In a society where people tend to live their lives based on gender norms, career expectations and other such factors, one beloved Philadelphia comedian hopes her latest show proves that age is nothing but a number.
“A Celebration of Life: The Natalie K. Levant Roast” will fill the beautiful L’Etage lounge on Thursday, Sept. 21. The event will mark the birthday of its namesake, Philadelphia area comedian Natalie K. Levant. Sassy and sharp-tongued onstage but sweeter than candy off of it, Levant’s mere name will certainly drive in audiences from both inside and outside the city’s comedy scene.
“Never know your place,” Levant firmly states. “When people ask me ‘What’s a woman your age doing in a place like this?’ I say to them ‘Just lucky, I guess.’”
Levant’s interest in stand-up comedy began long before her twentysomething and thirtysomething fellow comedians were even born.
“I think my love affair with show business began at birth when the doctor spanked me and I thought it was applause,” she quips. “I never wanted to be Shirley Temple; I wanted to be Carol Channing.”
Levant explained that, following her husband Bob’s passing in 2009 after over 55 years of blissful marriage, she had a void to fill in her life. With volunteer work, being a grandmother, and other “household shit” not doing the job, Levant turned to writing. She cites classic comedians like Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Moms Mabley and Richard Pryor as influences. In 2012, she was introduced to Philadelphia comedian Alejandro Morales, who agreed to put her on a comedy show that he was producing at Tabu Lounge at the time.
“I write and perform my 'life' and life as I see it,” Levant says. “Initially I feared that 'young kids' wouldn't 'get me,’ but not only did they respond with hugs after a show but also asked 'will you be my mother?’”
Since that fateful day in 2012, Levant has headlined comedy shows throughout Philadelphia and its surrounding areas, including a recent show at “Catch a Rising Star” in Princeton, New Jersey. She is a staple on “Broad Humor”, a monthly all-woman comedy show at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar in South Philadelphia hosted by comedians Rachel Fogletto and Katonya Mosley. From stories to one-liners, Levant, who is not afraid to use any language possible to convey her point, leaves her audiences in stitches on subjects ranging from her family to aging in general.
“She is a hard worker, always writing new material, willing to take risks and you can't ask for more than that,” friend and local producer Jim Korhan says. Korhan heads digital marketing services company Innovation Interactive, whose offshoot production company, “Comedy Train Rek,” will be producing the roast of Levant. He has also been instrumental in helping Levant launch her website and apparel brand, Tasteless Diva.
“I think Natalie is more marketable than she makes herself out to be,” Korhan said. “She has that whole age thing going for her, but she is also very witty, knowledgeable. She has seen a lot and been involved in a lot of great causes.”
Speaking of causes, ticket sales for the show will benefit Levant’s favorite charity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund. In 2004, Levant, a passionate animal lover, joined protests against the ruling of a Bucks County man who had severely abused one of his cats. Amid the pressure, the court wound up fining the abuser and prohibiting him from owning pets ever again. “It's still a huge issue, protecting the helpless, but, to quote ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ’attention must be paid,’” she says.
“A Celebration of Life: The Roast of Natalie K. Levant” will feature a roundup of some of the area’s top comedic talents who have been by Levant’s side for years. Included are her frequent collaborators Alejandro Morales and Rachel Fogletto, as well as Valerie DiMambro-McShain and Dugan McShain (who run local comedy production company Sunday Funnies), Dan Mahon, and “America’s Got Talent” finalist Julia Scotti. The show will be hosted by local comedian Jess Carpenter and will even feature an appearance by U.S. Representative Dwight Evans, who will lovingly roast Levant via satellite. Additionally, Levant plans to reveal her actual age at the event.
“To the folks who say to me so often, ‘How can I be you when I grow up?’, they've answered their own question: don't grow up,” Levant says.
If you go:
"A Celebration of Life: The Roast of Natalie K. Levant"
Thursday, Sept. 21
7 p.m., $5
624 S. 6th St.