It’s a Friday morning and I don’t want to bring down the moods of any of the comedians I’m about to call – but, guys, Don Rickles died last night!
Rickles, an icon of American comedy best known for his way with an insult, passed on April 6 of kidney failure at age 90.
The comedy veteran also was an actual veteran, having served in the U.S. Navy during World War II aboard the USS Cyrene.
In fact, many famous comedians have served our country – from Mel Brooks to George Carlin to Richard Pryor to Drew Carey.
In that spirit, four of the region’s top comedians will stand up for members and veterans of the U.S. military for “Salute.Laugh.Give.,’’ a benefit for Operation Yellow Ribbon of South Jersey, on Saturday, April 29. It will take place at 8 p.m. (doors 7 p.m.) at the Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township.
Operation Yellow Ribbon sends care packages of necessities and special treats to active duty service members stationed in the Middle East and coordinates “rock-star style’’ coming home celebrations for returning military members in collaboration with other groups, such as Wounded Warriors.
Presented by the Courier-Post, the event includes an evening of stand-up, an exhibit of photos of World War II veterans by Medford photographer Richard Bell, small-plate snacks by Mission BBQ and Local Links, a cash bar featuring Double Nickel beers and Sharrott Winery wines, and door prizes.
Sixty prime Ritz seats have been given to South Jersey veterans and family members, thanks to the generosity of Sanders Home Services of Voorhees and McCann-Healey Funeral Home of Gloucester City.
Emceed by comedian Ron Kelly of Collingswood, the event will feature headliner Dena Blizzard, off-Broadway star and former Miss New Jersey. She will be joined by comics Bob Marsdale and Tommy Highland. Kelly, Blizzard, Marsdale and Highland all are giving their time and talents to this event, which is also sponsored by the Ritz, Humor Hound, SLK Partners and Camden County.
Taking a break from a national tour of her one-woman show, “One Funny Mother,’’ Blizzard doesn't have to look far for inspiration for "Salute.Laugh.Give.''
Her performance is dedicated to her husband, James Blizzard, an Air Force veteran, and her father, Michael Querubin, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
“Anything that has to do with veterans has always been very close to my heart,’’ Blizzard says.
“My sister married an active Marine, and I thought I was marrying a guy who sold pots and pans, but he was activated again after September 11, after (we had) our second baby. It was quite an adjustment for us in many ways,’’ she says, adding that her husband’s 514th Security Forces Squadron out of McGuire served in Africa and Germany.
Blizzard, who hosts popular Facebook live “talk shows’’ on her page every Tuesday and Friday, says she’s happy to do “anything that helps service men and women, veterans, and especially the moms trying to get respite when their husbands are away. Comedy is one of the best ways to lift their spirits.’’
In her one-woman show, Blizzard finds funny wherever she looks – from the stands of a soccer field to the bottom of a laundry basket.
“Obviously, my take is from the slant of motherhood and marriage,’’ she says. “A lot of my material for ‘One Funny Mother’ (which recently ended a successful off-Broadway run) was written while Jim was gone. It was my therapy to try to find the humor in all of it.’’
Later this spring, she will be back on the road, touring with her show and promoting ChardonnayGo, a board game she has created based on her most popular Facebook Live event.
Ron Kelly of Collingswood is one stand-up guy.
Just ask his wife, marketing and events specialist Sandi Kelly, with whom he owns Humor Hound, a company that promotes stand-up comedians and matches them with venues and fundraising events.
“She forced me into it, of course,’’ says Ron with a laugh. “I don’t want to say we had nothing else to do because our kids have moved out and we are empty-nesters. It’s a nice hobby for us to work together, and I think she was sick of being a comedy widow. … I do open mics all week and shows every weekend. If I asked her if she wanted to come she’d say, ‘I see your act every day!’ ‘’
“Ron and I are excited about partnering with so many wonderful organizations and comedians who are willing to give their time to help our service men and women and Operation Yellow Ribbon,’’ says Sandi, whose many years with Camden County government often found her working on behalf of veterans causes. Owner of SLK Partners, a marketing and events consulting company, she also serves on the board of Battleship New Jersey.
“The work (Operation Yellow Ribbon does) is so valuable and means so much,'' she says, "not only to those who are deployed but also to their loved ones at home. We expect a great turnout and a lot of laughs!’’
Ron’s father was a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War who is interred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, so the Kellys certainly understand the sacrifices made by military families.
Ron served in the Army for 10 years, so he jumped at the chance to help other veterans.
“All of these comedians are really good, and it’s going to be a great event,’’ Ron says. “People should come out. I think people are under the impression that once our vets come out, they are taken care of to some degree, but that’s not necessarily the case. We need the education on how we can actually support our vets, how can we make life better for them?’’
“They say laughter is the best medicine,’’ continues Ron, who says he doesn’t mind “taking the bullet’’ of serving as emcee rather than a headliner. “It’s really about trying to get everybody settled in and comfortable. What I find the most fun about it is you get to interact more with the crowd.
“This is not work for me. This is fun. All I do is talk into a microphone to anybody who will listen!’’
Medford funny guy Bob Marsdale likes to make people laugh – and he likes to get them out on the dance floor, too.
The stand-up comedian and former radio DJ owns an entertainment business, working alongside two sons to get the parties started across the region.
He says he was humbled to be asked to participate in an event for military members.
A big baseball fan who flew south for spring training, Marsdale is sure to draw some inspiration from the Phillies' early ambitions, as well as subjects like taxes, married sex and TV shows like "Swamp People.''
“Typically, I will talk about my own life experiences, observational humor,’’ he says. “I poke fun at politicians, but nothing mean-spirited. I talk a lot about how much life has changed since the ‘70s when I was growing up, how if the cops saw half the stuff my mother did – like sticking us in the car without a car seat – they’d lock her up.’’
Volunteering his time through the Medford Rotary and other groups, Marsdale says he’s thankful for a chance to give back.
“I didn’t start doing comedy til my mid-40s. It’s a tough way to make a living unless you are a big star. But making strangers laugh, I’m just happy to do it and make people forget stuff. Particularly people who have been in the military … well, I can’t even fathom.’’
Marsdale also will perform at Comedy Works in Bristol, Pennsylvania, this Friday and Saturday with Ramont Harris.
If you tool around Comedy Central’s YouTube channel, you may recognize Tommy Highland.
The Media, Pennsylvania, comedian scored a major role in the pilot episode of “Delco Proper,’’ playing “a Delaware County jerk.’’
“They needed a guy with a mustache,’’ he says of the opportunity, “in an episode about a funeral. I deliver a eulogy for a son I never liked. All I had to do is show up and be funny. They handed me a couple of lines, and I ad-libbed the rest.’’
It’s more humble than brag, and Highland would have the right to brag.
The edgy comic is a transplant from Seattle still trying to figure out Philly culture and his perspective has won him comedy accolades. His jokes are often the wry observations of an outsider – in his words, that of a “hippy redneck.’’
A regular on the regional comedy circuit, Highland is an electrician by day and the proud dad of two young children – “the best part of my life, for sure.’’
He will perform at “Salute.Laugh.Give.’’ in memory of his dad, a Marine and Korean War veteran who passed away in 2001.
“I always love working with all of these people, so it’s going to be a great night.’’
IF YOU GO
Dena Blizzard will headline an evening of comedy for Operation Yellow Ribbon of South Jersey on Saturday, April 29 at the Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township, with Ron Kelly, Bob Marsdale and Tommy Highland.
It will include exhibit of World War II portraits by Richard Bell in the Ritz Gallery, small-plate treats from Local Links of Haddon Heights and Mission BBQ of Deptford, and a cash bar featuring beer from Double Nickel of Pennsauken and wine from Sharrott Winery in Winslow Township, as well as door prizes.
Presented by the Courier-Post, the event is sponsored by One Funny Mother, Ritz Theatre Company, Sanders Home Services, McCann-Healey Funeral Home, Humor Hound, SLK Partners, Mission BBQ, Local Links, Sharrott Winery, Double Nickel Brewing and Camden County.
Camden County Freeholder William Moen, Jr. is honorary chair.
Doors are at 7 p.m. Show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 in advance, $27.50 at the door. Visit http://www.ritztheatreco.org/show/salute-laugh-give/
Sanders Home Services has sponsored 40 seats and McCann-Healey Funeral Home has donated 20 seats to be given to veterans and their guests. Veterans tickets have been claimed.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Operation Yellow Ribbon: www.operationyellowribbonsouthjersey.org/
Dena Blizzard: www.denablizzard.com/ and http://www.onefunnymother.com/
Humor Hound: www.humorhoundcomedy.com/
Ron Kelly: www.facebook.com/ron.kelly.165
Tommy Highland: www.facebook.com/tommy.highland.12