I became a stand-up comedian at 77
4 MIN READ
You’re never too old to be too old
Julie Kertesz believes everyone has a story to tell and not just one story but many. That’s not surprising when you learn a bit about Julie’s life which contains enough twists and turns to fill a whole shelf of blockbusters.
From chemist to comedian
She has been a research chemist in the US, founded a personal computer company in France, and became a public speaker in Britain. But that was really just the start. When she was 77 years old, she began a career as a stand-up comedienne and won the Silver Comedy best newcomer award. As she says, ‘it’s never too late for anything.’
‘For 70 years I didn’t tell a joke’
Her career in comedy did not get off to the best of starts. When Julie was just seven years’ old she came home with a joke she’d heard at school hoping to make her mother laugh. In her innocence, she had no idea that her first joke was a rude one. Needless to say, it didn’t go down well. Instead of laughing, her mother told her, sternly, ‘ladies don’t speak like that and besides it’s not funny’. Julie took that to mean that she was not funny. So for the next 70 years she didn’t tell a single joke.
Fleeing from the Nazis in Transylvania
A lot happened, in the seven decades between that first joke and her second. Julie was born in Transylvania, in Romania, and lived there until the Second World War meant her family had to flee the Nazis when she was just ten years old. They fled to Budapest where they had to hide from the SS using false papers before having to flee again when the Russians invaded.
‘An enemy of the people’
When Julie was 24 she was working in a laboratory as a research technician. One day a ‘strange lady with bad hair’ came in and told her she wanted the table that Julie was writing at. ‘I told her no, it’s my table.’ The woman became hysterical demanding that Julie give up her table. That did not seem fair. Julie refused. The woman turned out to be Elena Petrescu, the wife of the future Romanian dictator. Julie was thrown out of university, was banned from studying anywhere in the country, was declared an ‘enemy of the people’ and was unable to leave the country. Elena Petrescu, on the other hand, was made director of the institute as soon as she finished her degree.
‘Real, true, personal stories’
The stories Julie shares with audiences combine love, sex and heartbreak. In one she describes how, when she was 25, her father was so strict about her meeting young men that she had to dream up an elaborate scheme involving a series of postcards sent by a friend from another town so that she could spend time with her boyfriend (and future husband). But she couldn’t disguise the ‘glow’ she came back home with afterwards. In another, she describes how, 18 years and two children later, she found a letter sent to her husband (the same boyfriend she once dreamt up imaginative schemes just to meet) from a younger woman he was seeing at the time.
‘From every bad thing something good comes’
Julie’s great-grandmother once told her ‘from every bad thing something good comes’ and at the lowest points in her life she has turned to this insight. Now she incorporates it in her comedy routine.
‘When something bad happens to me now, I look to see how I can make something funny from it.’
She is fearless about tackling the subject of ageing and uses a photo she once took of her face covered in shaving cream when talking about the battle with facial hair.
‘I fell in love with the audience’
When she joined the Toastmasters Club in London, Julie fell in love again, this time with live audiences. At first, when audiences laughed at her stories, it was by accident rather than design. As she says herself, ‘I couldn’t understand why they were laughing’. But it was such a wonderful feeling hearing them burst into laughter that she began to study stand-up comedy to see how she could use it. She has appeared on stage as a stand-up comedienne over 80 times since then.
‘There’s never just one career or one love’
As a woman who speaks four languages, started her working life as a chemical technician in Romania, once complained to Bill Gates, in person, about a Microsoft decision to kill a software package she relied upon, and now entertains audiences from stages around the world, Julie has some advice for those who hesitate to change careers simply because of their age:
‘I want you to believe it’s never too late to discover new things. If I can do it, with my English, then anyone can do it.’
Ingenuity: A national Build Your Own Business programme
Inspired by Julie? It’s never too late to change career or realise a dream of starting a new business. And not just once but many times.
Bank of Ireland sponsors Ingenuity, a national Build Your Own Business Programme, for people aged 50 plus who want to start their own business. Ingenuity is led by ISAX and run in collaboration with the Local Enterprise Offices (LEO).