Growing up in a small Arizona mining town, Jann Karam found that there weren’t many ways to have fun. Yet laughter always filled her home because “everyone in the family, even mom and dad, were funny” and the family loved to gather around the TV set and watch sitcoms each night.
Her father was a local politician who told plenty of jokes at his public events, so when she hit college, Karam decided that standup comedy was a way to take control of her destiny as a performer. Since she was often overlooked by those casting student plays, she stepped up to the microphone on her own and brought the funny to audiences on her own terms.
“I wasn’t waiting around [for someone] to give me opportunities. I was always questioning things and I wanted to have a voice. As a kid I always made my dad laugh,” recalls Karam. “It was so hot in Arizona, mom never let us open the curtain, saying ‘don’t let the sunlight in,’ because of the air conditioning bill! When I first heard about Dracula, I thought he must be from Arizona, too.”
Karam has come a long way from her start while attending Arizona State University, where she regularly performed at open mic nights at Macayo’s, a Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale. She jokes that she was paid a chimichanga for each joke, but she used that launching pad for a career that has enabled her to work with comedy legend Carol Burnett and earned her the honor of being judged as the “favorite girlfriend of all time” on the legendary sitcom Seinfeld.
She got her first breaks in New York City, where she moved after college and began working as a professional comedian. Her numerous TV credits — stand-up performances and series acting roles — include repeat appearances on both The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman, HBO’s 13th Annual Young Comedians’ Show, Mad About You, Politically Incorrect and many others. She also created and filmed the one-woman show, Reclining Nude on La Cienega, produced by Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In producer George Schlatter.
Now, Karam is coming to the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club next Thursday for a special Valentine’s Day show, opening for veteran comic John DiResta.
“I talk about what’s personal, because personal is universal,” says Karam. “My friend describes me as blithe and incisive, happy but biting, and I apply that to family, social anxiety or experiences. And of course, the annoyances we all face every day going through life.”
Karam frequently works with Saturday Night Live alum Dana Carvey as the opener for his standup appearances, but she already was used to working with comedy royalty from her 1993-94 stint as a cast member in a Carol Burnett variety show and her role in the classic Seinfeld episode “The Switch.”
“That was really a lot of fun and it’s become a classic show that everybody knows as the menage a trois episode,” she laughs. “Uproxx voted me the No. 1 funniest girlfriend of all time for Jerry on the show. I had auditioned three times for three separate episodes, and I knew Larry and Jerry, so it was actually more nerve-wracking.”
“I said to myself if I didn’t get it I wouldn’t audition for them again,” she adds. “I went to the movies and found out I got the part at midnight and had to be on the set at 9 a.m. The next thing I knew, Larry was telling me how to say the line ‘Hey, what a wild idea.’ ”
Jann Karam performs with John DiResta on Thursday, Feb. 14, at 8 p.m. at the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club, 1559 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura. For tickets and more information, call 805-644-1500 or visit venturaharborcomedyclub.com. Watch Karam’s Reclining Nude on La Cienega at www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh3oIyMeB5U&t=1834s.