Cabell Wilkinson has been cracking people up since she was a young child, starting with her imitations of Ronald Reagan.

As a student at UNC Greensboro, an English professor asked Wilkinson if she ever considered doing stand up comedy since she seemed to enjoy making people laugh more than studying Jane Austen.

While living in San Francisco, she mustered the courage to get up in front of an audience at some of the city’s many open mic nights, including one that doubled as a laundromat.

“You just hoped your jokes could be heard over the washing machine,” Wilkinson recalled.

Back in Winston-Salem, Wilkinson works the area’s comedy circuit, including a recent show at Hoots Beer Co. She works a day job at a makeup counter at Hanes Mall.

“I always have a day job,” she said. “I love to eat.”

Wilkinson also puts together shows at local bars and venues. Her next show is Feb. 6 at Monstercade, 204 W. Acadia Ave.

Q: How would you describe your art?

Answer: My act is self deprecating, sarcastic. I bounce from topic to topic, at times it’s rant-y. Imagine someone giving their own life and the world around them a mediocre Yelp review and you’ve about got it.

Q: How have you evolved as an artist?

Answer: I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been on stage. It’s taken me over 10 years to get there. In the beginning, starting stand up is terrifying, and it’s all you can do to remember a few bits. Then after years of terrible sets, crummy rooms, hosting shows in clubs where you have to deal with unruly bachelorette parties and drunken hecklers, if you bomb you bomb. It’s part of the process. Hecklers don’t scare me because I’ve put in the time to where I can say ‘Oh I’ve been through this before’ and survived it. What keeps me coming back for more is I enjoy making people laugh. A room filled with people cracking up at something you said into a microphone, it’s an incredible high and addicting! I think age has something to do with it too, being in your 40s, it’s more about accepting your gifts and limitations rather than living comparatively. You know who you are and people can get on your train, or not.

Q: Who has influenced your art?

Answer: I love the styles of Jackie Kashian and Jen Kirkman, very intelligent, dry humor; definitely writer Charles Bukowski, his style was so natural and alive. He wrote from the perspective that loser adults were the only authentic people you’d find which I honestly agree with. Sandra Bernhard, too. She tells jokes about LA and pop culture glamorously like no other. It was a privilege to be able to see Mitch Hedberg live at the Punchline in San Francisco before he died. Robin Williams too. They brought the house down. Seeing that once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent is awe inspiring.Carrie Fisher had a razor-sharp wit and a warmth when she performed. She is one of my absolute favorites.

Q: What Is Your biggest challenge?

Answer: Just one?! Ha! Well I hope to create something that people can enjoy that lives beyond me. Writing a good bit can feel like a gutting process. It’s always a surprise what people react to. I’ve always done this on the side while having a day job and being able to turn this into a full-time career would be my biggest challenge yet.

Q: What does art do for you?

Answer: Any art, certainly comedy too, when you connect with it, makes you feel alive, seen, enchants you, devastates you, moves you out of a comfort zone, thrills your senses. When I hear a joke that blows me away, it’s because in it I feel heard, and known, in a moment, with a room full of people, and if you tell a joke that cracks up a crowd, in that moment there’s a unity of laughter and a feeling of validation. I’ve made wonderful friends doing stand up, met incredible people I admire, had adventures, wild times, probably too many drinks. It’s a heck of a ride.

Q: Any advice for other artists?

Answer: Put in the time. The growth is not linear. You could be bombing at open mics for years and then suddenly find your stride. Do different kinds of rooms so you’re not just comfortable in one place and one town. Learn to produce shows and host to broaden your skillset. Don’t go over your time, and of course, have fun!

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Lisa O’Donnell writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more — weekly in relish. Send your story ideas to lodonnell@wsjournal.com or call 336-727-7420.

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