This is the no-nonsense fairy godmother behind the careers of your favorite stand-up comics

If one could rewind time and tell a then-17-year-old Judi Marmel that she’d someday rub elbows with and inspire some of the comedic greats, she might actually believe it. From a young age, Marmel knew she wanted to be behind the scenes in entertainment, although her upbringing in Colorado didn’t offer much in the way of training.

Growing up in Colorado Springs, there wasn’t an overload of live entertainment, but whenever she could see a show at the local playhouse, it became a special occasion. “It was such a treat to go to the playhouse. Whenever we got to pick what we wanted to do for our birthday, that was it for me. It was never about having a party; it was always about going to see a live show. It was really magical to me,” Marmel recalls.

Long before Marmel was a founding partner of Levity Live, and an absolute giant in the comedy industry, she was mastering the art of sales in Girl Scouts. Brandishing a competitive nature and an extreme love of live entertainment, TV and movies since childhood, she never could have fathomed that a blend of all of those attributes could equate to a job. Let alone a 30-year-plus career.

Motivated by the “developing idols” premise in the movie “The Idolmaker,” Marmel decided that making deals and developing stars would be her goal. Knowing what she wanted to do, even before she knew what it was called, she started her illustrious career fresh out of high school at a local club, Comedy Corner, as a ticket taker. “I started working as the door girl that would take tickets and check coats. After I was done, I was able to watch a bit of a feature and all of the headliner before they would turn the room over. I got paid and I got to watch a headliner? To me, it was the greatest thing.”

Back in the ’80s, there wasn’t a plethora of comedians doing theaters, so when Marmel was approached while working at the club by talent looking for management, she happily took on the task. Well, after she figured out what the job entailed. “Comics would say manage me and I was like, what is that even? They’d say they needed someone to make calls and book dates and get me this much money — it didn’t seem that hard to me because I liked what they were selling, and I knew I wanted a much more personal relationship with a smaller group of people.”

While gaining knowledge of the inner workings of a comedy club and getting her feet wet managing talent, she also developed an eye and ear for potential and how that would translate to audiences. Today, she’s got her hand in cultivating a major stand-up comedy enterprise, from the front door to the office, to scouting and producing. Marmel weaved her way to the top inspired and driven by comedy, all while she inspired and drove comedy.

In 2009, she co-founded Levity Live with partners Robert Hartmann and Stu Schreiberg. In 2014 the chief executive of Azoff MSG Entertainment, Irving Azoff, whom Marmel considers a mentor, acquired a 50% stake in Levity Live and still has nothing but great things to say about the partnership. The entertainment firm in 2018 went on to acquire the Improv comedy club chain, which began operating in 1963 and includes 26 clubs in 20 cities across the country.

“When I made our Levity deal and met Judi, she immediately impressed me with her work ethic, social skills and deep knowledge of the business of comedy,” Azoff said. “I’m honored she considers me a mentor because she’s a superstar in her field that I know very little about. Judi is passionate, wicked smart, and has a work ethic second to none.”

John Meglen, president and CEO of Concerts West, learned about Marmel’s work ethic firsthand, based on a first impression. “I met Judi while working together producing a comedy festival in Las Vegas with HBO,” said Meglen. “I’m not sure the festival would have happened without her. Judi is very unique in that she knows all aspects of developing, caretaking and the experience that all artists need.”

Levity’s portfolio now spans thousands of hours of programming, live comedy venues, content production, tours, cruises and talent management for some of the biggest names in comedy: Bert Kreischer, Taylor Tomlinson, Jeff Dunham, Fortune Feimster, Loni Love, Dusty Slay, Leanne Morgan — the list goes on.

Marmel’s list of accomplishments reads like a “how to” on comedy management. Festivals, stand-up specials, movies, comedians selling out arena tours — her name is synonymous with the art of growing comics and their audiences.

Marmel thrives on being part of something groundbreaking. Recently, her client Tomlinson became the face of “After Midnight” on CBS, the youngest woman to ever host late-night TV. “I cannot get over how prolific she is and how smart and dedicated she is,” said Marmel. “She was on Colbert and I was on the side watching her, in the Ed Sullivan Theater, and I was thinking about all of the history in that theater and how probably the only women who were on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ were the makeup people. From that to now here we are, her as the youngest woman and me here as a female manager on that stage making history happen, it was pretty profound. That moment wasn’t lost on me at all.”

When Marmel says that every day feels like a highlight, you tend to believe it. Especially if those days bring you full circle to the exact place she saw her live band. “Bert Kreischer selling out Red Rocks Amphitheatre three summers in a row was huge, and that’s also the first place I ever saw a concert when I was 16!” Marmel said. “I’m really proud of the business that we’ve built around Bert and the Fully Loaded brand, which has been unbelievably successful. But if you would’ve said to me when I was 16 that I’d be at Red Rocks with someone like Bert — I wouldn’t have comprehended that one bit.”

Kreischer on the other hand, knew instantly that he wanted to be on her team. “My first meeting with Judi is the reason I signed with her,” the comedian said. “I was going into the Improv and had a good set on Tuesday, and when I came back that Thursday, I heard Judi describe me to the people in the room. She was not my manager, but she described me simply, pure and more toward the vision of who I was in my entire life. After that one meeting I knew I wanted to be with someone like Judi who knows who I am and gets my vision for everything. I signed with her that day.”

All these years later, Kreischer is still as ride-or-die for Marmel as they come. “I love people that are not afraid to tell you who they are and share who they are, and that’s why I love Judi. She’s always going to be 100% and she’s not going to back away no matter what anyone says. You want a wolf in the pitch room, a tiger on the phone with agents and lawyers, and a bear when you’re dealing with Netflix,” Kreischer said.

On the flip side, the comedian known for his shirtless onstage antics said when you’re an artist backstage getting ready, you’re looking for that mom with the energy to take you to a place where you can get grounded, center yourself and do what you need to do. “If I have a big show, I know that Judi is my place to land. Hers are the eyes I look for. Her approval means the world to me and she’s everything: the wolf, the tiger, the bear—she’s all of it. I f— love that woman.”

Comedian Leanne Morgan, who had one of Netflix’s 10 most-watched comedy specials in 2023, shares the sentiment. “I’ve known Judi for over 20 years and the first time I heard her speak, I knew I wanted to work with her. It almost felt like working with Judi would be that defining moment of, ‘You’ve really made it,’” Morgan said.

Tomlinson felt that tenfold when Marmel reached out to the then-22-year-old after seeing her cruise ship audition tape. At age 23, Tomlinson signed with her, and everything changed. “Judi asked me what my career goals were and made them all happen within the year,” said Tomlinson. “I knew she was a great manager, but I never expected to reach those goals so quickly. She has not only been hugely beneficial to my career but also to me as a person. On a personal level, she’s very inspiring. High-powered businesswomen like her are so important when it comes to making you see what’s possible for yourself.”

Comedian Fortune Feimster was gaining traction when she met Marmel and at the time wasn’t sure a manager was what she needed. With a hectic schedule and a calendar that was getting more chaotic, she started to take note of what Marmel was doing with Taylor, Kreischer and Sebastian Maniscalco and decided to take the plunge. “I came in more recently, at a later point in my career,” said Feimster. “I knew I had a lot of room to grow, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do together. I’m always a fan of working with a strong woman, and Judi is definitely that.”

When it comes to uplifting women in comedy, Marmel is playing her own part as mentor, and she has no plans to stop supporting female comics and entertainment executives. “In the future I hope what I have done, and will continue to do, opens up a path for other women to be able to do the same. I have an awful lot of women that work on my team and I love to lift women up, so if I can in some way guide them through this path, then that’s a huge win as well.”

Having extensive comedy knowledge and endless passion certainly will get you far within the industry, but adding in a little kindness might get you even farther. “I was always of the mindset that if you just work really hard, you’re a good person, and you try to do your best every day, that you can build a career that way,” Marmel said. “And that’s absolutely what happened to me. What a wonderful life.”

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