Michele Balan, a lesbian comedian who was a finalist on Last Comic Standing, has appeared on shows such as the The Joy Behar Show and Logo Wisecracks in addition to performing throughout the country. She talks with The Advocate about straying away from the 9-to-5 grind and pursuing a career as a comedian.
The Advocate: You left a cushy executive position in New York City for a career in comedy. How did that come about?
Michele Balan: Yes, what was I thinking? People had always told me I was funny and should be a comedian. So I had a moment of confidence — which doesn't happen much for a Jewish girl — and left my job. At the time, it was a good idea, but as I get closer to pension age, I think maybe I should have stuck it out. But in all honesty, I do not regret making the change, even with the lack of security, pension, and health care. At least I don't have to wake up every morning and be somewhere at 9 o'clock a.m. Which, by the way, I never was on time once through that whole career.
Did you consider corporate environments oppressing to those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community?
It was very different in those days. I speak as if it was 1902, but it was in the '70s and '80s, and it was a lot more oppressive than today. I would always be asked when I was going to get married, why I wasn't dating, etc. I was dating, but it was a woman and I would always refer to her as "they" or "them;" like I was dating a group. I could never mention a gender. I would also use excuses for why I wasn't ready to settle down, such that I needed to focus on my career or because my therapist said I wasn't ready!
When you came out as a lesbian, did you take a humorous approach?
Yes, I used to do a joke: I told my grandmother I was a lesbian ... she said, no you're not ... you're Romanian! On your father's side!
Do you seek out to include LGBT material in your stand-up routines or do you mostly draw on personal experiences?
All my material is based on my observations and personal experiences — and that always includes LGBT material.
You were the final female contestant on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. How was that experience?
All competitions are very hard; no one wants to go to work and compete with their coworker every day. When you are in a competition it tends to make everyone a bit of a backstabber. Imagine being in a house with 12 other comics going for the prize — at one point I was hoping to be voted off the island! However, it did make me grow as a comic, as I was forced to be better every week. In the end, I made it to the finals, and it has been great for my career. People still come up to me and tell me that I should have won, and I respond that my fans are so old that they couldn't make that many calls from a rotary phone!
Everyone has that one first date story they can never live down. What’s yours?
I can barely remember yesterday ... My first date was so long ago, it probably took place on a stagecoach!
Who is one of your major influences that inspired you to take a shot in the entertainment business?
I started by doing Bette Midler impersonations in the '80s. I know — I only look 30. I loved Bette, and everyone said I reminded them of her. So I became a female female impersonator. I entered a contest with all the other drag queens at a bar and I won, and the next thing you know, I was booked at gay clubs and house parties. That is how my stage career started. I was an executive at a company by day, Bette Midler by night!
Other than comedy, are you pursuing any other endeavors?
I do travel a lot doing comedy, but I would like to pursue performing my one-woman show that I am writing. I also write for shows. I would also like to get back to pursuing acting. But my biggest goal is to win the lottery, then stay home and watch Law & Order all day!