A funny thing happens when you interview comedians: They’re (usually) not funny.
It’s a relentlessly consistent quirk, in the vein of hockey fighters being teddy bears off the ice and models wearing potato-sack clothes. (Well, OK. One of those examples is truer than the other, but you get the point: Comics can be surprisingly relatable – even normal.)
Take Sarah Colonna, who begins a four-day stay Feb. 11 at Helium Comedy Club. Watch her onstage and she’ll pack a punchline every several seconds. She’ll do with a touch of subtly. She doesn’t scream, she doesn’t pound; she delivers it smooth, in an Arkansas-bred voice squeezed free of any Southern drawl. She may sound like the girl-you-grew-up-with or woman-in-the-cubicle-round-the-corner type, but put her behind the microphone and she’ll make you laugh in a way most mortals cannot.
Which is how it’s supposed to be. She mines deep into her life and pulls out the funny. That’s her job.
But get Colonna off stage and you get a different kind of storyteller. She’s still relatable. She still probes her life. But she trades the quick-hit punchlines for deep-digging introspection — what she called “heart” and “warmth” in an interview. When she gets into that raw, long-form storytelling, you realize Colonna may indeed be that person you know.
She may even be you.
“The best thing I’ve heard is, ‘I can relate to that,’ ” Colonna said. “I had a lot of people say, ‘Oh my God, I had to go through that.’ ”
Colonna is the author of two books, “Has Anyone Seen My Pants?” (2015) and “Life As I Blow It” (2012). The cover of the newer book –a pants-less Colonna standing on a city street, her blond hair draping a white blouse – and the innuendo-laden title of her earlier memoir befit her comic vibe. And to be sure, Colonna dishes plenty in those pages about her sex life.
But unlike stand-up or fast-paced TV (Colonna was a writer and on-air talent for Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea Lately”), the storytelling is more detailed and revelatory.
“It’s nice to be able to elaborate,” Colonna said. “Another cool part is being able to put emotions into it so that it’s not just laughs. There’s also some heart in it, and I like being able to do that because it definitely shows a different side of me.”
As in her single side. Colonna, 41, said she expected to be married by the age of 30. That didn’t happen, leaving to her fend for herself emotionally throughout her 30s. In “Has Anyone Seen My Pants?” she writes about life events such as putting down her cat of 16 years and attending her grandfather’s funeral. Colonna sprinkles some funny twists into those inherently sad undertakings. It leaves you with a warm optimism, but also strips naked her true struggles.
“Having to put a cat down when you’re single and in your 30s, you never feel so single,” Colonna said. “Or having to go to your grandfather’s funeral… I don’t know, it messed with my head more, I think, being single and going through that stuff because you don’t have anyone to turn to. You have your friends, but it makes it a little harder.”
Let’s acknowledge too that the comedy industry is perhaps the most male-dominated form of entertainment (unless you count pro wrestling). Colonna is seeing an improvement in the last couple of years at her stand-up shows. “I’ve noticed an increase in guys coming to see me with other guy friends,” she said. But that hasn’t reversed the reality: Being a woman in comedy is tougher than being a man.
“I think it will always be an issue and I don’t know why,” Colonna said. “It’s always baffled me a little bit.”
On the subjects of men and things that baffle, both of Colonna’s books delve into her quest for the perfect man. (So has some of Colonna’s stand-up material, though she tends to keep separate the stories she tells onstage and the ones she shares in her books.)
After years of losers and misfires and a guy who lied and died and left her with that cat named Mischief, she finally found the one. It happened a decade later than her anticipated settle-down age of 30, and they connected via social media. He sent her a message that said, “This is my super-awkward attempt at picking you up on Twitter.”
And before you get the idea this is too random or too creepy, know this: The guy was pretty easy to scout out via Google, and it all good. His name is Jon Ryan, and he’s the punter for the Seattle Seahawks. Colonna describes their early courtship in “Have You Seen My Pants?”, giving the book a happy conclusion that’s since become happier: They’re getting married this summer.
Funny how it works out. Not ha-ha funny — that’s for the clubs. Relatable funny. Love-when-you-don’t expect it funny. The kind of funny you might just find in your own life.