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"We always have a handful of female comics, but it's certainly rougher on them," said Bob Kephart, owner of the Comedy Stop at The Quarter at Tropicana, on getting into the stand-up comedy business. "If you want to be good in this business, you live in New York, you live in Los Angeles. Anybody really serious about their career is closer to a big city."

When asked to think of other Jersey Shore female comedians, Kephart named former Miss New Jersey winner turned performer Dena Blizzard. The list stopped there.

Since the Comedy Stop opened in 1983, Kephart said more than 5,000 comics have graced the comedy club's stage. Last summer, Tomko was one of 10 finalists - and the only female - who competed in the "Searching for New Stars" stand-up contest at the Tropicana venue. Tim Hayes, out of Brick Township, ended up snagging the $1,000 and a week's worth of performances.

Tomko's thirst to perform comes from her theatrical background: She graduated in her 20s with a bachelor's degree in theater from Kent State University and went on to teach a few acting classes and score a couple acting gigs.

"I've been honing the craft. It's an art form that has a lot of people getting into it in their 40s, after they've taught school and lived a little," she said, referencing Joy Behar's early career as a teacher. "I used to suck at it. People asked me, 'What do you know about life?'"

Observation plays a big role in Tomko's comedic niche. She draws from her experiences and those of her friends, some of whom are into new-age trends, from Reiki energy alignment and macrobiotic eating. Some of her jokes are self-deprecating, poking fun at her slightly chubby figure. Making fun of women in that way makes male audience members more comfortable, she said.

"I think that's where my strength comes from, laughing at myself," she said. "It's me being up there instead of a guy being up there making fun of a woman."

Her brand has worked in the past: In addition to making the final round of "Searching for New Stars," Tomko won a new talent contest in 2013 at the since-shuttered Pro Bar in Resorts Casino Hotel. She's also a regular at Stockton University's Third Thursday programs, which opened doors for her to participate in other events. In November, she was a panelist for a "Women in Comedy" event as part of a PBS documentary screening at Stockton's Kramer Hall.

Her biggest job this year has been to promote herself. That means blogging daily on her website, a New Year's resolution, again drawing upon her real-life experiences. She supplements her occasional performing income by pet sitting and playing poker, a hobby she's participated in since she moved to the area in the mid-2000s.

She got a big break recently, landing a recurring personality role on the Marc Berman Radio Show on WOND 1400. On Saturdays, she bandies around characters she'll play, from sex therapists to weather authorities.

Berman wanted Tomko on his show after she performed a 50-minute set at his home for an intimate audience. She was only supposed to have 15 minutes.

She had plenty on her mind before one recent show: She found out her father died on March 7. He had suffered a stroke and had been put into hospice care. She would later blog that he delivered his own jokes brashly. "I'm trying to master his technique," she wrote.

She exchanged quick hugs with show host Marc Berman and his wife Susan before donning headphones and getting to work as Mother Nature. And it's pronounced Nah-ture, thank you very much.

"Nature, it just sounds so pedestrian," Tomko crooned into the microphone, channelling a new-age hippie persona to the laughs of the hosts around her. She's in her element.

A few weeks ago, Tomko remembered a piece of advice from one of her college professors: When you try to force a laugh, it's not going to work. You have to tell a story.

"Believe me, you have to have a bit of truth in your comedy," Tomko said. "When you tell your story, some funny things come out of it."

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