When I was a freshman in college, and still quite on fire over my discovery of Ayn Rand’s novels, I remember cautiously bringing the subject up with my grandmother, during a phone conversation.
“Lately I’ve really gotten into Ayn Rand’s novels,” I said. “Have you ever read them — The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged?”
I expected her to react, as most people seemed to do, with a kind of thinly-veiled condescension, perhaps saying she thinks she read them once but can’t remember what they were about, or (much worse) something like “Yeah, I liked them in college too, but then I grew out of it.”
Her answer, instead, was: “You mean my favorite novelist Ayn Rand?”
I just about fell over.
It turns out Dot had been a fan of Rand’s novels for decades, encouraging friends and family to read them when the time seemed appropriate.
Technically, Dot Casper is my “step” grandmother — my stepmother’s mother. Kathy and I feel so close to her, however, that it rarely occurs to us to make the distasteful distinction.
Our relationship with Dot has become incredibly precious to us both. Aside from our shared interest in Rand’s novels, Dot is also someone whom we can always count on to be truly interested in our personal growth, our work, and our love for one another as a couple.
For this and other reasons, our visits with Dot are always a joyful highlight during our annual pilgrimages to Tampa for family reunions.
In recent years, as it happens, Dot has started doing stand-up comedy, and turning a few heads in the process.
First she started taking classes, then she started getting gigs, and then she won the “Tampa Bay’s Funniest Person” contest at Side Splitters, beating out 140 other competitors.
This is unusual, to say the least, for an 80-year-old grandmother who had never even tried stand up comedy as a younger woman.
I’ve not had the chance yet to see Dot perform in person, but today she was written up in an article in the St. Petersburg Times: “Winning 81-year-old Northdale comic leaves ’em laughing.”
You’ve gotta love this photo that accompanies the article:
I’m pasting the full article below, just in case it disappears from the web.
Winning 81-year-old Northdale comic leaves ’em laughing
By Amber Mobley, Times Staff Writer
Forget what you always thought about little old ladies. Dottie Casper’s one dirty little gal.
At 81, this Northdale grandmother of 11 is blazing a trail as a standup comic, and she’s not afraid to venture into mature themes.
Her stage props include cataract glasses and K-Y Jelly, hysterical for shock value alone.
“How did you sleep last night?” she recalls asking a girlfriend, who replied, “I slept like a baby … I wet the bed.”
Yes, adult diapers get their moment, too.
Casper broke into the biz after taking comedy lessons at age 77 at Carrollwood’s Side Splitters comedy club.
She says she did it because she didn’t have anything else better to do, although she also enjoys bicycling and ping-pong.
She fell in love with performing.
And from Philthy Phil’s bar on St. Pete Beach to meetings of the Carrollwood Area Business Association at the Northdale Recreation Center, audiences fell in love with her.
In December she was crowned Tampa Bay’s Funniest Person at Side Splitters, beating out 140 comedians in six rounds for the title.
Come late May, Casper and the competition’s top two runnersup — a 20- and 40-something — plan on taking their acts on the road as the Generations of Laughter tour.
Even with the title, “I don’t consider myself a pro at all,” said Casper, a former marriage counselor, pilot and teacher.
Side Splitters club boss Mark Craycraft, who thought of the tour, disagrees. He teases that she’s got at least another 18 years of career left in her — which would make her 99.
She gets her inspiration from memories of her late husband, Mark, from conversations with friends, from just about everywhere. “Sometimes I can be lying in bed and something will cross my mind and make me laugh,” she says. “And I’ll tell myself to write that one down.”
If Mark could see her now, she says, “he’d roll over in his ashes and fall off the mantel.”
Nothing is off-limits, including the Northdale-based seniors group, Older Wiser Lively Seniors. Casper says the acronym stands for Old Women Love Sex.
Entering the stage with a cane for support, she dishes about belly-button-low breasts and hearing aids. She describes a “gorgeous 20-year-old kid” who tried to hustle her in a game of pingpong on a cruise ship. She told the fellow, “Come down to my cabin and I’ll show you what I can do with balls.”
Whoops, hollers and shouts of “Go, Dottie!” fill the room, and then she moves on to politics.
Her running mate if she were on the ballot? George Clooney because “I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have under me.”
After the performance, she muses that it was a “tough crowd.” She acknowledges, “I’m at an age where I say I don’t know where I want to go with this.”
But wherever she goes, she guarantees it will be fun.
Her son recently got her some business cards that read:
Laugh, Cry, Fall off the Mantel
The online version of the article contains a video of her performing, as well. Seems to me like it was a tough crowd that night, which I’m sure makes it hard to find your momentum as a comic. But it was great to finally see her performing before a crowd.