Inside Buckhead’s Landmark Diner, Lace Larrabee stands on a stage in front of a waist-high wooden stool with a microphone in one hand and the mic stand in the other. Though she’s traveled the country on the comedy circuit, Larrabee’s not here to crack jokes. Tonight is the first session of the Laugh Lab, billed as the only stand-up comedy class in Atlanta that’s exclusively for women.
The evening’s focus is on how to handle troublemakers in the audience. “Ninety-eight percent of heckling is just a drunk person who thinks they’re helping,” Larrabee advises her class, a mix of aspiring comics and professionals. She’s had experience dealing with troublemakers. With her routines about hard drinking, the follies of dating, and body positivity, her style points to Amy Schumer and Chelsea Handler. For hecklers, she recommends a two-step approach if the showrunner doesn’t step in: Kill ’em kindly with humor, and get stern only as a last resort.
Larrabee’s journey to the stage started with her childhood in middle Georgia. Her parents were teenagers when they had her, and money was tight. “My family always overcame any sort of hardships with comedy,” she explains later. “I was that kid that came up with my own terrible shows . . . My family would have to buy fake tickets that I would draw on construction paper.”
Following her mother’s career with State Farm, the family moved from Warner Robins to Cumming to Glennville. Mom and Dad sometimes picked up night jobs to help pay bills, but they always budgeted time to bring Larrabee to acting auditions, helping their daughter land a BellSouth commercial and a role as a featured extra in the Julia Roberts film Something to Talk About.
“My family always overcame any sort of hardships with comedy.”
Then, when she was 13, Larrabee found the calling that would be a constant for the next 14 years of her life: pageants, mostly for the Miss America Organization. “You can make fun of pageants all day long until you have that crown on your head, and you’re like: Oh, I get it. Oh, this is kind of great,” says Larrabee, who would compete four times for the Miss Georgia title. (A Miss Cobb County award for congeniality is named in her honor.) “It was the thing I didn’t know I needed.”
She prefers not to call them “beauty” pageants because, to her, they’re about empowerment, not appearance. In addition to earning her $26,000 for her communications degree from Kennesaw State University, the contests showed her how to command an audience’s attention and make strangers laugh. When other contestants were singing and tap dancing, Larrabee was performing stand-up.
After college, she bartended and waited tables at Tin Lizzy’s Cantina in Buckhead. A regular who produced stand-up shows booked Larrabee a gig without telling her. The experience turned into a career that today includes trips to California, Oregon, and New York for solo gigs; opening spots for Tig Notaro, Dave Attell, and Caroline Rhea; and appearances on FOX comedy shows like Laughs and Dish Nation. In addition to an upcoming role in the new Catherine Zeta-Jones dark comedy Queen America, Larrabee is also playing herself on the Weather Channel’s Weather Gone Viral.
Still, it’s sometimes tricky to be a woman in this industry. She says open-mic nights are often dominated by men, and the genre’s sometimes bawdy nature can walk the line between humor and poor taste. At one gig in Little Rock, a host told the audience her first name sounded like that of a porn actress. Audience members can be skeptical about women’s talents or have double standards. Sometimes when she pokes fun at her husband, longtime comic Jarrod Harris, a few people wince at the material until they learn he’s in on the joke. “Stand-up comedy was built on the whole ‘Take my wife, please!’ [bit],” she says, but “I almost feel like they pull back until I say he’s a comedian, too. He’s heard these jokes. It’s okay.”
“Ninety-eight percent of heckling is just a drunk person who thinks they’re helping.”
Larrabee says the dynamic is changing as more women rise to power as both comedians and producers. Gone are the days of the 1970s and ’80s when female comics were often relegated to all-women nights or, as was the case in part of Los Angeles’s famed (and female-owned) Comedy Store, a women’s-only performance space. Now, Atlanta is turning out female stars like Mia Jackson, who’s toured with Amy Schumer, and Dulcé Sloan, a Daily Show correspondent.
Like them, Larrabee has become a role model. She launched Laugh Lab to help other women build up their confidence in public speaking in a friendly environment. Her teaching method is simple: She asks students to keep journals about their lives, and she helps them turn those notes into comedy. With a few storytelling tricks, anecdotes about quirky family members or misbehaving pets can become funny to a larger audience. Larrabee also provides practical tips on booking gigs. At the end of the six-week program, students perform a five-minute routine at the Punchline (the most recent graduation stand-up ceremony was held on November 4). Advanced classes help aspiring pros navigate the business side of the industry.
With dozens of Laugh Lab alumni in Atlanta, it’s harder to find all-male lineups these days. And, with so many successful women comics, Larrabee says, there aren’t as many skeptical audience members. For equality, “comedy is the best medicine.” Larrabee says. “Wait, please, God! Get your kids vaccinated!”
This article appears in our November 2018 issue.