Laughing all the way home
Stand-up comedian, actor, charity superstar, and Chilmark resident Lenny Clarke is back on Martha's Vineyard, after catching the last flight from New York where he was filming for the fifth season of "Rescue Me."
"We shot a couple of scenes in a nuthouse," Lenny says, "an actual nuthouse." He points out the distinction "an actual nuthouse," perhaps because anyone who observes him and his pal and co-star Denis Leary for long would conclude that the two of them create a virtual nuthouse everywhere they go.
Mr. Clarke's unique style of comic lunacy will be on full display Sunday, August 17, when he performs at Season's Pub on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. It will be a rare chance to see the veteran comic in a small, local setting. Fifteen years ago, long before he began selling-out top comedy clubs and starring on network situation comedies, Season's general manager Mike Santoro offered Mr. Clarke paying gigs.
"It will probably be the smallest venue I've worked in 20 years. I like giving back to anyone who has helped me, and Mike has certainly helped me."
Mr. Santoro said the Season's venue, small and intimate, is similar to the Hyannis restaurant and pub he was managing in the early 80s when he first met Lenny Clarke. At that time, it was unusual to have a comedian perform in a restaurant setting, but Mr. Santoro thought it would work, and it did.
When Mr. Clarke's schedule opened up this summer, Mr. Santoro asked him to perform at Season's. The two have become friends over the years, a relationship sealed at Mr. Clarke's Island marriage to his wife Jennifer, a charter fishing boat captain in Menemsha. "It was open bar for three days, and the only reason it wasn't four days was because a big storm hit. Mike kept the bar open every night," says Mr. Clarke.
The FX network series "Rescue Me" is an edgy, provocative and often hysterical drama about a New York City firehouse. After a hiatus forced by the television writers' strike, "Rescue Me" is back in production, and will air 22 consecutive new episodes, beginning next April.
Clarke says working with Dennis Leary is unlike any other experience he has ever had.
"He's a great guy to clown around with, really upbeat and funny," he says. "But when the light goes on, you better be ready. I told him, if he kills me in the show, I'll kill him in real life. So things are looking good."
The two friends raise millions of dollars for charities each year, which by happenstance, led to a new genre of comedy, baseball improv. Their appearances on Red Sox broadcasts to promote various worthy causes usually reduces announcer Jerry Remy to tears and have become instant YouTube hits.
"It's totally improv," Mr. Clarke says. "I have no idea what I'm going to say. Remy is laughing, but with bated breath, thinking 'Wow, this guy could end my career.'"
A diehard sports fan, Mr. Clarke has deep roots in New England. He grew up in Cambridge, where he once ran for city council. Part of his campaign strategy was to steal a bus and deliver potential voters directly to their front door.
In hopes of spicing up the political season,
The Times asked if he might campaign for the Chilmark planning board.
"No, absolutely not."
Surveyor of wood, lumber, and bark?
"That's my good friend, Keith Emin," he says, displaying a firm grasp of Chilmark politics by noting that Mr. Emin also heads the highway department. "I support him thoroughly, he's done a great job. He also keeps sand off the road, which is important, because I drive a motor scooter, and if you hit sand, you're going down. Since he's been the road guy, I have not fallen off my motor scooter."
When Mr. Clarke's thoughts turn to the Vineyard, his adopted home, his comedy gene goes into temporary recession. His trademark gravelly shout softens. Instead of gauging the reactions of his audience to deliver a punch line with perfect timing, he gazes out over Vineyard Haven harbor and goes all philosophic.
"I love living here, there's no place I'd rather be. No matter where I am when I'm traveling, I can't wait to get home. I find myself coming across on the ferry, and I decompress," he says.
"I really enjoy the people, the people who live here year-round. Everyone has got pretty much a great work ethic, because let's face it, you're either rich or poor here, let's not kid each other. There's not much of a middle class because everyone's struggling. My dad worked himself to death; he always told me 'work smart, not hard.' There's no heavy lifting in my job, so it's OK. I really feel incredibly lucky to live on this Island, and I love calling this my home, and I intend on dying here."
But Lenny Clarke, being Lenny Clarke, just can't pass on a good setup line. The Cambridge accent accelerates in a flash, and the voice ramps up to the familiar stage bellow.
"Not that I want to die. I'm still looking for a loophole," he says. "I want on my gravestone, 'I didn't want it to end like this.' If I do die, I want to be thrown out of an airplane. Not my ashes, the whole body, right down and maybe land on somebody's barbecue."