Liz Russo doesn’t pull punches.
The veteran comic, who will perform Friday (1/4) and Saturday (1/5) at Penguins Comedy Club in Cedar Rapids, delivers honest slices of her life. Some of her material is heightened for oratory but the rest comes straight from the heart.
“It is all real,” Russo said by phone from her Easton, Pa., home.
“There is truth in every joke I tell. The setup tends to be the 100 percent honest, then the punch line usually contains the exaggeration. I may have lost my virginity at ‘fat camp,’ but I did not ‘sell it for a Snickers.’
“I think with my brand of humor, I must be genuine, vulnerable and honest with my audience,” she said. “The more I reveal of myself, the bigger the stakes. The laughter as payoff is great of course but someone who said, ‘Hey, I’m sober too, thank you’ or ‘I’ve struggled with body image issues too, thank you for telling your story.’ That is why I do comedy.”
Russo was inspired by actress-comic Rosie O’Donnell, whom she initially experienced on cable television a quarter century ago.
“If a chubby not typically attractive woman could be funny and host her own show, I knew I had a shot,” Russo said. “She was self-deprecating but self-assured, and that was my style. Geri Jewell also was an influence in the ’80s as I was growing up. She was a stand-up comic with cerebral palsy, who appeared on ‘The Facts of Life.’ She was funny and different.”
Russo is different, as well. Her material will touch on dieting, drinking and dating, among other topics.
“I will do my 45 to 60 minutes of autobiographical humor,” she said. “Sometimes my humor is dirty but it’s not vulgar. I don’t do politics and I don’t make fun of anyone in the audience. Though my life stories are used to make people laugh, I think everyone — men and women — can find things to relate to in my act.”
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Russo hates how politically incorrect the entertainment landscape has become, but doesn’t believe it will change. She laments the PC movement.
“You’ll never make everyone happy,” she said. “The cost for inclusion has meant hypersensitivity. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s being used as a political weapon to divide people. Comedy pushes boundaries if it’s done correctly. It will upset people sometimes. Being offended is more about the receiver of the message than the person delivering it. That means you might not get my joke, but I can’t take responsibility for your feelings about that.”
Kevin Hart was recently relieved of his duties as the host of the Academy Awards because of an old homophobic joke. Russo believes Hart will be just fine.”
“I’m sure Kevin Hart has made another three movies in the time it took to answer this question,” Russo said. “I personally think award shows are outdated and no one really cares. I do think it has gone too far to judge and condemn people in the present for words or deeds from years ago. ... It’s out of control.”
The upbeat and engaging Russo, who possesses a mellifluous voice, has been a comic for nearly 20 years.
“I’ve been pursuing comedy since 2000,” she said. “I started getting paid for comedy since 2000, after graduating American University. I started getting paid for comedy within the first year as an emcee and I continued to make it into my full-time profession, with some peaks and some valleys along the way.”
Russo has a lighthearted touch and is often upbeat. She’s about providing a diversion from the trials and tribulations most endure.
“Everyone is going through something — some tragedy or ailment or difficulty,” she said. “But if you can laugh, you can get through it. I went through a lot and came out the other side and so can you. Even in my naughty jokes, I try to keep a positive message.”
WHAT: Liz Russo
WHERE: Penguins Comedy Club, 208 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (1/4) and Saturday (1/5)
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TICKETS: $13 advance, $15 show day, (319) 362-8133 or Penguinscomedyclub.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Thelizrusso.com