GTPulse: Sunshine and Punchlines – Traverse City Woman Dazzles In Comedy
A southern belle, a jew and a comedian walk into a bar – it’s not a joke, it’s Jody Cohen. The freshly transplanted Traverse City resident is the newest addition to the Parallel 45 team and moving up here in the winter has left her some free time in the theatre’s offseason. To bide her time she’s telling jokes at Union Street Station’s open mic night every Tuesday night. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a funny girl.
This past Tuesday I met up with Jody to watch her tell jokes on Union Street Station’s stage. She was wearing snow boots but had her cowboy boots in hand when I sat down, the boots she usually performs in. She has some preshow nervous energy, but when she takes the stage she’s confident and effervescent. She jokes about growing up Jewish, being new to the North, financial portfolios and dating.
“This milkshake,” she said gesturing to her waist and butt, “brings all the Trump supporters to the yard.”
She forms an almost instant rapport with the audience.
I had coffee with Jody a week before the show to ask her all about her comedy, her life and how she got here. Before meeting I was expecting her to have a thick, honey-dipped southern drawl. She didn’t.
“I’m not drunk or angry,” she joked when I asked about her absence of dialect. “Sometimes it slides out when I’m using my phone voice, you know? If I’m leaving a message, ‘Call me back. Six three nahn. I have to really guise it. It’s in the words I say more than it’s in my accent.”
The Atlanta native was a theatre major in college, and like most theatre majors, it’s led to an interesting life full of adventure and uncertainty.
“I studied theatre in college and in grad school. I went to two top 10 conservatory schools and my parents didn’t really get it until I got accepted to Carnegie Mellon.”
Jody felt some familial pressure to pursue a safer and more conservative path like medicine or law, but she knew she was passionate about theatre and wanted to make a career out of it. Between undergrad and graduate school, Jody landed her first theatre job stage managing at Busch Gardens.
“I met some of the coolest people, some people who are still my closest friends I met during that first year out of college.”
“Next thing I knew I was moving to Pittsburgh. Pittsburg Shitsburg, I was like whatever I’m gonna be here for school I’m not gonna get to do anything.”
She fell in love with Pittsburgh, bought a house and crafted a life worth living for herself in the city she had felt so indifferent towards at first.
An opportunity to work for The Atlanta Opera House drew Jody back home again, and when they laid her off in June of last year, she began looking for a new job.
A friend that she worked with at the opera house in Atlanta also worked at Parallel 45 Theatre.
“He’s been the set designer up here for a few summers now and they were in a bit of a pickle last summer.”
Their production manager left right before the season began.
“My friend emailed me and said, ‘I heard about what happened at the opera, I’m so sorry, that sucks but you’re needed in Traverse City.’”
Jody was offered the job before actually seeing Traverse City, and upon receiving an offer from Parallel 45 she came, saw, and decided to stay.
“I just knew. I love it.”
Comedy is something that Jody has been honing since going to an open mic a summer evening with friends a couple of years ago. She couldn’t believe that there were hardly any female comedians.
“Only one was female. She was hilarious. I made this promise to myself that I was gonna get up and tell five minutes of jokes by the end of the summer. Well, Labor Day came and it was like, now it’s my turn.”
Like any other creative craft, there are buzzy highs and discouraging lows. Jody described the electric feeling of how it felt to walk off a stage after a particularly successful set, but she also talked about bombing.
“You totally ride the wave. Some jokes you tell that kill in some places, completely crash in other places. You just kind of shake it off. There are days you crash. The first time I crashed terribly there was nothing that could be worse. I didn’t ever wanna tell jokes again.”
She took classes from a female comedian who promoted women getting into comedy, and Jody wants that too. She thinks that more women should try comedy, a typically male-dominated world. At this past Tuesday’s comedy open mic, Jody was one of two women performing. That doesn’t intimidate her, however. She smiled, clapped and laughed in support of the other performers until it was her turn.
Before parting ways at the coffee shop, Jody told me that she’d find a way to get me on stage. At the bar when I sat down with Jody and the two other ladies she was sitting with I asked if they were comedians too. They both quickly said that they were just here to support significant others, and not comedians.
“Not yet,” Jody said grinning at the two of them.