Vineyard life according to Marty Nadler


“I’m a Vineyard addict,” confessed Marty Nadler at the start of his comedy show, Very Vineyard, at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs last Saturday. He went on for just over an hour to elaborate on some of the Island’s more dubious charms. Taking aim at such familiar targets as the Steamship Authority, tourists, and the high price of Island living, the Vineyard’s “comic laureate” entertained a good-sized audience with his humorous take on life on the rock.

Mr. Nadler first came to the Vineyard 44 years ago as a member of a theater group from Ithaca College called the Vineyard Players. He notes in a recent interview that he had the summer of his life, and became hopelessly “hooked” on the Vineyard, returning as often as he could. Mr. Nadler went on to forge a very successful career as a comedy writer in Hollywood (“The Odd Couple,” “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley”) before settling year-round on the Island in 1992 when his son reached school age.

In Mr. Nadler’s stand up show, which he has been performing in various incarnations for eight years, he talks about some of the Island jobs he worked at before he was rediscovered by director/producer Garry Marshall and resumed his writing career, this time as a script doctor. Mr. Nadler pulls a lot of humor from his stint as a substitute teacher and as a clerk at the Chilmark Store. He gets some good laughs from incidents where his Hollywood and Vineyard worlds converged. In a Q&A after the show, Mr. Nadler shared a very funny story about a missed opportunity with Julia Roberts.

He also describes with humor Island institutions, such as town hall meetings, and ways in which people cope with winter life. “By January we’re leaving messages on our own voicemail,” he quips. “And by February we’re having potlucks with Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The local papers provide some of Mr. Nadler’s favorite material. He notes that he doesn’t even have to embellish many of the news items, which reflect the quirkiness of life in a small isolated community. Citing a recent ruling establishing a taxi “vomit fee” the comedian says, “You can’t make up stuff like that.”

Mr. Nadler’s material appeals to a wide audience, but his primary fan base is made up of year-rounders. Some of his jokes will be lost on tourists or seasonal visitors. At one point in his show, Mr. Nadler claimed that in response to his admiring comments on the new hospital, a friend corrected him saying, “That’s the temporary hospital. They’re going to tear it down once the new one is built.”

Now that Mr. Nadler in divorced and his son, Charlie, is off in Hollywood, where he’s following in the footsteps of both his parents by pursuing a career in writing for films and TV, the comedian spends the winter in Florida and is often in Los Angeles working on movies (his screen credits include “Runaway Bride” and last year’s “Valentine’s Day”).

Still, he looks forward to returning to the Vineyard each summer. In the last 10 years he has made a concerted effort to give back to the Island from which he has derived so much pleasure. He can frequently be seen hosting fundraisers, performing at the local senior centers, and doing benefit shows. Last Saturday’s show was a benefit for the Tabernacle Restoration Fund. On August 15, Mr. Nadler will be emceeing the Ramsey Lewis Concert, which will raise funds for the Martha’s Vineyard Animal Shelter.

The comedian notes that on his initial visit here he was struck by the number of Island characters. Now, he quips, “I’ve become one of those characters and it’s frightening.”

Despite the many quirks and inconveniences of Island living, the Vineyard is an addiction that Mr. Nadler truly embraces. “The Vineyard isn’t for everyone,” he says. “But if it is for you, you’re in trouble, because you are stuck.”

Gwyn McAllister, who lives in Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.