By TOM CHESEK
One’s a newlywed who’s apparently still in that somewhat sick-making “public displays of affection” mode. One’s a salt-‘n-pepper suburban dad to three growing daughters. One’s a lifelong lothario whose “single” schtick is starting to wear as thin as his locks. And one’s the product of a bitter divorce; only, you know, funny.
Together they’re teaming up to “fight forty,” or rather to examine all the ways in which the onset of one’s fifth decade can impact your outlook on life, love, and libido. A traveling show featuring a quartet of headline-caliber New York area stand-up comics, Four Sides of Forty hits the stage of the Two River Theater this Saturday at 8p (the same time that 79-years young Pat Cooper takes his ageless brand of bottled agita to the boards of the Count Basie Theatre).
Fervent followers of the regional comedy circuit will recognize Patty Rosborough (the divorcée), Lenny Marcus (the single) and Al Ducharme (the newlywed) from countless cable TV appearances and many hours logged against the brick-wall backdrops of our nation’s Chuckle Huts. But it’s Eric McMahon the married guy of this fantastic foursome who should be most familiar to the local contingent. The Middletown resident is a hardworking payer of dues (and tolls), visible from Caroline’s in NYC to Uncle Vinnie’s in Point Beach; he’s also, somewhat incredibly, the former baseball coach at Red Bank Catholic High School, where he led the mighty Caseys to the state championship in 1997.
These days it’s the pursuit of the punchline that motivates McMahon, who, as conceptualizer of the show, has sort of assumed the role of coach to his all-star roster of franchise talents. Sitting down with redbankgreen at No Joe’s one recent afternoon, the funnyman explained the balancing act between the Biz and the Burbs, the origins of Forty and the factors that brought him from delivering pep-talks to poop-jokes.
RBG: I guess the obvious first question would be, exactly what happened to take you from coaching high school sports to doing stand-up for a living? Did it involve a baseball to the head, a moment of epiphany like that?
EM: No, the epiphany came earlier than that. I worked in engineering for six, seven years and hated my job. When a close friend of mine died of a heart attack, it was a wake-up call; I didn’t want to do the next forty years of my life in engineering. So, I took acting classes, worked on all the soaps out of New York, and did some commercials. I did the infomercial for the cleaning product Didi-7!
No kidding… Didi-7! The Oxy-Clean of its day. But what was your entrée into comedy as a career option?
I was on a golf vacation with some buddies in Myrtle Beach, and a plane went by overhead pulling a banner for a comedy competition at a local club. I always loved the spotlight, so I went and did the show, and I won! I won a hundred dollars.
So you had already embarked upon the comedy thing when you were coaching baseball at RBC?
Working gigs at night, I had my days open, and I had played baseball and football in college worked at baseball camps, so I put in for the coaching position. Nineteeen-ninety-seven was the championship season the only one in school history and yes, the players knew all about my double life. One of them is now the coach there, Buddy Hausmann.
I’m guessing that you became a professional comic a little later than most, so did those growing-old, settling-down sort of topics find their way into your act from the start?
Well, as it turns out 40 is a good age for comedy. Look at Comedy Central, you see just about all of the performers are over 40. Jon Stewart, Lewis Black, all the guys from the Blue Collar Tour. Once I did a late show at the Stress Factory, and there was probably no one in the crowd older than 24, so I did the act with an idea that ‘this is what your life will be like when you turn 40,’ that sort of thing. That’s the secret of comedy, making the audience see what’s funny about your life. From there I started writing a book called What to Expect When You’re Expecting 40. I’m still working on it!
How did the other people in the act become involved?
Patty, who’s the funniest woman in the country, Patty and I put a two-person show together; she had been divorced and we did this look at marriage and divorce as part of the same show. I had an idea about ‘what if we do a tour that brings together all these aspects of life at 40?’ Later on Al and Lenny came aboard and the concept really came together.
The stage show’s good for theatres like the Two River. We’re trying to make it legit; we trademarked the name and talked to off-Broadway producers. We’d love to do this show five or six nights a week to audiences in the city.
I understand also that you have some interest in a TV show based on the concept. On your MySpace page, you’ve got a pre-made theme song for the show, sort of an emo kind of thing.
We got introduced to a TV producer who saw us at the Cutting Room in New York. The idea is for it to be a ‘midlife crisis’ sort of show. We’d be going to different towns, talking to people on the street, and helping particular people with their problems, kind of like Queer Eye. It would be interspersed with bits of our standup routines, performed in that town.
In the meantime, you’re trying to crystallize the concept on stage. Is this part of a formal tour? How many of these shows have you done?
We’ve done, maybe, ten of these shows thus far. The Red Bank show will be our second one in New Jersey, after Morristown. We have a couple opening the show for us, Neil Potter and Bethel Caram. They’ve been living together for years; they have sort of a Burns and Allen thing going. And we’re trying to put a little short film together as part of the show, although I don’t know if we’ll have that ready for Red Bank.
Who makes you laugh? Who are some of your own favorite comics?
So, CLEAN is important to you in comedy?