Finding “the Funny” with Norm Klar

ImageNorm Klar is known as “the comedian who does magic.” He has opened for the likes of Tim Allen, Emo Phillips, and Soupy Sales. On June 28-29, he will be co-headlining Act II Playhouse’s latest Stand-Up Comedy Weekend. Norm was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his act, and his beginnings in comedy.

How would describe your act?

I like to think of my act a guy just having fun with frustration. I do the things that make me laugh without making the audience think too much.

What made you want to be a comic?

It may be cliché, but I just really love to make people laugh. I should work harder at it. Oh, and I love and need the auditory appreciation shown in mass applause. It’s as delightful as a Q-tip in the ear after a shower.

How did you first get started in comedy?

Performing “the funny” was always in my blood from a very young age. Just ask anyone I grew up with. My mother, Ruth Klar is a wonderful local award winning actress who performed in a lot of community theater productions in Nashville, TN where I was born. As a kid I would go to rehearsals with her and wish I could be in the shows, but Edward Albee didn’t gear too much dialogue towards nine year olds. I learned a lot from her keen sense of timing and stage movement. I just didn’t know what to do with it. At 85 she continues to entertain audiences at various functions in the community.

I joined the US Navy in 1974 and was honorably discharged in 1979 in the City of Brotherly Love. While participating in an Improv Workshop at the Germantown Theater Guild, I met Steve Lippe who was involved with a group of guys calling themselves “The Funny Eleven.” They put on two shows a night, Friday and Saturday at a place called the “Jailhouse.” The shows were glorious. I took all my first dates there, but really wanted to get on stage myself. Problem was I had no material and didn’t think I could write well enough to pull it off even in this amateur forum. I had nothing and I really wanted to be a part of these wonderful festivities. So I audio taped a set that Jerry Seinfeld did on the Merv Griffin show in 1982, wrote it down word for word, memorized it and performed at an open mike. Most of the comics knew the origin of the  material and gave me a hard time (rightfully so). I never really knew if the audience knew. I got OK laughs, but really began to get comfortable on stage. After about four or five weeks, two well-dressed couples approached me after the show. They said, “We’ve been coming for several weeks now and we think you are the funniest one here.” I hung my head very low and said “Thanks, but I have to be honest with you, it’s not my material.” They said, “Oh we know you’re doing a Seinfeld bit, we just think “you” personally are funny.” A ray of light came from the clouds. Wow! They saw me though the material.

I then began to write my own stuff and bought a few magic tricks to perform legitimately that failed and got laughs and I was on my way to an always evolving 28 years of trying to bring “the funny.”

Who are some of your comedic inspirations?

Sid Ceasar, Jonathon Winters, Alan Zweibel, Danny Kaye and a little known vaudevillian named George Carl. I am also inspired regularly by local comedy legend and dear friend Grove Silcox who has given me opportunities abound. Last but hardly least the gentleman with whom I share the stage, a penultimate professional performer, producer and educator, the immensely talented Mr. Vince Valentine. I consider you a mentor and my friend. Say “Hi” to Short Pants for me!   

Any fun stories from your time performing?

I opened for the nationally known Bob Nelson at a comedy club in that used to be in Chinatown here in Philly. The first show for me was especially good. Really had a great set, the applause was deafening. When Bob hit the stage someone yelled “Follow That!” The audience applauded again.

I was shocked and felt bad for about half a second. He went on as always to having a stellar performance and then never said a word to me the rest of the weekend. After that show, I went to get my car at the garage. Apparently there were about 30 or 40 audience members there waiting for the valet. As I approached the cashiers window they noticed who I was and gave me another ovation this time standing (there was only limited seating) nevertheless, they were standing and applauding all over again. Even though, we were in a parking lot it was wonderful and such an echo.

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