Book: Close friend Jerry Seinfeld holds “Why Not?” while author Marc Schiff looks on proudly. Courtesy photo

Mark Schiff is a writer, actor, columnist and playwright, but is best known for his remarkable 50-year career as a stand up comedian who “works clean,” i.e. no profanity, avoids politics and is hilarious. (Google “YouTube Mark Schiff 99 cent store.”) No wonder he has headlined at comedy clubs nationwide, including all the major casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and toured worldwide with Jerry Seinfeld for fifteen years, including as I write this.

Schiff has had specials on HBO and Showtime, has appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman. His humor and integrity have been praised by peers including Seinfeld, Bill Maher, Paul Reiser, and Colin Quinn, to name but a few. (In his foreword to Schiff’s recently released book Why Not? Seinfeld wrote, “Mark is the greatest comedy pal a guy could ever wish for.”) 

I have a life long love of comedians such as Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin (there’s more but I have a 800 word limit.) So one might assume this is how I finally crossed paths with Schiff. But It wasn’t!

It was the doing of my late mother, Thelma, a political activist and a woman ahead of her time. Unfortunately for me, mom didn’t have a funny bone. She never laughed at any of my jokes and I painfully learned when you have to explain a punch line, you’ve bombed.

And yet, one Friday afternoon mom, a recent widow after a 50 year marriage to my father, excitedly phoned to say she was invited to a Shabbat dinner at the home of Mark Schiff and his wife Nancy Kolitz. (Now married 32 years.) Mom was hanging out with comics? What’s next her giving open mic night a try? (Actually, I think she and Mark met at a bagel shop on Pico.) 

Weeks later my mother she asked if I’d join her at Mark’s stand up show at Igby’s in Santa Monica. I did and he was hilarious. Afterwards he sat down and schmoozed with us proving not only was Schiff a top flight comedian he was a top flight mensch.

And that brings me to Mark’s funny and inspiring recently released book “Why Not?” The title was his answer when offered a column in the highly respected Jewish Journal. The book is a collection of those essays on subjects such as marriage, parenting, aging, health, and career ups and downs. The sub title “Lessons in Courage, Comedy and Chutzpah” is also aptly worded. It takes both courage and chutzpah to be a comedian. 

But, in addition to all the laughs there are essays that will tug at your heartstrings. And it definitely must have taken Mark courage to reveal his very lonely life growing up Jewish in the outer boroughs of New York City as the only child of a hard-working truck driver father and a mother who sadly suffered severe depression. (However in their later years the two were very much in love which still brings fond memories to Mark.) 

Bravely honest, Schiff describes being bullied at school, being a poor student and “a disturbed kid.” But much seems to have changed when his parents took 12-year-old Mark to see Rodney Dangerfield live. Bingo! Suddenly he knew what he wanted to do when he grew up and, against seemingly insurmountable odds, damned if he didn’t do it. 

A later influence for Mark was Jackie Mason, star of his 1986 one man Broadway mega hit, “The World According to Me!” Because Mark was a well established comedian Mason pointed out an amusing irony. Originally Mason was a rabbi but couldn’t resist sermons that provided congregants fits of laughter which, by popular demand, led him to be a comedian. 

Jackie noted that comedian Mark seemed at times to be a rabbi. In fact, while readers of all faiths will derive joy from “Why Not,” being an orthodox Jew is something Mark loves dearly and is an extremely vital part of his family’s life. 

In between the laughs and occasional tears, there are many inspiring lessons Mark shares as he continually grows spiritually and even physically. For example, he’s become a devout vegan joking, “I won’t eat anything that had a mother.” And he works out on his Peloton bike 40 minutes seven days a week losing and keeping off a whopping fifty pounds! (I can’t help but imagine an infomercial!) 

Mark also deeply reveres “community” and enjoys walking and schmoozing with neighbors. He still lives and loves in the Pico Robertson neighborhood with, “My first wife, my fifth dog, and photos of my three sons who have all moved out and have good jobs and yet still manage to call and ask for money.” 

“Why Not? Lessons on Comedy, Courage and Chutzpah” is available at Book Soup in West Hollywood, at Amazon and wherever fine books are sold . In addition to his comedy performances, Mark is a regular contributor to L.A.’s Jewish Journal, and the host of the podcast You Don’t Know Schiff. Jack is at: Jackdailypress@aol.com