This Bob Marley uses laughter to make people feel good
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
"Happens all the time," he said. Officially, he's Bob Marley Jr., since his dad is Bob Marley Sr., and the stand-up frequently encounters queries at hotels, airports and banks.
"I don't usually put it in my act, but I've had grief since junior high, when Bob Marley and reggae made an impact. Hey, I'm a goofy white Irish guy."
He also is clean-cut. No dreadlocks. And honest: He returned a $6,000 check to the survivors of the reggae star.
Marley, 35, is on the edge of of his own stardom, with a sitcom in development at ABC and yet another upcoming slot on the "Tonight" show. He is making his Hawai'i club debut (he opened last night and performs through Wednesday) at the Laugh Factory, a new comedy club at the Queen Kapi'olani Hotel, which is trying to find its niche in the nightlife spectrum.
Selling comedy in Hawai'i, however, is tricky stuff.
"We're still new, having opened about a month ago," said Jon Schneider, Laugh Factory franchise owner here, who is intent on his site becoming the showcase for laugh-makers and laugh-seekers alike. He originally negotiated for a space beneath Dave & Buster's at Ward Entertainment Center, but that didn't work out; neither did the space (the Tropics showroom) at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where he would have had to pay higher union wages for wait help.
Schneider is a Punahou graduate born and raised in Hawai'i, who attended the University of Southern California Film School and worked as a camera assistant. He is the latest to try to mine and market laughmeisters.
"When the Laugh Factory people were here for 'Destination Stardom' (a short-lived talent show that showcased comics, among others), we started talking about a franchise," he said. He had an in, since he previously worked and managed the Hollywood club.
Marley is part of a network of performers the Laugh Factory can send here for weekly double-billings (Kenny Johnson is sharing the limelight). Most are gambling on success, many on the way up in the show-biz spectrum.
"I love the material in my act, so I love to share it every night," Marley said. "I also love to see the responses of the audience. I know it's right when I connect with the audience. Writing a new joke and making people laugh is like gold-digging: you sift through the dust, but when it works, it's gold."
He writes most of his material, often with a home reference. "My wife is a good source," he said. "When she's looking at mail-order catalogues, I realize there's a pattern. At a certain point, she dog-ears a page, and I know financially I'm in trouble."
And it's fodder for a stage gag.
"And every time I do something that's frustrating, or it angers me, I write it down. Usually, there's something funny there. Even a phrase from my wife, like, 'You know, I was just thinking,' could work into a bit. I mean, she's not going to follow that up with, 'Let's pick up a 12-pack and head to a strip bar.' "
He has done all the TV shows imaginable, from "The Tonight Show" and David Letterman to cable endeavors such as Comedy Central, and a few films.
"The downside to this business is that there's no job security," Marley said. "You never know where you will be six months from now, 10 years from now. There are no benefits. If you have a family, you're taking a big risk. Money can be real good, or can be bad."
Why, then, does he continue doing the comedy circuit?
"I never got into this to be famous. If I make 300 people laugh and go home, and if I'm famous (to the audience) at the end, that's fine," Marley said. "The thing that I love doing, is doing it; I'm just as happy in a small room as well as a large crowd. It's all the same to me."
TV exposure means a broader audience base. Hence, a sitcom he has in development could be his password to becoming a household name.
A comic can be billed "clean" or "dirty," with language as a measuring stick, and Marley said he's basically wholesome and devoid of expletives.
"I think that 98 percent of my act can be done on radio or 'The Tonight Show,' without offending anyone," he said. "I think swearing is just gratuitous; if not placed right, it's bad, but a guy with edge can be funny."
His personal choice? "I don't go into the gutter."
Nor does he condemn anyone who goes there. "Working comedians need a range; you can't be too dirty or too clean."
Schneider said booking comics is no problem, what with the Laugh Factory pipeline at hand. "But letting people know we exist has been a challenge. There is a need for people to laugh. We were attracting good military crowds, before they were deployed (for possible war with Iraq)."
Paul Ogata, a stand-up who also is on the morning drive team at KDDB-FM (The Bomb), has done a gig at the Laugh Factory here and earlier operated his own comedy club at the 'Ilikai Hotel.
"Times may be hard, but people still want to laugh," Ogata said. "I don't think comedy clubs are necessarily a place where you go to see a specific person; you just go to have a good time. Along the way, you see some that become your favorites that you want to catch the next time. Occasionally, there's a big name that comes through that you recognize. Like in anything, there is an ebb and flow in business."
Schneider has a six-month partnership with the Queen Kapi'olani, with the ability to move, if necessary, or even extend.
"I've been asked, when we were getting ready to open, by people like Damon Wayans and Adam Sandler who were working here, about stopping by," said Schneider about the anything-can-happen element that typifies comedy clubs. "They know and love the Laugh Factory and would be on the premises whenever they have time."