At age 63, Leanne Morgan bud Karen Mills headlines first solo theater tour

The former Atlantan is at Center Stage March 9
Karen Mills, stand up comic who lives in Atlanta from 1984 to 2002, will be at Center Stage for a show March 9, 2024. PUBLICITY SHOT

Credit: PUBLICITY PHOTO

Credit: PUBLICITY PHOTO

Karen Mills, stand up comic who lives in Atlanta from 1984 to 2002, will be at Center Stage for a show March 9, 2024. PUBLICITY SHOT

Karen Mills, who lived in Atlanta from 1984 to 2002, began her stand-up career three decades ago at the Punchline Comedy Club back when it was in Sandy Springs.

Over time, Mills made money as a corporate speaker and plugged away at comedy clubs. But when her buddy Leanne Morgan blew up the past few years, she became Morgan’s regular opening act.

Now at age 63, Mills is headlining Center Stage on Saturday, her biggest solo gig ever in the city. Tickets start at $18 at ticketmaster.com.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mills fondly recalls her formative stand-up years at the Punchline in the 1990s doing open mics and opening for folks like Nashville’s Henry Cho, pre-“Daily Show” Jon Stewart and pre-”Blue Collar Comedy Tour” Ron White.

She said co-owner Dave Montesano told her to stop telling basic set-up/punchline jokes and start telling more stories. He recommended she take a comedy writing class led by Jeff Justice, which Justice has been doing for 34 years.

Justice, in an interview this week, said when he learned Mills was a great college basketball player, he was stunned she had never used that material on stage. He convinced her to begin mining her own life for jokes.

“She turned into a great storyteller,” Justice said. “She can take day-to-day normal things and make funny stories out of them. And she never quit. She is true perseverance in this business.”

Mills kept grinding away at the business. In 2004, during a Southern Fried Chicks comedy tour, she and Morgan became best buds.

Morgan almost called it quits in 2019 after selling 20 tickets in Chicago, Mills recalled. Morgan decided to hire a couple of young social media dudes to market her on social media. It worked. Clips from a YouTube special Morgan posted went viral on TikTok and Instagram. After the pandemic hit, Morgan kept doing videos and built an audience.

By the time Morgan was able to get back on the road, she was able to move enough tickets to sell out theaters. And she brought Mills along with her.

“I’ve done almost 90% of her dates,” Mills said. “I was at the Fox Theatre last year when she headlined. That was a thrill for me. The Fox is so special to me having started in Atlanta. It was a dream come true.”

Mills survived ovarian cancer in 2013 and a re-occurrence in 2019. Then in 2021, she suffered a near death experience when someone hit her vehicle, which then hit a truck. “I broke my neck, fractured my back, broke my sternum and six ribs,” she said. “Split my head open. I’m pitching a book and the title right now is, ‘Hard to Kill’.”

She spent 10 days in the hospital and two months in a wheelchair. Her first show back was opening for Morgan at Center Stage. Soon after, Morgan was headlining Cobb Energy Centre, then the Fox.

“I’m grateful to be part of the ride,” she said. “It’s been so much fun.”

And she loves Atlanta, which is not a far drive from her current home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (She grew up in nearby Cleveland, Tennessee.). And she is a huge Braves fan. They’ll make the 90-minute drive for the occasional game at Truist Park.

“I did a private event once and met Leo Mazzone, who was the Braves pitching coach,” Mills said. “I did a big bit about the Braves. He loved it. He and his wife invited me to his house and showed me all this cool memorabilia.”


IF YOU GO

Karen Mills

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9. $27.75-$37.75. Center Stage, 1374 W Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta. ticketmaster.com

About the Author

Editors' Picks