Comedy Preview: Marc Price
The TV and stand-up veteran will perform with local comedy troupe Hashtag Comedy this Wednesday as part of his ongoing "Legends of Sitcom" tour
Family Ties was one of the first TV shows I remember consciously following when I was a kid, hoping that someday I’d evolve into the Winnipeg version of Alex P. Keaton: sharp-tongued, well-dressed, quick-witted, confident — pretty much most of the things I wasn’t when I was 7 or 8.
In reality, my path more closely paralleled APK’s effervescently maladroit friend, Irwin “Skippy” Handelman, which is good, because I would have failed miserably as a Young Republican, and I barely scraped by with a C in my college macroeconomics class. Needless to say, I was tickled a few weeks ago when my friends of Hashtag Comedy asked if I would interview Marc Price, who expertly played the Keatons’ affable boy-next-dork, in advance of his appearance at their Wednesday improv show at Shadowbox Live’s Backstage Bistro on November 15.
Price, who now works as a stand-up comedian honoring his roots that began when he appeared with his act on The Merv Griffin Show when he was just 15, also had a few turns on the silver screen as star of the 1986 horror film, Trick or Treat, and in the principal role of Max Rothman in the 1988 adventure vehicle, The Rescue. He was the host of the game show Teen Win, Lose, or Draw on the Disney Channel from 1989-1992. More recently, Price has written and produced content for the Disney Channel, Food Network, Animal Planet, GSN, and Showtime networks.
He’s also been touring regularly alongside actors/comedians Marsha Warfield and John Henton as a member of the Legends of Sitcom comedy tour.
“People know me from my awkward teen years, and now this is a chance to see me in my awkward adult years,” he explains wryly during our telephone conversation. Part of the payoff for Price is the community and kinship he’s established with his tour mates. “For me, it’s like a ‘touring with my heroes’ program,” he muses, “so I get such a kick out of it. There are so many characters from sitcoms that make great comedians, and when I realized that, I started to make that the angle for the tour.”
Our 20-minute chat reveals much about Price’s comedic chops, and that the same enthusiasm that made Irwin Handelman such a fun, watchable character is as much a part of his persona off screen as it was on.
Performing in Columbus is sort of a homecoming for you, albeit a fictional sitcom home. I’ve read somewhere that Family Ties was supposedly set in the suburb of Upper Arlington, specifically…
“I don’t remember it crystal clear, but I do remember that initially it was just Keaton, Ohio — a fictional place that didn’t exist. And as the show got successful, cities were vying for it. I don’t know how the word got out. It wasn’t, like, a contest or something. People were sending in packages and what not. And then Columbus won the prestigious honor! I don’t remember how it exactly went down.”
Your father, Al Bernie, was a legend and an important fixture in the Borsch Belt in the early days of American comedy. He had a tremendous career.
“He did more than the Borscht Belt. That was just one facet of his career. He started in the 30s. In those days the Borscht Belt wasn’t even there yet; it was still the end of Vaudeville in theaters. He was Rudy Vallee’s protege and on the radio with Fred Allen in the 40s. Then he goes on to have his own TV show in early television, and worked on Ed Sullivan. And then he was a Catskills Comedian. He does represent the Catskill Comedians in kind of a good way.
There were a lot of them, and you might not know their names like my dad’s, but they were really funny and really great guys. It was a real part of comedy history that most comedians today don’t understand. There are a lot of their comedy nerds out there, but it’s [something] even the comedy nerds don’t really celebrate properly.”
Given the diversity of his experience, what did he impart on you in terms of comedy knowledge and discipline?
“Well, my dad was great because he taught me everything he knew, but he also took me to see the ‘new kids’ at the time, like David Brenner and Robert Kline. When he took me to the comedy clubs…he really enjoyed the history of comedy, and what he lived through told him that it always changed. So, it was no secret to him that it was about to come up in a new package for a new generation. It was just a matter of time. Much like it is now, actually — we’re looking for that next thing now. It’s sort of come full circle. It’s kind of weird.
But it was 1974 and comedy clubs were the new thing. So, in those days my dad would take me to the clubs, and maybe in ’76 or ’77 after it became a phenomenon, he would actually sneak me in. That would be impossible otherwise except for…people forget that in those days, young comedians also used to work the door in order to make money as a part of their job. My dad would come in, and he was respected by those comedians being one of the Catskill guys. I was able to sneak in, in a way no young kids could anymore. But, of course they don’t need to because now you’ve got YouTube.”
After Family Ties, you performed as a Vegas regular, which I imagine has to be a challenging gig to sustain over a long period of time.
“No, no, no. The easiest gig of all time! I don’t know what you’re imagining, but…Well, wait, wait, let’s be clear. Some guys do it in a different way that I haven’t experienced yet, and I couldn’t even comment on it other than I know they enjoy it. But I don’t know if I would. Some people don’t. But, that’s like when you do a residency, or whatever you call it, when you’re in Las Vegas all time time. I never had that. I would go, like, four times a year to Vegas, and four times a year to Tahoe. I would go and enjoy the town and perform at a really nice club like the Improv or Harrah’s.
And, it’s still going strong in Tahoe 30 years later, I’ll just mention — both the Improv and Harrah’s. I go every year, and I just love it, maybe even more than Vegas to be honest with you, because of the scenery. I love scenic grandeur.”
You’ve seen a lot of different trends as you’ve worked in comedy throughout the years. What do you find funny or intriguing now as a stand-up comedian at this point in your career.
“That’s a good question — I like the way you phrased that. Usually people ask what they can expect from my show, and I say ‘not a refund.’ But, my dad was the ultimate Catskill Comedian, and he came from that old show business like George Burns, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, Jackie Mason…those guys. And that’s where it all started for me. Then he introduced me to the next generation of guys, and then I moved to California and saw the next generation of guys, like Jim Carrey and Sam Kinison, you know? And to this day, I love the newest kids who no one even knows their name yet, and I’m checking them out on the Strip and stuff like that here in L.A. when I come back to town.
So, I have a lot of varied influences…and sometimes I’m a physical comedian, being silly, and other times I can be very thoughtful and have some smart material. I go political a little bit, but then I kiss up to Republicans — a little all over the place. I enjoy that, and I think the audience enjoys it, too. It’s not great for marketing purposes…’what…is he exactly?’ It doesn’t box me in really well, but it’s a little bit of everything, just like the weather in some places, yes?”
“There was a Family Ties play — I don’t know if you know about that.”
I didn’t know about that! Really?
“That’s kind of interesting for you guys because they did it in Dayton, and it was the same company that did Wicked, so a very legitimate Broadway entity. They somehow garnered the rights and got an author and made a show about Family Ties now, what the characters are doing now. Alex P. Keaton’s running for Congress and it’s now 2017!”
I definitely missed that in my research. So where does Skippy figure into the production? What’s he doing now?
“From what I understand, I got an honorable mention, but in this particular early road production, I was not in there. It wasn’t like anyone consulted with me — or anyone — on this. The cast members vowed never to do anything like this, a reunion show. It would be interesting to see if they’d offer anyone a Broadway opportunity. That’d a hard one to say ‘no’ to for anybody!
But they took a blood oath that they wouldn’t do that. And then we lost our patriarch, our founder,[creator] Gary [David] Goldberg, who’s no longer with us and we lost too young. And everyone agreed that it’s his baby, and so nobody would want to move forward with it without his approval. At the time, they decided…you know, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a very classic show. And they modeled themselves after that. They went off the air after the same number of seasons, and they just left it at that. They didn’t come back and do Mary Tyler Moore Now, or whatever. And they just felt it was kind of a good idea to leave [Family Ties] like that.”
But, even if you didn’t make it to Broadway, you’re really having some great success with this tour, and congratulations on that. I’m excited to see that you’ll have an opportunity to play with the Hashtag Comedy crew while you’re here.
“I’ve heard great things about them, too, and I’m excited to be coming in. The tour’s going all over the place and we just did 14 cities last month in upstate New York. And then we’re coming your way, and then we’ll be in Michigan, and then we go to Las Vegas, Florida, Virginia, Washington and Oregon. I point myself where I want to go these days, and that’s part of it.”
Comedian Marc Price will appear on the “Legends of Sitcom” tour, presented by Hashtag Comedy (along with special guest Ryan Listerman), this Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., at Shadowbox Live’s Backstage Bistro. Tickets are $15 (plus taxes and fees), and are available in advance from hashtagcomedy.com/tickets.