Man of the people

“I do not sit down with a pen and paper and think, ‘what can I do to really piss people off tonight?’ That’s not comedy!”

Lenny Clarke keeps the fire burning

This story appears in the Nov. 14, 2019 Seacoast Scene

Few comedians are as closely bound to Boston as Lenny Clarke. When a movie was made about the burgeoning late 1980s scene that produced Dennis Leary, Steven Wright, Bobcat Golthwaite and others, Clarke was both a focus and a de facto historian for the project.

One time, he even tried to run the city – and it got him into comedy.

It began when his friends encouraged him to run for mayor. “I didn’t realize that they were kidding,” the ever opinionated Clarke recalled recently. He ran, lost, then got a job with the city as a janitor. “I kept my word, because I said I was going to clean up city hall!”

One night, Clarke and his fellow broom pushers went out for beers, ending up at an old bar called the Springfield Street Saloon.  “It  was a western décor restaurant in a Portuguese neighborhood in Inman Square… they had Steve Sweeney and a couple of other comedians. The guys went, ‘geez Lenny, you’re funnier than them.’ Not Sweeney, but the other guys.”

A week later, he returned and did his first-ever set. “They loved me, and I just kept going back,” he said. Soon, he was a regular at area clubs. “I started as the Grand Wizard of Comedy; I used to wear a turban on my head and a multicolored sport coat; I had shoes that would change color when you poured water on them. I did a ventriloquist act with a skeleton; I was insane.”

Clarke parlayed his schtick into a CBS sitcom, but television success was brief. Lenny debuted in the fall of 1990 opposite Wonder Years, only to be shuffled to a new time slot a few months later. It died when the Gulf War broke out and replaced his working class character with videos of exploding buildings.

“It brought my career to a screeching halt,” Clarke said. “It was very humbling losing everything. I went from a shithouse to a penthouse. I had a Playboy model wife, servants, a mansion by the beach out in Marina Del Ray. I had it all, and I lost it all. Divorced, lost the television show, went bankrupt. I’ve been climbing back ever since.”

Clarke did all right on the rebound. His movie roles include Fever Pitch and the Boston Marathon docudrama Patriots Day. On the small screen, Clarke had supporting roles on The John Larroquette Show, The Job and It’s All Relative. His Uncle Teddy character was a key ingredient in Rescue Me’s eight-year run.

His friendship with that show’s star and creator, Dennis Leary, is one he treasures. “Dennis has helped me mentally, physically, spiritually, monetarily, he’s been an incredible great friend. I love him,” he said.

Most recently, Clarke appeared at Leary’s annual Comics Come Home benefit for the Cam Neely Foundation at TD Garden. He’s been to all but one of the galas since it began. “25 years we’ve been doing this,” Clarke said in amazement. “You do golf charities, and after five or six years, they tend to tail off.  This gets bigger every year, and I’m really excited about doing it. Plus, I’ve been to the Neely House – I actually stayed there when my wife was recovering from breast cancer for the second time. So it’s all come back 100-fold.”

Through it all, Clarke maintains a rigorous schedule as a standup. On Nov. 23, he’ll perform in Dover for the first time. He’s a regular in the Granite State, however, praising the audiences for getting his occasionally irascible act. “I find New Hampshire is much more accepting of me,” he said. “And I love the ‘Live Free or Die.’ But think about that… Live Free or Die? I’d pay a little.”

He remains ever weary of audiences that go to shows seemingly intent on dinging performers for crossing one line or another. “They’re only words,” he said. “I do not sit down with a pen and paper and think, ‘what can I do to really piss people off tonight?’ That’s not comedy! I’m just trying to make you laugh, and pointing out the absurdity of what we’re laughing at.”

Lenny Clarke

When: Saturday, Nov. 23, 8 p.m.

Where: Stand Theatre, 20 Third St., Dover

Tickets: $35 at

Nobody’s Girl

With the arrival of Nobody’s Girl, Austin may have its own Crosby, Stills & Nash – in female form.

Rebecca Loebe, Grace Pettis and BettySoo supergroup comes to Portsmouth

To a generation of musicians, Austin is the new Laurel Canyon. Every day, at almost any hour, music pours from hundreds of venues across the Texas city. It’s the product of a seemingly nonstop influx of creative souls flowing in from across the globe and colliding with a vibrant local scene that deservedly calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World.

With the arrival of Nobody’s Girl, Austin may have its own Crosby, Stills & Nash – in female form.

Each member hails from elsewhere. Grace Pettis grew up in Alabama and Georgia, Rebecca Loebe was born in Virginia, raised in Atlanta. BettySoo is the closest to a native; she came from Houston to Austin in 1996 to attend the University of Texas, learned the guitar and started writing songs, then never left.

“Austin is like the bat signal for all the weird kids in the South,” Pettis said in a recent phone interview. “We all just kind of end up there.”

All three have solid solo careers; each is a winner of the coveted New Folk Competition at Kerrville Folk Festival, where they first hung out together. But when the longtime friends joined forces for a brief “in the round” tour together dubbed Sirens of South Austin last year, alchemy occurred.

First, they worked up a version of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” as a show closer, and posted an iPhone video. It promptly got thousands of views. Inspired, they set out to write an original song. “What’ll I Do” leads off Waterline, a six-track EP released in September 2018. It features a near-acrobatic triple descant that coalesces into spine-tingling a capella harmony at the close.

Thankfully, the trio didn’t stop at one tune. When the studio owners heard what they’d done, they responded with an offer of a record deal. “We hadn’t even played a gig together yet,” Loebe said in a February interview. “We all just went along with it; we weren’t going to slow down something that had momentum on its own.”

Their name is shared with a Bonnie Raitt song (originally written by Larry John McNally), but the moniker is also a commentary on the trio’s purpose and place in the world. “It sort of sounds like a pop group’s name but it also sort of doesn’t, it’s a little more grown up,” Pettis said. “You know, none of us are 20; we know who we are and we’ve been doing this a while.”

Lucky area music fans will have a chance to see Nobody’s Girl before they hit warp speed, on November 15 at Portsmouth Book & Bar. The show is part of their first official tour as a group, though it’s not a New England debut – they did Me & Thee in Marblehead, Mass. in late 2018, and played Vermont’s Roots on the River Festival last June.

A two-sided holiday single dropped in October. The old chestnut “Merry Christmas Baby” gets some Muscle Shoals soul, while a cover of the Jackson 5 hit “Someday At Christmas” hews closely to the original, but adds a re-imagined chorus and soups up the melody to give it a unique stamp.

Michael Ramos produced the new songs; he also helmed Waterline and is supervising their long player, hopefully due out in 2020. Pettis gushed about Ramos, who’s worked with many of her heroes – Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams. “He puts together his dream team and lets the chemistry of the players create a lot of the magic,” she said of the backing group used for the session. “It’s like cooking; he knows what ingredients are gonna work… I think he got it just right.”

Amidst other projects – Loebe released an album, Give Up Your Ghosts, in February, Pettis put out Blue Star in a Red Sky, a duo EP with Calloway Ritch, last fall, and BettySoo performs frequently, both solo and with her trio – Nobody’s Girl continues to gel as a group. Pettis expects their first full-length will draw from this maturity.

“We’re going to be really intentional about harmony lines, descant and lead parts on this record,” she said. “I love that everybody is the lead singer in the band – I think that’s one of the things that kind of separates us. We’ll be spending a lot of time trading off within songs, and our goal is for people to not necessarily know who is singing what part. We all do all the parts – we do low, we do high. I love that about our group.”

Nobody’s Girl

When: Friday, Nov. 15, 8 p.m.

Where: Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth

Tickets: $20 at