ARCHIVE: A Guy Walks Into a Bar

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In a change of pace for the Brighton Bar, the irrepressible Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling takes the stage of the venerable punk rock club this Friday night. 

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit March 8, 2009)

Joke Man, we need you here. We need you to lift our spirits; to shock us out of our late-winter SADS like chlorine-bombing the algae scum from a shut-down pool. We need you, Joke Man, despite the warmweather weekend and the return of the daylight we saved. Need you to help us fart in the face of that which we can change, and to flip off that which we’d just as soon forget.

When the one and only Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling takes the famous stage of The Brighton Bar in Long Branch this Friday, it’ll be an experiment for an old-school sort of performer who generally limits his experimentation to seeing just how far he can push the envelope of bad taste. It’s a little something different as well for the local-landmark alterna-club, with veteran booking agent and radio personality Randy “Now” Ellis bringing in the world’s preeminent hunter and collector of exotic groaners to “Brighton the doorstep” of a joint that’s often served as the Room with the Gloom for generations of earnest punk/psych/goth/garage gourmandizers.

For Jackie, it’ll be another night in another town, during a career that reached its greatest national exposure during his long tenure as Howard Stern’s head writer and giggling, smutty sidekick — a perfect flesh ‘n blood amalgam of Barney Rubble and Quagmire. It’s a persona that’s served him well, from radio, TV and venues of all sizes (including a recent tour-of-doody-jokes in Iraq), through such technological advances as comedy DVDs, webcasts, automated jokelines, hand-held laugh generators and the Sirius Satellite Radio program Jackie’s Joke Hunt.

“Hi Mr. Cheesecake” responds the Joke Man, when Red Bank oRBit comes calling for a few quips and comments — and we are off on a phoned-in joyride into Jokeland. Brace for impact, people; we’re about to set this flight down on the dirty side of the Hudson…

RED BANK ORBIT: So Jackie The Joke Man plays the Brighton Bar! In an alternate universe, where is Jackie appearing on Friday night?

JACKIE MARTLING: Well, you know I enjoy all my little gigs. I did a police benefit the other night — and wherever I am I’ll be telling my dick jokes. It’s not rocket science! Anyway, I like the big shows and I like the little shows — it’s the mid-range shows that suck, the ones where they have midget emcees or whatever.

Would you have liked to been part of the old three-a-day vaudeville circuit? The classic Borscht Belt years?

worked in the Catskills, back in the 80s. It was great; the best audience. I love jokes, and I loved all those old guys — your Buddy Hacketts and your Henny Youngmans. Shecky Greene. I have nothing but respect for anybody that gets up there in front of people.

Who do you like these days?

I don’t see many comics out there — Chris Rock couldn’t be funnier, but comics don’t go to see comics. You go back to your room and turn on the fuckin’ History Channel. Rodney Dangerfield, when I was working with him, he’d go back and say ‘turn on the TV — nothing funny, and nothing in color! Just black and white.’

Is there anybody out there that even Jackie Martling thinks works too blue?

Oh, I don’t know — when they started doing those Def Comedy Jams everything was muthafucka muthafucka muthafucka, and you know, I don’t care how dirty something is, as long as it’s funny, as long as it’s got some wit to it.

You wanna hear a really disgusting joke? This is one that some guy called into the radio show with — it’s the most disgusting joke I ever heard on the radio. How do you make a (bleep)? You get a (bleep) to take a (bzzzzz) in her (hummmmmm)!

Wow, that’s uh…that’s…

Oh, it’s totally foul. But funny, right? You get it, right? It’s like there’s (insert 18-minute, Watergate-tapes style erasure gap here)!

I get it, I get it. So what’s off limits as far as you’re concerned? When is it ‘too soon’ to crack wise about something?

Oh, well, 9/11 isn’t funny — it’ll never be funny. And right now we have to listen to Octo-Mom jokes every day, but — she’s a fuckin’ joke to start with. It’s sad, really, I feel sad for those kids.

The late great Uncle Miltie was accused of stealing jokes from all the other comics; I’m going to steal a bit from my colleague Ed Kaz at the Asbury Park Press and ask, of all the places you’ve played, where was the filthiest bathroom?

The most disgusting — I was at Bananas in Poughkeepsie; I went to take a leak before the show and there was just poop everywhere. It was like someone had gone in and instead of sitting down, they got up and walked around.

I have another bathroom story for you. When I was in college, Michigan State, there was this bar I used to go to — Mac’s Bar. And I always have to go, you know, I’m a high-octane guy — I’m always grabbing a bunch of cocktail napkins and running back into the bathroom.

Anyway, the place had this horrible, tiny, filthy little toilet — there’s no door, and I’m sitting there, and this fraternity guy comes in and looks down at me and says, “I been comin’ here for two years and all that time I’ve only seen two people take a dump — and you’re both of ‘em!”

Now, Howard used to complain that radio was the lowest rung of show business. Do you agree with that, or should that be reserved for the guy in the chicken suit who has to wave people in off the road to the chicken-and-ribs joint?

Usually the guys in the costume are radio people! Makin’ a few bucks on the side.

You’re a New York area guy your whole life; tell me who your all-time greatest New York radio personality was, in the years before you got into the business yourself.

I’m a Murray the K man! The Fifth Beatle! He was the best. And Cousin Brucie, I met Cousin Brucie in a supermarket — before he had hair, if you know what I mean!

Greatest New York kiddie show TV host?

Sandy Becker, hands down. See, Soupy Sales and Chuck McCann were a little later on, after my time, but Sandy was there first — he was the first host of Wonderama. First guy to turn his eyeballs inside out; he had all his characters and voices…

And greatest New York area discount store chain? Y’know, like John’s Bargain Store…

For me, it was a store called DaViga — this is in the late 50s, before the chains really came along. DaViga was huge; the first big variety sort of store.

One more. Describe your mental image of the typical satellite radio listener; when you’re doing your show, who do you picture on the other end of the radio?

Well, we get a lot of e-mails from truck drivers. They’re a lot hipper, a lot smarter than what you always thought about truckers. Good thing too, because if a guy’s driving 75,000 pounds down the road, I feel better knowing he’s smart. But comedy cuts right across all the categories — our listeners aren’t rich or poor or smart or stupid. It’s like the Stern fans, we got a mix of the idiots and the nuclear physicists.

Mention in your story that I love to get e-mails — they can send ‘em!