Growing up in a small town, Karen Rontowski always felt like she didn’t really belong.
“People will tell me that they grew up in Los Angeles, and I’ll say ‘Oh, my God, that sounds like the greatest life ever!” she said.
All she knew was that she wanted to get out of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, population 43,000. And become a tarot card reader. And a paranormal investigator.
“I was always into the paranormal and the psychic stuff,” she said. “And actually, I didn’t know I was going to be a comedian then, but I think I already was. I always say comedians are born. They are not made…And I think people look at me and (question) me being a paranormal comedian, and I’m like, I can do it. I can do it all.”
Rontowski said that growing up in a small town made her want to do her own thing. She didn’t want to get married or have kids. She didn’t even want to continue with school.
“But I did go to college and somehow finagled getting out a semester early, and I jumped on a plane with $800 in my pocket, and I moved to Vegas,” she said. “Yeah, the things you do when you’re in your twenties and are like, ‘Oh, this will work out fine.’”
Once in Vegas, she worked as a cigarette girl, before a friend took her to an open mic night. From there on, she knew comedy was what she wanted to do.
“I opened up with an old dirty joke that I can’t even remember now and it got such a big laugh. And then everything I had written was just terrible. But I was like, ‘This is it. Whatever it takes, this is what I’m doing,’” she said.
But still, she had had these psychic experiences and was learning tarot cards. After years of getting readings, she decided to look more closely at them.
Now she tells fortunes through her tarot cards and does paranormal investigations in rural places like the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, the Houghton Mansion in North Adams, Massachusetts, The Inn at Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, the Burlington Prison and Museum in Burlington, New Jersey, or Cemetery Miflin in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Over the course of her career, she’s been invited on many shows, including The Late Show with David Letterman, and Mysteries of the Unexplained. She also performs at paranormal conventions all over the world, which led to her odd web series Paranormal Karen where she reports on haunted and obscure places everywhere. She’s even got a gig as the comedy writer for “Haunted Magazine.”
After 30 years on the road, she’d had it though. It was time to slow down. So, she decided to combine it all. Now her Psychic Stand-up CD is ready to be released and her tarot card readings are booked up about a month in advance.
In Psychic Stand-up, after about an hour of stand-up, she and one of her friends do psychic readings for audience members using her tarot cards. Of course, the readings are funny, she said, but still true.
“It’s really quite a unique show,” she said. “But it’s what I want to be doing with my life…and it’s funny, you know. Someone will say, ‘Am I gonna have a baby?’ And I say, ‘So you’re trying’ and then I’ll go ‘Not right now, not right now,…’ And it’s improv and it’s changing all the time. It challenges my brain and it challenges my psychic work. It just is the most fun. And it’s pretty fascinating.”
As Covid-19 continues to shut down many bars and restaurants across the country, Rontowski said she will continue her tarot card readings, and teach tarot card classes. And she’ll work on more and more Psychic Stand-Up stuff.
“It’s been a weird year for everybody. A lot of comedians, you know, they’re just like, ‘Oh, I’m sitting at home with my thoughts,’ but I’m over here trying to pump out videos and trying to figure out how to make it work.”