Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Amanda Costner
When Amanda Costner became the first Kansas Jayhawk to win the Big 12 Female Sportsman of the Year award in 2007, she was tasked to write a speech and speak in front of more than 100 people at the end of the year conference banquet. Costner could have used the opportunity to explain her “diamond in the rough” to 2007 Big 12 Champion underdog story, but instead, she addressed the crowd the only way she knew how – with comedy.
Costner’s speech had a theme of “three;” three apologies, three thank yous, three pieces of advice and lasted just under three minutes, but had the crowd laughing from the start. At the conclusion of the banquet several people told Costner that she should be a stand-up comedian. Costner, a self-proclaimed “hot dog,” loved the attention, but had her mind set on a career in professional golf after becoming the first Jayhawk in program history to win the Big 12 individual title in 2007.
After a couple years on the professional circuit, Costner realized that golf was no longer her passion and she was playing the game for the wrong reasons.
“I remember growing up, people would always ask me what my favorite part was and I would always say winning, that was my favorite part, getting to hoist up the trophy and that was what motivated me to work hard, because I wanted to beat everyone else,” Costner said. “When I turned pro and got out there on the road by myself, one of the things I realized was that there has to be something more substantial there than just wanting to hoist up the trophy, because the trophy is so far away and you have to get into the journey and all that and really focus on the process.”
Costner vividly recalls the day she finally decided to give it up for good. She was driving to her parents’ house after a golf lesson that went “terribly bad,” when she began to cry. It was then that Costner sold herclubs on eBay and remembered her speech at the Big 12 banquet and all the people that thought she had potential in comedy.
“When I realized I didn’t want to play golf anymore, I thought about what I really wanted to do. I really loved performing for people and I really love making people laugh,” Costner said. “I didn’t even think about it that long, I wanted to come to Chicago to study improv, the way so many famous people from SNL (“Saturday Night Live”) have studied. Chris Farley, John Belushi, Steve Carell, Tina Fey and all these great comedians went through Chicago, so I just wanted to come up here and see what improv is all about and see if I could make a living making people laugh.”
Costner was starting over, a relative unknown in the comedy world, much like her golf career began. She wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, but managed to work her way all the way up to the Big 12 Championship as a collegiate senior. Costner might have been a surprise to some, but not for her coach, Erin O’Neil, who saw the transformation early on.
“It think it was the beginning of her junior year when I saw a change in her attitude and belief in herself and her work ethic,” O’Neil said. “I wasn’t surprised at all (when she won the Big 12 Championship). She made up her mind that she wanted to be great and went to work on that. She kept a journal of things she did at practice, things that were working well for her and she was just very determined to be the greatest golfer that she could be.”
Golf wasn’t always a serious part of life for Costner, who began playing at a young age when her dad would bribe her and her sister with frozen lemonade in exchange for a trip to the driving range. However, when Costner began to show some potential, her dad got her private lessons and began signing her up for tournaments in the summer, which eventually led to her Lawrence. So naturally, her dad was disappointed when she decided to trade in her clubs for a microphone.
“I don’t know if my dad believed me, but when I sold my clubs on eBay, then he believed me,” Costner said. “He still asks me to this day, ‘If you went to the course, what do you think you would shoot? You think you would ever get back into it? You think you would try again?’ I think he holds a small hope that I might go back and try to play professional golf.”
Numerous trips to the driving range with her dad weren’t the only thing that caught Costner’s attention as a child. While he might not have realized it at the time, Costner also credits her performance bug to her dad, who was a minister.
“I grew up watching my father preach on the pulpit, capture everyone’s attention and make a difference in people’s lives, while at the same time being entertaining,” Costner said. “He was a very good preacher.”
Like her father, Costner loves to entertain. Also known to often joke around, ironically, something she has taken very seriously is comedy. Since moving to Chicago in 2011, Costner has graduated from the Second City Improv and Second City Writing Program and has begun to perform during the evenings, including a rock musical about Bill and Ted where she acted and played drums, in addition to her original work. In her new career, Costner sees similarities to her old one all the time, but she is enjoying it this time around.
“It’s funny, because what I am doing now is very similar to when I was on my own trying to play professional golf,” Costner said. “I have to promote myself; I have to deal with anxiety and stage fright and nerves, the same way you have to deal with nerves when you are on the golf course. You have to practice every night or you will lose that performance muscle. I have to push myself to get on stage every night, have to push myself to keep up with my website, to promote myself and book shows for myself, but I am having more fun doing it and I really enjoy doing what I do. I am not at the top of my mountain by any means, but I am enjoying the climb this time around.”
Growing up, Costner spent many days on the golf course before landing at the University of Kansas as a freshman for the 2003-04 season. Now, Costner hasn’t set foot on a golf course, or touched a golf club, since selling hers in 2010. Does she have any regrets? What would freshman Amanda Costner, from Edmond, Oklahoma, think if you told her she would be pursuing a career in comedy 10 years from now?
“I think she would high-five you and say, ‘That’s awesome.'”
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.
Amanda Costner Links
2007 Big 12 Awards Banquet Speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4wKexdP8kA&feature=share&list=UUjwKD74Ox2xK08ErB8wy0Cw&index=6
Music Comedy Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCwj-P9tf04
Live-Performance Songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTZ0jnxA2VI
Brass Chuckles Comedy Release: http://www.brasschucklescomedy.com/2013/09/13/amanda-costner-performing-in-brass-chuckles/