I met Marti Johnson at Brew last Thursday for midday lattes and I could barely get a word in edgewise between everyone at the coffee shop stopping to say hi to her. I commented on how she seemed to be the belle of the ball.
“I’m very well networked,” she said laughing as another smiling face greeted her with a hug and a hello.
I shouldn’t be surprised that Marti knows everyone in town, she’s spent almost her entire life as a Traverse City resident. Her father had spent childhood summers at Lake Leelanau and had fond memories of the region. Marti has been in Traverse City since she was eight years old, when her family moved up from Ann Arbor.
“My dad took a subscription to the Record Eagle in 1970, ‘71, there was a sales job for Proctor and Gamble so he applied. He saw the ad back when people checked newspapers for jobs. They sent him a telegram, he interviewed and got the job. I had a great quality of life being raised in Traverse City.”
Marti only moved once to metro Detroit when she took a pharmaceutical sales job. She missed home, however and came back a couple of years later.
“The water gets in your blood, and the people are so friendly. It really is home.”
Marti has thrived in several different sales jobs throughout her life, selling advertising for radio, TV and newspaper along with pharmaceuticals. Some of her sales smarts comes from her background in understanding people.
“I earned my bachelors in psychology with a minor in business management. Learning about people always fascinated me. Why they say and do the things that they do. After I graduated college I waited tables at the Grand Traverse Resort and I waited on the news director from WKHQ, they had a sales position open and I interviewed for it.”
Being a great salesman relates directly to being able to get people to like you. Marti is incredibly talented at making someone feel like they’ve known her their whole life, and that charisma translated directly over to another talent Marti has; making people laugh.
She had been a chamber ambassador for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. She and the other volunteers would go to ribbon cuttings, team building retreats and social networking events where Marti would tell funny jokes and stories to small groups of people.
“They said, ‘we need to get you on stage.’ A group of my girlfriends would gather at my friend Tutti’s house around her gorgeous baby grand piano and she would hand me the microphone.”
Marti’s first gig in front of a real audience was at Little Bo’s (now Little Bohemia). She had a 45 minute set.
“I think there were 95 people there, a lot of them were coworkers from the TV station. They gave me a standing ovation. I had tears of joy running down my face. It’s a high”
Marti has been doing standup all over the region, with a concentration of her shows being in Traverse City. Her humor is derivative of her life and she uses comedy as a tool to provide entertainment for others, and an outlet for herself.
“I’m a cancer survivor 25 years this year. They found a spot on my back, probably from a sunburn when I was a kid. My dermatologist knew right away it was melanoma. I was 31 and to hear you have cancer that young is pretty tough. It changed my life. One of my jokes is I wish my teeth were as white as my legs.”
Her comedy act is also derivative of her life in everyday, funny ways. Marti is a single woman navigating the best way to go about meeting someone in Traverse City. She deals with the frustrations that most single people trying to date in the area do. Where do you meet people? How do you find people your age? She uses the modern struggles of dating in a small town as material for her standup.
“There’s good people out there, you just have to know where to find them, the gym, church, the grocery store or through friends. I think it comes down to serendipity, though. I kind of make fun of myself in my act. I’m a little self deprecating. My act is pretty clean, life experience and weather,” she said with a laugh.
Although she currently works as a management recruiter by day, she moonlights as an Uber driver which is another source of material for her act. Locals and tourists alike inspire jokes for her to use.
Marti uses comedy to get involved with the community. She has participated in Comedians Against Cancer, has won a Red Hot Best award for her comedy and has volunteered all over the community. Getting involved is her advice to people who are new to town.
“Get involved! Volunteer for the Film Festival, volunteer for the Cherry Festival, volunteer for the Ironman, Iceman. Join a gym, there’s running clubs, chamber young professionals, just be positive and put yourself out there.”
Like the water, comedy has gotten in Marti’s blood. She gets to do what she loves in the place she loves and would not have it any other way.
Check out her next show, here.