Marc Zakarin won't argue if you tell him that he never knows when to stop talking. In the course of 10 minutes he can rattle off sentences with the alacrity of a speed skater, gliding from one topic to another without pausing for a breath. It's a trait that's served him well for more than 40 years selling pop-culture memorabilia both in his store and at auctions, and even more so in his newfound career as a stand-up comic.
"I'm like an old Borscht Belt guy revisited," says Zakarin, 62, of Huntington Station, referring to the summer resorts in the Catskills that featured many comedians and other entertainers who catered to a largely Jewish clientele. Like that of the stand-up comics who played there, Zakarin's comedic style relies heavily on wordplay and one-liners.
Such as, "My mom wanted me to be a doctor, but I didn't have the guts." (Ba-dum-bump.)
Or this: "I was going to be a magician, but the teacher said I had no aptitude. I'm a real disillusionist."
These are the jokes, folks, and Zakarin's got a million of 'em. And he'll be telling them next at The Lodge -- Huntington Moose 318 on Nov. 6, where he'll be opening for comic Keith Anthony. The event, Comedy for a Cause, is a fundraiser for several youth organizations in Huntington. It's the latest stop for Zakarin, who has performed at various local venues, including Governor's, Bobbique in Patchogue and defunct East Side Comedy Club in Manhattan, as well as private functions such as bar mitzvahs and charity auctions.
Comedy was a natural progression for Zakarin, whom family and friends always thought had a talent for making them laugh. "For Marc's 50th birthday, I thought it would be fun to do a roast," says Debbie Zakarin, 58, his wife of 24 years. "I booked a comic from East Side Comedy Club and invited about 200 people. . . . At the end, Marc got up there and roasted himself and he was hilarious."
Still, Zakarin never pursued stand-up until 2007. By that point, he says, eBay had cut into attendance at collectible shows, so the timing seemed right to finally give comedy a try. He heard about a comedy course at Governor's in Levittown and signed up. "Deb encouraged me and my best friend encouraged me. In the first weeks, I felt like I had it," says Zakarin, who writes all of his material.
In the course, he learned about finding his stage persona, developing his comedy rhythm ("I have been told I talk too fast," he says) and putting together his own show. Bobbique was the first spot where he performed and the rush of an audience thrilled him. His sets usually last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on where he appears in the lineup of a show. Closing acts usually get about 45 minutes, he says.
From 1981 to 1991, he owned It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, a memorabilia shop in Greenwich Village that drew in well-known groups, including KISS and longtime friends Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
"Southside Johnny took me with them and I did a show for 1,200 people in Montclair, New Jersey, and I was flabbergasted because I didn't get one heckle," Zakarin says.
Performing before a bunch of rock fans, Zakarin isn't afraid to talk a blue (as in R-rated) streak. But he's also learned to tailor his act for different crowds, such as the audience at Samantha's Lil Bit of Heaven, a Christian ministry/coffeehouse in Northport where Zakarin has been a frequent performer.
"Samantha's is squeaky clean," he says. "They have a Tupperware container of pretzels at the table. If there's any toilet humor, racist humor, insulting humor, they shake the pretzels. In my last show, I worked it in. I said, 'Now I have to go to therapy, I'm scared of pretzels.' "
Zakarin's act is usually peppered with plenty of jokes about his childhood in Brooklyn -- and the two years when he and his parents lived in Virginia -- and his life now. "He likes to take a lot of his comedy from me and the family," Debbie Zakarin says. "Luckily most of the family's passed away."
A wit grows in Brooklyn
Zakarin got a lot of his colorful personality from his father, Les Zakarin, who worked for Marvel Comics as an inker on "Spider-Man." .
"He was a religious Jewish beatnik," Marc says, "and he and my mom were always very supportive of everything I did. . . . One of the things I talk about when I perform is my mother being very Jewish and guilt-ridden and telling me how she'd walk to school in the snow. And then I found out she was brought up in Miami."
He's also quick to add that his parents always supported him, as have friends such as Keith Godwin, one of his fellow comedy classmates at Governor's. "We just got along right away and wanted to keep doing comedy together," says Godwin, 48, of Medford, an addiction therapist at a veterans hospital. The two have since organized open mics at various venues where new comics can practice their material.
Godwin also runs the organizations Recovery Comedy and Comedy to Go Inc., which provide comic entertainment for fundraisers and other private events. The groups frequently host auctions -- a specialty of Zakarin, who also arranges to get memorabilia for bidding. One such event in August for the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps also featured comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who some have called Zakarin's doppelgänger.
"Everyone thought I was him. When I went up to start the auction, I said, 'Everybody, please stop coming up to me and asking for Gilbert's autograph,' " Zakarin says.
Zakarin and Godwin are also teaming up for a private fundraiser Oct. 11, at Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood. "The comedy is second, friendship has taken priority over the comedy," Godwin says. "Marc always has a smile on his face. . . . He's always willing to do anything for me. He doesn't care about money, he just wants to give back."
Memorabilia and more
While comedy has become one of Zakarin's passions, he realizes that unless you're a headliner, it's hard to make a living as a joke teller.
"Comedy is not a very lucrative business," he says. "The big guys might get 400 bucks for a Saturday night, the middle guy gets $200, the little guys get $100. And that's at the better clubs," Zakarin says.
He and his wife continue to sell pop-culture memorabilia online from their home in Huntington. Forget about putting a car in the garage -- it's jam-packed with hundreds of items, from concert posters to retro board games like one for Patty Duke's '60s sitcom.
He and Debbie have been soul mates since he was 16, and their encounter was a multifaith event, he says. Zakarin (who is Jewish) met Debbie (a Protestant) at a Catholic dance. Zakarin, who has always been a rock and roller, was playing with his band at the event, which Debbie attended with a friend.
"We're like a team," Zakarin says, referring to both their personal and business pairings. "We started out early cleaning out all the toy store basements. We would do toys and fun stuff. Then I got into rock and roll memorabilia."
They ran the Greenwich Village store together and after selling it ran an auction business out of their home, obtaining pieces through consignors and various customers. Among the items they've acquired have been a Beatles concert poster that sold for more than $100,000, a Rolling Stones poster for a Carnegie Hall concert that fetched $56,000 and one of Frank Sinatra's Grammys that garnered $68,000 at auction.
In addition to his two careers, Zakarin also does occasional voice-over work. But it's comedy that he finds most fulfilling.
"When I do Samantha's, there are a lot of old people, a lot of people who have problems," he says. "It's very rewarding to get their minds off that stuff for a night."
Comedy for a Cause fundraiser featuring comedian Marc Zakarin
WHEN | WHERE Friday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. (preshow festivities at 7 p.m.), Huntington Moose Lodge 318, 631 Pulaski Rd., Greenlawn
INFO $55 advance, $60 day of; 631-351-3061, hybydri.org/fundraiser