Lee Strong has no intention of ever retiring.
“I always wanted to do comedy,” Strong says. “Once I tried it, that was it.”
At the time she started doing stand-up, Strong was 63. She had been told she was funny her entire life.
“I did things all the time,” Strong says. “One time, my teacher wrote, ‘Not only does she not pay attention, she keeps everyone else from paying attention.’ That was my badge of honor.”
Although Strong wanted to be a comedian, life got in the way.
“I had four kids,” she says. “My husband was in the Marine Corps and we traveled overseas.”
Strong often used comedy to deal with life in the military and became known for her sense of humor. When she went professional, she was a hit.
“I’ve been lucky, very lucky,” Strong says. “I won a couple of comedy contests in Vegas. I was on ‘Last Comic Standing’ and ‘America’s Got Talent.’”
Life wasn’t always funny, though.
Born in Oklahoma City, Strong grew up in Cape Girardeau, a small town in southeastern Missouri. Her father, a college dean, died when she was 12 and she ended up in a children’s home in Kentucky.
After graduating from Otterbein College in Ohio, she married Ben Strong, a career Marine. They moved from place to place and lived overseas, having four children along the way.
When the Strong family lived in Homestead, Fla., their house was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They moved to Jacksonville, where, in 1995, Strong’s husband died of cancer.
Strong’s job as a phone operator for Bell South ended after she accepted a buyout. But things began looking up when she started performing, doing open mics in the late 1990s.
After auditioning in Houston, Strong was sent to Las Vegas, where she was picked for the Top 40. Out of thousands of people, she made it to the Top 10 before she was eliminated from the competition in the finale on Sept. 16, 2009.
Even though she ended up in the bottom five by the season’s end, Strong was so popular that she was invited to go on the winners’ tour. She was flown first to Phoenix and then Los Angeles.
“I was so happy because I was the first non-winner invited on the tour,” Strong says. “I got to L.A. and was backstage when I tripped over a cable box.
“I broke my right shoulder, right hip and right knee and had surgery. I was in rehab for a month.
“I would have given anything to do that tour,” she says. “I walk with a cane because I don’t ever want to have to go through something like that again.”
In Savannah, Strong will do a clean set, but she does do blue comedy when asked.
“I’m dirty when I’m dirty but not gross,” she says.
Strong has the full support of her family.
When she did “America’s Got Talent,” she asked her children to fly out for the taping of the quarterfinals if they could. They were present every week she competed.
People are often surprised to learn Strong is a comedian.
“When I come into a place, they don’t know what to think,” she says. “I once heard somebody say, ‘We might stay to see the old lady.’”
There is never a lack of material for jokes.
“Today’s political scene is fodder for comics,” Strong says. “I do some political stuff and I’m not always politically correct, but I don’t cut either side down.
“One of my political jokes is, ‘We have a black president and now we’re going to have an orange president. Orange is the new black.’
“I don’t write jokes, per se,” she says. “Stuff just comes to me. If it doesn’t work, I don’t use it anymore.”
This past year, Strong made more than 200 appearances with the help of a driver who also carries her luggage.
“I get bored if I’m not on the road,” she says. “I try to be an inspiration and tell people, ‘You’re never too old to realize your dream.’ Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
IF YOU GO
What: Savannah Comedy Revue presents Grandma Lee
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 14
Where: Bay Street Theatre, Club One, 1 Jefferson St.
Cost: $10, $15 VIP table seating
Info: clubone-online.com/shop, 314-503-9005