Still Standing

Thanks to NBC’s Last Comic Standing, Michele Balan is a household name in over 8 million American homes. In her first interview since the series finale, she tells GO how reality TV has rocked her reality!


GO NYC: You just got back from Last Comic Standing. Now let’s see if I got this straight-

Michele Balan: So to speak…

[Laugh] So you were the fourth-to-last comic standing, right?

I was the last woman comic standing.

Right. How was that whole experience? I mean, it’s kind of a competition about art, isn’t it?

Is that what you call it? Art? I think it’s impossible to compare comedians. It’s apples and oranges. I mean, On American Idol, they sing well or they don’t but they’re not writing the damn songs. They either hit the notes or they don’t. Comics—we’re all so different, you know? How do you compare me to Josh Blue with cerebral palsy? Or Chris Porter, who always talks about drugs and condoms? When do I ever use condoms? There is not one condom joke in my act.

Then hopefully you’ve learned something.

Yeah. I didn’t win Last Comic Standing because I couldn’t meet the condom joke requirement! I gotta get a condom joke. I’ll say I use one for the trash bag in my parakeet’s cage and now my gerbil’s jealous!

We both laugh too loudly, inviting cold stares from other diners.

How has the show affected your career?

People come up to me now and say, “We’ve never seen you before.” It’s like I came out of nowhere. They think I’m an overnight success. They don’t realize it’s a 20-year overnight success. They think I just came outta Starbucks and decided to do stand up and there I was on NBC! They don’t know the years and years, the struggles, the suicide attempts and the “I’m gonna go work at K-Mart” kinda stuff. I was the oldest comic on the show by far! I was in fact, the last perimenopausal comic standing!

Did a lot of people ask your age?

Everyone. But I lied. I mean, I was in Hollywood—I had to reduce! And it is earlier there so it’s not a complete lie.

Let’s get back to the career.

My art, yes.

The show just ended last week.

And now I have a whole other set of craziness. I got people calling who wouldn’t return my calls a couple of years ago. Managers, agents, and now I’m a headliner! Clubs I never even worked as an MC or a middle are booking me to headline. Whole circuits.

Have you noticed any differences in your audiences?

Yeah, it’s funny. I just did a show in Jacksonville, Fl. It was booked before I did Last Comic Standing. It sold out and they had to add a second show. And the audience was half lesbian and half straight couples. I swear, it was split in half. It looked like West Side Story: the Jets and the Dykes!

On the show, no one ever said you were a lesbian. Was that on purpose?

In the house and behind the scenes everyone knew and we’d joke about it a lot but NBC apparently chose to edit it out. On my last show, I did one joke—“My boyfriend and I had a fight. He doesn’t like that I’m a lesbian!” That was live so they couldn’t edit it. Anyway, I did the joke and the next week I left! America voted! Maybe there are people in Arkansas going, “Oh my God, it’s bad enough she’s Jewish, now look! She really doesn’t eat pork!”

But seriously, I have a new demographic in my live audiences. I’ve worked in some comedy clubs, but for the most part I’ve done big gay events, cruises, P-town. Now I get onstage and I see all these straight people who know me from the show but know nothing else about me and I see my loyal, gay people and I feel the pressure to do gay jokes and I think, how am I going to make them all happy? So I’m trying to be me but I’m also trying to appeal to this new audience. This past weekend, it went very well but I’m afraid gay audiences are gonna get mad at me if I’m not all gay all the time. It’s confusing. Before, [straight audiences] didn’t come to see Michele Balan because they didn’t know who the hell she was. Now I’m scared they won’t come because she’s a carpet muncher!

I once had a teacher who said the stage was not a good place to hide. I’ve seen your work and I know you’re an honest comic with an honest act. I’m sure you will find a way to please the folks and yourself.

Come on, Eric. We’re two Jews here. You can’t really expect me to believe something could work out? Who the hell taught you how to worry?! But on a positive note, I’m not just the last, perimenopausal, woman comic standing; I’m the last, Jewish, perimenopausal, woman comic standing.

As we walk to my car, Michele says, “Hey, I just realized, I’m the last, homosexual Jewish, perimenopausal, woman comic standing.” I let out one last laugh, kiss the funny lady and start the engine.

As I pull out, I hear Michele yelling, “Hey, I’m the last homosexual, Jewish, perimenopausal, woman comic who wears bifocal contacts…”

I look in my rear view mirror and, without a doubt, she is still standing.

Eric Kornfeld has written on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, The Caroline Rhea Show and the sitcom, Bette. He worte Miss M’s successful Kiss My Brass tour and is currently writing a musical for Broadway with John McDaniel.

What Do You Think?