At the age of 52, Jimmy Tingle went back to school.
One of the nation’s top social and political humorists, Mr. Tingle earned a masters degree in Public Administration from the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and was tapped to give the graduate address at Harvard’s 2010 commencement ceremony. His obvious interest in current events and politics has informed Mr. Tingle’s career in comedy, as evidenced by both his film, “Jimmy Tingle’s American Dream,” and his newest stand-up, both of which Island audiences can experience this Friday and Saturday at The Vineyard Playhouse.
Mr. Tingle’s successful career as a stand-up comedian, television commentator, and film actor has spanned three decades. The Cambridge native established himself as a comic in the ’80s and ’90s with appearances at comedy clubs around Boston and New York and slots on late night talk shows, including “The Tonight Show.”
Among his extensive list of accomplishments, Mr. Tingle served as commentator/humorist for “60 Minutes II,” satirist for MSNBC ,and has appeared numerous times on CNN shows. He had his own comedy special on HBO in 1991 and has been featured in a number of documentaries, including the Emmy-winning “Damned in the USA,” a documentary on art censorship. Mr. Tingle was voted Best of Boston as both a stand up comedian and theater producer.
Mr. Tingle is no stranger to Vineyard audiences. In the late ’80s he was among the comics who appeared regularly at The Hot Tin Roof’s Monday night comedy shows. Throughout the ’90s his various stand-up acts were presented at The Vineyard Playhouse. Of performing on the Vineyard, Mr. Tingle says, “The audiences are politically aware. They’re very well educated.” He adds, “I always love coming to The Playhouse — the audiences, the mission, the Island. I’m so pumped to get back there.”
This time around, the comedian will be adding a new multi-format twist to his show. The audience will be treated to a screening of his newly released comedy film, followed by a Q&A and a live stand-up performance.
For five years, from 2002 to 2007, Mr. Tingle owned and operated a night club in Somerville where he performed regularly and hosted other well known comedians. During that time he was approached by filmmaker Vincent Straggas about doing a comedy documentary. Over the next seven years, the two conducted interviews with comics and other figures in the entertainment industry, and the result is “Jimmy Tingle’s American Dream,” a one-hour tour de force comedy and commentary on the elusive American dream.
For the film, Mr. Tingle was able to recruit a number of his friends who performed at his club and was also able to tap a variety of talent by attending events for the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which was held in Boston. Included in the film’s all-star roster are Mort Sahl, Janeane Garafalo, Al Franken, Colin Quinn, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Lewis Black, and Robert Altman, among many others.
Mr. Tingle’s current stand-up show, Jimmy Tingle for President: The Funniest Campaign in History, will make up the second part of the weekend performances. The comedian uses his supposed platform as a presidential candidate to comment on events and issues of the day. In a phone interview, Mr. Tingle gave an example of his campaign promises. He says, “All of the candidates want to fight crime. They talk about what should we do with all the criminals in this country. Under a Tingle administration I will staff my cabinet with ex-cons. And I will get them from the cabinets of previous administrations.”
Mr. Tingle’s working class roots play into some of his autobiographical humor. “I grew up in a very conservative Catholic family,” he says. “Then I went to college and I took a biology class where they questioned the existence of God. But I was an altar boy. Don’t tell me there’s no God. I used to work for the guy.”
Despite Mr. Tingle’s international success, the comedian remains down to earth and committed to effecting change. He says, “I’ve always tried to use humor to make a difference. One of the things I love best about entertainment is when it’s a means to an end, rather than the end itself.”
Says Mr. Tingle “I’ve always been interested in public policy. One of the great revelations to me was that what I do is really unique and special. Entertainment is an important part of the culture. I don’t think you have to run for office to still be influential or to have a voice.”
However, switching back to his comedian persona, he says of audiences who have enjoyed his current show at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge as well as a number of venues on the Cape, “I hope they take the energy from the show and head straight for the voting booth and pull the lever for young Jim Tingle.”
“Jimmy Tingle’s American Dream” 7 pm, Oct. 28 & 29, The Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. $25. 508-696-6300; firstname.lastname@example.org.