I had the good fortune to watch an advance screening of Joke Man, Ian Karr’s heartfelt documentary about comic genius Jackie Martling.
Directed by Ian Karr (a long time Chappaqua resident), produced by Jonathan Jacobson and edited by Ronni Thomas, the filmmakers describe the film to a T: “Jackie Martling just may be America’s last great joke teller…
“His savant-like ability to remember every joke he’s heard since he was eight years old, combined with his lightning fast wit and infectious laugh, helped establish him as a comedy icon. Famous for being the head writer of the Howard Stern show for 15 years, and infamous for leaving that position, Jackie’s story is fascinating, funny and surprising, In an age of political correctness, Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling helps us belly laugh at ourselves with a kindness and sincerity that defuses his unfiltered punch lines.”
Aside from Karr and Jackie Martling, of course, the cast boasts ‘big names’ in their own right–all passionate Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling fans extolling Jackie including Artie Lange, Willie Nelson, Mark Cuban, Billy West, Sean Young, Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Stuttering John Melendez, Steve Grillo and many other familiar faces. Those closest to Jackie, including his ex-wife Nancy and his present-day girlfriend Barbara (the two, as noted in the movie, are friends) weigh in too about Jackie’s person and career with considerable affection. If it’s a Jackie love fest, the movie also makes clear that he has earned it.
There’s priceless footage of Jackie chumming it up with Rodney Dangerfield, and of the two horsing around in Vegas.
The film delves as much into ‘what happened’ as it does the impact that leaving as head writer of Stern’s show for 15 years had on Jackie’s life. Jackie stands plenty proud in recollecting not only the break from Stern but his contributions to Stern and the show. Footage of Jackie diving into the ocean (at the craziest hours!) for his regular swims presumably speak to at least one secret behind his resilience and continued energy and focus.
Just Between Us: I had met Jackie on several occasions, the first time as a guest to one of his stand-up gigs in the city. 70 something now according to the net (that’s all I could get out of Karr!), Jackie still widely tours and has an intensely devoted following. Some say ‘cult like,’ but you’d be surprised by his more mainstream fans, too. So hey, there’s a side to me that you never knew, as Adele sings, and yes, I like raunchy humor, remembered Jackie’s antics from the Howard Stern show, and even teased him after his gig, too. A lighthearted flirtation ensued, so lo and behold I was invited to appear as a guest on Jackie’s Joke Hunt at Sirius. Then finally, during a photo shoot at the Kittle House for a Father’s Day cover of Inside Chappaqua Magazine. I included Jackie on a cover photograph with Ian and four other mega accomplished Chappaqua dads. How Jackie, who lives on Long Island, landed on that cover too, I can’t fully explain. But he did!
I caught up with Chappaqua’s Ian Karr, director of the IKA Collective, a NYC and LA creative agency, to talk about the film and about Martling’s resilience despite the break from Stern, and of his ultimate triumphs, too. Ian has known Jackie since 2001 when he first met him at the Friar’s Club and in 2006 produced Jackie’s Joke Hunt, an important comeback show for Jackie. “I have always been fascinated by how unique he is,” he said. “Anyone who has ever known him knows he is a one of a kind person–especially people who have listened to him.”
As Karr set out to tell the story of Jackie’s life from his earliest days to get to the heart of what shaped him, he expressed a fascination with the Stern split too: “It’s amazing that people still talk about it 20 years later. Jackie was willing to walk away from all the money. Psychologically speaking, I wanted to know how he did that,” he said.
But Karr, I extrapolated in watching the film, had a larger goal: he also wanted to convey Jackie Martling’s essence in a way that would surpass the Stern era, and emphasize the triumphs in his life: “We’d bring people on the show and then go have epic lunches or dinners at Carnegie’s after where people could see the light in Jackie, and how much they enjoyed being in Jackie’s company.”
Joke Man, running at one hour and 14 minutes, is a chronological account of Jackie Martling’s life. It tells the story of his childhood, the trials and tribulations of becoming a comedian, and all the twists and turns that got him on the Stern show. The film visits with key people in his life who speak openly and warmly about Jackie. The film also includes an array of personal photos from the Stern show and interviews with cast members from his inner circle.
The goal is to portray a man who many call ‘the last American joke teller,’ to help preserve his unique style, related Karr.
Mission accomplished, as I agree that it’s a touching movie with lots of laughs–a combo that Jackie, being Jackie, will surely appreciate.