“The hours and the money,” jokes Pennington resident Anita Wise as she explains why she got into comedy. “It’s fun, it’s very fun, it’s really fun. Nobody who knew me growing up expected this to happen.”
Wise, who grew up in Philadelphia, wasn’t necessarily looking to comedy as a career choice but she did have a desire to entertain, which came from her family history. It wasn’t until she began a stint as a bartender at the popular New Hope, Pa., music spot John & Peter’s that something clicked.
“The one side of my family are all performers,” she began in the soft, sweet tone that helps to define her stage presence. “My mother was French and she was a dancer for the Paris Opera, and so was my aunt. My uncle was an actor for the Comédie-Française and both of my cousins became actors as well. So that whole side of the family were performers and that was something that I was envious of and familiar with.
“I kept trying to find some way that I could be one. I tried skating and wasn’t good at it, tried ballet and I wasn’t good at it. I tried acting in high school and that was a bit of a disaster. So I kind of tabled it until I became a bartender, and when I was a bartender I realized it was sort of like performing, and I liked it.
“I didn’t really do anything with it until I went to New York and started hanging out with comics, and that’s when I got the idea that maybe this was something that I could do. I enjoy it a lot, I really do. And as I said, it’s kind of a surprise to everyone I knew growing up and it’s sort of surprising to me. … I’ve performed in Paris, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, Vegas. A lot of places. I have a few states I’ve not checked off yet but I’ve gotten to travel a lot and I really loved it.”
As is the case with many others in the business, “hanging out with comics” can lead to more opportunities. For Wise, these came in the form of performances at comedy clubs across the U.S., commercials and even a couple of “Seinfeld” episodes playing the role of a waitress.
Of course, this didn’t come easy. Wise lived in New York and Los Angeles with a few other stops along the way, and after a few life decisions, a marriage and eventually going into business with her husband selling high-end lighting, she walked away from performing with the exception of a few one-off appearances.
Sadly, her husband (the musician T.J. Tindall) passed away six years ago, leaving her in kind of an “Okay, now what to do?” mode. But it was this, coupled with the friends she made in the comedy world, that led her back to performing.
“It was a slow build,” she says. “I needed to build back new material but it was actually pretty easy. A lot of the people I worked with, I had worked with in the past, so it was pretty comfortable the second time. Then I’d go to open mic nights and meet people that way, and a lot of them booked shows. I met (Hamilton-born and -raised comic) Joe Bub that way. Not sure if it was an open mic but he and I did a show together and one thing leads to another.
“I rarely actually seek work. It kind of just comes. People will ask me, ‘Are you open this date? Let’s do this?’ So it has been good. Hopefully the COVID thing is starting to get in our rear view but it is sort of like electric power in a third world country: sometimes it’s on and sometimes it is off. Comedy has been tough. You get some momentum and then another surge comes and … shows are cancelled left and right and you’re back again and you think, ‘I don’t know what is going on.’ But it seems to be picking up again.”
Wise, who describes herself as an observation comic, has an easygoing personality and is quite at home one-on-one or in front of a room full of people. Her soft speaking voice is also indicative of her humble nature. When asked if there were any standout moments over the years in her travails and/or triumphs, her response had a twinge of youthful exuberance.
“When I did the gig at The Venetian (in Las Vegas), I was very delighted to see my name on a placard being held by a limo driver,” she said with a chuckle. “There was another time it was a New Year’s Day and I had a gig at The MGM Grand (in Las Vegas) and I woke up in the middle of the night after I had flown and I was sick, very sick with some kind of bad migraine. So I called the booker and said that I didn’t know if I was going to be okay for the show that night … So she sent someone up to take me to the infirmary. We go downstairs, I’m sick as a dog and outside there is a white stretch limo with ‘MGM Grand Infirmary’ on it. I get into the limo and drive basically around the block because the clinic was on the side. I go in and they gave me a shot of I don’t know what, some Vegas magic shot, and they put me in a dark room for about 20 minutes, and I was good as good could be. I was hungry, I felt great and I was like, ‘This is amazing!’ Then I went back out and got in the limo, which had no bar or liquor and only a little green plastic container in case you got sick. That was their ambulance, which was pretty special but kind of weird.
“What was fun about working the casinos was, there is a whole city underneath for the employees. You go underneath and there is a 24-hour cafeteria for food and there are all these people in all of these different costumes; the showgirls, the dealers, porters. Everybody has different outfits on. There is a bank, a store there with all of this stuff.”
Wise is also is giving a two-hour interview, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. on “Danny Coleman’s Rock On Radio,” which can be found at coaradio.com (click on the “Listen Live” tab).
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