April 15, 2010

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Everything’s funny
The wheels in Bob Marley’s head go round and round
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Bob Marley is always writing jokes in his head. 

“Every week it’s something new,” he said on the phone from his Portland, Maine, home. The more complicated life gets, the easier it is for him to find laughs. “When I first started doing stand up, I would literally sit and look around the room with a notebook and go, hmmm, there’s a door hinge, what’s funny about the door hinge? I would pick it apart and try to write jokes about it, and then I realized, oh my God — it’s right in front of me!”

His wife, three kids, pets, an aging mother — all raw material for Marley’s fertile imagination. His act dwells on the absurdities of life and steers clear of politics — sort of.

The Maine native dislikes elections because he sometimes confuses the voting booth with a TJ Maxx dressing room. “I’m always tempted to peek out and say, can you guys get me some 34/32s? These are too tight.” Besides, he says, “New England people are so lazy that none of us are going to be president anyway, because we’d wake up and 20 people would shout, ‘I have a question,’ and we’d say ‘jeez, can I get a coffee first? Let me go to Dunkin.’”

When he learned Maine had both the most elderly citizens and more forest than any other state, he came up with a novel way to resolve the current national debate.

“Release the old people into the woods and whoever makes it out gets healthcare,” Marley said. “Survival of the fittest — Betsy Johnson’s coming out, we thought she had a bad knee but she’s going to get coverage!”

Yeah, it’s probably best that the comic doesn’t run for office.

In addition to appearing on Comedy Central, several late-night shows and both Boondock Saints films (the latest just released on DVD), Marley has made 19 CDs, with a 20th (Bob Marley Weirdo) due next month.

He never does the same show twice.

“I’m always amazed when comedians have one set that they’ve been doing for 15-20 years and say, well, I’ve got my hour, I can’t do anymore,” Marley said. “No, you should be able to write more, because you’re better at it!”

Marley has a couple dozen 100-page notebooks filled up on both sides of the page with detailed set lists from nearly every performance of his career. 

“It’s almost like autistic kind of behavior, serial killer-ish,” he said. “You remember that movie Seven, with Brad Pitt? Remember the notebook? It’s that craziness. I keep track of everything that I’ve done.”

Promoter Jim Roach, who’s booked Marley for years, often asks him to perform a night dedicated exclusively to greatest hits. “I say yeah, yeah, man, and I get up there and do a different set. He says ‘I’ve never heard any of that stuff! You change it every time you come.’”

That said, Marley promises to do many of his best bits this weekend at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, as he’s filming both shows. “We’ll have a ton of cameras,” he said. The plan is to pitch it to Comedy Central or another cable network.

“There will be some stuff that is familiar because we’re recording it,” he said. “The Palace is a great room to film in, it’s just the right size, not too big or small. The energy is really great there and the fans are awesome.”

So he’ll probably riff on things like his late father’s ability to make programming a remote control seem like running a space shuttle mission, or tell jokes about the true origins of Poland Spring bottled water (you don’t want to know). But if it’s like any other Bob Marley show, he’ll perform something brand new. He can’t help himself. 

For example, the other day he went with his daughter and mother to hear President Obama speak. “I’m in the audience,” Marley said, “and I’m thinking — what’s funny about this?”

You can almost hear the wheels turning his brain. “It was like 150 degrees in there, so I started confessing stuff halfway through, because I thought I was being interrogated,” he says. “I robbed a Key Bank last week! My mother goes, ‘I slept with your uncle,’ and my daughter’s like, ‘I don’t want you to be my parents anymore!’”

“I’m glad to do standup,” Marley says. “If I didn’t, I think I’d be in some kind of loony bin or something because I can’t turn my brain off.”


Bob Marley
Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester, 668-5588
When: Saturday, April 17, at 7 and 9 p.m. (two shows)
Tickets: $26.50 at www.palacetheatre.org