Her career started at her first open mic. Sixteen years later Linda is still making audiences laugh.
Always Made Me Laugh
I’d been waiting for comedian Linda Belt to perform at a venue closer to where I live.
Linda and I first met when we were students at Rutgers College. She was hilarious. Linda always made me laugh.
We got reunited at a college reunion in 2005 and I learned she was a professional comedian. Two years ago, we found each other on Facebook.
Finally, in February my husband and I caught one of her shows about an hour and a half from home just as the coronavirus was starting to spread. No masks and no social distancing yet; only hand sanitizer.
Linda was part of a trio of hilarious lady comedians performing at Sellersville Theatre in PA on a Sunday night.
I recently interviewed Linda. She shared how she got started, her joke writing process, the types of audiences she makes laugh, what it’s like to work and live as a comedian, how to deal with hecklers, and challenges of age and gender, how to be funny in the time of Corona, and much more.
Linda, a transplant from Jersey City, NJ, hasn’t forgotten the day her life as a professional comedian began. It all started on a January Saturday in 2004 in suburban Connecticut.
Never a Class Clown
One of the first questions I asked Linda was if she was ever voted class clown. Her peers didn’t think she was the class clown but she made them laugh.
“My friends always told me I was funny all through out my school years. I was a prankster, but such a good student that I never got caught.”
A career as a comedian was not on her radar. “I wanted to be an actress. After college, I pursued theater and noticed I was cast in comedic roles. I had taken a few acting classes while at Rutgers on Livingston campus. At that point, I had decided that after graduation I was going to try to pursue acting professionally,” says Linda.
It’s a good thing she’s not a professional actress. Linda has found success as a comedian. She gave birth to her life as a comedian sixteen years ago at her first open mic.
The Open Mic That Changed Her Life
“It was in a coffee house in Southington, CT that is no longer there. Sadly, there was a fire that destroyed the venue. Comedians were on one Saturday a month and they got to go out between musical performances,” says Linda.
Her fate as a professional comedian was sealed that night.
“A gal pal of mine came with me. She didn’t perform. She came for support,” says Linda. On the way home, her friend said,
“You were really good up there for your first time. Your life is going to change after tonight”.
“It sure did, that was the beginning of my career,” says Linda. Up until then, she was an ordinary suburban Connecticut housewife with two kids ages 12 and 13.
Along the way her marriage ended a few years later but, inspired by life’s observations and good writing, her comedic wit continued to flourish.
Linda’s writing process and best bits come from personal experience, situations, and observations.
“I write as things happen, an experience, an event, an observation. What’s funnier than the truth?”
Linda is less concerned about how long it might take to write a joke.
“I let them write themselves, in other words, I let life take its course, reflect on the event that I think is funny and work on a punchline.”
And Linda has had moments when a bit bombed and nobody laughed.
“It’s horrifying but it happens to everyone. Thank goodness, not often, and mostly in the beginning of my career.”
She compares bombing on stage to striking out in baseball.
“It’s like sports. A baseball player can be a superstar but still strike out on occasion. Your hits have to be way more than your misses to maintain your career. By comedy standards, even a mediocre show is a good show.”
Sometimes the audience might think you’re not that funny, and a heckler or two will make their presence known.
“It’s something I discuss with management before a performance. I believe it’s the responsibility of the venue to address a disruptive audience member.”
Linda makes sure to include in her contract that management address this type of behavior.
“I’m a comedian, not a lion tamer. Disruptive people are not funny. Audiences pay a lot of money to attend a show — a babysitter, food, drinks, cover charge. They want to be entertained by the comedian not some audience member who thinks they’re “helping” us out.”
Linda’s pays close attention to her appreciative and diverse audiences.
“I work all demographics from mixed ages to millennials who make up most of the audiences at a club. I do a lot of private parties, fundraisers, bridal showers, baby showers, retirement parties, birthdays, etc.”
Mixed generations and men like Linda’s humor. But she finds that middle age women appreciate her humor the most.
“At a bridal shower, I can have 3 generations in the room. I have to stay relevant so a younger audience can relate. My act is appreciated by men as well but I do think it’s especially appreciated by middle age women.”
Spending a lot of time with diverse audiences has taught Linda quite a bit about how much her comedy has in common with them.
“We have many commonalities. Because I’m now 60 and have lived a life, I reflect on life with no apologies to the fact that life can be absurd and hilarious. My audiences have taught me that I’m saying what they’re thinking but I have the chutzpah to say it out loud.”
The Art of Comedy and Vulnerability
Linda’s audiences have also taught her a lot about herself as a comedian.
“I’m way more sensitive than I thought about whether or not a joke is successful. I take a lot of pride in my writing. I can see 300 people laughing and I’ll concentrate on the one person who isn’t laughing. Very typical for comedians. I’ll go back and rethink the joke and presentation.”
No doubt, comedy is the most difficult art form. The best kind of audience for comedians, says Linda, is “people who truly appreciate the art of comedy in the entertainment industry.”
“Our audiences are right in front of us and we’re alone. We don’t have a script or character to hide behind nor can we turn around and tell the band to start playing if our act is not going well. We are up on stage, open, honest, alone and vulnerable.”
Go for It!
Linda’s formula for success works for her.
It takes “timing, personae, material, perseverance and a lot of confidence” to be a comedian.
Her years of making people laugh can help mentor others who want the life of a comedian. She offers the following advice.
“If you’re going to pursue comedy do it because you love it. It’s something that you absolutely have to love. It takes more work than most imagine. It can take years of open mics before you even have a paid gig. There’s no “cutting the line”.
Looking for fame and fortune?
“Pick something else. You have to be very passionate about it. Very few people go from the amateur to the pro level. You have to be prepared that it may remain a hobby versus a career.”
If you’re a bit older and feel you have what it takes to make audiences laugh, “go for it,” says Linda. “I was 44 when I started. It’s never too late to pursue a passion.”
Age and Gender
But you might face some challenges. Being a female comedian is a lot harder than it looks.
“It’s not easy. Women have to deal with the preconceived notion that women aren’t funny. I’m 60. I also have to deal with my age as well as gender. It’s like any industry, you have to work hard and get to the point of being so good at what you do that no one can deny your talent.”
Getting good and bad advice from other comics is par for the course.
“Take any and all gigs you can,” is the worst advice Linda has gotten.
“It’s a good thing thing I stopped listening to the advice early in my career. A good comedian knows that they’re not appropriate for every gig,” says Linda.
But the best advice she ever got —
“Find your voice and be who you are. There’s only one Linda Belt, no one else can tell her story.”
Writing jokes, performing, and making people laugh comes natural to Linda, but driving to and from gigs, and being self-employed is no laughing matter.
“I work frequently, the travel can be difficult but it’s part of the gig. Being self employed is wonderful but it comes with the issue that comedians don’t have any Union or protections that writers, musicians, and actors have. For instance, a club can decide not to hire a woman based on the, once again, ridiculous preconceived notion that women aren’t funny, and what protection do we have. I have no HR to go to,” adds Linda.
“It’s a very difficult industry but I love it. There’s nothing else I’d rather do. It’s my art, my passion.”
The Passionate Art of Comedy in the Time of Corona
No one has been spared from the corona pandemic including comedians.
“All my gigs were cancelled. I lost all my income and I returned deposits for upcoming shows that were cancelled,” says Linda.
But Linda has kept herself busy. She goes for walks, does yoga, catches up on television programs and movies, and spends time writing.
Sanitizing in the age of corona is not too different from her sanitizing ways most of her life.
“I have always been sanitizing everything for the past 40 years, lots of jokes about my neurotic behavior or as my 29 year old son reminded me,
“Mom you trained your whole life for this and you trained your kids as well.”
“I thought that was hilarious. I’m the woman on the plane who wipes down everything, arm rest, seat belt, tray table, even the in-flight magazine,” says Linda.
Social isolation has inspired bits including this one:
“Dear Simon and Garfunkel, I don’t care what you and Julio were doing down by the school yard but if you see Rosie, Queen of Corona, please tell her that I’m going to kick her a$$.”
So as you see, in the time of Corona, comedy is good medicine. “Age old advice — laughter is the best medicine,” says Linda.
What’s on the horizon for Linda Belt?
“To continue to do what I’ve been doing. Performing and bringing more laughter into the world”
Visit Linda’s website and view some of her shows.
Follow & Like Linda’s Facebook page
Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert) is an ultrarunner, gardener, and published author working on her memoir.