What type of joke would a dominatrix tell? A knock-knock joke?
My latest interviewee knows the answer to that question. A former dominatrix, Norma Jean (yep, that's her given name) is a comic who yucks it up in Orange County and L.A. We spoke about her fascinating and circuitous life path.
Favorite book: I Killed: True Stories of the Road
from America's Top Comics.
Favorite movie: The Exorcist.
Favorite singer: Barbra Streisand.
You in three words: Energetic. Determined. Fun.
You as an animal: Cat. ("I like to be petted.")
Role models: Barbra Streisand. Meryl Streep. Candice Bergen.
Metaphor for L.A.: Chess game.
MJ: You were born in Camden, New Jersey, then grew up in...
NORMA JEAN: Watertown, New York. The same place Richard Grieco grew up.
MJ: Richard Grieco from 21 Jump Street?
NORMA JEAN: The one and only.
MJ: And what kind of kid were you?
NORMA JEAN: I was kind of a class clown. And progressive. In my junior or senior year, the teachers weren't getting the contract they wanted and deserved, so I took it upon myself to start a walkout. Some of us left school and went to a friend's house and just hung out there. We got it in the news, and I thought, "Well, there's one way to get noticed." [Laughter.] You know, I always stand up for the things I believe in, and I've never been one to sit idle. I was that kind of kid. Not an instigator, but a progressive leader trying to make a difference.
MJ: From your site's bio, I gather that you've had some rough relationship experiences.
NORMA JEAN: Yeah, I've been through a lot of stuff. Mental and physical abuse when I was married. And then after we got divorced, my exes still sort of mentally abused me. For example, one never paid the child support; the other one always made "my way or the highway" demands.
MJ: Okay, married twice, then.
NORMA JEAN: Yeah. The first time I was 20. That was over after a month, but I was already pregnant. And then I married again at 25, and that ended when I was 27 and in the hospital.
MJ: So, you have two children?
NORMA JEAN: Yep, two boys. One is 19, and the other one's 13.
MJ: And did those bad experiences push you into â€“ I don't know what you call it â€“ the dominatrix world?
NORMA JEAN: [Laughter.] That's what you call it. Yeah, in that phase of my life, I thought, "I don't want to be around any men who tell me what to do," because I was scared they'd be abusive. Men would just whistle at me, see me as a piece of meat, cheat on me, treat me like dirt. That was my mode of thinking at the time. So somewhere along the line, I guess subliminally, being a dominatrix helped me to be self-sufficient, to believe in myself, to be powerful. And through it, I saw a way out of being abused. You know, I thought: "If I'm around submissive men, then they can't hurt me."
MJ: How did you get the idea to be a dominatrix?
NORMA JEAN: I was at some function, goofing around, and a woman friend took me aside and said: "You know, you'd make a great dominatrix." And I was like, "Huh?" But she'd been watching me and said: "You accept people the way they are. You're always giving your friends relationship and sex advice. You seem to know this stuff so naturally, you could probably help a lot of people with deep, dark secrets, like fetishes and stuff. You could do a counselor-dominatrix kind of thing." I thought she was crazy at first, but when somebody puts an idea in your head like that... All my life, I've had a keen sense of what people are going through without them telling me. So I started thinking, "Maybe she's right."
MJ: And what did you do next?
NORMA JEAN: I called that woman and expressed my interest. Then she referred me to a lady who owned an escort company that got a lot of calls for fetishes. I called that lady, and pretty soon, after my 9-5 job, I was moonlighting as a dominatrix! This was in Albany, New York, in 2000.
MJ: What were your sessions like?
NORMA JEAN: Well, one of my first clients had this pantyhose fetish, so I was relieved. The guy basically wanted a place where he could put on pantyhose and model for a woman. He wanted someone to tell him how great he looked in the pantyhose, and it was totally harmless. And then there were the more involved fetishes: adult babies, human ponies, lots of stuff. It was a whole world I never even knew about. And these people were so intriguing. I met congressmen and all sorts of powerful people. They came to me before going to a psychiatrist. I felt very empowered. You know, they trusted me. There was no judgment, and I treated them with respect and in a loving way. See, people's view of the dominatrix is skewed. So when I give interviews, I try to get this message out there: domination is not about brutality. You don't even know the half of it.
MJ: Would women also come to you for sessions?
NORMA JEAN: I didn't have women come to the sessions, no.
MJ: Did you have any training to prepare you as a dominatrix?
NORMA JEAN: Yes, I did. After Albany, I moved to Houston, Texas, with my day job, and that's where I applied for and got an apprenticeship with a dominatrix. She trained me for six months. I basically had to clean her house, take care of the cats, etc., in exchange for the free education. And when my education was over, I would use her dungeon and pay her X number of dollars for each client I had. Not a lot of girls go through training like that. They get a whip in their hands, put up a website and say, "I'm a dom." It's not safe. I read books on psychology; I studied up on various fetishes and the psychology behind those fetishes; I learned emergency procedures. I was even taught web design from that woman. It was real torture. [Laughter.]
MJ: Overall, what would you say these clients were looking for?
NORMA JEAN: Well, most of them were in high-power positions, so they were trying to let go of their power.
MJ: Okay, that's interesting.
NORMA JEAN: They were sick of it, you know? They just wanted somebody to tell them what to do. Maybe they couldn't deal with the day-to-day pressures of work and were looking for an escape. And what better way to escape than by turning the tables on yourself?
MJ: What about your children? Did they know what you were doing?
NORMA JEAN: They did know. I've always been honest with my kids. For example, I didn't fool them about Santa Claus because, number one, I'm not going to lie to my children; number two, I'm not going to let anybody else take credit for my hard work. [Laughter.] They knew, but I never brought it home. I think they understood, though, that it was something I did because it was part of who I was.
MJ: Why did you leave the dominatrix scene?
NORMA JEAN: Well, a couple of reasons. First, I had come to a point where I'd done it four years and was just burned out. I was losing myself, in a way. There was work, and then there were the parties, and then you had to keep promoting yourself. It began to dominate my life, so to speak. That was one of the biggest reasons, and the other one was financial. I put more money into being a dominatrix than I made, practically. Every one of my outfits was 300 bucks. I spent $1000 to $2000 for equipment. You know, photo shoots, the website, blah-blah-blah. In the end, I might have broke even.
MJ: How did you transition into comedy?
NORMA JEAN: I started comedy in April of 2006. I was always the funny one, cracking the jokes. And again, just like with the dominatrix thing, different people began planting the idea in my brain, telling me how witty I was. So I enrolled in school. And then my first time to hit the stage was in August of last year.
MJ: And what is the link, if any, between being a dominatrix and being a comedienne?
NORMA JEAN: Oh, public humiliation.
MJ: Do you see any other connections? For instance, the whole thing about control, how you control the crowdâ€¦
NORMA JEAN: Oh, definitely. It is a form of control. As a person, I am always in a mental place where I need control over things. And if not, I get very afraid. I don't want anybody coming into my life, telling me what to do or trying to control me, because that's what my husbands did. When somebody orders me around, I put a wall up. All I hear are my husbands' voices. They really screwed me up, and no therapy can change that. So comedy is my therapy. Yeah, you're absolutely right: I have control when I'm up there. I control the flow; I control what I say. At the same time, I entertain people and make them laugh, which helps me because it puts a light spin on everything I've been through. One of my jokes is: "I'm celebrating 13 years of being single." People usually clap. Then I say: "No, I take that back; I'm actually celebrating 13 years without a hit to the face." [Laughter.] With that kind of humor, I can put a light spin on things. So I can laugh about it, while at the same time it really hurts.
MJ: What are your feelings on the comedy scene in L.A.?
NORMA JEAN: Completely saturated. But it's a good place to be. I've never had crazy, terrible things happen to me in L.A. Some people think there's no opportunity for women, but I believe there definitely is. I'd like to think I have something to do with that, because I'm able to produce my own shows and everything. With it being so saturated, though, it's tough here because everyone's shooting for the prize. And only a certain number of us will get the prize. I've found you don't have to be super funny to get on major networks, but you've got to have "it." If you don't have "it," you're not gonna get on Comedy Central, for example.
MJ: What to you is "it"?
NORMA JEAN: If you have "it," you can walk on-stage, and people will like you immediately. You have a presence about you. People who've never seen your act before go: "Wow, I'm gonna follow this person's career." When you have "it," you love what you're doing up there, and that shows.
MJ: Who are some comedians with those qualities?
NORMA JEAN: Oh, so many... Okay, one of my big influences: Howie Mandel. Another big one: Jo Koy. Another one: Jay Davis.
MJ: What are your thoughts on joke-stealing?
NORMA JEAN: Well, there's been a lot of hubbub about that, especially lately. But if you're your own person, no one can steal your material; you're still you on the stage. I think there's too much concentration on "who's stealing what." I just hate reading and hearing about it. Instead, the conversation should be, "Hey, I just helped this new comedian up at the HaHa. I helped somebody out with the craft." I wish there was more of that stuff. So that's what I would like to bring to the table, cohesiveness, especially in Orange County. You know, for anybody who does my shows, we're not going to have any of that negative energy there. Positive energy. Good shows. Make people laugh. That's our job, but it's also something that we love to do. If you don't love to be on-stage, to make those people laugh so they can forget their troubles for 10 minutes... If we're not in it for that, then why are we in it?
What type of joke does a dominatrix tell? One with a punch line.
WORLD - CITY LIVING
Copyright © 2010 M.J. Hamada
L.A. Peeps: Meet Norma Jean, Comedienne
Copyright © 2010 M.J. Hamada
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