Buffalo comedy veteran Rob Lederman has headlined many fundraising nights in his career. His latest event is “Laughs for Literacy,” a sold-out benefit to support Buffalo public libraries at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at his club, Rob’s Comedy Playhouse.
In a recent phone interview, Lederman talked about doing benefits and his perspective as a long-time comedy club owner in Buffalo.
Question: Do you enjoy doing fundraising shows, or is a gig a gig to you?
Answer: Oh no. I don’t make anything on it. It’s an easy way for me to be able to help someone. I love doing them, because you’re doing it for a reason.
This lady does a fundraiser at the club (called) Pink Pillows. She makes these pillows designed for women who just had breast surgery (for cancer) because they can’t get comfortable, and these pillows fit under their arm. I was totally moved by this lady and her fundraiser, and they raised enough money to make about 100 of these pillows. They don’t charge anything for them.
My mom ends up having breast cancer, and she comes out of surgery at Sisters. A nurse comes in with all of her stuff, and she hands her the Pink Pillow. I’m standing there thinking this has been a crazy circle from learning about it at my club to two years later when my mom receives a pillow from these fundraisers. Our next fundraiser for (Pink Pillows) is April 29 at the Hamburg Palace Theater. When I do those things, it feels great.
[RELATED: Tim O'Shei's feature story on Rob Lederman]
Q: You’re not only a comedian, but also a club owner. What lessons have you learned being on both sides of the fence?
A: The biggest lesson that I learned is that when you’re a comedian, you’re looking at the art form of the comedian. When you’re a club owner, you’re looking at how that performer is affecting my crowd.
When I first started, all my attention was focused on what was on that stage. I was very analytical of looking strictly at the stage and not looking at the people. But if the people think (the comic’s) hysterical and I don’t, I win. So now for the last 20 some odd years, I’ve learned to look at the crowd and not the comic, and that’s where the two halves come in.
Q: Even though you’ve been around for a while, your club is a bit of an underdog because Helium brings in big acts, and now big theaters like Shea’s, Center for the Arts and Kleinhans are also booking comedy. How are you competing in this environment?
A: It’s easier than it’s ever been. Helium is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Helium is like the (Buffalo) Chophouse of comedy. People call up and say, “I want to buy four tickets to see Burt Kriesner.” Nobody calls Rob’s Comedy Playhouse and says, “I want to see Vince Morris,” because they don’t know who Vince Morris is.
The name of the person for me is never a draw. It’s the word-of-mouth, the value of it and knowing you’re seeing just as funny of a comedian, but it’s not the level of the Chophouse. There’s a line out the door at Grover’s for hamburgers on Transit. I look at myself as the Grover’s of comedy.
Q: Last year you lost one of your best friends and another comedian, Dan Pordum. Are you doing anything to remember him?
A: Dan and I were on the road together for years. He ran this club since it’s opened. So he’s been a part of my life for 30 years. Both of his parents were deaf. What we’re doing is raising money to start a foundation called, “I Can Hear You Laugh.” We’re going to provide deaf interpreters for hospitals.
When Danny’s mom passed away, they had to find an interpreter to go into the hospital to communicate. Some of these kids that are out there having surgery, our goal is to raise money to pay for their interpreter.
What: Laughs for Literacy
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Rob’s Comedy Playhouse, 1340 North Forest Road, Williamsville
Tickets: Sold Out