Have you heard that the Supreme Court ruled that they can’t have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C? This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They just couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.
— Jay Leno
The art of comedy was developed by the ancient Greeks. They even created a “muse,” Thalia, whose job was to inspire it. Perhaps not quite as important a heavenly being as the ones in charge of making sure the sun rises and sets or watching over the hunt and warfare, Thalia was a goddess nonetheless, just like Sarah Silverman.
Laughter has always been important, never more than today. Look at the news and it seems the Greeks themselves need it more than ever, what with their national economy having become a synonym for everything that can possibly go wrong.
But couldn’t everyone use a good laugh right about now? Between making sure everything is O.K. at work, and running around doing everything that needs to be done at this time of year, and the lousy weather, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.
But where you going to go for your laughs? Movies? Television? Maybe, but this isn’t exactly the era of Milton Berle, the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, or Lucille Ball. That’s sarcasm, of course, not a joke.
Sarcasm may, in fact, help in this case. That’s the name of a new comedy club that opened in October at Tavern on the Lake in Hightstown. Its owner, Steve Trevelise, is familiar to listeners of WIP 94.1 FM, where he broadcasts sports updates and handles late-night duties a couple nights a week, and 101.5 FM, where he has an evening “Jersey Talk” show.
Trevelise was born in Newark, grew up in Union City, and lives with his wife and twin sons in Roosevelt, a nice town of historic bungalows built before World War II as part of FDR’s New Deal. He has solid credentials as a New Jersey native, having graduated from Marlboro High School and lived in Old Bridge, Eatontown, and East Windsor. His wife, Deneen, is a physical therapist and breast cancer survivor, diagnosed during a checkup after their sons, now 7, were born. His father, at 90, is a retired Union City fireman. His mother died in 1996.
Trevelise, a funny guy who is a veteran of venues in the Philadelphia and South Jersey region, sees comedy as more than a way to make a living.
“Comedy is the last vestige of freedom of speech,” he says. “With comedy you can say anything you want. You can take the world, look it right in its eye, and laugh in its face. If people would laugh more there would be a lot less stress and tension.”
No argument here. Besides, when people argue, most of the time it isn’t that funny.
“We spend so much time trying to be P.C. and not offending anybody that the world has become boring,” he says.
Again, it’s hard to argue. The funniest comics of all time specialized in saying things that made people confront uncomfortable truths. The more outrageous the act, the funnier, it’s always seemed. Log onto YouTube as soon as you’re finished reading here and do a search under “George Carlin” or “Richard Pryor” or “Redd Foxx.” Fair warning, if the subject matter doesn’t make you uncomfortable, the language certainly might. These gentlemen, among the funniest ever, made their reputations by speaking frankly and expressing themselves in language that earned consistent “R” ratings in movie houses.
The key to making people laugh and becoming a successful comic, Trevelise says, is saying what’s on your mind and speaking from the heart so audiences know it is genuine. He says that his style is similar to when he would sit on his Union City doorstep and shoot the breeze with people who walked by.
“They all figure into my material as well as all the things I talk about on New Jersey 101.5. New Jersey is all about attitude,” he says about the influences — including family and friends — that have helped him arrive at his very own comedy club.
“When guys go up onstage and say what they really feel, as time goes by, the people who laugh at your feelings are the ones who really ‘get’ you,” he says. “That’s what I love about 101.5. You can say what you want and people who listen ‘get’ that.”
The feedback a performer gets either onstage or from listeners calling in represents real-time validation, and Trevelise has been at it long enough to know what is likely to work for audiences at Sarcasm.
He once managed Comedy Works in Philadelphia and a prior incarnation of Sarcasm at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill. He was manager and emcee of Catch A Rising Star at the Hyatt Regency in Princeton. In recent years he has opened for Pat Cooper, Robert Klein, Richard Jeni, Bill Hicks, Gabe Kaplan, Dom Irrera, Marty Allen, Louie Anderson, and Kevin Meany.
Trevelise also worked for Howard Stern when Stern made his fabled incursion from New York City into Philadelphia’s album-oriented rock scene in the 1980s. Chutzpah is a job requirement in comedy and Trevelise certainly knows about that, being an avowed New York Giants football fan as he toils at WIP, a bastion for worshiping Philadelphia Eagles fans. (Such tensions, of course, are often the inspiration for a good laugh. Trevelise jokes that “Invincible,” the 2006 movie, “is the story of an Eagles fan who walks out of a bar and makes the team. What’s amazing is that the Eagles fan actually walked out of the bar.”)
The basic format of an evening at Sarcasm will be familiar to anyone who has entered one of the dozens of comedy nightclubs between New York, Philadelphia, and the Jersey shore in recent memory. There will be up to three comedians for a 90-minute show on a given night, with an emcee getting things started, followed by one or two warm-up acts and then the headliner comic. “We will feature some of the top comedians in the area,” says Trevelise.
For those who wonder whether anyone can become a comic, Sarcasm also offers a comedy school, with the next class beginning Monday, January 26, and continuing one night a week for four weeks. “We will teach anyone who comes,” Trevelise says. “We teach writing jokes, taking your life story and turning it into comedy, and the business end.” The course concludes with a graduation show with students awarded a DVD of their performances.
“I definitely think anyone can learn to become a comic,” he says. “There’s something in you that’s not in anyone else, and once we unleash that sense of humor, you never know what can happen.” That is no joke.
Ryan Maher and Eric Potts, Sarcasm Comedy Club, Tavern on the Lake, 101 North Main Street, Hightstown. A former professional wrestling personality and a former police officer present comedy. Friday, January 3, 8 p.m. $20. Food available. sarcasmcomedy.com.
Just in case you can’t find anywhere to go on New Year’s Eve, let us tell you about the man who ended up at the bar at a big New Year’s Eve blast at the Hyatt. He sat alone at the bar fixated on his drink. He stayed like that for nearly an hour. Finally one of the rowdy guys a few seats away came up to him, grabbed the drink, and gulped it all down.
The sad sack guy started crying. “Hey buddy,” the rowdy guy said. “I was just having some fun — let me buy you another drink. Have some fun with me and my buddies. It’s New Year’s Eve.”
“No, you don’t understand,” the sad sack says. “This has been the worst day of my life. I was late to the office and my boss fired me. Then I went to get my car and it was stolen from the parking garage. I had to get a cab to take me home and I left my wallet and credit cards in the back seat. When I got home I discovered my wife in bed with a repairman. So I took off and came to the bar. And here I am hell bent on killing myself, and then you come over and drink my poison.”