Sitting amongst the packed audience Saturday night for comic Rob Lederman’s 5,000th show, I wasn’t curious how the crowd would react.
I already knew.
In a theater setting for comedy, where each show is a special event and people buy tickets knowing who they’re going to see, laughter is almost guaranteed. Lederman won that battle weeks ago, when all 1,200 seats for his 8 p.m. performance at North Tonawanda’s Riviera Theatre & Performing Arts Center sold out, prompting him to add a 10:30 p.m. show.
But after spending a couple of weeks hanging out with Lederman in various places (at home with his family; at his 11-year-old daughter’s soccer game; at his Williamsville club, Rob’s Comedy Playhouse; and at his radio station, 97 Rock), I was curious: How would Lederman himself react?
The 54-year-old, who is a radio personality by morning and a stand-up comedian by night, is incredibly tough on himself. I learned that much from our time together. He has a big heart (all proceeds from Saturday’s doubleheader are going to Camp Good Days) and, yes, he has a healthy ego. (Every comic does. How else can a you take a stage alone and try to make people laugh?)
But don’t mistake the confidence of ego with the brashness of arrogance (Lederman displays none) or the absence of insecurity. As I discovered while writing a profile of Lederman in the Sunday edition of The Buffalo News, he’s often shrouded in self-doubt. The biggest of which is the nagging feeling that after touring nationally from the mid-80s to the early ’90s, then opting to come off the road, he hasn’t “made it” in the comedy industry.
Saturday’s performance disputed that notion.
After an engaging opening set by longtime Jay Leno writer Nic Siracuse, whose comic mind managed to turn Walmart into a center for parenting, Lederman took the stage. Wearing jeans and a loose white shirt with sleeves rolled to reveal a dangling collection of bracelets, he conveyed a cool casualness as he seized control of the crowd’s collective funny bone.
Lederman began with a story about his midlife crisis (motorcycling), delved into the absurdity of paper cuts, then segued into snowmobiling, Jewish holiday celebrations and Airport Plaza Jewelers’ commercial. (“Does someone want to tell me what a chicken has to do with jewelry?” Lederman asked)
Lederman is masterful at connecting seemingly disparate subject matter; for example, he tied a bit about Buffalo’s Tim Hortons addiction (“Do they put crack in the creamer?”) to circumcision. (The link, should you wish to know, was Tim Hortons’ seasonal “Roll up the rim” promotion. If you want the not-safe-for-newsprint details, they’re forthcoming elsewhere: The show was being shot for DVD.)
Lederman’s crowd, many of whom clearly knew him from 97 Rock, laughed heartily at that joke and every other. It was a bomb-free evening. But was that enough to please Lederman?
I wasn’t sure; his standards were higher than generating laughs from a friendly crowd. I knew Lederman was placing special significance on this show, for a couple reasons: His parents, ages 90 and 83, would be there. So would his older daughter, 15-year-old Joli, who was seeing her dad perform for the very first time and would be hearing jokes about her texting habits and her parents’ sex life. Lederman, who is sensitive where his age places him in the arc of a comedy career, told me a few weeks ago that he wanted his daughter to see him at his peak.
That is, in a packed theater.
He also wanted his parents, who are fighting health issues, to have one more chance to see him bring a large crowd to its feet.
That’s exactly what they saw. And once that standing ovation was over and the house lights on, I approached Lederman to see what he thought. He was all smiles: The comic got the crowd. The son delivered for his parents. And the dad introduced his daughter to an important part of his life.
Backstage after the show, Lederman told me Joli “gave me a shot.” Which in the language of daughters and dads, is a wholehearted endorsement.
“They were laughing because they were drunk,” Joli told her father, adding one more sweet joke to an evening full of them.