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Before you meet Anderson Cooper, you have to meet Dena Blizzard. She's what is known in the talk show circuit as "the warm-up coach." Blizzard is "Anderson Live's" pre-host: she entertains the studio audience before the show starts. She reminds us not to chew gum, or pick our nose when the camera pans over our seats. She makes it okay for audience members to break out into 'running man' during commercial breaks. And that's just scratching the surface of her job. I spent the day at the "Anderson Live" studio and fell totally in love with Blizzard, a mom of three, who proudly wears an apron over her jeans with the words "one funny mother" emblazoned on the pocket. So when she got a break today, I pulled her aside for a little post-show interview.
How did you land this sweet gig?
I love when people ask me what they'd have to do to get my job. What I usually tell them is you only have to work in crappy bars in Philly as a waitress getting beer splashed on you for about six years.
Read on to learn more
That's it? Something had to come between warming up for Anderson and serving PBRs.
I started doing standup ten years ago. I had just had my second baby and my husband Jimmy, who was in the army reserves, was sent oversees after 9/11. I was home with the kids all the time and the only time I talked to grown-ups was when I was doing stand-up routines at night. Then I got this call from a friend who was working for
Yup. I was asked to warm up her audience for a show called "Paula's Party," which was shot in her brother's restaurant. It was not your average talk show, so I came up with a really conversational, loose way of warming up the audience. I'd just talk to them, ask them questions. I'd invent games they could play on the spot that made no sense. I'd be like, 'I need two balls and a monkey,' and see what people would come up with.
You're not like any "warm-up" coach I've ever seen (I went to a few tapings of "The Jon Stewart Show" in the '90s). You're much more personal and interactive. You're also a woman.
I'm actually the only warm-up woman working full time in New York. Before Anderson--who is wonderful, by the way--I worked for Nate Berkus and Emeril. There are only about six of us with warm-up jobs right now in New York. Comedy is really a boys club. I've actually been recommended for a job and turned down when they found out I was a woman.
Their loss. This is your calling. What's your psychological tactic for making people dance to Ke$ha at 7 in the morning in a freezing cold studio?
I like to get people feeling comfortable with each other, because if you're comfortable you'll really be able to enjoy yourself. So the first thing I do when people sit down in the studio, is I have them introduce themselves to their seat neighbors. Then suddenly everyone starts to loosen up. I also like just finding out about people in the audience. Did you see that priest with the dance moves today? That was a first for me.
You've got three young kids. Do they think you've got the coolest job ever?
Everyone thinks I've got the coolest job ever, including my kids. I brought my daughter to the set of "Anderson Live" last year on Take Your Kid to Work Day. She loved it. But when it comes to doing my stand-up, my kids never see that. It's too dirty.
Right, you have a night-career as a comedian that's far less FCC-friendly, than your morning persona.
Weekends were when I used to do stand-up. With "Anderson" I'm working from four in the morning, five days a week, and I feel guilty working on the weekends because then I don't get to see my kids. So I've actually being doing less of that, but I still have a one-woman show, and I've posting sketch comedy videos to my website. I'm also hosting one of the preliminary events for Miss America.
Is it true you're actually a former Miss New Jersey?
I was a Miss Jersey before my kids ruined everything.
Last question: can we be friends?