Stephanie Bass is divorced. Diagnosed with ADD as an adult, she’s worked at an ever-changing series of jobs: publishing, marketing, credit card redemption, Trader Joe’s cashier, teacher (she ran a class on how to hire a decorator).
For the past 15 years she’s lived with her cat in a small, eclectically jam-packed cottage on Compo Hill.
“My life turned out remarkably well,” Stephanie says.
“I grew up in a shitty town in upstate New York. All the girls got pregnant, moved into apartments above the bakery, and never left.
“Kids who grow up in Westport want to move back. My daughter lives nearby.”
She pauses. “I feel like I won the Jewish mother lottery.”
If that strikes you as a funny line, it is.
Stephanie Bass is a very funny woman.
As in: She’s a stand-up comic.
Stephanie Bass, in her very cool Westport home.
That’s not the usual line of work for a 71-year-old. Especially one who — before this year — had never told a joke before an audience.
For Stephanie though, it’s one more natural turn on life’s quirky path.
Last year — at her 70th birthday party — Rozanne Gates told her, “You should do stand-up.”
“Everyone — including my shrink — always told me that!” Stephanie said. “It was like the universe was calling.”
Years earlier, she’d taken Westport Continuing Education writing classes with Frank Wiener. “I wrote fabulous stuff, trashing my soon-to-be ex-husband. People howled when I read it in class, ” she says with pride.
She also studied with Jessica Bram at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. “She told me I had something too,” Stephanie says.
In another Continuing Ed class taught by Bob Selverstone, she made a timeline of her life. It included accomplishments, and dreams unfulfilled.
“I realized I had 15 or 20 years left before I go,” she says. “And I realized I had a talent for making people laugh.”
She bought a book on Amazon about how to be a stand-up comic. Then she embarked on the very serious business of learning how to be funny.
Stephanie worked on the craft of writing — and rewriting, and editing down — her material. She discovered the importance of finding her own voice, of timing, of presence.
She took classes. She had private sessions with a stand-up coach. A few months ago, she was finally ready for her debut.
At New York’s famed Gotham Comedy Club.
Stephanie Bass, at the Gotham Comedy Club.
If that sounds daunting, it was.
But she survived. Even better: The audience laughed. At all the right times.
They were laughing with Stephanie. Not at her.
She’s performed more than a dozen times since. She follows the advice to talk about what you know.
In her case it’s raising kids — and being single — in the suburbs.
Being a stand-up comedian has been wonderful. “I’ve come in contact with people I never would have met,” she says wonderingly.
“In Bridgeport, I followed 4 guys in their 20s who dissed old rich white people. I got up and talked about being an old rich white person. In 5 minutes, they were my buddies.”
Stephanie loves the laughs she gets. She also loves what stand-up does for her.
“I’m using my brain,” she says. “That’s what everyone says to do in old age. I think I’m getting younger.”
Westport is no stranger to stand-up. Brad Axelrod started the Treehouse Comedy Club here, years ago. He now has several venues, including Bistro B at the Westport Inn.
That’s where he runs his “Funniest Comic in CT” contest. Stephanie qualified, and will perform on Saturday, June 15.
She’s the only 71-year-old woman on the bill. So she’ll be the only comedian there who can get away with a Jewish mother joke like this one:
“You know Mrs. Zuckerberg? Do you think just because her son went to Harvard and became a billionaire, she still doesn’t give him advice?”
(Stephanie Bass competes in the “Funniest Comic in CT” contest at the Westport Inn’s Bistro B on Saturday, June 15. Click here for tickets.)