I found Karen Rontowski because I was depressed in 2010. I was tooling the internet, watching my friend Sara Benincasa’s videos and stumbled upon Maria Bamford. She made me laugh SO hard and feel so much better that I became an instant fan. I went to see her a few years ago, and her opener was Jackie Kashian. Jackie is also hilarious, smart and clever, so I started listening to her podcast. She has this great podcast called the Dork Forest, in which she interviews folks about things that they’re crazy excited about. So thank you – amazing chain of women.
One of the episodes was with Karen Rontowski – a comedian, tarot reader and ghost hunter. Three of my favorite things. After going way, way down the rabbit hole on google with Karen, I emailed and asked if I could interview her and she said yes! We talked about our superstitions and how we beat them down with gratitude, and honestly, the first ten minutes of the interview were spent talking about tarot and politics and our businesses like we’d known each other for years.
Tarot seems to be trending lately and both of our tarot businesses are doing well. We talked about how the world seems to be getting more hostile. More folks are looking for comfort. We are both working our asses off because it feels like the next three years are going to continue to be intense, and that figuring out who we are and what we stand for is a huge part of our work, as well. Since Karen’s work involves helping people AND making them laugh – I am so glad she does what she does.
Melissa: Karen, when did you find tarot?
Karen: I met the lady I still consider to be my tarot teacher. Although, I didn’t really believe in my psychic stuff, but I believed in it in general. I saw the way that she did it, and she taught me a little bit about the cards when I was in my twenties. I thought that I could learn every single thing about these cards and then I could put it all together and become a great reader. All of that effort I put into the cards just woke up everything for me – I was about 24. I’ve always had psychic stuff happen, but I think he cards were such a great tool for me.
Melissa: Lots of times the cards will amplify people’s gifts, but I love that they woke yours up.
Karen: Yeah, it was approach it from a place of complete logic.
Melissa:I love that – there are a lot of tarot folks flinging love and light at tarot right now, but I love that substantial logical view of the cards. It reminds me of Rachel Pollack – if you can’t figure it out, just read the card.
Karen: I’m in love with the Rider Waite deck. I never stop reading books on it because I just find it fascinating. One friend has 1500 decks and another reads playing cards, but I just need the one deck.
Melissa:If you find a tool that works in your hand, use that tool, right?
Karen: Yes. Absolutely.
Melissa: So, ghosts scare the shit out of me. I’ve only seen a few, and I wanted to talk to you about this ghost hunting thing. How did it start? Do you find it more of a passion or something that you can’t *not* do?
Karen: It’s funny because I have a friend who’s a skeptic – he doesn’t believe in psychic stuff but gets readings from me. He says that I eat, drink and shit paranormal. He’s absolutely right. I would say it is both – it’s both something I can’t not do, and it is a passion. I would say this is even before tarot. I’ve always been interested in it – always loved ghost stories, always pursued it. Even on the road, I would look out for haunted places. It’s funny how it evolved. There’s regular ghost hunting. We would go to a haunted location and that is very tedious and long. You basically sit around with your equipment and wait for something to happen. I joined a group in LA – there’s a group on meetup.com for this. There is also learning about fairies and elementals – and I kind of mixed them all in one. And I just kind of discovered YouTube like it never existed before and am studying the djinn. These are the things that fascinate me. Who I am is wanting to know what the next paranormal or UFO thing is.
Melissa: what I hear you saying is that a gigantic, huge part of you is asking why.
Karen: I have one foot in the outside world and one in this. I’m always fascinated with people who are not interested. What?
Melissa: Yes! I just finished my second book and my editor said I needed card descriptions. Some people will know how to read cards, but some won’t. She had to explain that there are people who don’t read cards and it took me a second to realize that that was a thing. Really? That’s so odd.
Karen: I have a joke where I say “I have a friend who won’t let me read for her because she’s afraid of the future, and I say “I know who you’ve slept with – you should be afraid of the path”. I admire people who are so in the moment that it’s just in the moment. But I know how much better people feel after a tarot reading, too.
Melissa: Is there a way that tarot has made your life any worse? Since were talking about how it make our lives better.
Karen: Not really. As a late bloomer I don’t think so. My business picked up fast. I started reading in comedy shows fro the stage and then I started the business. I went from no readings, to some readings to 4-5 a day. It’s amazing how tiring it is. It’s a very tiring energetic focus. I also think that I opened up this connection with god, or whatever people want to call it – the Universe, that just made my whole life better. It’s a spirituality – almost like a high – and I have to ground myself after. Somewhere a connection is made that makes you closer to your source.
Melissa: It’s very refreshing to hear from someone for whom reading has only improved their life.
Karen: I do remember one time doing a reading with a friend who is an animal communicator. We had a whole room sold out, and didn’t realize that the room as attached to a church. The day the advertising came out, the folks from the church said they wouldn’t step foot in the church again if we brought tarot cards into the church, and had to find a new venue that night.
Melissa: I want to ask about tarot reading from a stage. I’ve never heard of anyone doing this with cards. How does this work? I’m astounded and also kind of want to steal your idea.
Karen: I have a standing show at ??’s in Burbank, and I have a show every other month called Psychic Standup. My favorite i with my friend Lamont. He takes the question and I read the cards. It’s almost the same as reading on the phone. We make up jokes and read at the same time. We’ve been doing this together so long. It’s a risk, though, that a lot of comedy clubs won’t take.
Melissa: Well, you’re a badass and are brave as fuck. What are the mechanics of it?
Karen: I just wait for the question and then tune in. I promise you could do this if you try. Just read the fucking card, right? The only hard part was being funny and reading at the same time. You do readings over the phone? You’re already there. I don’t see a difference. I’m not sure if you’re on stage a lot, because that’s my whole life, so that might be the block.
Comedy gives me a backup plan – someone asked a question and I said “I think there’s a money problem. He said no. Is there a gambling problem? No. So I made a joke and everyone laughed. I left it there but did see something there. As long as you have the laugh, it’s easier than doing it cold.
The first thing I do is say, “Who has a question?” and NO ONE raises their hands. After the first question, every hand is raised.
Melissa: Is it comedy and tarot for you forever? Have you found your Thing?
Karen: Yes. Comedy, tarot and paranormal. My dream is to have a comedy/paranormal show called Paranormal Karen. I’d love to drive around and look at the paranormal stuff, and my stage show would be the comedy part. That’s the plan if the Universe wants to give it to me. I don’t want to do anything else.
Melissa: That’s so cool. I know I don’t know you but I’m crazy proud of you and excited for you. Anytime I can find someone who talks about tarot and doesn’t make us look like a bunch of assholes, I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see what else you get up to. Thanks so much for your time!