Comedian Bob Marley couldn’t stop being funny if he tried. Case in point: Marley begins a phone interview Tuesday with small talk about the unseasonable winter. So far, so good. But if you could look down the line, you’d spot a mischievous gleam in his eye.
“If I see Al Gore,” he says, “I want to tell him hey, New England’s been freezing for the last thousand years. You can globally warm us for as long as you want. Bring it on!”
Marley, who performs Saturday, January 20 at the Claremont Opera House, found his calling early on. He was listening to George Carlin and Richard Pryor albums as a child, and he’s been a pro at cracking wise for 15 years now, claiming he can’t help himself. If he didn’t have an audience, Marley says, “I’d still be in Shaw’s trying to convince the checkout guy that I’m funny.”
The Maine native may joke about the weather, but he’s here to stay. Last year, Marley moved back to Portland from California, where for 11 years, he chased the modern comic’s dream, the network sitcom. That didn’t happen, but he did hit the Hollywood trifecta – appearances on the Leno and Letterman shows, and a movie. Marley’s ‘Detective Greenly’ role in “Boondock Saints” won him good critical notices.
But he soon grew weary of Left Coast life. “After a while, I realized I don’t want to be an actor, I want to be a comedian,” says Marley. “Living in L.A. stalls your act horribly. Every time you’re on stage you’re under the scrutiny of who might be at the back of the room.“
“I feel at home in New England,” he says, where the crowds tend to understand his favorite bits about Poland Spring water (“Protected by nature? Yeah, right next to Mechanics Falls!”), Billy Squier concerts at the Cumberland County Civic Center, and Maine’s preferred security device, “the two-by-four lodged in the bottom of a sliding glass door.”
Since returning to Maine, he’s released a combo CD/DVD of his stand-up act. He’s become a regular guest on radio stations from Washington, D.C. to Barre, Vermont. In December, he completed “Comedy Central Presents: Bob Marley” at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre in New York City; the half-hour special airs February 2.
Marley also welcomed his third child, a son, into the world last November. “It’s crazy,” he says. “Apparently, the other two kids still need stuff! Three days after we got home, the six-year old says, ‘Daddy, can I have a glass of water?’ I said, ‘I just gave you one two days ago. You’re not like a house plant, just gonna pick it up from there?’ Come on, get with it.”
Much of his material comes from his home life, and Marley’s favorite target is often himself. “It’s kind of like at the end of the day, what else can go wrong with Bob? It puts the audience at ease,” he says.
“People are always thinking, ‘don’t make fun of me.’ Don’t worry,” Marley says. “I’ve got enough of my own problems, I’m not coming after you.”
Though he does use his own family as fodder, he sometimes has to be careful. He recently likened marriage to comparison shopping at Best Buy. “When I get home, I don’t remember the other TV on the showroom floor. It’s kind of like when you get married,” he said. You don’t think about the set you didn’t buy. “You just sit there with the same miserable TV night after night. Sometimes the screen sags, the picture gets a little wider, or you try to turn it on and it won’t warm up, and sometimes it gets stuck on the same channel, saying the same thing, over and over.”
His wife took a bit of umbrage to the analogy. So now he’s quick to point out , “I’m very happy with my small, perky television,” adding praise for the fine chassis.
He’s a fan of political humor – “Jon Stewart is hilarious,” he says – but doesn’t work much of it into his act. “I’ll do current events, if it’s funny, but I don’t get involved with who’s who.” A typical topical joke centers on the process of voting, not the candidates. “I don’t like going into the booth,” says Marley, “I would rather fill out the ballot in the lobby. I’ll play around in there; I’ll stick my head outside the curtain and say, ‘can you bring me a pair of 34/32’s? These ones are too tight.”
Marley considers himself lucky for the professional life he leads. If he ever does get a network deal, he’ll try to film it in Maine. Whatever happens, he’ll be a stand-up comic.
“There are lot of guys who aren’t content with just doing this,” says Marley. “They’re missing it. No matter how famous you get, you’ll keep coming back to this. You can’t walk away from it.”