s good at telling stories, and she has learned how to adapt to an audience, so even if they aren’t rolling in the aisles, she can keep them entertained.
“You can see what they like,” she says, “and once you figure it out, you can stay on that path.”
COVID-19 cut into her performance schedule, which is what led to her trying out for Ms. Colorado Senior America: it was a chance to perform. The closest she’d come to any beauty work was modeling for “chubbette” fashion at Sears (she’s serious this time).
Eight women older than 60 competed. She told jokes for her routine and killed it. She thought she had blown it when she tripped on her dress during the evening gown portion, even crying backstage, but her routine erased that mistake.
“Someone told me later that he thought it was part of my act,” Nott says and laughs.
She will compete in the national pageant in September 2022.
During a recent performance at a Windsor assistant living facility, her first as Ms. Senior Colorado (she did wear the sash and tiara), at one point, she got nervous in front of a friendly, lively audience. She thumbed through her notepad, wondering what joke to tell. Remember, she is 73.
“Ooo…this is a good one…oops it’s a little risqué,” Nott said. “Do you care?”
“No, go ahead,” many in the audience said.
She breathed a sigh, put her notepad away and prepared to help people who know how tough it is to be her age laugh again.