Paul Anthony knows what’s funny.
As the brains behind the Long Island Comedy Festival, which he started 11 years ago, he’s worked with talented local comics, many of whom are 50 or older. “A lot of times, in the green room, we’d be talking and I would say to them, ‘How is it possible you’re not on Comedy Central or Showtime?’ ” he says.
The punch line, however, was no joke: “The feedback I kept getting is the industry tends to favor younger acts,” he says.
Realizing these performers needed greater audience exposure, Anthony this summer created the 50+ Comedy Tour, a showcase for comedians who are older than 50. “I originally thought of calling it the ‘We’re Not Dead Comedy Tour,’ ” jokes Anthony, 52, of Massapequa, who also serves as master of ceremonies at the shows. “I still haven’t abandoned that idea.”
The shows, not surprisingly, are also geared toward audiences who are also older than 50, and they can see these comedy pros in action when the tour comes to Great Neck’s Gold Coast Arts Center Sept. 17, Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre Sept. 24 or Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset Oct. 7.
“These are beautiful theaters that appeal to an older demographic. There’s no one eating nachos,” he says.
Stevie G.B., one of the comedians on the tour, knows what it’s like to perform at clubs where comics are competing against drink and menu orders. “The comedy clubs are basically bars and there’s a lot of drinking and the shows run late, so the older crowd is not frequenting them,” says Stevie G.B., 58, of Holbrook. “If I was at a club and started talking about 50-year-old problems, the younger generation would be looking at me like they don’t know what I’m talking about.”
The shows run about 90 minutes, typically with five comics on the bill, including a surprise guest performer. Comedians aren’t the only ones anxious to be a part of the tour. Anthony says that as soon as word got out that he had developed the 50+ Tour, he was approached by AARP of Long Island about partnering up.
“AARP is trying to appeal to the boomer generation. They’re trying to get members to join that are younger so that they can be members for a longer period of time,” Anthony says.
Not only does the organization have a booth set up at the shows, but they’ve also teamed up with the tour to create a contest, pegged to AARP’s Life Reimagined program to find the next 50+ comedy star. “We saw an opportunity with this initiative called Life Reimagined, which was based on all the research we did among age 50-64 working adults who become members,” says Bernard Macias, 47, associate state director of AARP of Long Island. “People that age are faced with different obstacles, challenges, opportunities. They’re looking at: What’s my next move once I retire? What have I always wanted to do once I have the time? Maybe that’s to do stand-up comedy.”
The winner will get stand-up comedy lessons and a spot on a future tour date. (See box.)
Humor is ageless
Anthony notes that even though the 50+ Tour skews older, younger audiences can share the laughs.
“Some of the comedians will talk about struggling with technology, or reminiscing about things they did when they were growing up,” Anthony says. “A younger audience can appreciate it as well. A lot of the humor is universal.”
In fact, a few of the comedians are technically just a bit shy of 50, such as Eric Haft, who doesn’t reach that milestone until December. “Paul said, ‘Would you mind being the baby of the group?’ ” says Haft, who has been a regular with the Long Island Comedy Festival.
He also performed at the initial tour outing in July at the Gold Coast Arts Center, where he says the audience was predominantly 65 and older. “You have to look at your audience,” says Haft, whose act consists of jokes about marriage, raising children and even a bit on Shakespeare, with a few double entendres tossed in. “You’re not necessarily going to talk about Instagram and Twitter. They’re not going to get it.”
Family is also comedic fodder for Stevie G.B., whose material hones in on being an empty nester, his incompetence at home improvement and being unable to retire. “My new enemy is Suze Orman,” he says. “She helps people who want to save for retirement and it’s so depressing because I feel like I’m getting further and further away from retirement,” he says. “I’m watching my 401(k) turning into a 201(k). The reality of people working into their 60s and 70s, as depressing as this is, it can be funny.”
Representing the woman’s comedic point of view is Sherry Davey, who says she wasn’t sure how to take her invitation to the comedy tour. “I didn’t know whether to thank him or smack him,” jokes Davey, who says she’s still in her 40s.
Davey’s clean brand of comedy, which deals with her life as a single mom to two teenage girls, growing up in the ’70s and getting back in the dating game, seemed like a good fit with the 50-plus audience.
“Being divorced and dating in your 40s is just so much fun. One of my jokes is ‘They say the good ones are always taken. Good news — they’re back,” says Davey, who is originally from Cornwall, England, and now lives in Ronkonkoma.
Stand-up comedy is in Davey’s DNA: Her grandfather also was a comedian and an inspiration for her to get started in the business 20 years ago. And if men have a hard time getting gigs as they get older, she’s found that being a female comic can be advantageous, she says. “It’s definitely a boys club, but that has worked to my favor when places have needed to hire a woman,” she says. “As the only woman in the show, the audiences remember me. It’s usually all men, and then I come on and am a little bit of a game changer. Not to mention being English and living on Long Island. I’m Ronkonkoma royalty with an accent.”
At the moment, Anthony says, five shows have been scheduled for the 50+ Comedy Tour, but he’s confident that audiences will continue to show up. “There are proven health benefits to laughter,” Anthony says. “You will feel better at the end of the show. You will laugh for 90 minutes. It’s a fantastic feeling.”
Your chance to shine?
Think you have what it takes to make ’em laugh?
Try out your comedic chops for a chance to perform live. Long Island Comedy and AARP are partners in the Search for the Next 50+ Comedy Star. If you’re 50 or older, fill out the form on longislandcomedy.com and upload either a 5- to 7-minute, live, unedited stand-up performance or a link of your act. Everyone who enters gets a gift certificate to attend a Stand-Up University class at Governor’s in Levittown. The winner gets admission to the 12-week Stand-Up University comedy training program and a spot on one of the 50+ Comedy Tour dates.
“They’ll teach you how to fine-tune and develop an 8-minute routine,” says Paul Anthony, founder of the Long Island Comedy Festival, “and graduation is getting to perform before an audience.”
— DANIEL BUBBEO
Heard any good jokes lately? Here’s your chance as the 50+ Comedy Tour hits these venues this month and next. For more information, go to longislandcomedy.com
WHEN | WHERE 8:30 p.m. Sept. 17, Gold Coast Arts Center, 113 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck
INFO $20; 516-829-2570
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Sept. 24, Madison Theatre at Molloy College, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre
INFO $35; 516-323-4444
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Oct. 7, Cultural Arts Playhouse, 170 Michael Dr., Syosset
INFO $25; 516-694-3330
— DANIEL BUBBEO