ShaNae Ross doesn't tell dirty jokes. She doesn't get political, unless you count poking fun at racial differences as she does in a bit where she asks the audience to guess an imaginary person's race based on their name. She also doesn't approach religion, despite having a religious background. Ross was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, went to high school in Aurora, and entered the comedy world by participating in the 2006 Comedy Works New Face Talent Competition. Since then, she found ways to address risky subjects in her own way and made the Denver Improv in Stapleton her home-away-from-home.
Tonight she will perform in the Improv's Ladies Night Out showcase; next week, she will host three nights with Bruce Bruce, actor and former host of BET's ComicView. We recently sat down with Ross to discuss her future plans, her favorite comedy venues and getting recognized in the grocery store as the "Butt Girl."
Westword: How did you get started in standup?
ShaNae Ross: Oh, man. That's many, many moons ago. [Laughs.] Actually, it was recommended. Someone from my church was like, "You should try being a comedian." I was like, "Oh... kay." So, I did my research and started off at Comedy Works. I started doing some open mics there, and the competitions that they had. Then I ventured off and came here to the Denver Improv. I've been doing comedy for seven years now.
Were you the funny kid in school? Did people just see that in you? Yeah. It was the Senior Superlatives. I was voted "Class Clown" and "Funniest Female" in middle school and in high school. I never thought that I would be a comedian, but I've been stuck with it ever since.
Do you have standup comedy heroes that you look up to? Yeah, I do. I think, for me, it's the normal ones like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy -- and, I would say, female comics like LaWanda Page, Moms Mabley, Wanda Sykes, Ellen DeGeneres. Yeah, there's a few.
Do you see it as harder for women to be accepted in the comedy world, or is it pretty common at this point? Nah, I still think it's a challenge, because they see us before they actually hear us. For me, I've got not only the fact that I'm a female comic, but it's also me being a minority. That has something to do with it as well -- especially here in Colorado. It's more of a challenge to do comedy here versus the South or the East Coast.
Is it important to you to talk about being a woman or being African-American onstage? Yeah, I talk about it. But I really don't have to, because they notice that I am. [Laughs.] I try to push the envelope, so I talk about things that other people probably won't talk about -- for instance, my grandmother having Alzheimer's, or the fact that I have two dads. It's just a combination of everything. It depends on the day.
Right. Well, the easy angle on this story would be "female African-American comedian." Do you think of yourself that way, or do you just think of yourself as a comedian? I just think of myself as "comedian." I don't see color, by any means. But you'd be surprised how much other people do. They do see color. But I just consider myself a comedian. I want to make everybody laugh. It doesn't matter the race, sex, anything.
Do you draw a lot from your life in your material? I do. I stay away from current events... Well, it depends what the current event is. Politics I don't really dive into, or religious views. I feel like everybody has their own opinion of religion, and I'm not one to try to deter them. I just kind of stay away from it.
What kinds of jokes make you laugh? Do you have certain subjects that really get you? Nah, I'll pretty much laugh at anything, especially if it's original or unique. Yeah, I'll pretty much laugh at anything.
Do you like the storytelling style of comedy? I do. I even appreciate the raw comedic style that's out there. Those who are willing to talk on risky subjects that I won't talk about, I appreciate that.
Are there any subjects that you think should be off-limits in comedy? No. Because that would take away our First Amendment right. So, no. [Laughs.]
You perform quite a bit in Denver. Do you have plans to tour nationally? I would love to do that. I've been blessed to do shows in Kansas City, L.A. -- at the end of the month, I'm going to Baltimore. So, yeah, I would love to travel nationally, tour with a headliner, or perhaps have my own headlining show. I'm pretty comfortable with people knowing me here in Colorado. I feel like people know me, but a lot of people still don't know who I am.
Denver has a pretty impressive comedy scene at this point. Do you get out a lot and watch other comics work? Yeah, I do. I have to feed my craft. That's where I get ideas, is from watching other comedians here -- whether it's at the Comedy Works north or south, or at the Improv, or wherever.
What are your one or two favorite venues in town? I would say Comedy Works for sure, but Denver Improv is by far my favorite.
What are your long-term plans? Would you want to act in film or TV someday, or is standup your main gig? I appreciate standup, but if acting is calling me, then I would definitely take it there. I wouldn't be afraid to do any of that at all.
What are your favorite types of shows or movies that you'd want to be in if the opportunity came up? I would do drama. As a comedian, I think people always expect you to be funny, so I would stick to drama.
Interesting. So, are you a fan of comedians that move into drama, like, say, Robin Williams? He's done a lot of pretty serious roles. Yeah, yeah. Like Mo'Nique did Precious.
Right. Do you think there's something about when comedians do serious roles that gives the character more weight -- or maybe makes the character more rounded? Yeah, because people don't expect you to have that serious presentation. They expect you to be funny all the time. I think it does give the movie or the character extra energy.
The comedy world is famously tough. What inspires you most to keep going?
I think just the idea that I'm able to heal people or bring some sort of joy, even if that is for five minutes or fifteen minutes. For instance, I'm known around Denver as the "Butt Girl," [laughs], because I have this joke called "the ABCs - Always Butt Clench." I'll do my ABCs and clench my butt at the same time, because I'm encouraging women that they don't have to be in the gym spending all this outlandish money on booty bumps. So, I show them, and I'm known around town: people will see me in the store or the casino and say, "Oh, that's the Butt Girl." I have this title. I just want to bring a different flavor to comedy. Like I said, if I'm known to a small crowd, I'm okay with that; if I'm known to a large crowd, I'm okay with that. I just want to bring laughter and give people some sort of joy, even if it's for just a second. Especially now that the economy's bad, people are uptight and aggressive. I feel like people just need to have an outlet. If I'm able to give them that, I'll take it. The news is bringing people down, bills are bringing people down -- it's just a lot. If I'm able to give them a dose of laughter -- even if that's by showing my butt onstage -- then I will do that.
You can catch ShaNae Ross performing in the Ladies Night Out showcase at 7:30 p.m. (doors at 6:30) on Wednesday, June 12 at the Denver Improv, 8246 East 49th Avenue, #1400. Tickets are $10 with a two-item minimum per person.
Ross will also host three nights at the Improv with headliner Bruce Bruce: 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21; 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22; and 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 23. Tickets are $25 ($35 VIP) with a two-item minimum.
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