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A standup in a class by herself

It’s a weird twist when the teacher qualifies as the class clown.

When that happens there’s only one thing to do: Leave the kids in the rearview mirror and take the long and grinding road as a standup comic.

That’s what Sharon Lacey did.

A national award-winning educator, Lacey took an early retirement after 23 years of teaching elementary and middle school children in the Portland area. Then she set off to chase her comedy dreams.

Now an established pro who has even entertained our troops in Iraq, Lacey is coming back home to headline Friday and Saturday at Spokane’s Uncle D’s Comedy Underground. (The club is located not underground but upstairs at Bluz at the Bend, Illinois and Market streets. Call (509) 483-7300 for prices and reservations for the 8 p.m. shows.)

“Just the last three years she’s really come on strong,” says Don Parkins, the “D” in Uncle D’s. “She not only appeals to women, but men, too. I’m proud of her.”

I used the term “home” a second ago in a bit of a broad sense. Lacey actually grew up in Cheney. (Her maiden name was Sharon Galloway.) And while she won’t reveal her age, Lacey puts her childhood back in those simple days when the town wasn’t encumbered with a McDonald’s.

Or even a stoplight.

There was still plenty for youngsters to do, of course.

“I remember my friends and I running behind the big city truck as it sprayed mosquito poison throughout the streets of Cheney,” she says. “It smelled so good, which explains a lot of why I am the way I am today.”

I learned about Lacey from an e-mail sent to me by one of her old high school buddies.

I find it fascinating that a teacher would wind up in comedy.

See, most of my teachers weren’t funny at all. In fact, I couldn’t get a laugh out of them no matter how many plastic vomit replicas I dropped on classroom floors.

The humorless dweebs just kept writing “Douglas doesn’t pay attention” on my report cards.

Lacey can trace her comedic roots to the time she won a talent show for contestants ages 12 and up at the Spokane County Fair. Lacey killed the audience by reciting a comedy monologue on football that Andy Griffith made famous.

The next day, however, scandal struck at the fair. Lacey says she had her trophy stripped from her after it was discovered she was only 10.

I can’t think of better training for a future comic. As Lacey would find out, becoming a standup comedian is all about dealing with disappointment and pain.

“Being a standup comedian is NOT an easy life,” she says. “I often have to sleep in my car when I’m on the road, because the bookers and clubs don’t pay for a hotel on the nights you aren’t performing.”

Plus there is the never-ending search for a gig.

Lacey says she’s worked everywhere from Applebee’s restaurants to strip joints.

Only the strong survive. While starting out, Lacey says, she would drive 3  1/2 hours to Seattle to work in a club for free and then drive back in the wee hours so she could get to her classroom on time.

This woman was an extraordinary educator. In 1996, she was one of 36 teachers from across America to win a Disney-sponsored National Teacher Award.

“I loved teaching, loved the kids,” she says. “But after 23 years, I wanted a new challenge.  I’ve always told my students they should never stop learning, and I apply that to myself as well.” 

She actually caught the comedy bug after taking a night class in standup.

That led her to an open-mic night at a club where she says she embarrassed her husband by cracking jokes about his colonoscopy.

“I’d give myself a D,” says the former teacher, when asked to grade her performance.

Lacey wasn’t about to let a little thing like inability discourage her. She describes her brand of comedy as somewhat blue observations about her real-life experiences. And after eight months of plugging away, she finally landed a comedy tour that actually paid.

True, it was only 400 bucks. And, true, she had to do four shows at four clubs from Portland to Billings.

“But I kept at it,” Lacey said. “Unlike some of the younger comics, I’m at a stage of my life when I have a car that actually works.”

There is another motivation that drove her to this unorthodox career: fear.

Lacey says Alzheimer’s runs in her family, “and I was noticing memory problems in myself.”

Looking for a way to “make my brain work harder,” Lacey believes performing standup comedy night after night has sharpened her mental acuity.

It’s also given her a goal.

“I don’t want to be famous. I just want to have fun and make people laugh and travel around the country meeting new people,” she says. “And if I get paid for it – Yay!”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at