Stage presence: Attorney stakes her claim to value of 'comedy hour'

prev
next

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

A priest, a rabbi, and a duck walk into a bar. On stage is a lady with a law book, a rubber chicken, and a thong. Bartender says, "Are you here for the comedy show?" The duck says, "No, but can you tell me what's so funny about a law book?"

While that is a poor attempt at a classic comedy bit, there is some truth there.

The lady is Connie Ettinger, a former lawyer-turned-stand-up comedienne. And it's not that law is funny, but practicing law for Ettinger no longer was fun. The rubber chicken is a standard comedy prop. And she does use a thong in her routine. But more on that later.

Ettinger, 55, a Bay City native, was not always funny.

Ettinger grew up on a crop farm in Omar. Her father held two jobs, a farmer during the day and a factory worker at night She was the third child of four, and said her family was "very poor." Although the kids were entitled to free school lunches, they never took advantage of those freebies.

Ettinger, whose maiden name is Kowalczyk, said she was a "smart kid" who was given extra work in school to keep her busy. She left Standish Sterling High School one credit shy of graduation after the school lost its accreditation, which would make attending college more difficult. After contacting the University of Michigan about her concerns, Ettinger was able to take the SAT and enter U-M on the premise of earning that last high school credit later. She started at U-M in 1975, took a full load of classes and graduated with a bachelor in general studies. She took nearly enough anthropology courses to make it a major, but also took every class with the word "law" in it with an eye to her future.

Once she started law school at U-M, her interest in what type of law to practice changed as often as her classes did. After graduating cum laude in 1979, her goal was "to be a lawyer and make a living," working for a firm that offered her stability to pay off student loans, learn the ropes, and move up the legal ladder.

She landed a job at Butzel Long, and specialized in employment law, wrongful termination and employment discrimination on the defense side, and was made a shareholder in the mid 1980s. But she said the structure of the firm began to change and "burned out" by a very heavy caseload, she left.

Her husband, David Ettinger, also an attorney at another firm, was supportive of her decision. Ettinger took nearly two years off before briefly joining another firm in a part-time position.

But after several more years there, she decided to leave the law behind. "I didn't rule out law forever, and said maybe someday something will present itself, but at that point, I decided to step back."

Looking for an outlet, Ettinger took up golf, tennis, and involved herself with community volunteer activities in the Village of Franklin, where the couple lived.

"But my husband kept saying, 'You're so funny. Why don't you take (comedy) classes?'"

The couple often went to the Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle in Royal Oak to watch acts, and he told her she was funnier than many of the comedians.

"I had never, ever thought about getting up on stage and telling jokes," she said.

Being the funny person at a table of friends was one thing, but this was a different animal. But she took comedy classes at the club, starting in improv and working her way up the ladder by devising skits from current events and newspaper articles that she would create jokes from. One teacher gave her confidence to get up on stage and the classes climaxed in a comedy show featuring the students, who performed in front of family and friends.

"It was probably the warmest audience you were ever going to appear in front of because everybody cheered everybody on," she said. "Even if you bombed, you got laughs and applause, and you felt great."

Ettinger and a few others put on a comedy show for women called "Sorry about the Apples" about Adam and Eve and the apple thing, "and it was a nice warm show, and I got hooked," she said. And for the next 13 years, Ettinger has signed up for all the open-mic gigs she could find, perfecting her sardonic, sarcastic stand-up routine. Anywhere and everywhere she could find a show, Ettinger was there, "trying out material and earning your stripes."

Her claims to comedic fame occurred when she performed at Laugh-A-Palooza at Meadowbrook and a short stint on "The View" as part of the "Hysterical Housewives" contest. The Meadowbrook gig "was the pinnacle of my career," Ettinger said.

Now, Ettinger's stand-up routine evolves into a narrative, and she begins by talking about -- surprise! -- lawyers, how she hates those ads they push on television, "and personal injury attorneys who are messing with the evolutionary process."

Ettinger said now everything comes with a warning label. "Don't drink the Draino, don't use Windex as eye drops," she said. The warning labels are now overused as a protection for those too stupid to use common sense, she claims, and should be eliminated altogether.

"Let evolution take over, let the dumb people fend for themselves, and that way, we'll thin out the herd and things will go a lot smoother."

Now, Ettinger considers herself a regional comedienne, performing close to home, emceeing comedy shows and working for Comedy Productions, booking shows for corporate events, office parties and private parties. But she continues to work on her own stand-up act, for the laughs, the applause and the social validation that comes with it.

She said comedy is mainly a boys' club, and she has bombed a few times and thought about quitting.

"You have to have really thick skin, and a really funny act," she said.

To get more information on Ettinger, and the upcoming shows she will either appear in, is MCing, or has booked, visit www.comedypro.com, and www.conniethecomedian.com.

Published: Mon, Aug 13, 2012