MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER
All bets were off when Leighann Lord took the Amphitheater stage on Tuesday afternoon.
She opened first with a brag on the Institution, calling it the best adult summer camp she’s ever attended. She followed with a little brag on herself: Her audience was a little bigger than Lewis Black’s on Monday night, she said. But she likes Black.
“He’s so angry, he’s like an honorary Black woman,” she said.
Lord loved that so many people brought their dogs to Chautauqua, and asked if the cats were at home fending for themselves. She recently adopted a cat, and said the people at the shelter tried to get her to take more, saying her cat had a girlfriend.
“That’s a hard ‘no,’ because I’m not going to be the only single person in my house. Let me be very clear, I’m his woman now,” she said.
Having always been a dog person, she was used to dogs’ willingness to give unconditional love.
“Cats teach you about consent,” she said.
Lord was just getting started with her Interfaith Series Lecture, but her lecture followed a stand-up comedy format. The act, “I’m Not Funny, I’m Brave,” was the second of three lectures themed “The Authentic Comedic Voice: Truth Born of Struggle.”
Hailing from South Jamaica, Queens, Lord said people often get nervous when she tells people she’s from New York.
“They think I’m going to rob them or something,” she said. “So I do. I don’t want to disappoint. I’m such a people pleaser.”
Lord is an accomplished and well-traveled comedian, having performed in all 50 states.
“I can honestly say we don’t need all 50,” she said.
She’s also performed internationally, including in England, where she said the pound was worth much more than the dollar.
“So much so that I found a pound on the street, brought it back and bought a house,” she said.
In reality, Lord did buy a house recently — an old one, which garnered understanding groans from the crowd. She went through a long list of maintenance issues. When her water heater broke, the plumber said there were birds in her chimney.
“They sound like freeloaders,” she told the plumber.
A chimney guy got rid of the birds, but found a crack in the chimney. He showed her pictures; she could not discern whether they were of the chimney or his colonoscopy. Later, a guy came to fix her roof and found squirrels. She called an exterminator, but it is illegal in New York to kill squirrels. Lord said it’s because they have a strong political lobby in Albany.
Instead, a man came, trapped the squirrels, and moved them across town.
“Sounds sketchy, doesn’t it?” she said. “Because how do I know that some guy over there isn’t trapping squirrels and bringing them back over here? You can’t exactly go up to a squirrel and say, ‘Hey, you don’t look like you’re from around here,’ because that’s racist.”
Lord has been in and out of Home Depot, she said, including when she needed a new light bulb. She brought it to the store, but had to wait multiple shifts for the one and only Home Depot employee who knows where anything is arrived, which she said is the case at every Home Depot. He got her the right bulb, though.
But, it didn’t work. She called an electrician who told her the house’s entire electrical grid needed to be replaced.
“So, I’m dating the electrician ‘cause momma is all out of Bitcoin,” she said.
Lord moved on. She wanted to keep introducing herself. Turns out, she is the first person in her nuclear family to graduate from college, having attended UCLA — the University on the Corner of Lexington Avenue, she joked.
As an English major, Lord said it was a challenge to date online, because she is constantly proofreading, editing and sending in corrections. She can’t understand how one can be a man of his word if he can’t even spell the word.
Originally, she went as a finance major, but she wasn’t good at math. No worries, she said, because a lot of people are not good at math.
Recently, at the grocery store, her total was $8.58. She gave a $10 bill, then found 50 cents and handed it to the cashier, who was mortified. She had no idea how much change to give, she told Lord. Lord told her $10, because she’s not good at math.
Lord is thinking of going back to school, however. She said graduate school was a lot of fun for her.
“But I’m still uncomfortable telling people I went to Harvard, especially since I didn’t,” she said. “People get mad at affirmative action; not so much about affirmative imagination.”
College is too expensive nowadays, she said. Moreover, she doesn’t understand why there aren’t any sales, such as buying a bachelor’s degree and getting a doctorate for half price.
For a few years, Lord worked in a financial service’s communications department. She found out about layoffs before others, but couldn’t tell them, so she tried to hint to them not to buy a house.
“I worked with financial experts, people who used to say the housing crisis was caused by people who couldn’t pay their mortgage,” she said. “That’s like saying slavery was caused by people not running away fast enough.”
Lord is self-employed now, but a drawback to that is she can’t call in sick because she knows she’s lying, she said.
Although she attended Catholic school, Lord isn’t Catholic now. She didn’t leave formally, she just unfriended them on Facebook, she said. She does think people should choose their religion based on their personality. Laid-back people should practice zen, nature lovers should be druids and those in a hurry should switch to Geico, she said.
“I thought about being a Buddhist, but then I read that Buddha left his wife and baby to seek enlightenment,” she said. “Wow. Buddha is a deadbeat dad. That’s why you don’t hear about the second coming of Buddha. He’d have to pay a lot of back child support.”
As a New Yorker, Lord said she is genuinely intrigued by the Jewish religion and culture, and thought about converting because she was dating a Jew.
“But as a Black woman, I think I have all the oppression I can handle,” she said.
She thought of another possible religious conversion.
“Islam seems progressive and friendly for women,” she said, trailing off to another laugh from the audience. “I have trouble with cultures that think women should be covered up so as not to sexually tempt the men. Apparently, these men have no self-control. Honestly, if that’s the case, then maybe instead of covering the women, we should blindfold the men.”
The Amp echoed with cheering and applause.
Ultimately, Lord said she’s a humanist, but humans are a hard species to love for her. So maybe she’s more of a doggist, she said.
Religion is admittedly hard to joke about because everyone believes something different, she said. For example, a friend of hers is convinced aliens built the pyramids because they said we have no real idea who built it.
“I said, ‘Dude, I don’t know who put the shingles on the roof of my house. Doesn’t mean Klingons did it,’ ” Lord told her friend.
Looking at the week, Lord agreed with other speakers that people lately have been on edge and angry.
“Which is sad, because Black women, we were angry first,” she said. “We had a good 200- to 300-year start.”
Lord is currently in therapy, and she said it was expensive. One guy wanted to charge her $150 an hour, and she said she could just talk to the voices in her head for free.
“I do recommend therapy to self-help books,” she said. “I don’t think mental health should be do-it-yourself. The no. 1 killer in the U.S. right now is stress. The no. 2 killer is this dude on my block named Quan. Actually, it’s Killer Quan because, you know, Instagram.”
Actually, Lord’s stress comes from watching too much Fox News and CNN — she watches both so she can be equally misinformed, she said.
Her biggest issue with politics is that it shouldn’t matter how much money someone has, she said, but how attractive they look.
“I didn’t vote for Obama because he’s Black, I voted for him because he’s cute,” she said. “I honestly think the president of the United States should be drop-dead gorgeous. If you’re going to screw up the country for four, possibly eight, years then you better be easy on the eyes.”
She does try to keep up with the news, but doesn’t understand much of what’s happening in China.
“But, I don’t think we should piss off the people who sew our clothes, cook our food and make our toys,” she said.
Russia is confusing to her, too, because the U.S. and Russia went from World War II allies to the Cold War, Cuban missile crisis, six James Bond movies and “Rocky IV.”
“Some will remember in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia,” she said. “George Bush didn’t know what to do. He was calling up Jimmy Carter like, ‘You’re from Georgia, do something.’ ”
Lord moved on from politics to talk about health. She said she went to the doctor last week, and he told her no caffeine, no fatty foods and no alcohol. She told him, no copay.
She acknowledged she had gained some weight, and she really wanted Botox and liposuction, but her budget called for self-acceptance.
When shopping, she can’t believe that women’s sizes start at size 0. She wonder if a baby starts at negative 42.
“You are not a size 0 if people can see you,” she said.
Lord once had a bad case of fibroids, so much so she looked pregnant, she said. At dinner one night, she ordered a glass of merlot, and her waiter questioned her decision. She told him he was right and ordered a rum and Coke instead.
Lord did have surgery — she got a myomectomy.
“So I guess I gentrified my uterus,” she said. “It’s very beautiful now.”
Lord said she is baffled that people try to tell women what to do with their bodies.
“It just doesn’t add up,” she said. “One egg, 1 million sperm and I’m the problem?”
She wants people to be mothers if they want, but she said it’s hard with her 77- and 84-year-old children. Caregiving for her parents has been a true role reversal, she said.
“I took my mom to the dentist, and she’s dragging her feet and doesn’t want to get in the chair,” she said. “I heard myself say, ‘If you behave yourself, I’ll take you to the liquor store.’ ”
Aging is a funny thing to Lord. She said she is at an age where police officers are looking really young to her. She saw one cop who she thought was trick-or-treating.
“I said, ‘Hey, little boy, want some candy?’ I got arrested,” she said.
Lord has realized the body doesn’t age all at once.
“My taste buds are still tasting,” she said. “My colon is not a team player. My heart is still young. My knees walked to freedom with Harriet Tubman.”
She doesn’t like to share her age — she said it’s just another way for people to discriminate. One of her biggest fears is when she’s much older, she’ll be murdered and the people on the news will say her age.
Lord said she is taping a Showtime special called “Funny Women of a Certain Age” next month, and she said she loves that women are 52% of the population but only make 85 cents to the dollar a man makes.
“That’s why I don’t feel bad about shoplifting,” she said.
Furthermore, she said, Black women only make 65 cents — so if someone didn’t like a joke, they should realize she only wrote 65% of it, she said.
If time is money, she said, and she isn’t getting paid a full dollar, then her 12-hour shift should be reduced to eight; her 9 to 5 is now 9 to 2, and her weekend should start on Wednesday.
It was time to wrap up, and Lord wanted the audience to reflect on everything they just heard. Seriously, this time. The title of her talk mentions bravery, and she said there is bravery in coming on stage to talk about issues that, on the surface, are not funny.
“I joked about crime, gentrification, travel, education, money, homeownership, squirrels, higher education, affirmative action, employment, unemployment, the 2008 financial crisis, the three major religions with honorable mentions to Buddhism, humanism and atheism, stereotypes, mental health, politics, foreign policy, health insurance, women’s health, female body autonomy, caregiving, aging parents, ageism, gender and ethnic pay inequality with a possible solution,” she said.
Ultimately, Lord talked about life.
“I use my comedy to enlighten and entertain because I believe humor makes people happy,” she said. “Happiness gives us hope, and my hope is if we can laugh together, we can live together.”