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John Lamb, Published January 02 2012

Fargo divorcee uses her life’s story to fuel comedy

FARGO – “I’m Paloma Segal. I’m the Irish Jew with a Spanish name.”

That’s how the Fargo comedian opens her sets, like the one tonight at the Red Raven Espresso Parlor’s weekly comedy night or Wednesday nights at Courtney’s Comedy Club.

It’s not her best joke, but it is one of the few family-friendly ones Segal will tell on stage.

What some may consider raunchy material is part of the “cheap therapy” she’s found in stand-up comedy that fueled the single mom’s emergence as something of a First Lady of the Fargo-Moorhead comedy scene.

Just don’t call her a comedienne.

“The ‘Comedienne’ was a two-door coupe put out by Ford in the late 1960s,” Segal quips. “It was replaced by the Pinto, which proved to be much more reliable.

“I do not like the term ‘comedienne.’ It implies we do a lighter form of comedy, which is very misleading.”

Segal took her first stab at stand-up this past March, following her divorce, when her kids moved in with their father in Moorhead.

“The reality of being without my kids at night drove me insane,” she says.

Her friend and now comrade in comedy Adam Quesnell told her to check out the Raven’s weekly open-mic night, and Segal bit the bullet.

“I was just very pumped to do something,” she recalls of her first show. Segal had rehearsed a true story and was surprised at not only how well it went over but how good she felt after delivering it.

“I thought maybe I’d do it once,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d fall in love as much as I did.”

Breaking the ice

Segal wasn’t the only one who had a revelation that night. Host Will SpottedBear invited her back to the weekly comedy night, and fellow F-M comic J.D. Provorse urged her to get more involved.

Provorse says that as the divorced mother of two, Segal has a different perspective from most comics in the male-dominated local scene. But he stresses that most importantly, Segal is “genuinely funny.”

“She wasn’t the very first female performer we ever had, but she was one of the first,” Provorse says. “She also just has a bit more life experience than all the rest of us, which is a nice way of saying she’s older than most of us.”

Segal will be the first to point out that she’s not the only female comic in town. Her friends Megan Hjelle and Janna Raye Siverson are regulars at the Raven, and Jenni Lou Russi, the director of theater at Valley City State University, occasionally makes the hourlong drive for shows.

“Women are overlooked in comedy. It seems to be a man’s game,” says Russi, a 15-year veteran with some national stand-up experience.

When Russi started doing comedy at the Red Raven a few years ago, she was the only woman on the stage. Now she says some nights are marked by a 50/50 gender split.

“The comedy scene is growing for women,” Russi says.

Segal uses her sexuality to her advantage, knowing that showing a little cleavage gets the audience’s attention.

“How cool is it that I’m 39 and I’ve got people from 19 to 60 checking me out,” she says. “I should want people to respect me for my intelligence, but while they’re interested in the goods, I’m OK with that.”

Laughing all the way

Segal’s experiences on stage as a comic were new ones.

She had felt confined in a marriage that lacked affection. And though she had a life outside of the home, she was missing an outlet for her observations.

Segal recalls working as a news director of an agriculture segment on an Oakes, N.D., radio show and struggling through a spot for a rotary hoe.

“I thought, ‘That was a really flexible prostitute.’ I couldn’t make it through that ad without giggling,” Segal says.

So when she discovered herself onstage, Segal opened up about her newly single life – particularly as a “card-carrying member of the Cougar Forces.”

“I’m doing everything I was told not to do growing up, experienced whoredom for six months following my divorce,” she says one afternoon last week at the Raven.

“This is kind of like Toastmasters, but I can do some vulgar stuff,” Segal says of her comedy set, adding that working blue material has been liberating.

“Things I get into trouble for saying at work, I can say on stage,” she says, adding only that she works an office job. “Audiences don’t expect a woman in a business suit to be saying these things.”

Provorse says that plays to her advantage. “I think her biggest strength as a performer right now is her ability to be fearless, to open up and talk about her real life, as opposed to just generating funny ideas that might not necessarily be true … to create a genuine connection with your audience instead of just making them laugh,” he says.

“I think one of the things that surprises people when they see my set is that I think they expect me to talk about ‘girl’ stuff like my period or making kids’ lunches, but I talk about what is traditionally ‘divorced guy’ stuff, like paying child support and porn,” Segal says. “One of the best compliments I ever got from a fellow comedian is how I’m just ‘one of the guys.’ ”

Last laugh

As Segal’s life changes, so does her comedy material.

Her cougar season is over as she’s now dating a British man who, she says, is moving to Fargo-Moorhead. Thus, the tone of Segal’s material has changed.“Some of it is cleaner because I’m no longer the recent divorcee in the cougar lifestyle,” she says.

Some of it may be cleaner, but she does joke about having “Paul Revere sex” with her boyfriend.

“I thought you had to be miserable to be funny, but I’ve found there are funny things in life,” Segal says, adding that she’s looking forward to her boyfriend’s immigration hassles.

“I embrace life’s challenges, because it’s all new material,” she says.

One challenge has been trying to explain to her kids just what she does on Tuesday nights.

“They often ask me to tell them jokes, and I have to tell them they are grown-up jokes,” Segal says.

She’s most nervous about how her 11-year-old will react and instructs him that if he’s ever embarrassed to tell people about her comedy routine to explain that’s his mother’s evil twin.

“Maybe I can champion blue humor for the non-custodial moms,” she says with a laugh.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533