A few months back I was a guest on Jackie's radio show and quickly realized that one of the things that makes Jackie so funny is an inner child-like spark that he brings to the stage and his personal life. He reminds me of Red Skelton, in the sense that his act and stage presence is all about having fun. Most of us know Jackie "The Joke Man's" many credits: radio personality, stand-up comedian, comedy writer, singer-songwriter and eighteen years as a cast member and head writer of one of the greatest radio dynasties of all time, The Howard Stern Show. But I learned there's a lot more to this very nice, very funny man.
DeBellis: Jackie, I recently learned that you're involved with using humor to help special needs children, more specifically autistic children. I think your approach is quite unique.
Martling: I have a few kids' joke gadgets that are really fun, and they help kids fall in with other kids big time. They're ice-breakers. And anything that gets kids moving socially, especially autistic kids, is invaluable. They're very simple machines that play very simple jokes when you push the nose, and kids love them.
They keep playing the jokes, and laughing, and when children share a laugh, it's really great bonding experience. Just like it is with adults.
The laughter breaks down barriers and inhibitions ... it's sheer joy to watch it happen.
It's me telling the jokes on the machines, my voice is sped up for the "Munchkin" effect, and as I always have, I laugh at my own jokes and the high-pitched laugh alone just seems to really tickle kids.
And when you press either eye, the joke repeats, so the child can play the joke over and over, and learn or share the joke he just heard. Which is especially great for special needs kids.
I also have kids' tee shirts that read, "ask me to tell you a joke." and armed with the joke gadget, the kid's ready when you ask to be told a joke. That makes it even easier to get the communication flowing between both kids and other kids, and kids and adults, which are both important. Kids share the jokes with each other and their parents and anybody who'll listen, and the fun is downright infectious.
DeBellis: Humor can be a great bridge for people who otherwise wouldn't communicate. Jackie, since the majority of Huffington Post readers are politically oriented, I think they'd be interested in the project your girlfriend Emily Conner is attached to as an associate producer.
Martling: Ann is Holland Taylor's one-woman show about the late great Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, and it gives me great pleasure to help get the word out about the production because all of Ann's messages are smart and crystal clear and wonderful ... and necessary. It's a great show for anyone interested in politics or would just like to learn about a very special woman.
DeBellis: How did you originally hook up with Howard Stern?
Martling: In August 1982 I was working at Garvin's in Washington D.C. and the owner said to me, "There's a guy who used to broadcast his DC-101 radio show from the club in his underwear. He just got fired, but got hired by WNBC-AM in New York City. His name is Howard Stern, and you should look him up, you guys are like peas in a pod." I blindly sent my three homemade comedy lp's all of all my promotional material ... exactly like my partner, Nancy Sirianni, and I had sent out over four hundred times that year alone ... to Howard Stern. A few months later, in February 1983, he called and said, "Hey, man, we listened to your albums. You know every joke in the world. We're holding a talent contest over the phone today ... want to come in and be one of the judges?" I went. And when the show was over, Howard said, "You're a lot of fun. Why don't you come back next week." And I did.
DeBellis: Most people don't know how much writing you did for Howard Stern. What did that job require creatively and time-wise?
Martling: In retrospect, we simply clicked perfectly from the start. I like to think the years and years of telling jokes and being fun and funny were all the preamble to my so easily falling in step with Howard ... that when I arrived I had already been molded into someone who could think like him, or perhaps already did think like him, and thus was able to write stuff on the fly that he very well might have thought of himself if he wasn't so busy yakking. I worked with the show once a week for three years, slowly slipping Howard ideas and lines ... eventually becoming somewhat essential when I wound up on the show five days a week.
DeBellis: I know this story but I think it was pretty brave. Please tell the readers how you started in stand-up comedy?
Martling: In 1976 I went in to see Audition Night at Catch A Rising Star and at one point the auditioner bailed out early and the MC wasn't in the room, so I jumped on stage and told a joke, one that I was sure the entire world knew. The MC, David Sayh, came back in the room and saw me up there but let me finish. The audience went wild. On the way out, David said to me, "Hey, that was a great joke. You should come try to do this." I said, "You knew that joke, right?" And he said, "No, I never heard that joke." And the proverbial light bulb went off in my head ... if the MC at Catch A Rising Star in New York City hadn't heard that joke, maybe there were other people who hadn't heard that joke. It turned out very few people knew any of the zillions of jokes I knew.
DeBellis: From that night at Catch a Rising Star what was your next step, and how did you start booking clubs?
Martling: I've always told jokes, often to the dismay of all the bands I was ever in. At some point in the mid-seventies, in addition to playing in our three-man group The Off Hour Rockers, I started playing solo gigs, me and my guitar, my songs and my jokes. One night when my band had a gig at the legendary My Father's Place on Long Island, I ran into a few fledgling comics and really hit it off. So I went to where they were working and they came and grabbed some stage time at my gigs ... Eddie Murphy, Rob Bartlett, Bob Nelson ... they all did five minutes here, ten minutes there.
After a gig one night in late 1978. the other two guys in The Off Hour Rockers told me, "We're leaving to start our own band." I said, "Hey, I'm no rocket scientist, but if I'm in a band with three guys and two of them leave to start their own band, that's kicking me out of the f'ing band."
DeBellis: So that was the point in time you decided to branch out and try comedy?
Martling: Precisely. I kept on with my solo shows, and then (my still dear friend) Richie Minervini partnered with me to do shows at a club called Cinnamon in Huntington on Long Island. He'd MC, I'd go on last with my guitar and go nuts with songs and dirty jokes, and we'd put the other guys in between. I started my still-running joke line, "Use Your Finger! (516) 922-WINE" to advertise the night (dial it now, I dare you), and pretty soon we had comics coming out from New York City to be in our shows, thrilled to make $30-40-50 instead of a hamburger and cab fare. Soon I started taking my equipment to bars to try comedy, putting on comedy shows all over Long Island and then, with comedian Ron Richards, who was doing the same thing in Jersey, I started putting on shows there. All of the Long Island shows were such a huge success that after just a year Richie opened The East Side Comedy Club, Long Island's first comedy club. That Tuesday night show lasted fifteen years.
DeBellis: You have the most amazing memory for jokes ... long story jokes as well as one-liners. Why is that?
Martling: I forget the question.
DeBellis: Who were the comic's that you most admired?
Martling: I loved watching Red Skelton because he seemed to enjoy himself so much, I liked The Marx Brothers, which may very well have been because my mother praised them non-stop, I loved Johnny Carson's monologues, I loved Redd Foxx because his albums were simply joke joke joke ... and my favorite always has been Rodney Dangerfield, because he was and is the very funniest.
DeBellis: Is there anything in your childhood that you think drove you towards comedy?
Martling: I think I was always a wise guy and trying to be funny because I was so little. And my mother was very very funny, very caustic and wild. She would have sent Dorothy Parker scrambling for cover. It was a very funny household ... I've often said that every single person in my family was and is funnier than me. And they still are.
DeBellis: One of the things I noticed when watching you perform is that you can say things that most people could never get away with. Can you explain why that is?
Martling: That's very flattering, I think, thanks. I like to think that people can immediately tell that all I want to do is make them laugh and have fun, that there's no hostility of any kind bubbling in me or any mean agenda. Which is true. I'm just trying to get laughs.
DeBellis: What is about comedians from our era that gives us such a strong bond?
Martling: I may be speaking for myself, but I'm an excellent kisser. Truthfully, I think we've all always loved what we do and we knew the other comedians loved what they were doing and there was and is a very strong respect. I think with almost all of us, it wasn't a career choice, it was a had-to.
DeBellis: You have some of the most amazing show business stories. Are there any that really stick out in your memory and, can you tells us one of them?
Martlng: Jackie Mason asked me and a few other guys to help him write him some new political stuff. At one point, I offered a joke or an idea, and Jackie's eyes lit up.
He looked at me and said, "That's genius. Do you know that's genius? You, my friend, are a genius."
A few minutes later, Jackie said, "Let's go to the corner and get some lunch."
As we were getting off the elevator, Jackie turned to the elevator operator and said, "Did you just bring us down here? Did you do that? Mister, you are a genius. You, my friend, are a genius."
DeBellis: What's one of your favorite jokes? We have to keep in clean here, but you know so many I'm sure it doesn't limit you ...
Martling: A guy's wife's screams at him, "Get out! Get out of this house!"
As he's walking out the door she yells, "I hope you die a slow and painful death!"
He turns and says, "S-so now you want me to stay?"
You can get a joke tweeted to you at 4:20pm EDT daily if you follow me on Twitter, @jmarlow.
DeBellis: What are your plans for the future?
Martling: My immediate plans are to finish this marathon interview. More importantly, then I'll get to the task of fielding all the calls from the folks who just read this and are anxious to hear my great ideas for game shows and talk shows, and a reality show about JokeLand and my ridiculous life in the pursuit of game shows and talk shows.
Of course, I'll be continuing to do "Jackie's Joke Hunt," our SiriusXM radio show on Howard 101 that's in its seventh year. My partner Ian Karr and I have been doing a solid hour of hysterical jokes every Tuesday night at 5pm EDT for 320 shows.
I've been getting small acting roles and really loving it. And of course I'll be continuing to perform my comedy act wherever and whenever. For information on any and all of my shows, please visit jokeland.com. And I'd love to hear from you ...please drop me a line ... email@example.com
Follow John DeBellis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/misterpitiful