Alex House

By Sara Hodon

For a stand-up comic, there are a few things Alex House takes pretty seriously. Her family, for one (she’s a proud wife and mother). Making people laugh for another. And third is her latest gig—she teaches Zumba® at the Human Performance Center in Allentown. It wouldn’t seem as though House’s comedic and fitness careers had anything in common, but she would disagree. Both involve getting up in front of people, acting a little silly, and making the crowd feel good. For this comedienne, they aren’t so different at all.

Comedy was never House’s dream career. As a kid growing up on Long Island, she wasn’t exactly a cut-up. “I was never the class clown,” she says. “We didn’t have TV in our house, so my brother and I would entertain each other. I always recognized humor and I was funny around people I knew, but that’s about it.” Later when she was looking at colleges, she ignored her guidance counselors who urged her to attend a state university. She wanted to go to a school in a place completely different from her hometown. After a visit to Kutztown University, she fell in love with the campus and knew it was the school for her. House majored in art education and spent a lot of time in the theater department. Her then-boyfriend (now husband) Caswell was in charge of scheduling the performers who came to campus. “He was always looking for people to introduce the acts,” she says. “He was completely gun shy, so I volunteered. I met a lot of comedians and I thought, ‘I could do this.’ I was hooked.” House honed her act at a lot of open mic nights, and as graduation neared, she decided to pursue stand-up professionally. She married her husband in 1994. After he received a job offer in Maryland, the newlyweds went south and settled into their new life together. Admittedly, it wasn’t the best place to pursue a comedy career. “I was miserable,” she says. Her husband worked on the technical crew of films and TV shows, and it became clear that Maryland wasn’t going to give them the kinds of professional satisfaction they were looking for. They had to make a decision. “We bit the bullet and moved to Jersey City to be closer to New York City,” House says.

They were closer to better career opportunities, at least geographically, but as House soon learned, the competition for stage time at the New York comedy clubs was fierce. Unknown comics with dreams of being the next Tim Allen or Jerry Seinfeld would hang out at the clubs hoping for the chance to do a set. House was one of them. “I worked part-time at FAO Schwarz and would hang around the comedy clubs hoping for a few minutes,” she says. Even when she did get some stage time, she faced some tough crowds. “I’d be doing a set and people would be sitting at the tables writing their own material,” she says. “There’s nothing glamorous about it, and it’s definitely not easy. Some clubs have a limit of how many female comedians they have onstage.” Comics hoping for that big sitcom deal start out making only a few dollars for a five-minute set. House supplemented this by taking different jobs. “I did everything but bartend at a club where the manager had said ‘I don’t think you’re funny’ and stopped giving me stage time. Three months later I was on Last Comic Standing and three months after that I was on The View. So you can’t listen to what people say.” House decided to stop pursuing the clubs and focused more on performing at colleges and in smaller theaters with a much friendlier atmosphere. “They were a whole lot better than the clubs!” she laughs.

It wouldn’t seem as though House’s comedic and fitness careers had anything in common, but she would disagree.

House and her husband were moving along professionally but they wanted something different personally. They made a conscious decision to start a family and left Jersey City for the more family-friendly Lehigh Valley in 2003. Once they decided to have a family, their priorities changed. “We waited to have children because we knew it would affect my career; there was a fear of what would happen to my career,” she says. Once their daughter Grace was born, House decided to cut back on comedy. “I’ve gotten really picky about the shows I do,” she says, adding that her husband still works in the city so she is with her daughter full-time during the week. “I stay closer to home and take the gigs that are really worth my time. After 14 years of sleeping in hotel rooms, I’m kind of over it. I think it’s something that I’ll always do, but I don’t need to do it every single weekend.” House likes to stick with gigs within a hour’s drive from home, and frequently appears at the Allentown Brew Works and other local establishments. Like many of us, House finds that her funniest material comes from real life. She gets the biggest laughs by simply being true to herself. She shared this with one of her comic heroines, Joan Rivers, a few years ago. “I had the chance to meet her when she was on The Apprentice about two years ago, and she was such a sweet lady. I gave her flowers and said it meant a lot to me to meet her. I told her I was a comedian and she asked me what I talk about. I said ‘my life’ and she said ‘Good. No one can take that from you.’ There are comics who steal material, so I find that just talking about myself and my life is better.”

Her daughter is the reason for House’s career shift from comedy to fitness, at least indirectly. “I took aquarobics while I was pregnant, and I loved it so much, I kept going after my daughter was born,” House says. Much like stand-up, House says she easily pictured herself leading an aerobics class. Her first teaching gig was the same aquarobics class she’d been taking. Then came Zumba®. “I took one class and thought, ‘I could do this. This is for me.’ So I got licensed.” She has since moved on to teaching Aqua Zumba®—Zumba® in the water, which House says is a great workout. “Aquarobics gets a bad rap as something that’s just for senior citizens or under-conditioned adults. But it’s for everyone,” she explains. She’s been teaching at the Human Performance Center in Allentown and loves it. For House, the comedy and aerobics come together nicely in her Zumba® classes. “I’m a total goofball, so the comedy is in me already. I think the participants appreciate it because it shows I’m human. Zumba® is not about perfection—it’s about moving and having a good time. I think that’s why it’s taken off—people are having fun and moving, and don’t realize they’re getting such a good workout.”

House is content being a wife, mother, aerobics instructor, and part-time comic—at least for now. She still has a few lingering professional projects that she would like to wrap up and share with the world; namely, a documentary she filmed while she was pregnant, aptly titled 9 Months and Still Standing Up. “I have about 80 hours’ worth of film to edit,” House explains. “I really want to finish it because I know it’s good and it’s an interesting concept. It’s amazing what I captured on film.” Including one woman who was afraid she’d lose her job because she booked House pre-pregnancy, and by the time her performance rolled around, House was pregnant. “Lots of interesting things happened over the course of the filming. I was a finalist in a comedy contest and I couldn’t attend because the finals were the same weekend I was due.” She has a deadline for wrapping up the film, though—“by the time my daughter gets to college.”

Though House doesn’t crave the spotlight anymore, she understands the desire to connect with others over common experiences and find the humor in them. “What’s funny is when you can take life experiences that are maybe horrible or embarrassing at the time, and bring them into the intimate setting of the comedy club. You can find the funny in it and people can relate to it. It’s like a drug—to get up and make a roomful of people laugh.”

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