Did you hear the one about Art Schill? For more than five decades, he worked as a chemist and a sales and marketing executive, was happily married, raised two daughters, had four grandsons and paid off a mortgage on his home in Oceanside. Then, last year, he decided it was time to try something a little more adventurous and began doing stand-up comedy. The punch line: He’s 82.
“I was watching ‘America’s Got Talent’ last year and saw some of the comedy acts. Then I called my youngest daughter, Lisa, and told her I was going to audition for ‘AGT’ as a comedian,” he says. “After she finished laughing, she told me, ‘Dad, don’t you want to start slowly with places like senior citizen residences, not ‘AGT’?”
Schill gave it a shot anyway. Though his material was considered too risqué for the G-rated show, he was told to come back the following year — with more family-friendly material.
After that, Schill’s daughter bought him comedy lessons at McGuire’s Comedy Club in Bohemia. Over a six-week period, he learned about timing and not stepping on the audience when it’s laughing. “I learned that you have to read the audience properly,” says Schill. “Let them laugh; the laughter will build, and as it slows down, then say the next punch line.”
Since then, Schill, who now lives in Patchogue, has been giving folks the stand-up routine at places from Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut to Dangerfield’s in Manhattan. He also placed second in 50 Plus Comedy’s competition “LI’s Funniest Comedian” at Theater Three in Port Jefferson and was a runner up at the NYC Comedy Festival. His next big shows are at the Lil’ Room at Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown on March 30 and with 50 Plus Comedy, a tour featuring comics 50 and older, at the Bayway Arts Center in East Islip on May 19.
Schill’s philosophy of comedy is simple: “There is nothing like making people laugh to get their minds off those things that are always interfering with their happiness, for at least a little while, anyway.”
He also prides himself on being a careful observer of the world. “Most of my material comes from everyday life, even advertisements in newspapers,” says Schill. In his act, he also likes to stress mental and physical problems senior citizens have as they grow older.
On having a senior moment, Schill jokes: “The other night I had too much to drink, so I was smart enough to take a bus home — which is weird because I have never driven a bus before.”
He also has plenty of zingers on relationships. “Women should understand, when you ask a man to do something, he’ll do it. You don’t have to keep reminding him every six months.”
“Art Schill is the best undiscovered comedy talent I’ve ever seen,” says Paul Anthony, comedian and producer of the 50 Plus Comedy tour.
THE CONCORD AND LIZA
Schill’s background barely hinted at a career in the world of one-liners. After graduating from Valley Stream High School, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he worked as a medic for four years at Edwards AFB in Southern California in the mid-1950s. At Edwards, test pilots flew the most-advanced jets and the first NASA astronauts got their training. Schill worked on many of those pilots who were injured in experimental-plane crashes.
After his Air Force stint, Schill enrolled at Roanoke College in Virginia, where he studied chemistry and journalism. He left college in his second year and worked as a social staffer at The Concord Hotel in the Catskills. His job required catering to the needs of the top-line entertainers that were booked at the hotel.
“We had to make sure they always had what they needed. It was a great job. I met Buddy Hackett, Jack Carter and many other comedians,” says Schill.
He also befriended a 16-year-old Liza Minnelli, whom he met on the ski slopes in the Cat-skills. Schill recalls that she didn’t want to be known as Judy Garland’s daughter. He drove her home to the Dakota in Manhattan after her first weekend at The Concord and, in the weeks that followed, he would pick her up and they would go to college clubs like The Rathskellar in Manhattan. “Liza was a very unassuming and private young girl. This was a few years before she broke into entertainment and became that dynamic personality,” Schill says.
He eventually got a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the City College of New York in Hamilton Heights while working full time. He spent a number of years as a chemist working for Vicks International in New Rochelle, Revlon Corp. in the Bronx and Allied Chemical in Manhattan before he changed careers and went into marketing. He still works remotely as a career coach for Executive Career Partners of Denver.
THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE
It’s no surprise that marriage makes up a huge part of Schill’s act. He was married for 50 years to his wife, Ellen, whom he met at the Beach Club in Atlantic Beach in 1962. That night, Ellen Pann went home and told her parents that she just met her future husband. They got engaged two years later, when Schill surprised her with a ring during a date at the Playboy Club in Manhattan. He still keeps a photo card from that night on his living room table. They were married in 1964 and raised two daughters, Davi and Lisa.
Ellen, who died in 2014, would likely get the biggest laugh about Schill doing stand-up. “My wife got so tired of my jokes. She would hear me tell the same jokes to friends and family and would shout at me and say, ‘Enough with the jokes, Art!’ ”
She probably also would appreciate the way he uses humor to heal others. As a veteran, Schill is active with Project 9 Line, an organization dedicated to helping veterans work through mental issues through the arts and other activities. Schill took improv courses offered by the group and has been part of the comedy shows they sponsor.
“When I first saw one of Art’s sets, I loved his comedy,” says comic “Tugboat Manny” Erias, director of comedy for Project 9 Line. “I told him he should join us, and he did.”
Now that Long Island knows he’s got talent, Schill remains determined to land a spot on “America’s Got Talent.” He recently sent in a new, squeaky-clean, 90-second audition tape for the upcoming season that he hopes will lead to an audition. As usual, Schill has to get the last laugh: “At my age, I don’t know how much time I have left.”
Get a laugh
If you want to see what sort of funny business Art Schill is up to, here’s where you can see him perform.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. March 30, The Lil’ Room at Governor’s Comedy Club, 90 Division Ave., Levittown
INFO $17 plus two-item minimum (reservations required); 516-731-3358, lilroom.govs.com
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. May 19, Bayway Arts Center, 265 E. Main St., East Islip
INFO $35; 631-581-2700, 50pluscomedy.com