Over Five Decades of Comedic Experience at Surflight on Monday

Billy Garan and Joe Bublewicz Different But Both Are Funny As Can Be
Aug 08, 2018
Supplied Photos Joe Bublewicz (left) and Bill Garan.

Surflight Theatre will present the second comedy night of its 2018 concert series season at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 13. Tickets for the show, which will feature Joe Bublewicz and headliner Bill Garan, are $15 and may be purchased online at surflight.org, by phone at 609-492-9477 or at the box office, located at 201 Engleside Ave. in Beach Haven.

The two Jersey comedians have at least half a century of standup experience between them. Bublewicz has played clubs and private affairs around the country and has shared the stage with comics such as Ray Romano, Kevin James, Sebastian Maniscalco and Brian Regan. Garan, who launched his career at New York City’s legendary Catch a Rising Star, has also visited many comedy clubs, casinos and colleges throughout the country, whether performing a solo act or as part of a troupe, Funny Business, and has opened for Robert Klein, Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld.

The two comedians have decidedly different styles, a setup that Bublewicz, who is also a promoter, loves to employ. “When I promote a show, I want different styles.”

“I’m eclectic,” said Garan, who includes classic standup, prop humor and impressions in his shows. “It is a smorgasbord of comedy. It is also a very fast show.”

That doesn’t mean Garan hops onstage for 10 minutes and then says, “Goodnight, Gracie.”

“I talk fast,” he explained.

“I’m in second gear; he’s in fifth,” added Bublewicz.

Here’s part of a recent routine by Garan, delivered in machine gun bursts, not even allowing for laughs to settle down:

“I saw something so rare today I took a picture, I said, ‘I haven’t seen that in years.’ I saw a child playing outside. They never let them out anymore unless they have a space helmet on, enough padding to play in the Super Bowl, 37 pounds of sunscreen, it’s unbelievable. What happened, man? You were kids, when you grew up, remember being a kid? We were like dogs, your parents go, ‘you wanna go out?’ they’d open the door and we were gone. We were gone, they’d never see you again until it got dark and you were scratching at the door for food.

“We were kids, remember being a kid in summertime. We fell out of trees, we fell out of cars, we broke our arms, we broke our legs. We went back to school every September in bandages, on crutches, we looked like that Revolutionary War poster.”

Bublewicz’s style has been described as “observational” that throws in “some good ol’ Jersey style of sarcasm.”

“Social media,” Bublewicz has observed, “seems to be changing our environment – most people have the attention span of a bug zapper these days. It’s like, ‘I’ll give you 20 seconds and after that I’m gonna go on Facebook and wish friends who I don’t know a Happy Birthday.’” Or, “I don’t understand a lot of peoples’ behavior, like why do people wait ’til the end of the year to make a resolution? If you’re irritating in June, start working on it in July! What are you waiting until ’til the end of the year for? That’s procrastination, which is another flaw you should be working on!”

Bublewicz, who often says his surname practically forced him into comedy, can also be self-deprecating – “Nine years into a relationship, trying to keep the magic going. Last week I’m on the couch, she comes walking down the stairs and says, ‘The kids aren’t here and I’m feeling naughty.’ I was like, YES! She’s like, ‘Let’s go get some ice cream.’ That was disappointing … ’cause I wanted to go to Yogurt-land. I’m lactose intolerant!”

Interviewing two comedians who have been plying their craft since at least the days Bill Clinton was smoking – sort of – cigars in the White House provided a perfect opportunity to ask how comedy has changed over the years. It has changed plenty!

Garan was part of the NYC scene when three clubs – The Improv, Catch a Rising Star and The Comic Strip – launched the careers of superstars galore and, subsequently, a comedy boom across the land. If you want to zoom in on the time period, know he was a contemporary of Joe Piscopo and Bill Maher.

“Everybody was trying something different,” said Garan. “It wasn’t just standup. There was prop humor (Garan was especially fond of Steve Martin), impressionists (“Rich Little,” Bublewicz piped in), comedy teams, (not to mention improv troupes and ventriloquists). Now it’s just standup. I don’t want to say it’s cookie cutter but …”

What happened?

Garan used the demise of comedy teams, which were once a comedy staple – think Burns and Allen, Nichols and May, Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis – as a template for explaining the change. The explosion in comedy’s popularity, set off not only by the aforementioned clubs, but by the success of “Saturday Night Live” while at the same time Johnny Carson could still anoint a superstar-to-be by inviting a comic to sit on his couch, resulted in an explosion in the number of comedy clubs throughout the United States. It was a small city, indeed, that didn’t have at least one. But that explosion convinced thousands of one-time classroom clowns they could be the next George Carlin, Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy. So club owners and promoters could haggle with comics like vendors in a Middle Eastern bazaar when it came to paying talent. Superstars got super rich by making a transition from clubs to TV to the big screen. Working comedians didn’t.

“When the money went down, they wouldn’t pay comedy teams any more than a single act,” said Garan.

On the other hand, said Bublewicz, today’s comedians have a tool that wasn’t available decades ago – social media. Comedians can make names for themselves with a few hot video clips that attract hundreds of thousands or even millions of hits.

Political correctness is another change in comedy. “Can you imagine if ‘Blazing Saddles’ came out now?” asked Bublewicz. Or can you imagine a show like “All In the Family,” which featured Carroll O’Connor playing the bigoted Archie Bunker, lasting a season on TV today?

Sure, blacks can make fun of blacks, Jews can belittle Jews, Italians can go after Italians, gays and lesbians can do gay and lesbian jokes, but if you’re not in the group, beware. It used to be different.

“Carson would pick his battles,” said Garan. “He’d only do Jewish jokes with Jewish guests.”

Then there’s the matter of language. Some routines can be absolutely filthy. If you’ve ever heard a comic such as Gilbert Gottfried doing the classic “The Aristocrats” bit, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, well, an explanation can’t possibly appear in a family newspaper. How can you match a comic with a venue?

“You have to walk a fine line,” said Garan. “Royal Caribbean will do two shows, a family show and a late show, one with no holds barred. It takes all kinds; you have to appeal to everybody. Some crowds will like filthy shows, others want a clean show.”

“I hand pick people who come here,” said Bublewicz of Surflight, which tries to avoid getting in the mud. “Sometimes I ask Steve (Steiner, Surflight’s producing artistic director).”

When Bublewicz is performing, he tries to get a sense of the venue while in the wings.

“I always watch the opening act,” he said, so that he can discover what the audience’s limits are.

In the end, though, the key to comedy is getting laughs.

“If you say something funny enough, you can get away with it,” said Bublewicz.

There’s one final question that comedians have to ask themselves in 2018: bash Trump or not bash Trump?

You’d think that with Stephen Colbert rising to the top of the late night ratings with his constant attacks on the president, everybody would enjoy a Trump bashing. You’d think wrong, as one comedian who played an Atlantic City casino recently learned. When he launched into an anti-Trump tirade, a good part of his audience got up and left and made their displeasure known. Bublewicz was called in as an emergency replacement the next night.

“At the end of my act I don’t know if I’m for him or against him,” said a fence-walking Bublewicz.

“You can sprinkle a little bit in,” said Garan, who added you were playing with fire if you went ballistic on Trump.

Put simply – figure out the room and go where it allows.

 — Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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