Former attorney makes a case for stand-up comedy

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Connie Ettinger is a former lawyer who turned to comedy when practicing law was no longer fun.

"I make fun of the law, and the audience loves it," said Ettinger, 55. "I always confess that I'm a lawyer, but have been clean for 17 years now, on the side of the angels, so please don't throw anything at the stage or I'll come back out of retirement and sue you."

Ettinger, a Bay City native, wanted to be an attorney since she was seven.

"I saw (the movie) 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' and I wanted to be Atticus Finch," she said.

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.

"I didn't know until later in life, when I wasn't poor, that we were poor," Ettinger said. "My parents did a great job hiding that, and we never went hungry, we had clothes, but there was no extra money, and we never took a vacation."

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. She became a shareholder in the mid 1980s.

Ettinger said she was "burned out" by a very heavy caseload. Her husband, David Ettinger, an attorney at another firm, was supportive of her to leave. Ettinger took nearly two years off before briefly joining another firm in a part-time position.

But after several more years there, Ettinger tired of humdrum cases.

"I never wanted to be a slip and fall attorney, and that's what was coming in the door," she said after deciding 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 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.

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.

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.

They were not all pleasant experiences. Once she and a friend drove for hours through a blinding snowstorm to a club only to find no one there.

Once she did a show in Taylor for three people, and found out they were only there for the karaoke.

A performance at Laugh-A-Palooza at Meadowbrook "was the pinnacle of my career," Ettinger said.

"Two thousand people, and I was riding the waves," she said. "It was the most fun I had in comedy because I didn't stumble, or forget anything, and I was spot-on."

Although she did 90 seconds on "The View" about eight years ago, Ettinger did not win the "Hysterical Housewives" contest, but had a lot of fun.

"It was a really good television credit, and I have a good story about how nice Barbara Walters is," she said.

In her stand-up routine, Ettinger begins by talking about - surprise!--awyers, how she hates those ads they push on television, and personal injury attorneys who are "messing with the evolutionary process."

Ettinger now 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," she said, "and a really funny act."

Published: Thu, Aug 2, 2012