Scott Blakeman is a gentleman comic. With his wry, thinking-person’s “contemporary Jewish humor,” he’s built a decades-long career as a standup, commentator, and teacher.
Blakeman has performed around the world, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, and at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. He’s been the warm-up comedian for “The Late Show with David Letterman,” part of the CBS sitcom “Welcome to New York,” and “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher. He also appears on MSNBC, CNN, the Israeli news network i24, and as a lefty talking head on Fox News.
In a commendable version of putting action where his mouth is, Blakeman also tours with Palestinian Muslim-American comedian Dean Obeidallah in “Standup for Peace.” It’s an unusual double act, which, aside from being both perceptive and entertaining, takes an in-your-face political stance with its subject matter, and frankly, by the fact that it exists at all. The duo stands up for tolerance, peace, and understanding, under the theory that if you laugh together you can live together.
Blakeman returns to Martha’s Vineyard for his fifth season on August 29 and 30 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, where he previously performed his show “Liberal Jew.” This year he brings us “Laughs from the Left,” mixing politics, history, and the latest news. His style is that of an amusing and amused professor, with the bite coming from facts, not from the delivery. In “Laughs” he’ll throw in some Vineyard gags as well, to make himself feel more at home. Blakeman says, with a grin in his voice, “It’s Jewish humor, sure, but I try not to make it too depressing.”
One example of his humor: “Even in the saddest situations in the world, there’s humor. Afghanistan is not a happy place. But there was a news report that said there are two Jews left in Afghanistan. And they hate each other. Taliban, schmaliban, it’s Isaac I can’t stand.”
Blakeman, a member of the Friar’s Club, has been around the block and is a longtime regular at New York City’s comedy clubs. He’s interviewed Robert Klein, Jerry Stiller, and Anne Meara at the 92nd Street Y’s popular lecture series. Jerry Seinfeld once told him while at NYC’s Comic Strip, “You’re good, you remind me of me.” Along with his ongoing standup activities, Blakeman taught standup at the New School for 25 years, and now teaches privately.
“I come from a family of teachers,” Blakeman says. “They are the real heroes of the country. After parents, teachers are the most important adults in a child’s life. They play a significant role in young people’s lives.”
I personally don’t buy the “those who can’t, teach” nonsense. Not all performers can teach, and not all teachers teach well, but those who do both well are able to analyze, listen, grow, and communicate. Blakeman is one of those.
While teaching standup might not seem as relevant as, say, STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math), a lot of comedy has a contemplative, sophisticated base, which, coupled with the theatrical skills necessary for a believable, humorous, unique delivery, makes the endeavor a challenge, very worth it when done well.
“Dr. Ben Carson is a brain surgeon,” begins one of Blakeman’s jokes. “Apparently, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to be a brain surgeon.”
“People study with me for all sorts of reasons,” Blakeman says. “Some want to make it in standup, others just want to give it a try. My approach as an instructor is the same with everybody.” His students have included Simon Cadel, Caroline Rhea, and Jon Stewart.
His commentary is laughable even as it reflects on his own experience: “They don’t want to give condoms to high school kids because it will encourage them to have sex. All I can say is, I carried one around for years, and I received no encouragement whatsoever.”
Blakeman’s teaching style is not unlike his standup delivery: relaxed, optimistic, and thoughtful. But don’t be fooled by the soft delivery, there’s a strong, humanist point of view, and Blakeman is raising awareness through his clear thinking, satirical twists, droll language, and fine writing.
Blakeman is a standup who doesn’t dumb down. Interestingly, he shares his politics with one of his own favorite fellow comics, the always amusing-yet-angry Lewis Black, who rages, rants, raves, and splutters, all at full volume. Or louder. Blakeman’s style is pretty much the opposite, equally subversive, and with just as much punch. He’ll make you think and laugh while you’re doing it.
Scott Blakeman’s “Laughs From the Left,” Thursday and Friday, August 29 and 30, 7:30 pm, all seats $20 online or at the door (cash only). Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, 238 Main St., Vineyard Haven. Tickets and information at laughsfromtheleft.com.