Sorry to have to fool you like that. This is actually an interview with Bob Marley the 44-year old white guy stand up comedian with the from Portland, Maine, not the iconic dread locked reggae artist. But know this: Portland, Maine Bob Marley — who is one night into a three night stand at Helium Comedy Club — is a fuck of a lot funnier than Kingston Jamaica Bob Marley, no disrespect. But it’s a little known fact that Marley only got into to reggae when his stand-up comedy career went nowhere. Sure he became a global reggae superstar but he hoped one day to transition back into the form he truly loved: Comedy. Sadly, it was not to be. For legal reasons I am required to tell you that most of what you just read is not true.
PHAWKER: Alright, we’re rolling. This is an interview with comedian Bob Marley, not to be confused with the interview we did with the reggae singer BOB MARLEY this morning. So let’s just start with that – I’m sure you get asked this a bazillion times – but your parents named you Bob Marley not knowing there was a singer Bob Marley?
BOB MARLEY: Yeah, well my Dad’s passed away, but he was an old Irish guy and my Mother as well, so they had no idea who the reggae singer was. It wasn’t until – and I’m forty-four – so it wasn’t until like, 1982 that I started getting people going, “Hey, do you know there’s a singer…” and I’m like “What is that?” I remember saying that to my Dad and he was like, “What is that, the reggae singer? I dunno what ya talking ‘bout.” So it’s just a coincidence. I mean, I love his music, but really strange, crazy things have happened to me because of having the same name. Oddly enough, I don’t put it in my act ever, but sometimes I’ll get his checks from like the Radio and Television Union.
PHAWKER: For real?
BOB MARLEY: Yeah, I got a check once for $6,000 from History of Rock Part I and I was like, well I’m pretty sure that’s not mine. So I mailed it back, and then a couple months later I was on Conan and Ziggy was on with me and I told him and he was like, “Oh, thank you, mon.” He was really nice and appreciative that I actually sent it back. I mean, obviously their family doesn’t really need the money because they’re so wealthy, but I didn’t think it was right to keep it.
PHAWKER: I’m trying to think this through though – you have I.D. You could have cashed that check because you are Bob Marley. And then I’m wondering if you could actually go to jail for that, because you are Bob Marley! I bet you could have gotten off on a technicality with a good lawyer. Should have gone for it. What’s the worse that that could happen? Ten years in jail? Seven if you’re good.
BOB MARLEY: I guess, I mean I probably could have said something like ‘Oh, my wife put it in the bank and she didn’t know – she didn’t look at it. I dunno. I’m glad I did find it though, because that wouldn’t have been cool.
PHAWKER: Have it your way. So, off the top of your head – funniest comedian of all time? Barring yourself, of course.
BOB MARLEY: Um…George Carlin. I just think he’s the best. He continued to write well into his career and was continuously funny. I went to the Aspen Comedy Festival once and I saw him do 20 minutes on refunds and rebates and American words that they used for advertising and I was like, ‘this guy’s a genius, man.’ I think he was the best.
PHAWKER: Yeah. Sad that he’s gone. Funniest thing you ever said, or funniest joke you ever told?
BOB MARLEY: Funniest joke that I ever told, oh my god. It’s hard to say – I’ve got like 25 albums out now.
PHAWKER: You know, I was going to ask you about that. Twenty-five. That’s a lot. The Beatles only had, like, seven. Jokes about living in Maine are a staple of your set, correct?
BOB MARLEY: Well, yeah – each album will have maybe like 10 minutes about Maine, and a lot of stuff about my family…
PHAWKER: What’s funny about Maine?
BOB MARLEY: Maine is a cold-weather state where we are just challenged by…pretty much any cold-weather people will agree that it’s the misery of living in that condition, just stupid things like when the power goes out in the house and everybody becomes an idiot. Everyone looks at each other , goes ‘Hey – the power go out?’ Like the light bulbs went out at the same time, like ‘Honey, go up to the second floor and see if there’s power up there.’ Like, I’m sure the second floor is zooming with power – that’s on a whole different grid, that second floor!
PHAWKER: Are power outages a regular occurrence in Maine when it gets really cold, or during a big snowstorm?
BOB MARLEY: Yeah, ice, and wind, and rain, and snow. It weighs down those power lines and those trees, and they snap, and yeah. So we’re challenged by that – although this year’s been really super mild. Like, last year was horrible and my wife at one point said, ‘I just saw on the news that roofs are starting to cave in around the state because there’s so much snow on the roof.’ And she said to me, ‘Don’t you think you should get up on the roof and shovel it off?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I was just thinking that. Don’t you think you should clean the oven while it’s running?’ I’m like…’Who am I, Jackie Chan?’
So, yeah, a lot of stuff that I do may be some current event stuff about Maine, but a lot of it transfers to different states, and there’s tons of jokes about my family and extended family, and the crazy people that I live with. My whole family came for Thanksgiving and it was just absolutely…my cousin weighs 471 pounds and he’s 5’4”.
BOB MARLEY: He basically announced to the family at Thanksgiving that he could not wipe his own ass anymore. I’m like, ‘That’s great news, Wayne. Good. That’s perfect.’ I go, ‘Well what do you mean by that?’ and he goes, ‘Well, if you must know.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t need to must know, but now you brought it up, so I’m a little curious.”’ He says, ‘I gained thirty pounds and I can’t quite get around there anymore.’ I’m like, ‘Well this didn’t just sneak up you, you know? You didn’t sit down on the toilet one day and have a general epiphany one day like, hey – wait a minute – who shortened up my arm?’
PHAWKER: You would so be within your rights to not invite him to Thanksgiving next year. Nobody would blame you. So tell me, you have how many albums?
BOB MARLEY: I think I have like 26.
PHAWKER: Is that a lot for a comedian?
BOB MARLEY: It’s a ton, yeah.
PHAWKER: Why do you have so many?
BOB MARLEY: Well a lot of my comedian friends have asked me the same question, like, why do you put out so much stuff? I’m like look- if I put out an album and I’ll sell maybe 30,000 copies of it, and I’ve got a good fanbase that for some reason will purchase a ton of them. Christmastime and we usually put out a spring album, but they keep buying them so I’m like, alright I’ll just keep crankin’. I write as much as I can and churn this stuff out, and we’re successful with it. Twenty years from now, who knows, I might be working at Burger King.
PHAWKER: So, 30,000. There’s a lot of bands that would love to sell thirty thousand records.
BOB MARLEY: Yeah, I feel really, really lucky that I’ve got a good fanbase. You know, the thing with comedy is that it’s like, I guess like a really good band might put out one record and they might sell half a million copies. But with comedy it’s so different, it’s kind of like once you hear it, you’ve heard it once. Once you hear it twice you’re like, “Alright, I’ve heard it twice.” You really don’t to hear it three times. So it’s like, okay, what else do you have? Especially in this era that we’re living in now, the attention span is like next to nothing for people. So you constantly have to create new material and you constantly have to write, so I feel really fortunate that I’ve created this muscle over the last like, fifteen years of just writing, writing, writing, writing, and just reporting the information. A lot of guys will write one set and then they’ll tour for, like, 20 years with that 45 minute set. But I’m mostly regional, in the Northeast, so I’ve got to keep turning stuff over, I’ve got to keep writing.
PHAWKER: What’s your standard response to hecklers?
BOB MARLEY: I don’t usually have any one response to them, but you can just ask some questions and they’ll usually shoot themselves in the foot. I had this one lady, I was playing in the middle of the woods in Stanford, Maine in this place called the Comedy Barn, and the C and the B had fallen off the sign so it just said ‘omedy arn.’ So, it’s like a place that Patrick Swayze would be a bouncer at. So I’m on stage and this lady is completely hammered and she starts walking towards the stage and she goes, ‘You’re not even from New England.’ and I go, “Really, honey? You think I flew in for this event?” I said, “Who would take this gig if they didn’t live here?” Do you think there’s a comedian in New York or Los Angeles going “Vegas or Tahoe? Never mind that – get the people from the Omedy Arn on the phone. I wanna work that gig.”
PHAWKER: (laughs) That’s good. So, what’s the secret of making people laugh?
BOB MARLEY: I think the secret of making people laugh is being conversational with them on stage, and not talking at them, or yelling at them. The real key is like, if you’re a funny person and you can make people laugh at a party or make people laugh at a bar, and then you go on stage it’s completely different. They have no exposition about you – they’ve got no background information about you. All your friends, they’ve known you for years. They’re like, “Well this guy’s hilarious!” But the audience doesn’t know you like that, so in a matter of thirty or forty seconds you have to convince them that you’re funny and you’re sort of like a lawyer up there. Even if your point of view is completely ridiculous you need to just convince them that your point of view is correct for the amount of time that you’re up there. Great comedians like Louie C.K., I mean he’s one of my favorites right now, and he’s unbelievable because his point of view is so outlandish on stage and yet he’s still able to convince the audience to follow him along on the journey and it becomes hilarious.
PHAWKER: The funniest jokes are private jokes, so it’s much easier to take someone you know laugh, but a room full of strangers…
BOB MARLEY: Yeah! Exactly, and that’s why you have to paint the picture for the people and you have to be able to trim the fat on jokes and really, really trim the stuff back so they’re getting the information that they need as quickly as possible. If I’m describing a family member, it would be much easier if I could just hold up a giant poster of the person and go, ‘Well here’s my cousin Wayne.’ and they’d go, ‘Well, okay, we get it.’ But, in a matter of eight or ten words you need to explain who he is and then get into the bit about him. So it is challenging, but that’s the fun part about it. That’s why I add a lot of characters to my act from my family, because I know those people so well so I can slip in and out of character and explain it and the people get it right away, because they all seem to know people like that, you know? So, yeah – it’s a blast. I really love it. I’ve been doing it twenty-one years now, and it’s a good job. And a lot of people say, ‘Oh, well that’s such a bad job – you sleep in your car and yadda yadda yadda…’ but it’s really not like that. It was in the beginning when I first started, but my Dad unloaded boxes in a warehouse for his whole life – he would come home limping everyday with a sore back, so I feel pretty lucky to be doing this.