Standup comedian Mark Schiff has been a headliner at all the major casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. He has appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night With David Letterman,” and has had HBO and Showtime specials. The 60-something comedian has been the featured act at the Montreal Comedy Festival and appeared in Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” with Adam Sandler. He has also written for and guest starred on the sitcom “Mad About You,” and was a writer on “Roseanne.” His first play, “The Comic,” ran in Los Angeles for 10 months and played at The Aspen Comedy Festival, after which HBO optioned it for a movie. Schiff talked with the Journal about the influences on his career, his interests and pursuits.
Jewish Journal: When did you become interested in doing stand-up comedy?
Mark Schiff: When I was 12, my parents took me to see Rodney Dangerfield and I knew what I wanted to do for a living. I had no idea how to do it or anyone that had ever done it. But the door to becoming a stand-up is wide open to everyone. It’s the most diverse and inclusive business in the world. If you’re funny, they will come.
JJ: Who were the comedians in your “freshman class” when you were learning the ropes at New York City comedy clubs?
MS: Gilbert Gottfried, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry Miller, Paul Reiser, Marc Weiner, Larry David and Steve Mittleman.
JJ: Which comedians have been your greatest influences?
MS: Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Robert Klein, George Carlin and Alan King.
“I love reading books about rabbis. After reading those books, I wanted to grow a beard.”
JJ: What are you reading these days?
MS: All very serious biographies. I love reading books about rabbis. “A Tzadik in Our Time” and “All for the Boss” are two great rabbi books. After reading them, I wanted to grow a beard.
JJ: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of show business?
MS: I collect old movies I never watch. My other hobby is trying to decipher things my wife says to me. Many times, she will say something, and I’ll go into another room and try to figure out exactly what she means. I know I’m wrong about something, but not always sure what.
JJ: You’ve lost a lot of weight. How have you managed to keep it off?
MS: I lost 50 pounds seven years ago. Almost anyone can lose weight, but few can keep it off. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a constant fight and it doesn’t get easier. I have a fat man inside of me constantly wanting to come out. I’m a vegan, and I exercise seven days a week. And I’m strict. No pizza, pasta, bread, frozen yogurt, chips, dips, desserts, fried food, licorice, sugar or sugar substitutes, coffee or tea. And very little to no oil. I believe with every fiber of my being it’s life or death. As the rabbis say, “Choose life!”
JJ: What accounts for the longevity of your 28-year marriage?
MS: I stopped dating other women. Also, I took acting lessons, so I know how to pretend to enjoy doing the things my wife asks. I also stopped trying to turn her into my mother. And I try to make her laugh. All I have to do is ask for sex and she’ll laugh for hours.
JJ: Any charities close to your heart?
MS: My wife, Nancy, and I like The Salvation Army, Feed the Children and The Leprosy Mission. I also like doing hands-on work, like visiting sick people. Loneliness is a problem for most people, but when you’re sick, magnify it 20 times. I was with my friend Jack the other day. Jack is 90 and in a nursing home. When I went to see him last week, he told me he wanted to die. Fifteen minutes later, we were telling each other jokes. Go visit sick people. It’s good for them and it’s good for you.
Mark Miller is a humorist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and various sitcoms. His first book, a collection of his humor essays on dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”