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Here she comes

Jeanne Robertson, the tallest Miss America contestant of all time and now the tallest female septuagenarian humorist, brings her anecdotal expertise to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Jeanne Robertson, who's about to make 'em laugh in a BCPA show Saturday night, has packed a lot of firsts into her statuesque 6-foot-2 ("but shrinking") frame.

Let's start at the top: At 19, she was Miss North Carolina in the 1963 Miss America Pageant, where she promptly became the tallest pageant contestant ever, a record she holds to this day.

"I'd love for it to be broken," adds the high achiever who still stands in the 6-foot-6 shadow of her husband, Left Brain (or L.B) (or, as the birth records show, Jerry). 

She also became the pageant's ukulele-strumming Miss Congeniality for '63; the uke wasn't for congeniality, but for the talent competition, where her later gift for making us laugh had yet to be tapped.

"I don't play the ukulele, so the problem was ... I was not good. I could only play a couple chords," she confides.

Back to the actual record book.

At 71, she's also the only former Miss America contestant to become a successful humorist ("not a comedian," she's quick to clarify), transitioning around eight years ago from corporate keynote speaker to Sirius radio, iTunes and YouTube sensation, where her videos have clocked hits in the millions.

And she's also the only humorist clocking millions of hits who's a former basketball player/coach.

Now that Robertson has crossed the 70 marker, she relies less and less on stories about her beauty pageant past.  

Far more meaningful to her than sharing the Miss America tarmac with the legendary Bert Parks, and being named Miss Congeniality, was the fact that "I got to make around 500 little speeches that year." 

With a down-home accent that makes her sound like Andy Griffith's funnier kid sister, Robertson found that audience became putty in her hands, far more successfully than either a basketball or a ukulele.

"The word started to spread that this 6-foot-2 woman could make people laugh, which led to her career as a professional speaker at corporate or civic-type gatherings needing a light touch.

A product of that environment, which demanded that she work within certain bounds of propriety, Robertson learned to weave stories, anecdotes and a cast of recurring characters (including hubby Left Brain) into an evening's entertainment, sans crude language or pushing anyone's envelopes.

"When I was starting out, women in comedy didn't really portray themselves," she says. "And I had no desire to do the comedy clubs, which were all in a different world, and where the sole goal is to make the audience laugh with whatever it takes, even if you offend half of them."

Jokes with a punchline are anathema to Robertson's humorous world-view, which could be likened to Erma Bombeck by way of Andy Griffith, with (per her recent callbacks to the Grand Ole Opry stage) just a dash of Minnie Pearl, sans the outrageous hats: stories from her life, embroidered with true wit and delivered in a charismatic way that crosses generational and regional lines.

"Stories that people can identify with," she says of the all-ages tales with titles like "Don't go rafting without a Baptist," "Don't mess with broom people," "Don't go bungee jumping naked," "Don't send a man to the grocery store" and "Don't line dance in the ladies room."

"I have a ball when people come up after the show and tell me that the very same things have happened to them," says Robertson, who will be in the lobby after the show, mingling and having the kind of ball she loves.

Around eight years ago, her years of keeping larges groups of corporate and civic types in stitches was forced out of that relatively closed world into the open when someone suggested she peddle her routines via iTunes, where the current inventory of titles is at 100.

Then came further exposure via Sirius radio and YouTube, which prompted the branching out into the performing arts world, a la Saturday's show here in Bloomington.

"Come on, I know your stories are just as good as mine, and just as funny ... it's just that I'm lucky enough to be getting up on a stage to tell mine," says the tallest, most congenial Miss America contestant of them all.

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