‘Happier Days!’ are here again

Marty and Charlie Nadler will perform at the M.V. Film Center.


You’d think there would be more father-son comedy duos. Did Lenny Bruce sire any kids? What about Jay Leno? (To answer those questions in the order they were asked, yes, a daughter named Kitty, an actress, and no). Yet the fact remains, it’s a rare event when two professional comics appear together and happen to be first-degree relatives.

This particular team got its start when Charlie Nadler, Island native and MVRHS graduate from the class of 2002, writer and standup comic, now living with his wife Cary in North Adams, noticed in the summer of 2019 that upcoming comedy shows would be produced by Boston-based Gary Marino, at our own Barn Bowl & Bistro in Oak Bluffs. Charlie called him up and offered his services. At the same time, knowing his father, longtime standup performer and comedy writer Marty Nadler, would be visiting from Florida, he wondered if Dad too could take the stage. Gary said sure.

Marty’s comedy bio deserves an entire book, but the Cliffs Notes would read as follows: Standup comedy in the ’60s and ’70s at all the big venues in New York, including the Improvisation, Cafe Wah, the Bitter End, and Catch a Rising Star. In Los Angeles, he appeared often at the West Coast Improv and the Comedy Club. Next came staff writing and producing jobs on a host of prime-time TV sitcoms, most notably “The Odd Couple,” “Chico and the Man,” “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Valerie,” and “Perfect Strangers.” A move in 1991 from LA to the Vineyard, accompanied by his wife and son, yielded a new chapter as an on-set writer on such films as “Pretty Woman,” “Runaway Bride,” and “Valentine’s Day.” 

The original night in the summer of 2019 at the Barn Bowl & Bistro, with its roster of comics, proceeded apace, and Gary booked both Nadlers for a show at Peabody’s Black Box. It was there that the producer had the bright idea to elicit a Q and A with the man from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Marty told tales about buddies Penny Marshall and Rob Reiner from their shared neighborhood in the Bronx, of trips to the racetrack with Jack Klugman, and of how creator Garry Marshall refused the studio’s request to call his new show “Fonzi’s Happy Days” because it was so obviously “Ron Howard’s Happy Days” as well. 

Marty is also frequently asked how he himself got into standup comedy. In a recent phone interview, he explained, “From the age of 8, I was the class clown.” And did he get into trouble for that? “Constantly.” He elaborates: “There was this one time in the 10th grade when the teacher left the fifth-story room and warned us to behave. I stuffed a pair of sneakers under my armpits and leaned out the window. When the teacher returned, I shouted, ‘Hold on, Freddie, I’ve got you! OH NO!’” And he stood up with empty shoes. The upshot? “What else? The principal’s office.” 

Again, harkening back to the 2019 comedy night on our shore, it occurred to Gary Marino that both Marty and Charlie performing standup followed by Professor Nadler’s musings about show business rounded out a perfect evening of what we so fervently long for, especially nowadays: jokes that won’t quit. And thus “Happier Days! With the Nadlers” was born as a complete event, no other comics necessary, although you never know if Larry David or Richard Lewis or Seth Meyers or any other Island-hopping comic might drop by.

Naturally the long pandemic rendered live bookings obsolete, although during this period Charlie filled out his comedy dance card in unexpected ways: He’s writing a screenplay with a Hollywood producer, “and that’s going great!” he reports. Also, begun five years ago with an old pal from the fourth grade in Oak Bluffs, Kiar Holland, now living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a comedy marketplace called Laugh Dealers. The boys describe it as “a funny business for your business.” Captured on film, Kiar and Charlie help people to punch up, with the help of a band of comics and deep-fake presentations, everything from board meetings to weddings. Too, Charlie has recently signed with a comedy agency that books entertainers for college campuses and military bases.

Now, in the early summer of 2021, “Happier Days!” is living up to its cheerful title: The Nadlers are looking ahead to Friday, July 23, at 7:30 pm at the M.V. Film Center at 79 Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. Gary Marino is also working to firm up fall bookings in Florida and California. 

And before this reporter lets you go, in case you don’t know the Nadler family, there is a mother in the mix, also a comedy writer. OK, OK, that’s me. Way back in January 1976, when I was living in LA, my agent sent me to pitch script ideas to the story editor of “Laverne & Shirley,” i.e. Marty. He and Garry Marshall accepted a silly notion of mine about Squiggy helping Shirley to fix her zipper, which led to scandalous rumors at the brewery. Squiggy enjoys the bad-boy image until he’s forced to recant over the loudspeaker. (I had to define and spell ‘recant’ to Marty). My own writer’s DNA derives from my father, Laurence Mascott, two-time Academy Award–nominated writer-producer, and mother, Trina Mascott, AP reporter (in the war years) turned novelist. After the “Laverne & Shirley” script assignment, some eight years and nine months later in 1984, the future next-generation scribbler was born to the Nadler dynasty.

And here comes this reporter’s own recollection of a comedy highlight from baby Charlie’s first arrival in the world: A day after our boy’s birth at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Marty was booked to host an auction for the same establishment. He told the assembled crowd, “Sorry I’m late. Our son was born last night. He weighs 7 pounds, 12 ounces, is in good health, so we’ll start the bidding at $2,500.”

The Nadler scion showed early signs of comedy himself. When he was 6 years old, I happened to natter on about reincarnation. I said, “I’m thinking you and I have been a mother-son combo through many lifetimes.” The kid piped up, “Sometimes you were my maid.”

To reserve a seat for “Happier Days!” on July 23, call the M.V. Film Society at 508-693-9369 or reserve tickets on their website, mvfilmsociety.com