“When you’re a Swedish and black Jew who grows up looking like a Puerto Rican, and your mother gives you a Hindu name and sends you to an Irish Catholic school, you’re bound to be funny,” she jokes.
The Paterson native was in the spotlight as a child, but as a dancer and beauty queen. It wasn’t until trading quips with Jackie Mason at a party (he asked if she was a comedian; she told him: “get outta here!”) that she considered enrolling in comedy classes and taking the stage at local clubs. Along the way, she went from representing Jersey in the preliminaries of the Miss America pageant to being named New Jersey’s Funniest Female.
These days, she performs regularly at local clubs like Bananas Comedy Club in Hasbrouck Heights and Poughkeepsie, yukking it up about everything from her two little girls and accountant husband (opposites do attract!) to her crazy mother-in-law and, of course, her mixed ethnic background.
She also is deeply involved in supporting Gilda’s Club of Northern New Jersey, the local branch of the organization inspired by the late comedienne Gilda Radner. Croonquist will perform April 7 at the organization’s tenth annual “Laugh Off.” At the event, comedians will compete for a headlining spot at Bananas, as well as the opportunity to perform for industry professionals.
“You have to share your talent with those less fortunate,” says Croonquist, who has been involved every year of the event. “It gives me such joy to see [patients] coming from their chemotherapy and radiation treatments and feeling like regular people again. It has helped me see the world of living with cancer…not just dying from it.” Within just a few years of her involvement in the fundraiser, she was touched by the true meaning of her efforts when her mother, Sandra, succumbed to breast cancer.
“Sunda makes this event happen. We’re very lucky she feels so strongly about our mission and our members,” says Lenore Guido, the organization’s executive director.
With her career blossoming, Sunda has gone bicoastal. She now owns a residence in L.A.’s infamous 90210 zip code, but this Jersey girl’s attachment to her childhood home on the east side of Paterson is unbreakable.
“There’s an aura of unreality that exists in Hollywood…with all the plastic and phoniness,” she says, “but in New Jersey, you get what you get. That’s it. We’re real.”
For “Laugh Off” information, call 201-457-1670. Tickets are $50, and all proceeds benefit Gilda’s Club of Northern New Jersey.