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Comedian Leanne Morgan on her unusual road to success and new Netflix special


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: Leanne Morgan finds comedy in the chaos of marriage and motherhood. She's a storyteller who draws from her experiences growing up in rural Tennessee, being married for over 30 years, raising three kids, and becoming a grandmother for the first time.

Leanne Morgan, Comedian: When my boy and his wife found out about this precious baby, they would say "their baby."


Leanne Morgan: And we would say "our baby." And then they started using words like boundaries.


Geoff Bennett: Now at 57 years old, Leanne Morgan's stand-up career is taking off, and she's just released her first Netflix stand-up special.

Leanne Morgan: They are going to have this precious baby, and they're going to be up all night, and that's going to go into weeks and months. And then my little daughter-in-law is going to start hallucinating.


Leanne Morgan: And then she's going to wake up in the night and she will be breast-feeding a lamp.


Leanne Morgan: And we will see who's got boundaries.


Geoff Bennett: I sat down with her in New York City to talk about her unconventional comedy career.

Most comedians get their starts in comedy clubs or in writers rooms. You found your way to professional stand-up by selling jewelry; is that right?

Leanne Morgan: Yes, my darling.

OK, so, my husband and I met at the University of Tennessee, and when we graduated, he bought a used mobile home business, where he refurbished mobile homes and sold them. And he moved me to Bean Station, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. And I started selling jewelry.

Geoff Bennett: And you're going house to house doing this?

Leanne Morgan: I'm going house to house at night. My husband took care of the baby. And then I was supposed to be talking about jewelry, and I would schlep this big jewelry case around. And I didn't talk about jewelry. I talked about breast-feeding and hemorrhoids, and I developed a shtick, really, an act.

And women thought I was funny and started booking me about a year in advance.

Geoff Bennett: Wow.

Leanne Morgan: And that gave me the confidence. People would say, you need to be a stand-up.

Geoff Bennett: Is that what you wanted for yourself? Did you want to be a stand-up comedian?

Leanne Morgan: I wanted to be in show business and I thought I was funny. And I always loved comedy, but I didn't know what that -- what it would end up. But, stand-up, I knew I could tell a story.

MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, Leanne Morgan!


Geoff Bennett: After two decades on stage, Leanne's first special on YouTube has more than 50 million views. Her new Netflix special reached the top 10.

Leanne Morgan: My husband and I met, and I was so cute. And I was little. I had on little britches. Any my thyroid was functioning.


Leanne Morgan: Now I truly believe he would not pull me out of a burning vehicle.


Geoff Bennett: Your family provides fodder for so much of your act. How do they feel about that?

Leanne Morgan: They feel fine about it now. When they were in middle school, my children said: "Do not speak my name."

And they also said: "Don't come up to the school with yoga pants on."


Leanne Morgan: So that was a dry time for me. And my husband only one time has said to me: "Don't say that again."

I said something about, I wanted something, but it was a bad a mobile home year. And he said: "I have always provided for you. Do not say that again."

And it hurt me for him. And I have never said anything like that again. But he doesn't care about anything else.

And, in my twisted mind, I think, oh, I can lose 40 pounds in four weeks.


Geoff Bennett: Leanne's act is relatable, and a reflection of her life, comedy with a common touch.

Leanne Morgan: I have done every diet in the world. My momma and my sister and I took Dexatrim. Do you all remember Dexatrim?


Leanne Morgan: Yes. It was speed.


Leanne Morgan: We took speed as a family.


Leanne Morgan: They sold it on the shelves everywhere, and we were all taking dope. That -- and that's funny how things resonate with people, because I have had more comments of people saying, oh, my gosh, my mom and I took Dexatrim together.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

Leanne Morgan: My momma gave it to us, and I was this big around. And I was raised by farming people and out in the middle -- we knew where our beef was coming from.

I was tiny, and then taking diet pills on top of that. I would now, but I think my heart would flutter.

Geoff Bennett: Right. Right.

Leanne Morgan: I'm out here on the porch, and I'm looking rough.

Geoff Bennett: When COVID hit, Leanne was about to start a 100-city tour, and, like many others, leaned into social media and cooking.

Leanne Morgan: You just mix that all together and you chill it, and its really good.

I started talking about my recipes and taking care of my little mom and daddy. They needed me. And what I was feeding them and my family. And it grew more than I ever thought it would. So -- and that was a helpful thing. As horrible as all that was, I think it helped grow my audience, because people were at home and...

Geoff Bennett: Yes. And it gave them a point of connection.

Leanne Morgan: And people start making all this Jell-O all over the United States. And I know Jell-O is very divisive.


Geoff Bennett: It's controversial. That's right.

Leanne Morgan: It's very controversial.


Leanne Morgan: But where I'm from, in the -- you know, in the Middle Tennessee, we love a good gelatin salad with a little pineapple, pecan, little cottage cheese or cream cheese, a little Cool Whip.

Geoff Bennett: Wow. OK.

Leanne Morgan: Yes. I know, Geoff.

Geoff Bennett: Yes, that's way beyond -- that's beyond...


Leanne Morgan: I know. You look -- I know. I don't want to worry you, but, yes, to us, that's a big -- it's nice to take to a church supper.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

The thing I really loved about your act is that there's no underlying political or social message. It really is just about the laughs. It's about finding the funny moments in family and growing older.

Leanne Morgan: And I understand how people want to do that and do comedy that way. But I have just never written that way or ever thought that way.

Plus, I thought, nobody cares what I think. And I don't -- I want it to be fun. I don't want anybody to feel uncomfortable. And -- but, yes, that's how -- I don't write that way. You know, I probably don't read enough, Geoff, to know what's going on.


Geoff Bennett: Leanne says this run of success couldn't have happened at a better time. She just signed on to star in a Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon comedy. And she is back on the road on a national stand-up tour this summer.

The tour is called Just Getting Started. Is that how it feels?

Leanne Morgan: Yes, Geoff.

OK, when you're from the country, like I am, were meemaws. We like to start cooking pinto beans and wearing house dresses.


Geoff Bennett: Right.

Leanne Morgan: And I thought, I'm just going to bow out of this thing. And then this happened.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

Leanne Morgan: When I look back on it, because I have had television deals for sitcoms. I have had four deals. And they would not make it. My children were little, and I would be devastated.

And I look back on it now and I think, oh, my gosh, that was not the right time. I got to raise these children in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then now they don't need me like they used to. They still need me. And then this happened to me at this time in my life. And I'm having a ball.

Geoff Bennett: Yes. Yes.

Leanne Morgan: I'm having a ball. And it's bigger and more wonderful and more special than anything I ever dreamed of.

Amna Nawaz: I love that she says your name with two syllables, Geoff.


Amna Nawaz: Was that a trip? Were you just laughing the whole time?

Geoff Bennett: Isn't she the best?

And I got to say, as part of our tour, she sold out the Grand Ole Opry, which is a big deal for anybody, but certainly somebody from Tennessee.

Amna Nawaz: Good for her.

Geoff Bennett: Yes. She's something else.

And that interview was part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

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