Artist profile: comedienne Brooke Louellen Smith

[Editor’s note: this interview originally took place in February, a few weeks before the COVID pandemic started. It was planned for this interview to be published by April or May when it was assumed that the pandemic would end and live shows would begin again. Sadly, as of January 2021, we are still not back to live shows. We are hopeful that live music, theater, and comedy will return this year. When it does return, we encourage everyone to go back to the theaters, art galleries, concerts, and stand-up comedy shows.]

During 2019 and early 2020, Brooke Louellen Smith hosted her Open Mic Comedy Nights at The Noelke Gallery every Thursday night, up until the pandemic started in March 2019.

Smith and her family are originally from Greenville, Mississippi, but moved to Thomaston several years ago. In this interview, Smith talks about why she got into comedy, why it’s important to keep material fresh, and how she has struggled to make a name for herself as a comedienne.

Winsted Phoenix: To you, what is the definition of comedy?

Brooke Louellen Smith: It’s really funny because I have the actual definition of comedy on my phone because I was going to turn it into a joke. It’s about being satirical and pulling on people’s emotions. To me, it means making people laugh and making people happy.

WP: How does it make you feel when you make people laugh?

BLS: It makes me feel happy with myself that I am putting joy into the world. Also, I like the attention. So I’m like yes! Love me!

WP: Do you feel the love when you are on stage?

BLS: Oh yeah. When I get up on stage I become a different person and a different form of myself. The second I get in front of people I am using every bit of energy that I have and I am trying my best to touch every person in the audience. I want them all to laugh at something.

WP: How hard is it?

BLS: It’s very difficult. Some people go up on stage and it will be their first time. They will make people laugh but then they get a big head about it. They’re like ‘I’m good at this!” You should keep doing it. If it’s something you are passionate about it, keep doing it. But over time, just like writing, you have to keep writing constantly. You have to know that if you keep going to the same place all the time and tell the same stories and jokes, it’s going to stop being funny because people know what you’re going to say.

I regularly go to The Elbow Room Open Mic in West Hartford and for a while, I was saying the same things and not rotating them. They weren’t working anymore because these people have heard everything that I said. It forces you to write more and think outside of the box and try your best to keep being funny.

WP: How do you get your material?

BLS: I take mostly true stories and use them for my material. I would say 90 to 95 percent of what I say is true, but a little bit exaggerated. Or, it’s a completely true story and I just deliver it in a funny way. You can’t teach stage presence. I’m not saying mine is perfect, but some people will tell you a funny story. If you don’t deliver it in a funny or charismatic way, no one is going to care and no one is going to laugh. You have to be comfortable because if you are not comfortable, people can tell. People can feel your energy when you are performing. If it’s nervous energy, they feel nervous for you. If it’s a happy, light, and fun energy, they are going to feel the same thing.

WP: Do you have to read a crowd when you are performing?

BLS: You have to read the crowd. It’s a big thing. Like, if I come off with a real dirty joke in the beginning and nobody likes it, I’m like, I have to tell different kinds of stories. Or reword it so it doesn’t sound as bad.

WP: What brought you into comedy? Why did you get into it?

BLS: I have loved comedy since I was a child. I remember the first comedy album I listened to was Bill Engvall because I lived down south. He was very popular and I would listen to it with my dad when he was driving in his truck. Just watching my parents get so affected by something to see them being taken over by full laughter. I was like, that’s so cool to make someone laugh that hard! I remember being a kid and making people laugh very hard. I was like…this is cool!

When I was about 13 I watched a bunch of stand-up comedy. I told my mom that I wanted to try comedy. She goes “Well okay, make me laugh!” It’s my mom, so I’m like…I can’t.

Cut to when I was 24 and I was in a rocky relationship. I kept thinking that I don’t have any hobbies and I don’t do anything for myself. I miss performing because I used to always be in chorus or band, or something where I was in front of a crowd. I was like, what do I do?

So I wanted to try comedy. But the person I was dating was like “Why are you going to do that? It’s weird.” Then I was like…now I am going to try that. I drove myself to do it. At every step, no one was like “Yeah you can do it!” No one was like “That sounds cool to try that!”

No one ever thought I was funny. And I was like “I will prove you all wrong!”

WP: You had to fight against your family, your friends, your boyfriend…everybody.

BLS: Literally, no one at the time thought I could do it. When I was on stage I wasn’t being myself anymore. I am very bubbly and funny with my friends, which a lot of people are. But I’m naturally a performing type person. I just want to put that energy into people. I love putting it out there.

My first comedy open mic was in Hartford at the CT Comedy Improv two years ago. I was nervous and I didn’t know how anything worked. I didn’t know where the sign-up sheet was or how much time I had. I was supposed to be on stage somewhere towards the middle of the show. When I went up, I just didn’t write anything down beforehand. I just spewed out words for five minutes.

People laughed. It wasn’t constant laughter, but it was laughter. I told the audience it was my first time, and if you do that people are always going to be nice to you. From that moment I felt good about performing. At first, I was shaking like a leaf. But I felt great. After that, I did it sparingly at first, and more over time. I love it.

WP: Why did you move from Mississippi to Connecticut?

BLS: I was 10 and I had no choice because my parents got a divorce. All my mother’s family is here in Connecticut and all of my father’s family is in Mississippi. She only had Connecticut to go to because she did not want to be with his family anymore because she felt like an outsider. She wanted to be back with her mother and sisters. Mississippi to Connecticut is not close.
It took them 10 years to finally get a divorce. They were both in very committed relationships during that time, and I was like “Can you both not be married to each other? Because that would be cool.”

When I came here it was like a culture shock. I was three years behind in math. I went from being a genius surrounded by idiots to being an idiot surrounded by…bunches of people smarter than I was.

We had a computer class…but I didn’t have a computer class back in Mississippi. The teachers didn’t even have computers. Ain’t nobody down south had a computer. I failed that real hard. I didn’t even know how to type. It was crazy. I was Mississippi poor because I was surrounded by all of these Connecticut kids with technology. Bleah.

WP: You could go anywhere you wanted to go. So why are you staying here in Connecticut?

BLS: Right now I work at a radio station as an on-air personality on 95.9 FM The Fox. and I want to get some time under my belt. I take radio experience and go anywhere. I’m on every other Sunday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. There’s no name for my show because Sunday people don’t have show names.

WP: Tell me about the Comedy Open Mic Nights at Noelke Gallery.

BLS: I wasn’t doing an open mic night there at first. I was only doing Bear Skeleton Comedy Shows once in a while. John [Noelke, owner of the gallery] wanted comedy there every week. I was like, that’s a lot of shows to put together and a lot to do! So I presented an idea where we could do a comedy open mic every month. I went to talk to John and he was wearing a cowboy hat, and I was wearing a big rimmed hat. We ended up being pals all of a sudden and he was excited. He was so excited: “Comedy? Let’s get comedy in here! Comedy! Comedy! Comedy!”

From that moment he’s been driven into the comedy realm and he loves it. I love it because Noelke is like another gallery to me.

WP: What would you say to people to encourage them to get up on stage and do open mic comedy?

BLS: Only do it if you want to. If you have no desire to perform in front of people, comedy is not the way to perform at all. That doesn’t sound encouraging, but what I mean is that if you have the desire to be charismatic in front of people and you want to make people laugh, if you think that you are funny do an open mic. If you’ve told yourself for years that you want to try it, you have to find a mic where you are comfortable. Maybe an open mic where you don’t know anybody. Sometimes it’s better where you perform around the fewer people you know. People sometimes get false feedback if you bring a lot of friends and it’s somewhere where people know you and people like you, you’re going to get false feedback. Go somewhere where no one knows you and try. But if you are just doing it as a hobby for something to do, go anywhere and do what you want. Just be happy in the moment and enjoy it.

But if you are very serious about standing up, then put all of your efforts into it. Write everything down, even stupid things. Go and read it off of your notebook, read it off of your phone, work on it.

Don’t ever let people tell you not to do something. If I ever listened to people when I started doing comedy I wouldn’t be doing it. Because they all thought it was weird.