Eddie Sarfaty brings the laughs to the Metropolitan Room on June 27. | COURTESY: EDDIE SARFATY
Out gay comedian Eddie Sarfaty thinks everything is funny: family, relationships, politics, annoying people, really annoying people, pets, his own neuroses, other people’s neuroses, self-doubt. The list goes on and on.
“If there is anything so horrible that you can’t make fun of it, I don’t ever want to know what that is,” he cracked over FaceTime recently. “Even the people in Auschwitz used laughter to help them get through it.”
Sarfaty then deadpanned, “My show is not big on Holocaust jokes. I try to do political stuff, but Trump gets me so ranty, I just sound angry. I will be funnier when he’s no longer in office — and if the world is still here and we have the freedom to tell jokes.”
Eddie Sarfaty mines all of life’s experiences in crafting big laughs
Sarfaty doesn’t sit and write political humor, pointing out that such jokes have a short shelf life. But he can write forever about fighting with his mother. What attracted Sarfaty to comedy was the opportunity to be himself.
“When I do stand up, it’s me that people will pay to see complain for an hour,” he explained. “Sometimes my humor is biting and silly, and self-deprecating, and absurd.”
That said, it took the comedian 10 years to find his voice.
“I was very paralyzed by fear,” he admitted. “I grew up with a lot of fear. But I’m fearless now on stage. As a comic, you want people to laugh. When I first started, I wanted people to like me, and I remember some reporter or reviewer said I did ‘nice guy’ comedy. When I tried to do something edgy, people wouldn’t accept that from me. Now I’m not such a ‘nice’ Jewish boy. My material is smart and interesting and cutting.”
It was a big breakthrough for Sarfaty to get over his anxiety about being liked, which, he acknowledged, is particularly hard for a comedian.
“I thought the audience had power,” he said. “But the audience is happy and relieved for you to take charge. They want to sit back and go for the ride. Laughter is intimacy with strangers you can’t get any other way. It’s a non-threatening bond. Just having people escape for an hour — it took me a long time to appreciate how important that can be. For people to come and laugh and release is really important.”
Audiences have shown they do appreciate Sarfaty, who has been making people laugh with his appearances on TV, in comedy clubs, and in his hilarious memoir, “Mental,” which came out in 2009.
He can find a joke in any situation, from a conversation with a friend to something on the news to a random idea that pops into his head. His skill at being an observer, he explained, is critical.
“The most productive thing is to do and see and listen to lots of things,” he said. “When you try to think of something funny… it’s excruciating to sit and try to make yourself laugh.”
When Sarfaty’s humor strikes a funny bone it is generally because it is grounded in reality.
“Most of the stuff I talk about isn’t gay,” he said. “I’ll talk about coming out to my family, and that’s a gay situation, but if I’m talking about how my husband doesn’t do the laundry, that’s not a gay joke, it’s a laundry joke. It’s so different now because the American audience is used to gay people and even coming out. To an audience that’s not gay, there are a lot are parents, so a coming out joke speaks to them in that way.”
But Sarfaty is by no means shy about doing gay material.
“I do this joke about coming out that my father and my boyfriend have the same name: ‘Daddy,’” he said. “I did that joke on TV and thought a million people are going to see it, so I cut it out of my act for a while and people would see my show and say, ‘You didn’t do the “Daddy” joke!’ So there are always people who haven’t heard it.”
Writing jokes is really what Sarfaty enjoys, and he likens that process to writing poetry.
“Whether you’re Shakespeare or doing limericks, there’s a form. You select each syllable for the emotional content, and it has to be crafted. It doesn’t mean you won’t say things off the cuff, but writing is what you can control most. There’s no excuse to not writing a joke the best way it can be written.”
The craft in shaping a joke is something Sarfaty clearly enjoys exploring.
“The length of the set-up is inversely proportionate to the power with the punch line,” he explained. “It’s fun when your jokes can ricochet, but silence can make me panic. I can deliver this more slowly. I’m not adding words, but there are ways to enhance the set-up without making it much longer. A pause can nourish the joke, but not add dead space to it. There are a million ways to deliver a joke. If I do that ‘Daddy’ joke another million times, my cadence or my rhythm or the pitch of my voice can be different.”
But for all the craft, Sarfaty acknowledged, the key ingredient is heart.
“The reason for telling a joke is that it’s got to be because you’re excited, angry, or titillated, otherwise you’re not connecting with the audience, which is what comedy is about,” he said.
Happily, audiences who see Sarfaty on stage have very little trouble feeling that connection.
EDDIE SARFATY IN CHUCKLEF**CKER | Jun. 27 at 7 p.m. | Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd St. | $20, plus $25 food, drink minimum | Reservations at metropolitanroom.com or 212-206-0440