As gritty, envelope-pushing comedians go, Natasha Leggero is at the top of the list.
However, life hasn’t been all laughs for the Illinois native.
And, that’s Rockford, Illinois, where a mass manufacturing exodus and tanked early-1980s economy transformed the city from a well-fed industrial mecca to a tell-tale brownfield. Gone were middle-class factory jobs. The din of breadlines replaced watercooler scuttle of once-bustling “Made In Rockford” enterprises. Rockfordians who managed to remain employed were the lucky ones. Others made ends meet however they could.
For Leggero, 43, it was a little of both. But, a strong family work ethic overcame firsthand economic hardship, and life went on just an hour outside of Chicago.
“I would say (we were) lower-middle-class, but I feel like my mom would start crying if she heard that,” Leggero recently told Forbes. “But my dad was a used car dealer and my mother worked in a locksmith shop as the bookkeeper, and then they got divorced, and I do remember, like, nuns bringing us food–like big canned goods. And then, you know, we didn’t really go on vacation–ever… I had so many jobs growing up: I mowed lawns; I worked at a grocery store; I had two newspaper routes; I worked at a catering place… I definitely hustled.”
From Rockford, Leggero was well traveled. First, it was two frugal years at Illinois State University when her college meal plan left her without food on weekends. It was a comedy of misfortunes to some, but her solution came from Italian bread she’d make last until Monday morning when her meal card reset. She managed to land a work-study gig in the cafeteria, too, which helped a little.
Studies in England, Chicago, and New York preceded a move to Australia before Leggero graduated with a theater degree and moved to Los Angeles in 2000.
Hitting the stand-up circuit came with a boilerplate repertoire, taking something as lackluster as life in a struggling-to-rebuild Midwestern city and pairing it with a will to make it in show business. And like most success stories, it was anything but easy. However, who else could keep a straight face while telling the story of a woman with no arms being refused service at a McDonald’s drive-through? Yes, it’s a true story and a cut from her 2011 comedy album, Coke Money. It was those hardworking bits that took Natasha Leggero from quaint club stages to Comedy Central and everywhere else A-Listers perform.
Today, life is slightly different. Leggero is married to fellow comedian Moshe Kasher and spends a lot of free time shopping on Amazon for oddball items like eye patches for her dog, a gold stapler, and a collection of European sunscreens.
Leggero and Kasher hit the road next month for the 10-date “Endless Honeymoon Tour!” that kicks off July 19 in New Orleans.
[Featured Image by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Comedy Central]