The journey of a standup comedian is anything but glamorous. Late nights, empty open mics, and a lot of time spent alone trying to perfect a few brief minutes of material. In many cases, comedy isn’t just their top priority; it’s their only priority.
But for some of the Twin Cities’ most talented comedians, they’re more excited about the audience they see at home than the ones they see on stage.
Shannan Paul and Tiffany Norton can be seen headlining at comedy clubs all over town, including Joke Joint, House of Comedy, and more. They’re also both proud moms who have managed to navigate the delicate balance between parenthood and making a career out of telling jokes.
Shannan is the mother of a seven-year-old boy named Dominic, who she affectionately refers to as the “Cyclone Kid.” While having kids is something that could deter a comedian from pursuing his or her dreams, Shannan’s comedy career actually predates Dominic, as she got her start 11 years ago.
“I used to joke about how I didn’t want kids and how I’d never have kids,” she laughs. “Then when Dominic was born, my primary adventure in life changed.”
Even though her career was fairly well-established, Shannan realized that her family commitments were more important than her comedy commitments.
“There was a about a year where I really didn’t do much comedy,” she says. “I became a single mom, and the idea of not being around was really tough on our family dynamic. As I matured, I was able to work comedy back into the framework of my life, but I’m a mom first and I knew that very early on.”
Shannan’s friend and fellow comedian, Tiffany Norton, followed a slightly different path when it came to being both a comedian and a mom.
When she first really started putting her efforts into standup, Tiffany’s daughter, Paige, was already 11-years-old. While she was reasonably oblivious to her mom’s career, Paige quickly learned that having a comedian for a mom could be awkward.
“In sixth grade her teacher saw me do a set at Joke Joint, saw my last name and put it together,” says Tiffany. “He looked up some of my stuff online, and then he mentioned it to her.”
What happened next is possibly the most awkward mother-daughter conversation that can happen outside of “the talk.”
“She asked me if I talk about her onstage,” she recalls. “So I explained that I did a little bit, but it was more about how I am as a parent and the mistakes I’ve made. Then I showed her a video of me performing and she was OK with it.”
While today Tiffany’s daughter is now well aware of her mom’s comedic aspirations, the Cyclone Kid doesn’t quite grasp Shannan’s night job just yet.
“He’s still young, so it’s easier for him to understand something like, ‘Mom manages a factory or a construction site,’ as opposed to me going somewhere to tell jokes. It’s much easier to grasp.”
And even though he may not be quite as tuned in to her subject matter, Shannan says that it doesn’t limit her from incorporating Dominic into her act.
“There are certain topics that are funnier to me now, and I think I’m able to offer an interesting perspective,” she says. “My son is autistic, and there are unique challenges that come with that. I choose to find comedy in those challenges, and I like that I have the opportunity to bring that to light.”
Even so, Shannan insists that she has no intention of falling into the category of “mom comic” anytime soon.
“My act hasn’t changed dramatically,” she continues. “It’s just like if you had a friend who only wanted to talk about her kids all the time; you’d get sick of calling her. That’s how I feel about doing jokes about my son. If I talked about him all the time, people wouldn’t want to come see me anymore.”
Tiffany, on the other hand, has a slightly different outlook on talking about her family on stage.
“I had a lot of reservations early on; I only talked about myself,” she says. “But you have to give the audience a little bit about your background and where you’re coming from. I’ll talk about my husband and my daughter, but I do it through a filter. I look at it like they don’t have the chance to respond to what I’m saying, so I make sure that I’m very respectful of them.”
In terms of how having kids impacts their goals on stage, both women agree that family life hasn’t deterred them; only changed their aspirations.
“Having a stable home life has really helped me as a comedian,” Tiffany says. “Especially early on. If I was awful, I still had something to come home to and keep my mind on other things.
“In terms of my goals, they aren’t so much different now than they were then, but I have a different strategy,” she continues. “To me the goal is being able to do what you love full time, and still having time for family and things in life that you love.”
The desire for balance between comedy and family is a sentiment that Shannan echoes.
“I’m a comedian, not a Kardashian,” she laughs. “I like having a degree of anonymity. So many comedians say that they want to ‘make it’ and I don’t even know what that is. To me, I want to make a living, have a good family life and be comfortable. I look at comedy like a job – it’s a fun job, but it’s still a job. If I can keep doing it and maintain my quality of life for myself and my family, that’s more important than getting some special on HBO or Comedy Central.”