As a math teacher at Secaucus High School for the past 27 years, Janet Regensburg is used to tough audiences. So when it comes to her downtime, one might expect her to stay out of the spotlight.
Not so. Instead the North Bergen resident fills her off hours moonlighting as a professional comedian, working clubs in New York and New Jersey. Recently she participated in a hilarious comic blowout event to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, alongside top comedians Gregory Korostishevsky from “Orange is the New Black,” Angel Salazar from “Scarface,” and others.
The event raised over $1,500 for the charity. Taking place at La Reggia Restaurant in the Meadowlands Plaza Hotel in Secaucus on Friday, Feb. 19, it was an adults-only affair, with no topic off limits.
“I like to tell funny stories about things that really happened.” –Janet Regensburg
“I like to tell funny stories about things that really happened,” she said. “I like to be attentive to every situation where you’re looking at different personalities and getting ideas how to make that funny. So many people are funny and don’t even know it.”
Regensburg’s comedy is observational and sarcastic, poking fun at everything from common meaningless expressions to menopause.
Learning the craft
Regensburg, who recently turned 50 and celebrated her 10th wedding anniversary, took to the stage only two years ago.
“It was my 25th year teaching,” she said. “I’ve been involved at work in setting up Christmas shows and welcome back parties and things like that. We put a little slide show together and do a little comedy routine. I always wanted to be a comedian. That was the dream. But I never really had time because I was busy working, going to school, focusing on my career as math teacher.”
Until one day she took the plunge and enrolled in a three-week course at the American Comedy Institute in New York City. They offered intensive training in the basics of comedy and worked one-on-one to help her develop her craft.
At the end of the course she found herself onstage delivering a five-minute monologue, which can be found on YouTube.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “And what happened after is interesting.”
It turned out that one of her former students was Joe Loesner, who had gone on to a career as a comedy promoter for numerous high-profile venues in New York and elsewhere. In 2014 he opened the Meadowlands Comedy Club in various venues around the region.
“He had heard I was a comedian,” said Regensburg, so he called and asked if she wanted to come perform. Since then she has performed regularly for him, as well as at other clubs including “America’s premier comedy club,” Caroline’s on Broadway, where many of the top comedians in the world have entertained.
“Caroline’s is a big deal for a comedian,” said Loesner.
“It’s really exciting to meet the other comedians,” said Regensburg. “There are older comedians and younger kids who want to do this for their career. I’m a little different because I already have my career. I’m not like a struggling artist.”
That gives her the opportunity to work at her leisure and convenience. Which doesn’t mean she doesn’t push herself.
“I believe you have to have a practiced set,” she said. “It needs to be rehearsed. That’s one thing I got out of the comedy school. You learn how to conserve your words, set up your set, what’s the best order. I tape all of my shows and then I listen back and I say, ‘That joke didn’t get as many jokes this time as last time, and it might have been where I put it in the set.’ ”
She is constantly analyzing and tweaking her material, and always writing new jokes. “I teach math. I have a mathematical mind,” she said. “It’s always been a fear of mine that I didn’t have the skill to write. But the more I practice, the more I write, the more I enjoy it.”
Recently she pushed herself to perform her first improv set, with 12 other comedians all new to improv. “I’m into being prepared. And there’s no preparation for it,” she said about improv. “You were paired by chance with a male comedian and you had to go back and forth as if you were meeting for first time and be funny, and keep it going for eight minutes. I was really nervous, thinking, ‘What if I’m not funny?’ It has a lot to do with the other person. He was young, like 25, and he was very funny and I was able to feed off him.”
Comedy: a family affair
Of growing up in Guttenberg the youngest of six children, Regensburg said, “Everybody in my family is very funny. We grew up with nothing so we had to be creative to entertain myself. My sister and I were singing, dancing, making ourselves laugh since we were little kids.”
Carol Burnett was an early inspiration, with the family gathering on Saturday nights to watch together.
The comic gene was also perhaps passed down from her father, who had been a professional clown for 10 years, working with Clarabell the Clown on “The Howdy Doody Show” on TV.
“My father was an entertainer in the service” in World War II, she recalled. “He did shows for the officers. He was stationed over in England and that’s how he met my mother” who is British, a fact that figures prominently in Regensburg’s comedy act.
“My oldest brother Ernie is my biggest supporter,” she said. “He just loves it and he gets people to come to the shows. He promotes me. I don’t even promote myself.”
“Her brother is the hardest working brother in show business,” joked Loesner.
Initially Regensburg studied to be an accountant, but found a facility for teaching while helping her fellow students with their math homework. “I love what I do,” she said. “I love the kids.”
And do they know about her late night career? “They love it,” she said. “But it’s hard for me because some of my material I wouldn’t want them to hear. I don’t put that online. I need to be a professional. When I’m at work I have a reputation, so I like to make sure I preserve that. I try to teach that there’s a time and place for everything.”
And the time for raucous comedy is onstage. The benefit show for St. Jude’s packed the large banquet room at La Reggia and was a huge success by any measure.
“I got so much feedback from people saying, ‘My ribs hurt, my face hurt from laughing,’” said Loesner. “Who’d have thought you’d be tired from laughing?”
Regensburg will be performing next at La Reggia on March 18, in competition to become America’s Comedy Standup Champion. “I did it last year and was a runner up,” she said.
Following that she will be among the many comedians participating in the Second Annual Meadowlands Comedy Festival, running from April 13 to 17. Visit meadowlandscomedyclub.com for more information.
To contribute to St. Jude Children’s Hospital visit fundraising.stjude.org/clarendon2015-16.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.