The New Erma Bombeck | A Pleasanton empty-nester adds stand-up comedy to her résumé.
When faced with the onset of an empty nest, many parents have a tendency to retreat into the fetal position for a few weeks—or till the end of the first semester of freshman year. Not Stacey Gustafson. Always a comedy fan, when Gustafson's eldest daughter set out on her own a few years ago, she started writing humorous parenting tales from her own life experiences. Like the one about how her daughter wanted her to bake brownies for a class party but forgot them. When she called to have mom dutifully bring them to school, Gustafson, who had just vowed to stop doing every little thing for her kids, replied that she was too busy. And then she ate the brownies. Gustafson's takes on the bliss of parenthood and family life began showing up in the Not Your Mother's Book series and others, and a compilation of her hits became the Amazon best seller Are You Kidding Me? My Life With An Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, And Crazy Relatives. Now she's taking on the stand-up comedy world. I tracked down the very busy Pleasanton humorist for a peek at what my own empty nest may look like someday.
Paul Kilduff: When writing about your family, can you just say whatever you want?
Stacey Gustafson: Before I wrote my own book, I had submitted a lot of these stories to other book series. I had to have my kids and my husband sign a waiver saying they were OK being portrayed.
PK: Are you serious? Really?
SG: The only one who gave me trouble was my son. He said, "Well, I'm not signing 'cause it's too embarrassing." I said, "Well, I guess I'll have to keep your car keys." He took about five minutes to cave. My daughter graduated from college this year, is living at home for awhile as she's working her first job. She's totally fine with it; she thinks it's funny. She gives out my book to her friends.
PK: Now that your kids are young adults, does that change how you approach your humor?
SG: My humor's balanced around from when they were younger, through high school, through college. We still do stuff, we still go on vacation; I still have a lot of stories. My kids have a pretty good sense of humor as well and my husband. When funny stuff happens, I switch gears. We went to Paris, and my husband found a backpack leaning against one of the legs of the Eiffel Tower. This is a true story. He can't find his shoes at home, but he found this backpack. He told security. Didn't touch it. They cleared out the whole Eiffel Tower, put up yellow tape. The SWAT team came with a little robot and blew up the backpack. I said to my family, "Isn't it amazing your dad saved Paris? You can say he saved Europe." My son says, "Or you could say he ruined the vacation of 10,000 people." So I still have great stories.
PK: How difficult is it when the kid goes off to college?
SG: My daughter's very talkative and more social, so when she left, it was very quiet 'cause boys spend so much of their time in their room. I thought, "Man, I've got to get out there and do something. What is it I like to do?" I was a stay-at-home mom and dedicated so much time just to what they liked to do. I thought, "I'm at my halfway point, probably past that at age 51, or whatever I was at that time, 47. I have to find something, what do I like to do?" At that time, I started writing short stories and submitting them to publications and getting my work accepted. It was really cool for me and I thought, "Well, maybe I could write a book with these stories," so that's what I set out to do. Then I pushed myself and I thought, "You know what? I really have always admired stand-up comedians. Maybe I could do that, too."
PK: There is life after raising kids?
PK: You've written for Erma Bombeck's Writers' Workshop anthology, and like her, you've been a suburban housewife raising kids. Is your goal to be the reincarnation of Bombeck?
SG: I think that would be terrific. I do admire her. I think at one point I read every single one of her books and I thought, "Wow. This is so relatable." Her stories feel like you're there. Everybody has kids who are picky eaters, and they complain about the clothes you wear, and how you drive your car. That's me, too. So no one will ever really replace her, but I think I can put a modern spin Erma Bombeck-like stories.
PK: Does stand-up top writing?
SG: I have shifted to stand-up lately. I have a friend in town who's an actual comedian. I just call myself a wannabe. I can go to the local comedy club and do open mic night again, but I'm really a loner—a 50-year-old, middle-aged woman at open mic night. My competition is 25-year-old single guys with totally dirty jokes. I was really putting myself out there. Everybody gets embarrassed, but I'm like, "What's the worst that can happen? Even if I'm a total flop, it's still a good story to write about, talk about." I didn't think anybody was going to throw anything at me. I didn't think I'd get thrown off the stage. With the stand-up, the more you go up there, the more comfortable you are. I use my book as the core of my comedy. I whittle down the 700-word short stories into three sentences for a joke. That's not easy.
PK: There's a lot of lip service paid to how great it is to be a parent, but it seems like most do what they can to get out of doing all the day-to-day parenting duties. True?
SG: All those people getting out of parenting duties were dumping on me. When you're a stay-at-home mom, suddenly you're always available to do the carpool, always available to get the coaches gifts. That's the group that becomes the glue for the other parents who are going to work. So I did enjoy that, but looking back, maybe I should've cut back on some of that and spent some more time with my husband. I mean, we went to every basketball game. It's great, but you kind of lose your coupledom. Doing so much for your kids, you have to be careful, 'cause then you forget your husband. We shared all that together, but I think maybe we didn't have to do so much. At least for my daughter, I think she would've allowed us.
PK: How are you going to stay in touch with your kids in the future?
SG: I tell my husband we're going to get a tiny house. Do you know those little houses?
PK: Of course.
SG: He goes, "You never would live in one of those." I said, "I think they're so great." We could put them in our kids' backyards and two weeks out of the year, we'd stay there."
Stacey Gustafson will perform in "An Evening of Stand-Up Comedy and Sit-Down Storytelling" with Regina Stoops on Nov. 1 at Tommie T's Comedy Club, 5104 Hopyard Road, Pleasanton. Doors open 6:30 p.m.; show starts at 7:30 p.m.
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Birthplace: St. Louis, Mo.
Book on Nightstand: Do You Talk Funny? by David Nihill
Motto: Life is too short to sit on the sofa.
Favorite junk food: Toasted ravioli
Favorite TV shows: