Dena Blizzard is arguably one funny mother.
The Moorestown woman's Off-Broadway comedy show is a collection of wifedom wisdom and motherhood humor. Her "Chardonnay Go" video - where she hunts glasses of chardonnay instead of Pokémon - went viral this summer and now has more than 44 million views.
Even her rise as a comedian was unorthodox for the woman who won Miss New Jersey in 1995.
Blizzard, now 44, got into comedy when she turned the big 3-0 - a number she had a hard time embracing. With stand-up at the top of her bucket list, her husband, Jim, bought her a class.
Soon, she was seating people at a Runnemede comedy cabaret for the chance at five minutes for her own stand-up act. Eventually, she became the headliner, and over the next several years, she expanded to perform at clubs in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, New York City, and Las Vegas, as well as at private and corporate events. Her life was a far cry from the part-time jobs she had held at QVC and as a church organist.
The impetus for One Funny Mother - her current stand-up routine - was a private appearance at a retreat in New Hampshire in which she was running late.
"The booker said they were running late also but had an hour and a half set aside for me after dinner," she said. "I only had 45 minutes of material, and it took me eight years to write that. I didn't have another 45 minutes."
So she and a friend sat in the bar, brainstorming stories as Blizzard jotted them down on a napkin. In the end: two hours well-received by the audience.
"I thought to myself, if I could do a show off a napkin in a bar, what could happen if I actually put some time into it?" she said.
She debuted the show on Mother's Day 2008 at the Broadway Theatre in Pitman, N.J. She took that routine throughout the country for a year and a half.
"Then I got this great opportunity to start doing warm-ups in New York for the Nate Berkus show," she said, "and I ended up putting this show in the closet in my basement."
After three years, she was ready to dust it off and take it on the road. In March, she launched One Funny Mother at New World Stages in New York City, where twice a week you can find her making fun of the universal daily trials and tribulations her personal life inspires.
No one in her inner circle is safe - especially not Jim or kids Dean, 16; Jacqueline, 14; and Brooke, 12. The show - a combination of Blizzard's anecdotes and edited video clips of funny motherhood moments - "is about the universality and humor in motherhood," she says. "Especially today, there's so much pressure for women to be perfect and think a certain way, and all of my humor comes from poking fun at these things that are daily struggles.
"What started as getting a laugh turned into so much more," Blizzard said. "I hear from women, 'Thank you for making me feel so normal and letting me know I'm not crazy,' because sometimes it can be such a solitary place for women."
Blizzard figured out she was funny during her Miss New Jersey stint. After graduating from Rowan University, she wanted to go to grad school, initially considering medicine, but ultimately getting a master's in gerontology. She needed scholarship money.
"I'd go to these events as Miss New Jersey, and people would laugh," Blizzard said. "Who knew Miss America was a breeding ground for comedy? It was a great place for me to learn how to speak my mind at such a young age."
Speaking her mind is the basis for her show. One such gem from her monologue:
"My husband would always come home from work and wonder why I was a nutjob. I would try to explain to him that he doesn't understand the conversations that happen here while he was out there. Like when Dean was [6 years old] in the bathroom and I was folding laundry across the hall. Out of the blue, he said, 'Mom, I think there's a ball in here. It's really cool.' I said, 'Well, I think there are two.' I kept folding, and he said, 'Nope, just one.' I'm like, 'Now I've got to do laundry and find your ball?' Then when I'm telling my husband the story, he says, 'Did you check him?' I said, 'No, that's not my job. I raised the babies and sent them to school. You can take out the trash, feed the dogs, and look for balls. Understand?' "
Should you wonder how Dean felt about this sketch, the junior at Moorestown High was not thrilled. "A lot of kids from my school go to see the show, and I didn't want anyone to hear that," he said. And although he has been teased mercilessly by friends and classmates, he's over the embarrassment now. "After a while, you see that it's all for fun."
In fact, especially in the summer, Dean helps run the technical aspects of the show with Jim. Blizzard's daughters set up the stage, and her mother sells merchandise. And Blizzard - as producer, star, and chief writer - is supplied with a kitchen cabinet of friends and mothers whose stories she borrows.
"The show was hysterical and true to form," said Donna DeFrancesco, 41, a mother of three from Florham Park, N.J., who saw One Funny Mother in April. "It was almost like a day in her life, making fun of all the things us moms always joke about. . . . It makes you feel good that there's a camaraderie and we're all in the same boat."
Charlotte Cohn, a New York producer who mentored Blizzard at the Off-Broadway Alliance, calls her unstoppable.
"She is so funny, and that's contagious," Cohn said. "Everything she says on that stage relates to the audience one way or another, even if it's hardships or tough times."
When Blizzard directly addresses audience members, her on-the-fly quips are often a fan favorite, Cohn said. "It keeps you peeing in your seat."
"She makes mothers realize that they'll make it through," said Michael Coco, New World Stages' managing director.
"You want her to be your mother, too. She has that personality of that sitcom mom that people love to talk to."
One day, Blizzard would like to be that sitcom mom. But if that doesn't happen, her dream job would be to host a talk or game show. "There's never been a female host of the Family Feud."
For now, Blizzard is working to expand her show, hiring other funny mothers to perform throughout the United States and ultimately overseas. "The topic is so universal," she said. "It doesn't matter if you're a mom in Texas or a mom in Jersey or a mom in France. Everyone feels crazy."
Dena Blizzard's "One Funny Mother" will be performed at 10 shows in March at the Bucks County Playhouse.