Karen Rontowski: Bringing laughter to audiences across the nation

15 May

Karen Rontowski performing in Salt Lake City this weekend.

Karen Rontowski performing in Salt Lake City this weekend.

It didn’t take Karen Rontowski long to realize that she would never be happy in an office job—sitting at a desk day after day and not doing what she loves best—making people laugh. Fortunately for the thousands of audiences she has entertained as a comedian for 24 years, she opted for standup.
For those of you living here in Utah—good news! Rontowski returns to Salt Lake City this weekend for five shows at Wiseguys Comedy Club at Trolley Square. She performs on May 16 at 7:30 p.m., and both May 17 and 18 at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. (tickets at wiseguyscomedy.com). Her upbeat, optimistic and clean sense of humor has made her a Utah favorite for years.
“I earned my diploma in graphic arts specialization, but I knew I had no interest in that at all,” she said during a telephone conversation from her home in southern California. “In fact, I took a summer internship to earn some extra credits because I couldn’t wait to get out of college.”
She says comics “are almost always born that way. I listened to a lot of albums growing up—comics like Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart and Steve Martin. When I was about 10, I actually performed at a church talent night, telling old jokes. Once I heard people laughing, I think I was hooked.”
She worked for a time at a hotel in Las Vegas, where a bellman took her to an Open Mic night at a comedy club. It’s where amateur comedians get to perform in front of live audiences. “I got up on stage that night, and I wasn’t very good,” she recalled. “But everyone around me was so nice, and I loved being around comedy.”
Her skills and writing improved quickly, and she discovered that being a comic “gave me license to be a little flaky, which I am. I mean, I’m a vegan, I have a house full of crystal, and I read Tarot cards. So comedy was like my day job that supported me and allowed me to be involved in all of these other things.”
Rontowski has worked in Utah for several years, and she’s quick to praise Wiseguys owner Keith Stubbs for his support of her career.
“I came to Wiseguys one time to work, I thought, as an opening act. But Keith said, ‘No, you’re a headliner.’” And she’s been headlining here, and everywhere else, since.
Though she’s appeared on Comedy Central and Comics Unleashed, is a regular on the Bob and Tom radio show, and has opened for the likes of Bob Hope, Ray Charles and even The Monkees, she may best be known for her appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in September of 2011. Her four-plus minute monologue had the audience rolling, and even Letterman himself came over to thank her personally after the performance. You can watch her performance on her website, at karenrontowski.com.
The last year has been a busy one for her—209 days on the road across the country. “I’m going to cut back on that going forward. Even though I love to perform, I miss spending more time at home,” she said. And she loves Utah audiences, who relate to her clean humor and her tales of dealing with family.
“People want to laugh,” she said. “They want to have a good time. Comedy clubs help free them from stress.” As to her decision not to use blue humor in her routines, she added, “I just don’t think like that—it doesn’t occur to me to write jokes like that. And it’s always paid off. I feel being clean makes audiences comfortable. There’s a lot of emphasis on blue humor on Comedy Central, for example, and that’s fine. But I know that if a comedian can do blue humor, they can also do clean humor.”
One thing audiences do learn from Karen’s routines is that she’s a ghost hunter, a fan of the paranormal and a paranormal investigator. Often when she’s on the road performing, she’ll visit local haunts—literally.
“Sometimes a ghost will just do the same thing over and over in life,” she said. “That’s why I want to move into a house that is haunted by a maid.”
Yup, that’s funny. And that’s Karen Rontowski—here, in town, on stage, this weekend. Don’t miss her.
–Tom Haraldsen

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