Now that most of the summer tourists have gone, locals are ready to laugh and take a breath of fresh air. Anyone who calls the East End their home year-round knows that laughter is often the best medicine when dealing with summer tourists, aka Kooks. It doesn’t help to get worked up because somebody parked their luxury vehicle the wrong way in two spots or overheard complaints about the cell service in line at Citarella’s.
The Long Island Comedy Festival, founded by Paul Anthony, is an island-wide comedy series that promotes the art of live, stand-up comedy by bringing the very best comedy showcases to Long Island year-round. Shows feature top comedians from New York and beyond—this weekend’s event is extra-special for Bay Street and Marla Schultz, who has deep roots in Sag Harbor.
For Marla, the opportunity to perform in Sag Harbor is a personal, full-circle moment. Her late parents, Susan and Benson “Buzz” Schultz were longtime Sag Harbor residents and patrons of Bay Street—their love of Sag Harbor lives on in their daughter. Sag Harbor has offered her some of the happiest memories of her life. Because of what it meant to her parents, performing at Bay Street has been on Marla’s bucket list for a long time. Although bittersweet to reach this achievement after their passing, an evening of laughter in their favorite village is a fitting tribute to Susan and Buzz.
Your parents lived in Sag Harbor for years – what were some of your family’s favorite places in the Village?
I’m so glad that the Fairway at Poxabogue is still around, it was my parents’ and my favorite breakfast place! Long Beach, in the evening, the sunsets are among the most magnificent in the world My mom and I used to collect sea shells or ‘Mermaid’s Toenails,’ only we would call them “Grandma’s Toenails.” My favorite place to shop in the Hamptons has always been Flashbacks on Main Street in Sag Harbor, they have great deals! Tell Cory (with curly hair) that Marla says hello!
Having spent a lot of time here, do you think that people in the Hamptons are able to laugh at themselves?
Fortunately for me, the people I know here definitely do have a good sense of humor! I think it depends though, like anywhere. I see people around town dressed to the 9’s, standing in line like it’s a red-carpet event at Buddha Berry. Imagine how boring life would be if you couldn’t laugh at your behavior and take yourself so seriously. And, how do you really know when people are laughing at you or with you if you can’t laugh at yourself?
How did you get started as a young comic? What were some of the hurdles you faced in your early career?
I come from a very funny, nutty, neurotic family. My dad had an encyclopedic memory of thousands of jokes from all the greats, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett. He was also quick to anger. Growing up I learned that making my dad laugh was the best way to diffuse a tough situation. Laughter = love. Growing up I heard, “You obviously get your talent from your father.” Truth is, I credit my comedy chops to my mother. She was equally funny in a different way. She was surprised when I told her how much her storytelling ability influenced my comedy.
Have you always been a confident speaker?
No, definitely not. It takes work and practice and effort and drive to find yourself and get comfortable on stage. When I first started out, I worked with a coach who would ask me, “do you hear the laughter?” It took maybe 2 years before I was able to simply be in the room and not in my head, then I could hear the laughter. The anxiety before hitting the stage is always there but I’ve learned how to manage it.
Do you have the same confidence on and off the stage?
I was a black sheep in my family and stand-up comedy helped me find my voice and feel confident. After 25 years as a comic, when my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was able to use my stand-up skills to coordinate care with doctors and insurance companies. Comedy and humor helped us cope with how confusing and scary something as serious as cancer is.
You are a speaker for The National Alliance on Mental Illness, ‘NAMI,’ and have shared your personal struggles with depression and anxiety as well as dealing with bullies. How does humor empower someone who is struggling with mental health or bullying?
In my experience, Laughter and compliments are two must-have tools in your toolbox! When I’m down, the moment a movie, standup special, or my husband makes me laugh I immediately feel better. When I was in the throes of depression after a breakup and talking to my shrink, she just broke out laughing which made me laugh. Immediately the pain no longer possessed me. Humor is incredibly empowering when dealing with mental health issues. For me, laughter flips the switch on any situation.
I said earlier, Laughter is love. Think about what it feels like to make an infant laugh. There’s no greater sound in my humble opinion. Laughter is a base emotion, innately human. Nobody has to learn how to laugh, we all know how to do it. It’s laying a foundation for love.
Life is really challenging at the moment. Learning to laugh at yourself is so important because those hard parts are still part of you. And you have to love yourself. Humor brings us together, especially in tough situations. I tell my story of how laughter takes away the pain—funny is funny, it’s simple. Telling a story about difficulties and hurdles and hearing people laugh with me takes power away from the problem.
Sometimes bullies will hide behind humor to defend their harmful words and behavior, “It was just a joke…” What are your thoughts on the line between teasing and bullying?
Freud said, and maybe I shouldn’t say this as a comedian, “There is no such thing as a joke. A joke is an expression of veiled hostility.” So, I think there is a lot of power in words and it’s easy to hide behind a joke when really you are just being hurtful. I don’t like to be mean or make fun of people. I will make fun of inane human behavior or how I view the world through a Rubix cube lens is where I draw my inspiration, not from putting other people down.
As a comic, how do you navigate potentially offending someone in the audience? What are some of your “off-limits” topics?
I try and be careful not to offend. I heard one of my favorite comics, Judy Gold being interviewed and she said, “we’re in trouble when they come for the comics.” It’s hard because our society’s conversation has changed so much since I started in comedy. How many classic comics would be canceled today? I know I walk a fine line and I try to push the envelope. I know what it feels like to be the butt of a joke. It’s easy to be dark and gritty and mean and angry, so much harder to be funny. I don’t want my humor to hurt anyone. But, if you heckle me, the gloves come off so be careful!
Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater will host the 16th Annual Long Island Comedy Festival this Saturday, September 24 at 8pm. Tickets are on sale now!