After three decades as a stand-up comedian, Nancy Norton finally found the spotlight last year when she became the first woman to win the Boston Comedy Festival. With a new album (Born 4th of 3) out this month, the 59-year-old Lafayette resident recently dissected one of the bits that helped her win the prestigious contest—because while explaining a joke might be a drag, it’s also pretty illuminating.

The Bit

I got out of nursing for the same reason a lot of people get into it…to save lives.
“I was a hospice nurse until I was 27. I asked people who were dying, How are you so at peace? They would tell me, Oh honey, I got to live my dream—whatever that was. For me, that was stand-up comedy. At the time, I was living in Honolulu. This new club had opened, and they were holding tryouts. I was like, OK, you have to do this. It was the best two minutes of my life, and they hired me right on the spot.”

I was not meant to be a nurse. It’s all about “them.” MY arm is broken, MY chest is hurting, MY cervix is dilating! Me. Me. Me. Me. Me! And that’s just the doctors.
“This is going to be a name drop, but Tig Notaro gave me this tag line. (I like to remind people that she used to open for me.) I love that line. I’m big on collaboration with my peers. When I started I wanted it all to be something I came up with, but that’s not how good comedy works. You sometimes get lines from other people. It helps a joke evolve.”

I come from five generations of nurses, or as I like to call us: co-dependents. My mom never told me to be a nurse. She tricked me. Through gifts and toys. She brought home leftover gauze, syringes, and needles. Other girls got dolls that wet or dolls that cried. I got a doll that choked and then she died. Her name was Resusci Annie. Chicken bone sold separately.

It was a lot of stress trying to save that doll.
“This is typically where I pretend to drag half a doll out from under the Christmas tree. I feel like my material is delivery-dependent. I’m very demonstrative. When I first started, I would spend hours trying to get a bit down to the right amount of syllables. I realized I was better when I just threw my energy at the back wall.”

If you didn’t act quickly, she would start drifting toward that little dolly white light. Turns out it’s the light from the Easy Bake Oven. Heaven is full of cakes!
“The Easy Bake Oven thing comes up a lot in my comedy. I did a competition recently in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the buzz was some woman did an entire set about an Easy Bake Oven. (It was me.) When I write, I find it’s better to let myself gooooo, baby. I don’t know if I think about structure a ton, but I know my ego needs a laugh every 30 seconds.”

If You Go: Nancy Norton will be celebrating her album release with a night of standup at Comedy Works on Wednesday, October 23, at 7:30 p.m. Purchase tickets here.

This article was originally published in 5280 October 2019.
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan is the former digital editor of and teaches journalism at Regis Jesuit High School.