Marc Jaffe [Interview]

 


Regular TWS readers are sure to notice that we have developed quite a fascination with the world of comedy over the last year. Especially in the world of comedy writing. It is without a doubt one of the most fascinating gigs we have invested time in and hope to continue to do so with regularity. And today is another great day for comedy fans, as we have the brilliant comedian and writer Marc Jaffe in the digital house!

Mr. Jaffe is naturally funny cat who had a great stint as a writer on a little show you may have heard of called Seinfeld. Like his TWS predecessors Peter Mehlman and Steve Skrovan, Marc is one of the geniuses who made this legendary program what it is today. Marc has also written everything from television pilots to plays to brilliant memoirs.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Marc’s life is his work in the world of Parkinson’s research. For very personal reasons, which he will explain below, Marc Jaffe and his wife Karen have done some amazing work with their organization. They have raised a literal shit ton of money for Parkinson’s research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation. And they have a lovely event coming September 9th with Dominik Farinacci and Shenel Jones, with comedic hosting duties from the great Jimmy Dunn at the legendary Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio. If you are anywhere near this event, I can not recommend this brilliant night of entertainment that supports a great cause. Check out Shaking With Laughter’s WEBSITE for details and tickets!

So without further rambling, please enjoy some amazing words from the brilliant Marc Jaffe!

When did you first decide that you wanted to become involved in the world of comedy? Was it always a passion of yours from an early age, or did it just sort of happen?

I loved comedy as a kid. I would get comedy albums by Bill Cosby and Flip Wilson and Woody Allen. (At least one of those didn’t have scandalous sexual behavior.) I was always writing humorous poems or skits for school assignments or assemblies. Of course, I didn’t realize it could actually be a career until I was in graduate school for business and thought I wasn’t going to make it in a suit every day so it better be a viable career.

We have spoken with some of your fellow Seinfeld writers, Peter Mehlman and Steve Skrovan, and have had their take. But, how was your experience working on the show? Was it as pleasurable of an experience to work on as it was for the viewers to watch?

It was a privilege interacting with such great comedy minds as Jerry, Larry David and Larry Charles. I learned a lot and in retrospect I am humbled to look back on it and think that my work was worthy enough to be a part of theirs. When I was on staff, the very first full season, it was supposed to be a mid-season replacement show, so there wasn’t the time crunch many shows have. We were working on shows in September for January air, so it was relatively relaxed. (Larry David wouldn’t say he was ever relaxed.) There weren’t the staying up all night doing rewrites atmosphere. Larry and Jerry wrote together. That would change after the first season when new scripts were being worked on the same time as one was being produced so Jerry wouldn’t have time to write and act.

It was a great time to be there, with everyone kind of figuring out what this show was going to be. Then, most nights I would accompany Jerry to the Improv or other comedy clubs and work on and critique the stand-up bits that were going in the show. It was fun getting to hang with Jerry and meet other name comics in the clubs.

And in your own personal opinion, what do you believe it is about the show that has made it a full blown classic, and still completely relevant show today?

I think it’s about growing up and how hard that is, and how we wallow in our personal angst and our own little quirks and peccadilloes and in a way let them define us even while they keep us from having meaningful relationships. While the setting is specific and the characters are of a certain upbringing, the feeling and challenges of single 30 year olds in Western society is pretty universal, so it resonates today.

With all of the changes that have been happening in the world of comedy, with so many new arenas to enter like Netflix, podcasts, etc., what are your thoughts on the world of comedy these days? Do you believe things have worked for the better as more opportunities are brought upon those who wish to enter this world?

There is definitely more opportunity to get your stuff out there to find an audience. I have old videos and audio tape of things I did just starting out with friends who have gone on to be known comedians and directors, that we were just hoping to have as a calling card or entry to a producer somewhere. Now, that stuff would have been up on YouTube or on a podcast and we could have garnered a following and some income immediately which would have led to something else.

The downside is, much of what is put out there isn’t really ready and we benefited in the long run by being able to grow outside the public eye and without the responsibility of having to produce content. Though I would say the way it is today, because people who wouldn’t normally get an opportunity are able to, is much better.

The tough thing I can’t imagine trying to do now is keep up with the number of outlets there are. As a comedian, I used to get a video once every other year to send to producers or club bookers to get work and TV spots. When I came up with funny stuff it was for something to get paid – stand-up, magazine article, book proposal, TV show, movie. Much of what I wrote ended up going nowhere. Now, that stuff ends up on a blog or twitter and is necessary just to keep a public profile. I don’t know how people keep up. And I don’t know if it’s better to have all that output available where we have to sift through for the gems, or to have all that stuff be in the file cabinet where only the gems get out.

Can you tell us a bit about your organization Shaking with Laughter? What sort of things have you done with this noble non-profit to help with Parkinson’s research?

When someone you love is struck with a degenerative disease like Parkinson’s, you want to help, but there is little you can do to stop the progression. One thing you can do is help the research to maybe find a cure. That is done by participating in clinical trials which I have done, and by raising money for research. When my wife Karen was diagnosed about 10 years ago, I thought I could do that by putting together a show with some of my comedian and musician friends I’ve made over the years. (We kept her diagnosis a secret for 3 years so it took a while before we got it together.) I was figuring on a one-time show and thought maybe I could raise $20,000. I asked my old friend Dave Coulier if he would do it and he said yes. I also asked Wayne Cotter who I had worked with when he was the host of Comic Strip Live and he said yes, and I asked guitar great John Pizzarelli who I had met on the road, and he said yes. So it was an amazing show with two great comedians and the fabulous Pizzarelli quartet all doing it for free and we raised around $130,000! We called it Shaking With Laughter – my wife’s shaking, I’m laughter.
Once we we’re so successful we realized we had to keep doing this and on Sept. 9th we will present our 6th one and we expect it to bring us over the $1 million mark in funds raised. All our talent has been kind enough to donate their time for the performance and we are so grateful to them. Comedian-wise we have had Jake Johannsen, Wendy Liebman, Brian Regan, Moody McCarthy and this year Jimmy Dunn in addition to Dave and Wayne. It’s a really fun evening with great spirit and we really feel like great things are on the horizon in terms of a cure.
All the money we raise goes to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. They are creative, innovative and smart about leading research to the goal of a cure. Their goal is to close their doors and thus don’t have an endowment – every penny goes directly to research. Karen is on th Patient Advisory Council of the Fox Foundation.

So, what does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I’ve been doing some stand-up again and will continue to do so sporadically. You can see me here Marc Jaffe, I wrote a play based on an interesting part of our journey with Parkinson’s that has had some runs, but I’m open to future opportunities with that. You can read a condensed version of it that appeared in the New York Times, Modern Love column here Finding Equilibrium in Seesawing Libidos (Updated With Podcast) And I’ve got an hysterical game show that we are trying to sell called BONK. (Doesn’t have the same meaning in the States) We call it Jeopardy meets the Three Stooges. You can learn about that here. http://www.bonkshow.com/ And, finally my book about my life with my wife before Parkinson’s, when she was a working OB/GYN is available on Amazon. It was picked up by Danny DeVito’s production company to be a sitcom but didn’t get past the pilot stage. The book is still a lot of fun though. You can find it HERE.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

With my wife in a park that had a playground. We got on the teeter-totter (see-saw). We turned into kids again. So much fun seeing her so happy.

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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