Backstage at Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown, Beverly Munter sat waiting in a room as the chatter of more than 100 audience members permeated the walls. After taking stand-up comedy classes for eight weeks, Munter, 81, was about to perform her first show before a paying crowd.
“I’m very excited,” said Munter, who had a list of her jokes to help remember them before going on stage Sunday evening, Jan. 10. “I love performing in front of an audience.”
The Plainview grandmother of three was one of seven fledgling comedians who recently participated in Governor’s Comedy College, an eight-week workshop culminating in two performances on the club’s stage, where professionals are booked every week. John Trueson, a stand-up comedy veteran with 30 years’ experience, taught the students how to write and deliver jokes. Their first show Sunday also featured several veteran comics.
Of all the older students Trueson has taught, he said, Munter just may be the best — and the raunchiest. “She looks like a sweet old lady, but she’s the sort of bawdy old grandma that everybody wanted to have,” said Trueson, who lives in Levittown. “She will talk about sexual topics and things of that nature. If people are expecting a sweet old lady when she walks out, they’re in for a rude awakening.”
Demonstrating his confidence in Munter, he gave her the tall order of closing the show. The audiences sat at tables lined in rows, some very close to the stage, which was more like a platform about the size of two king mattresses. The setup created an intimate feeling with the comics who seemed within reaching distance. For each of the performers, the reception was hearty and warm; family members and friends of the first-timers, especially, turned out to support.
When Munter stepped on stage, the greeting was wildly enthusiastic. She began her prepared material, rattling off one joke after another, gesturing to accentuate her punch lines. No joke was too edgy for Munter, and her upbeat attitude was infectious. She told a story about meeting a 90-year-old man through online dating. “He was lovely,” Munter said. “I had such a wonderful dinner with this guy, but he didn’t call me. And after two weeks, I was so upset. But, then I read in the newspaper . . . he died . . . and I felt so much better.” The audience howled.
Munter’s comedic chops came as no surprise to her daughter, Holly Koenig, 57, a Westbury resident who attended Comedy College with her mom and also performed Sunday night. “She’s the type of person that sits next to you on a train or an airplane and you want to talk to her for an hour.” Koenig said.
Munter said she owes a lot of her personality to growing up in Hollis, where she lived with her parents and aunts’ families in the same Queens home. Leisure time was often spent watching comedy films starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. “I went to every one of their movies when I was young,” she said. Lucille Ball was another favorite. As the youngest child in her home, Munter said, entertaining came naturally to her. “Anything that came out of my mouth, everyone would look to me to see what I was saying because I was the youngest,” she said. “So, I think that’s where the comedy came in. I would want to make them laugh and I would want to perform in front of them.”
Inspiration was provided by her mother and father, she said. When her mother was young, she was a professional tango dancer in Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Munter’s father, a World War I veteran, was a traveling salesman in Manhattan, hawking various items like towels and Christmas ornaments. Her father wrote jokes on 3-inch by 5-inch cards, using his prepared material to make his customers laugh, she recalled, and she was his practice audience. “I was very lucky,” Munter said. “I had a wonderful relationship with my parents.”
Munter said her comedy is more like storytelling and that she draws from life experiences, both happy and sad. When she was 18, she left Queens to live in Dayton, Ohio, and married Paul Leon Munter, who was a 1st lieutenant working as an aeronautical engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In the mid-1950s, they moved to Long Island where they raised Holly and a son, Rick Munter, who is a dentist in Jericho. She lost her husband, who had endured many years of physical problems, in 2004. The couple was married for 51 years, and she still calls him her soul mate. After he died, she briefly attended a bereavement group. “I didn’t care for that at all,” Munter said. “That wasn’t my nature. I wanted to go forward and start a new life.”
In 2012 and 2013, she volunteered as a motivational speaker for senior citizens in local community centers and public libraries. Her talks were meant to inspire: drawing on her own experience of finding love again as an older person after losing a spouse.
Two years after she began online dating, she said, she had “met” 1,200 men and dated 44 of them. The last one was a keeper. H. Barry Waldman, whom she affectionately calls “No. 44,” has been her companion now for nine years. Waldman, 80, a dentist who is a distinguished teaching professor in the Department of General Dentistry at Stony Brook University, said he loves Munter’s colorful personality.
“Of the women I had been with, she seemed to be on a different plane,” said Waldman, who lives with Munter. “She has the capacity to make friends with the world inside of minutes.” The two often travel the world together. Munter retired in 2010 after working for more than 35 years as a top administrator for a medical/dental insurance company in Hicksville. There, she gave corporate speeches and used her humor to “roast” workers who were retiring or had hit a career milestone. Her public speaking for the company provided her with endless “stage” time, and she always felt comfortable in front of a crowd.
Performing as a stand-up comic meant she could scratch that goal off her bucket list. But, she said after the show, it may not have been a one-time deal. “I love people and I love making them laugh.”