Many baby boomers and Gen Xers may remember Marc Price as “Skippy,” the geeky best friend of Michael J. Fox’s Alex P. Keaton from “Family Ties.” While the NBC sitcom ended long ago, Price has continued to tour as a stand-up comedian, with his next stop at Rob’s Comedy Playhouse on Oct. 15.
Price started comedy at a young age – a very young age.
“I was a kid comedian,” Price said during a recent phone interview. “Did you ever see kids on entertainment contest shows that you just want to smack upside the head? I was that kid in the version of comedy. I would come out with that high voice, 'Divorce is rough!” A little Catskills comedian.' "
Price’s father, Al Bernie, was a professional comedian who performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and hung out with entertainment legends like Lenny Bruce and Sammy Davis Jr.
“That gave me an unusual upbringing,” Price said. “Before I was nine, I was hanging out backstage with George Burns. I gave Milton Berle a joke and he did it, and it was the most thrilling thing in the world to me. It was the old guard.”
In the '70s, comedy began to transition from the Catskills routine to talents like David Brenner, Robert Klein and Jay Leno. Through his father, Price was able to observe how it was all changing, and it wasn’t long before he was on stage himself – even though he was still in single digits.
“The (comedy) scene was just becoming a scene,” Price said. “My dad used to love it, and because I loved it, he used to bring me and I would get in. I couldn’t get in otherwise, but my dad was a respected comic and 9-year-old me would walk in.”
His experience and gimmick of being a kid comedian led Price to an appearance on “The Merv Griffin Show,” and from there, NBC helped groom him to become a regular actor on “Family Ties.” While the show wasn’t a big hit in its initial seasons, it became very popular after its third season when it was paired with other NBC Thursday night comedies like “The Cosby Show” and “Cheers.”
“We used to laugh so much (on the set),” Price recalled. “Michael J. Fox and Michael Gross, in particular, were the funniest. Michael J. Fox treated me like a brother; teaching me physical comedy tricks and talking about girls. It doesn’t get any better than that. I was 14 to 21; imagine being on such a popular show during those years of your life.”
In addition to “Family Ties,” the success of movies like “Back to the Future” turned Fox into one of the biggest stars of the 1980s.
“I got to watch the ride happen and grab on to the back, like I’m on a skateboard from the ‘Back to the Future’ movies,” Price said of his friendship with Fox. “I got a little taste of it, but just the right amount, because it was obnoxious for him to be able to go to the store or do anything. I never got out of control; I had my moments where I was on a college campus or something, but for the most part, I had it very sweet. All the benefits of celebrity with none of the negatives.”
After “Family Ties” ended, Price continued to perform standu-p around the country. He also began writing producing various shows for E!, Animal Planet, the Food Network and the Game Show Network.
“It’s a thrill in a different way,” Price said of his behind-the-scenes work. “I can’t lie; being onstage in front of a live audience is the best, but it makes you think: The end goal is to make as many people laugh as you can, and you can’t beat television to reach the masses. I could perform for a 1,000 people a night, every night, every year, for the rest of my life, and it won’t even reach as many people as a top show.”
Who: Marc Price
Where: Rob’s Comedy Playhouse, 1340 North Forest, Williamsville
When: 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Oct. 15