Jersey Tales: Jean Shepherd Style
Tuesday - December 7, 1976
Last Update: 08-12-2020
MADISON - Why is New Jersey Funny?
"Jersey is extremely exciting to me. When I come over the George Washington Bridge I can feel a pulse beat. . . Two Guys. . . that's the epitome of Jersey."
That doesn't answer the question. But it does define the sparkle in Jean Shepherd's eyes.
"I can't explain it," Shepherd says later after 2-1/2 hours of tales of Jersey, the adventures of Flick and Schwartz and on-going commentary on society at Fairleigh Dickinson University Sunday night.
A lot of comics and humorists tell Jersey jokes, Shepherd makes a career of it along with his boy-hood tales of growing up in South Chicago, Hammond, Indiana, places where the sky is hazardous to your health.
"There are a lot of theories about it," he continued. Finally, Shepherd sums up that Jersey is as funny as Brooklyn used to be.
Shepherd is by his own definition a humorist, as opposed to a comic, an improvisational performer, as opposed to an ad-libber, a professional who's "in command at all times."
"I guess kids think I just come in and talk," said Shepherd. When asked how long last night's performance took to prepare, he replied, "probably all my life."
Dressed in a blue denim leisure suit, Shepherd, with glasses tinted just right, is perhaps just tired.
But he also seems a cool, controlled contrast to the animated performer who moments before was striding in large loping movements, flaring his arms to make a point, wrinkling his nose while digging his hands deep into his pockets to become little Jeannie who wanted a Red Rider BB gun and almost shot his eye out in the end. (You might call the extended story a Shepherd morality play.)
The audience Sunday, largely college age, with a fair sprinkling older, is a contrast to what Shepherd says is his normal audience. "Seventy-five percent of my readers and listeners who are probably under 13."
Kids, Shepherd said don't ask if he ever thought of changing an ending to a story. Kids, he said, also understand the humor better that adults do.
Although, perhaps it is difficult to understand that children would better understand his attack on phoniness in media. It seems beyond kid-level when he declares the media teaches us "Life is a Robert Redford movie," making us feel inferior to the movies where people "pretend they are something they are not, written by a writer who never experienced it either."
For those familiar with Shepherd's nightly appearance on WOR radio, he comments that "radio is just a hobby with me." His "most important performing is done onstage."
What makes Shepherd laugh? "Life in general." As a humorist, he said, he doesn't go to see humorists or comics work. He says there are no good young humorists, he does not listen to radio and has never heard - he says - the Barry Farber show. ||
|Not Determined yet|
|Engineer and others in Booth