Welcome to the Telling of Story Podcast. I’m your host, Storyteller Jewels, and along with my guests, it’s my endeavor to explore the art and science of storytelling, to attract, engage, and retain a business audience, and to unpack why it works for some, and not for the many that try. In this episode, I have the pleasure of talking with Sandra Risser.
[00:00:25] Jewels: Listen in as Sandra talks about being yourself on stage.
[00:00:33] Sandra: Be yourself, I’d say. They don’t want you to sound blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, like you’ve memorized it. Do make it sound like it’s fresh to them. Most of the time, I find that can reach an audience. Every once in a while, I try every trick I have been told, talk to him a bit, point out something, try to find common ground, and it just doesn’t work.
[00:00:59] Sandra: [00:01:00] And when that happens, you leave the stage going for the next time.
[00:01:07] Jewels: In this episode, I have the pleasure of talking with Sandra Risser. Sandra is a funny, sexy for her age, and irreverent. She believes in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and clean underwear. Audiences of all ages love her tales of growing up in the golden age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Sandra enthralls audiences with stories about her misspent youth, young adult antics, and middle aged adventures.
[00:01:31] Jewels: Sharing stories about her ex husband living with essential tremors and growing older. As she says, I’m not old, I’m used. She featured in A list clubs and headlines in clubs, casinos, and other venues across the United States. Sandra performed one woman shows at the Edinburgh, Scotland, Brighton, England, and Santa Cruz, California Fringe Festivals.
[00:01:52] Jewels: She took second place in the World Series of Comedy in Atlanta and Sarasota, and won Funniest Comedian in the Valley competitions. [00:02:00] Sandra is featured for nationally touring comedians such as Rocky Laporte, Chris Catton and Mike E. Winfield. The San Francisco Chronicle named her as one of six Bay Area comedians to be sure to see.
[00:02:12] Jewels: Sandra, welcome to the show.
[00:02:14] Sandra: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
[00:02:16] Jewels: Sandra, it just happens to be very close to what actually is the 4th of July here in Australia. I know we’re here in the future. Tell me about a Willie Nelson Country Rock Festival on another particular 4th of July.
[00:02:30] Sandra: Oh, yes. I was young, living in Dallas, Texas at the time, and we wanted something to do.
[00:02:38] Sandra: The people I was with. Had a ranch kind of so we loaded up the horses and a bunch of us drove down to the festival and because they had the horses, they got somehow I have no clue how they got on the security patrol. Which gave us backstage [00:03:00] passes. Yeah, it was fabulous. I mean, I was within a sense of Nelson as they up the stairs because he was a little bit of stone and then he put on the most magnificent display of singing and talent and well, as I say, he’s the only comedian.
[00:03:25] Sandra: That at 28 looked 84.
[00:03:29] Jewels: Yes. Yes. What year
[00:03:31] Sandra: was this? Oh, must have been about 1965. Wow. Yeah. Long, long time ago. We were all young back then. And yes, there were drugs aplenty. But it was a country rock festival, so you had both. The good old boys with their long neck bottles of beer. And you had some really serious drunk people.
[00:03:57] Sandra: And then I called us weekend [00:04:00] warriors.
[00:04:00] Jewels: Sandra, you’ve been a comedian and actor, I believe for a very long time. However, you didn’t actually start standup comedy until the age of 61. Why would you start then?
[00:04:15] Sandra: Okay. It started with when I was doing bodybuilding. And I was 49 at that time, and I like being on the stage.
[00:04:25] Sandra: I like being in front of people. Now, I had always spoken, I’d been in Toastmasters and things. And kind of from the bodybuilding, I went into, uh, community theater, doing a few commercials, and just somehow, I just started leaning towards comedy. I knew nothing about it. I did not know how to go to an open mic.
[00:04:47] Sandra: I did not know how to write comedy. And I was lucky enough to find, at that time, the San Francisco Comedy College. And I actually learned [00:05:00] how to do comedy. Yeah.
[00:05:02] Jewels: Take me through the process of stand up comedy. I know there’s… You don’t, or typically you shouldn’t probably just stand up in front of a mic and try and be funny.
[00:05:11] Jewels: What’s the process that leads up to a comedy
[00:05:13] Sandra: night? Practice? Practice. Practice . That’s why there’s hope. Open mics. But it’s learning how to write comedy. Learning the triggers, what makes people laugh, how to put it together. Uh, juxtapositions, uh, And then trying it, you go to an open mic, it works sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t.
[00:05:37] Sandra: Rewriting, cutting out unnecessary words, don’t talk after your punchline. There’s a lot of little things.
[00:05:48] Jewels: Those little tips there, they’re very similar tips that you would talk about when, if you are writing a presentation, for example, if you’re actually going on stage and trying to present something of note and [00:06:00] trying to keep people’s attention, take me through that thought process a little bit.
[00:06:04] Jewels: I mean, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a five minute set or a 50 minute set, you need to hold the audience’s. attention for as long as humanly possible. That’s the whole gig, right? If you don’t, if you lose the audience, there’s, you know, you’ve lost the, the loss of the process entirely. So,
[00:06:21] Sandra: and for us, we have to find the difference between laughter.
[00:06:25] Sandra: You’re funny and nervous laughter, right? A lot of comedians start out doing really dirty stuff. Because it does make the audience laugh, but it’s not the making of a good comedian. On the other hand, there are the storytellers that hear people like Robin Williams. We’ll use him as an example, and he makes it sound like he’s making it up off the top of his head while he’s standing on the stage.
[00:06:55] Sandra: So they think, oh, I can do that. What they don’t know [00:07:00] is these people have written, they have tried it. They have. exaggerated here. They’re not just, Oh, I went to the grocery store. You know, they know how to present it. And they put laugh points throughout the whole
[00:07:15] Jewels: story. You mentioned Robin Williams, probably one of the all time greats and you’re right.
[00:07:20] Jewels: He did seem to make it. Look like it was just completely off the cuff and he could go on for what seemed like forever and just keep the audience enthralled. What the gift, absolute gift. But as somebody who’s starting out, perhaps, where do you find that strength? Like, what are those little triggers? What helps you sort of keep going?
[00:07:41] Sandra: Uh, first off, you can shoot for that. Yes. But you gotta tell yourself you’re not gonna get it in the beginning. And I think that’s it, being realistic about where you are. Uh, when you start out, you make it a little laughter [00:08:00] over here and a laughter there. And then I taped, recorded every set I ever did back then.
[00:08:09] Sandra: And you see what works and doesn’t work and you put that together and then you start building and I know my goal originally was to get the whole audience to laugh at once. And then you kind of reach that goal and it’s like. Well, now can I get them with every joke I tell in the short set, then the longer you build.
[00:08:36] Jewels: So just break down that process for me, because I think it’s very similar again, once, you know, if you’re presenting any sort of format, particularly when it’s a scripted kind of format where You’re trying to get a point across that art of testing out lots of little bits and then putting the bits together and working that out.
[00:08:58] Jewels: I understand as a comedian, you [00:09:00] write, you know, for a five minute set, you might write five to, you know, 10, 15 jokes and you’ll test out the 10 jokes and, you know. Seven of them might be great and three of them will bomb and therefore the next time you go and you write three more so that you’ve got a fresh ten, you’ll use the seven, you know, that are going to work and test out three more and if they work, you know, maybe two of those will work and one of them doesn’t.
[00:09:25] Jewels: So it’s a continual process of refining and tweaking. Absolutely.
[00:09:30] Sandra: And you never throw anything away. But one of my jokes. It took me three years. It’s a, what are the rule of three ones? And it took me three years to find the one that got the audience to laugh.
[00:09:45] Jewels: What’s the rule of three? Tell me about the rule of three.
[00:09:48] Jewels: Oh,
[00:09:49] Sandra: the rule of three is, I’m trying to think of an example. My example is not a hundred percent, uh, clean, the one I’m thinking of. That’s okay. Oh, okay. [00:10:00] Uh, is my ex husband and I didn’t make… Love it very much, because he wanted it old people’s style. Ow! Ow! Take your teeth out. So, two, and then the bunch line.
[00:10:19] Jewels: Right, okay.
[00:10:21] Sandra: Three makes a list.
[00:10:24] Jewels: Right, yep, yep, yep. And so the two is just making, like the two are the lead up. To the actual
[00:10:31] Sandra: punchlines and kind of give them misdirection for what you’re going to say at the end. Right?
[00:10:37] Jewels: And is that true for all of your jokes? Or is that just one of the formats?
[00:10:41] Sandra: It’s just one of the formats.
[00:10:44] Sandra: Another format is just juxtaposition. I think if somebody breaks up with you and ask you to just be friends. It’s like a kidnapper asking his victim to keep in touch [00:11:00] and that’s putting two things together that yeah,
[00:11:03] Jewels: yeah, fabulous. And throughout your career, you’ve spent, I guess, a lot of time on stage.
[00:11:09] Jewels: What are the, some of the learnings that you’ve had on actually being in a live environment like that? Cause I’m, you know, everyone’s going to be different. Every audience is going to be a little bit different. What’s, what did you learn about being on stage and being in the live?
[00:11:25] Sandra: Uh, be yourself. I’d say they don’t want you to sound like you’ve memorized it.
[00:11:33] Sandra: Do make it sound like it’s fresh to them. Most of the time I find that can reach an audience. Every once in a while, I try every trick I have been told, talk to him a bit, point out something, try to find common ground, and it just doesn’t work. And when that happens, you leave the stage going, I’ve got a quick comedy!
[00:11:58] Sandra: And then you remember [00:12:00] the good times, and you gotta let it go and just get back up and hope next time. And also, some audiences don’t laugh, they just smile. So you have to learn how to, and you cannot see a lot of the audience, but the front row you can usually see. And you just kind of have to let them be your standard.
[00:12:21] Sandra: Yeah. And because, and some of these shows where people don’t laugh, and especially if you’re doing like a senior center or something, they will come up to you afterwards and say, that was so fantastic. Thank you. I’ve haven’t laughed so hard in my life, but they laughed quietly. Right.
[00:12:41] Jewels: Yeah. Is that disappointing for you to some degree, or you just learned to read the different styles of, you know, laughter, I
[00:12:47] Sandra: guess?
[00:12:48] Sandra: You pretty much have to, if not, we would probably all be slitting our wrists.
[00:12:53] Jewels: Yeah. Yeah. How many shows would you estimate that you’ve done in a live environment? Oh, my [00:13:00] God. Could you hazard a guess?
[00:13:01] Sandra: I don’t think I could hazard a guess, you know, some months I do 20 some months I do one and let’s see, and if you don’t count open mics, I would have no clue, say an average of, I don’t know, five a month for 20 years.
[00:13:27] Sandra: That’s a lot. That’s a lot. I’d never thought of it in those terms. How many stories have you
[00:13:33] Jewels: got? I’ve got a lot of stories, but I haven’t certainly haven’t performed anywhere to that extent. So congratulations, like you’re still very prolific in your, you know, I jumped onto your website and saw that you’ve still got a number of dates that you’ve booked out.
[00:13:49] Jewels: And to be kind, you know, why aren’t you Retiring at this point in time. Is that something on the radar or? I am retired. Right. So this is your [00:14:00] form of
[00:14:00] Sandra: retirement. No, I’m retired from earning a living. Right. And since I don’t have to make a living doing it, and yes, I like to get paid, I’d like to break even at the end of the year.
[00:14:14] Sandra: I can just have fun with it. I would hate to have to do the, what you have to do to really make a living at it. Right. It’s a tough job.
[00:14:26] Jewels: I imagine so. Do you still find it, obviously you still enjoy it because you’re still doing it, but do you find it, is there still this nervous energy I guess when you’re coming up on stage or are you completely comfortable after, you know, thousands of shows at this point?
[00:14:40] Sandra: When I am my most nervous. is driving to the venue. Right. It’s like, will I get there in time? Will this, will there be an audience? Will there? Cause you never know in a competition. Yes. I get nervous. Because I often, I shoot [00:15:00] myself in the foot during competitions, and I’ve been trying to overcome that, but otherwise, as I said, I’m most nervous driving to the venue, and especially if I don’t know where it is, or what the parking situation is, then I start all these worrying things.
[00:15:20] Jewels: Yeah. But then once you turn up and you just about to stand on stage, all that, all that goes away and you’re ready to go pretty much.
[00:15:28] Sandra: Right? Yeah. And you get, there’s always other comedians there and you get talking and sharing stories and I really enjoyed being with other comedians. Yeah. And if that out about their lives, what they, A lot of them.
[00:15:44] Sandra: Don’t do it full time. So, or they did something else. You know, they were a doctor. Yeah, they were a policeman. Uh, yeah, it is fun to find out. Just talk to people. I like being around people. I hate [00:16:00] sitting home and that I was just starting doing. Masters, your competitions and speaking, and I know it sounds strange, but as a comedian, one of my hardest things was to write a speech on a serious subject and still get people to laugh during to break it up.
[00:16:24] Sandra: So who knows.
[00:16:26] Jewels: Comedy by nature tends to be a whole bunch of life experiences. And for the most part, the stories themselves, if, if I was to tell one of your stories, perhaps in a non comedic sort of way, if you actually break down the story. The stories are just everyday things. They’re not necessarily massive events in your life, but just a series of little incidental things like going shopping, like, you know, talking with your husband, whatever that may be, like the actual story itself is not anything massive, [00:17:00] but you’re able to take those stories and obviously weave them in such a way.
[00:17:04] Jewels: Tell me a little bit about that because I often tell some of my clients that I work with is that The stories don’t have to be blockbuster movie style stories to have an effect. The tiniest of story or the tiniest of incident that may have occurred in your everyday might be the trigger that actually you can align with the point that you’re trying to make.
[00:17:26] Jewels: So tell me about finding those little moments in your life where that’s a good story. Where do you find the inspiration? I
[00:17:33] Sandra: think that you don’t start out saying I’m going to write something funny about XYZ experience. You take that experience, and there are two different ways that people do it. Some write everything they want to say about it, and then they break it down line or point by point, and say, okay, where can I take [00:18:00] out words?
[00:18:01] Sandra: What else happened here? How can I exaggerate to make it funny? The other way is, well there’s a couple, let’s say in my bodybuilding, bodybuilding, okay what, the age I started it, what I had to do, and you just make a list of what goes, and then you see how you can put it together, and I’ve got to say, like my body, no, I will give a better example, when I was in Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Edinburgh.
[00:18:35] Sandra: After a show, this young man, and I say young because I was, you know, already in my 60s, and he was in his 20s. He started talking to me. We had a really great conversation. He invited me back to his place. We were just drinking and laughing and having a good time, and I asked him what he did for a living.
[00:18:57] Sandra: He said he was a mail escort, [00:19:00] and he was just taking the night off. And from there… I wrote a bit about a young man, but I said that he asked me out. He said, maybe you’d like me to come home with you tonight. And I’m thinking, Santa, you still got it. And then he said, I’ll only charge you 25, that’s my senior discount.
[00:19:25] Sandra: And that’s how that story evolved.
[00:19:28] Jewels: Sandra, you also, you mentioned a couple of times now that you did competitive bodybuilding. Yeah. At the age of 48. Again, another. sort of late start to something that is perhaps traditionally started much younger. Is that your personality style where you just see something and you go, Oh, I think I can do that.
[00:19:48] Jewels: And, and I’ll just give it a go. A lot
[00:19:51] Sandra: of what I think is I am always looking for the next thing to do. And the bodybuilding actually. When I turned [00:20:00] 40, I started going to the gym, fit and trim, everyone started, yeah, and then I eventually got a trainer, and he was a bodybuilder, and he kept saying, you build such good muscles, blah, blah, blah, blah, and eventually I said, okay, let’s go for it.
[00:20:19] Sandra: And I had just gotten engaged, and I remember going home and telling my fiancé about it. And he said, the one thing I want you to do, be as good as you can be. Great advice.
[00:20:35] Jewels: And I was. How did you go,
[00:20:37] Sandra: in general? I only did four different competitions that I came in second in every single one of them.
[00:20:47] Jewels: Oh, wow.
[00:20:48] Jewels: Well done.
[00:20:49] Sandra: Yeah. And I know what my legs are not that good.
[00:20:55] Jewels: Now or back then? Both.
[00:20:58] Sandra: The reboot was worse now [00:21:00] than it was back then.
[00:21:04] Jewels: Sandra, I’ve spotted, it’s part of my research, I went and watched a couple of your videos, some of the stand up stuff, some, I also noticed there was a video there on your bodybuilding, and I did also see a video where you were on what appeared to be a music video as well.
[00:21:22] Jewels: And in every instance, all three of those different genres, I couldn’t help but notice how much of a good time you were having. Is that, was that the actor coming out of you or was that just genuine joy because it just showed in your face? I
[00:21:37] Sandra: just love doing things. I like acting. I’ve got to say I probably was the same way.
[00:21:44] Sandra: Once I find something I really like, before all of that, I was a serious person, although I had a kind of a sarcastic sense of humor. I was in data processing for almost 20 [00:22:00]years.
[00:22:00] Jewels: Right. Wow. You couldn’t get the most opposite kind of job role to comedy, right? And
[00:22:06] Sandra: I loved that the once I found it, but I only wanted to do basic assembler language.
[00:22:13] Sandra: I liked playing the computer. And when that started going away, I started moving on. Found something else I love.
[00:22:26] Jewels: So, Sandra, it sounds like you’re, you’re always looking for the next thing too. What’s next for you then?
[00:22:32] Sandra: Probably the
[00:22:33] Jewels: cemetery. Oh, no, don’t say that.
[00:22:39] Jewels: You got too much energy left.
[00:22:42] Sandra: No, my next goal is to be in the Senior Olympics when I’m
[00:22:47] Jewels: 120. There we go. That’s a fabulous goal. And I
[00:22:51] Sandra: think, you know, and I don’t think I will ever get tired of doing comedy and I’m just grateful [00:23:00] that I can still drive. I can still do road shows and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can.
[00:23:06] Jewels: I’ve got to say you’re inspiring me because the level of energy that you have. makes me feel um, older than my own years because I don’t even have the energy or the drive that you seem to have. What gets you up every day and wants you to perform and, and keep going like that? Is it, is it something you’ve always had or is it just the, the gratefulness?
[00:23:28] Jewels: Of just hanging in there and, and getting stuff done.
[00:23:32] Sandra: Well, I think that performing is, yeah, it is the feedback I get from the audience and being around people. Yeah. Now, I take afternoon naps, so I don’t think I’ve got, just so, like I was in my 20s, I could go 24 hours a day. It is. It’s been around people. I do like a couple, three days off.
[00:23:56] Sandra: So to recharge my batteries, but more [00:24:00] than a couple of days sitting around the house at night doing hard work, which has never been my strong point. That’s enough for me. And I’m very lucky I’m married to a man who also likes to be alone, and he encourages me to go out and do things. And then. Next month, he and I are taking a trip together.
[00:24:24] Sandra: You know, so it’s a balance.
[00:24:28] Jewels: Sandra, there’s a fabulous line on your website, which I’m going to read out. Tell me a little bit about it. Be fearless in your own life. It can be fun. Yes. Such a beautiful line. Tell me where that comes from. I
[00:24:42] Sandra: don’t know who maybe originally said it. For me, it’s that growing up, and I’m going to go back, you know, to when I was young.
[00:24:52] Sandra: If anybody gave me a challenge, I would try it. Growing up, I did almost every sport there [00:25:00] was to do. Never was real good at any. But if a man asked me out, Oh boy, want to go bowling? Sure. Want to play golf? Yeah. Want to do, I could do them all. Then I had the challenge of, I heard there were tryouts for synchronized swimming.
[00:25:17] Sandra: I had a tryout and I had to get on the team. I had the same, I was a cheerleader, I took ballet, I took toll, I, the one thing I think I failed at was playing the violin. Right,
[00:25:31] Jewels: it’s an interesting instrument, my daughter played. But my whole
[00:25:34] Sandra: life I’ve been that way, yeah.
[00:25:37] Jewels: You’ve got an amazing energy about you, Sandra.
[00:25:40] Jewels: What advice would you give somebody who’s perhaps… Maybe not happy in what they’re doing, or they’re just looking for that change. What advice would you give somebody, no matter what their age, as to, you know, how to get up and get the next thing done? Don’t be
[00:25:55] Sandra: afraid to go for it. You’re only in life once, [00:26:00] and you’ve got to live life to the fullest.
[00:26:03] Sandra: That’s what I feel. Yeah.
[00:26:06] Jewels: Sandra, that’s a beautiful sentiment. I’ve so enjoyed having our chat today and I really do appreciate you giving me the time. Where can people find out a little bit more about you and perhaps even book you in for their next event? My
[00:26:21] Sandra: new website is now up. It’s the same name.
[00:26:24] Sandra: Sandra Bristow dot com and everything about me, all my shows are on there and if they really want to, they can contact me and I send out a monthly newsletter, but that’s more local people like it because they can come to the shows. Although, you know, when I travel, then people know, too. But, yeah. And I’m on Facebook.
[00:26:52] Sandra: Either Sandra Risser or Sandra M. Risser. I’m both. I’m on Instagram. Sandra Risser [00:27:00] Comedian. I think that pretty much covers it.
[00:27:03] Jewels: Fabulous, Sandra. I so look forward to seeing you at 120 at the Olympics. Thank you. Thank you very much. All the best and thanks for joining me on the show.
[00:27:12] Sandra: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
[00:27:14] Sandra: It was a great time.
[00:27:19] Jewels: What an inspiring human Sandra is. I hope to have half the energy at her age. And in her words, enjoy life as you only live once. Much love. Chat soon.