Jackie The Joke Man Martling - live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Jackie The Joke Man Martling

live in Philadelphia (2022)

live show

There’s an image burned into the collective consciousness of the jester presenting- the clown is slightly bent over, one leg placed in front of the other, with both arms stretched outward in a sort of “presenting” posture. What was greatly interesting to me was that at his June 9, 2022 show at Live! Casino Philadelphia, Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling would strike that exact pose before launching into a joke… or should I say attacking a joke. You see, when he wasn’t calling back to some medieval, or even ancient symbol of jest, Martling would ever so briefly pause before the microphone, take three steps back, and position himself like a runner at the starting blocks before launching into his next barrage of yuks.

Indeed, the jokes came fast and furious for Martling’s hour plus set. How many jokes were launched? 150? 200? Who could keep count? But all manner of laffs were hurled at the crowd. Some were innocent, some very not so innocent, and some were down right vulgar. Maybe not surprisingly, but his joke to hit ratio damn near came close to 100. True, some of these jokes date back hundreds of years, and it seem like some of them were newbies crafted by the Joke Man himself, but at its core, the act was both one without any sort of pretension- there weren’t any “moving stories” or jokes that “delicately critiqued society,” it was sledgehammer whammy after sledgehammer whammy. I certainly was cracking up all night long, except for the few occasions where things got so gross that I had to groan and shake my head.

In a way, Jackie’s steadfast dedication to blasting out the yuks with no time for any other emotion is a statement in of itself. On one hand (and I don’t want to get too pretentious) he’s almost an oral historian keeping these bits of literature alive that are so old that maybe the jester of Henry XIII wrote some of them, and in a way, this is as important to cultural discussion as a more contemporary story based set. And, on the other hand, the non-stop joke-nuke reminds us that it’s okay for things to just be funny in of themselves. That is, it can nice to have a moral to a comedy set, but by tying jokes to a certain commentary, there is some sort of primal joy lost. When Martling makes you laugh, there’s nothing academic about it- it’s very primal and in that way, he’s being more daring, and more pure, than many comedians that have come in his wake.

It's also important to point out that Martling doesn’t just “tell” jokes. I became acquainted with the comedian in the Howard Stern show where he would sit and write, and sometimes tell, jokes, in a very sedentary manner. But on stage, he becomes as much a pantomime as he does a joke teller. When he’s speaking as a little old lady, he hunches over and waddles around the stage. When he’s a little kid, he pulls up his shoulders and leans his head back. He acts out the jokes as much as he tells them, which really gives these tales that much more punch. I’ll also add that at times, he purposefully goes off mic and YELLS, which in of itself, is an artful performance of how to use, and not use, one’s surroundings.

I’m not going to argue that there is some sort of higher meaning to Martling’s set or that it draws a point about human nature itself. Though, it may be deeper than that. Laughing just feels good and in Martling’s act, it seems there is very little, to no, hatred, or anger, which is the case with many comedians. If anything, he’s touched upon something ancient in humans and is able to draw out some pure joy in bleak times. The fact that he still has this magic after doing this thing for about 50 years might mean that the jester parallel has more weight than a perfunctory comment might suggest.

Opener Rich Harkaway set the show off with a gentle, but humorous tone. The comedian is actually a doctor by day, and his act centered on his life as a doctor and a rather nasty divorce from decades ago. What I liked is that many current comics want to appear “cool,” or get the upper hand in their jokes, whereas Harkaway more often than not set himself up as punching bag and then punched himself. That being said, because he was honest about his chaotic life (prior to the divorce), you tend to sympathize with him and laugh with him more than you laugh at him. I also liked that as a doctor, he had some very “inside baseball” jokes. One of the few I caught: “My ex-wife is a dermatologist, so that means she’s basically like a doctor.” Ouch. Often a comic is told to not quit his day job. I’d say that Harkaway shouldn’t quit his day job either… but only because it gives his night gig such good material.