Vanity Fair ‘s Madison Avenue … The Art of the Joke Man The Art of the Joke Man

Vanity Fair ‘s Madison Avenue

Between Oct. 23 and Nov. 4, store windows along Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side–those windows normally reserved for “artistic” arrangements of luxury goods–were decorated with large photographs of movie stars taken from the just-published Vanity Fair’s Hollywood . La Perla had a photo of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon cuddling. At Valentino, there was a photo of Julianne Moore in the buff; at Manfredi, stylish old Hollywood photos of William Powell and Bette Davis.

It was all part of a promotion–nay, a cross-promotion between Vanity Fair , the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District and the Pink Ribbon Project, a fund that helps raise money for breast-cancer research. In return for a $500 donation to the Pink Ribbon Project, each of the 93 participating stores along Madison Avenue was allowed to select up to two photos from the Vanity Fair book to hang in its windows.

In the end, the Pink Ribbon Project raised more than $50,000; Vanity Fair , which foot the bill to blow up the pictures, promoted their book and got that special feeling that only comes from performing acts of goodness; and the stores–well, they got cardboard enlargements of Hollywood stars.

“It’s really a nice story,” said Matthew Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue B.I.D. “The businesses on Madison Avenue wanted to give something back to the community.”

“We have a classic situation where everyone wins,” said Vanity Fair publisher Peter Hunsinger. “The stores are looking for something to get people in from the window. The quality of the photographs, that’s a really great draw, and the celebrities themselves, and a lot of stores are advertisers in the magazine, so there’s an association.”

Reaction along Madison Avenue was generally positive. At Margon, there was a large picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger on skis in a white T-shirt and black pants. “We like that image,” owner and manager Angela Rapoport said. “It’s not fussy. It is a very clean, wintry image. It goes with our products.”

David Yurman, a jewelry store, had a photograph of a half-nude Harrison Ford shaving. “We were looking though the book of images and we wanted someone contemporary, and Harrison Ford seemed to embody a lot of the positive things,” said manager Catherine Bové. “A lot of people identify with him. He can be very elegant and rugged, and we have a watch collection which is like that–both elegant and rugged.”

Uptown at Gianfranco Ferré, there were photographs of Nicolas Cage in a white suit and Angelica Huston in riding gear. “Nick Cage was wearing one of Mr. Ferré’s suits, that’s the reason why we choose him,” said manager Marino Provasi. “As for Angelica Huston, Mr. Ferré is very much in love with her. He likes her picture.”

Lidia Marnier, the manager of Enrique Martinez, selected a photograph of Kirk and Michael Douglas dressed up as cowboys. “We chose the picture because we like both Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas as actors,” Ms. Marnier explained. “They are both wonderful actors–Kirk Douglas in his prime and Michael Douglas now. We like the continuation from father to son. Just like a traditional business, no? It’s a tradition.” Ms. Marnier also said she would have taken the picture home with her, but Vanity Fair demanded it back.

Meanwhile, over at Sulka there was a photograph of Mel Gibson in a red robe. Sorry–a Sulka red robe. “It was easy to match our product with a picture since he’s wearing a Sulka robe,” said Sulka manager James Morrow. “There’s an attractive guy in our window. It has stopped a lot of people.”

Alas, not every store was able to get the good stuff. Choosing pictures late in the game, Joann Reardon, the manager of Charles Jourdan, was left with the dregs of Hollywood, so she settled for a photo of Gretchen Mol–the infamous photo of Ms. Mol and her nipples that appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair ‘s September 1998 issue.

“We were supposed to get Kim Basinger, but there was some mix-up. Anyway, we like it,” Ms. Reardon said, sounding like she really didn’t like it at all. “We had to choose after most of the good ones were gone. It’s first come, first serve. I was late. I guess this is what you get.”

–William Berlind

The Art of the Joke Man

One recent afternoon Jackie (The Joke Man) Martling, joke archivist and the head writer for The Howard Stern Radio Show , was sitting in his office in his home on a quiet street in Bayville, L.I. (one of four houses he owns). He was attempting to explain what he does in his joke act, which can occasionally be caught live in the New York area or heard on any number of Mr. Martling’s CD’s.

“It’s a lot of barroom jokes,” Mr. Martling said. “But it’s not like I’m some guy in a bar. You pare them down. You slice them off. You get the rhythm right. There’s a couple of short ones. Then a long one. A couple of short ones. Then a long one. It takes a lot of work. Tons of hours and loose-leafs and reading hundreds of jokes and picking one.”

It’s not comedy, exactly, that Mr. Martling does. Just dirty jokes, lots of ‘em, told in rapid-fire succession for an hour or so. For example: “What kind of bees give milk?” “Boobies.” And: “I was going to quit drinking, but nobody likes a quitter.” Sort of like Henny Youngman meets Andrew Dice Clay.

Then there’s Mr. Martling’s Web site, Jokeland.com, where you can order books, T-shirts and joke CD’s like Hot Dogs & Donuts and his most recent release, F’ing Jackie . There’s also a coffee mug, a calculator that makes farting noises and a small contraption called the Joke-In-The-Box, which, at a push of the protruding rubber nose, plays one of Mr. Martling’s jokes.

Mr. Martling’s office overflows with memorabilia and a collection of about 50,000 jokes in file cabinets. There’s a Nov. 26, 1958, letter from Ed Sullivan to a friend of Mr. Martling’s, Frankie Perilli. Mr. Perilli at the time was representing Lenny Bruce. The letter reads, in part:

“I’m sure you understand my position so why not have Lenny prepare a script of exactly what he would do on our show and rush it along to me. Jack Paar has told me that Lenny is an amazingly amusing guy and I would love to have him if we had built-in safeguards.”

There’s also an unpublished autobiography by Milt Rosen, Milton Berle’s gag writer. Mr. Martling fumbled through some pictures in his office and pulled out one of himself and Willie Nelson taken after a recent show in New York. It turns out Mr. Nelson is a fan. Sort of.

“After the show, me and Nancy [his wife], a couple of guys from the New York Jets, and Felix [a friend of Mr. Martling] and his girlfriend–who massages the Jets and massages Willie–go back,” Mr. Martling said. “We’re standing there, and the road manager comes out and says, ‘Jackie, Willie wants to talk to you.’ So we went in and sit down in this little kitchenette, and he pulls out this huge joint–huge! As big as your finger–and he says, ‘Jackie, you want to smoke a joint? We got to fire this up, man.’ So he’s looking through his drawers for a lighter and there’s a fucking copy of Hot Dogs & Donuts, but it was still in the plastic!”

Mr. Martling was born in East Norwich, L.I. He graduated from Michigan State University in five years and got a job in construction in Denver, Colo., but after six months of that he returned to Long Island to start a band, the Off Hours Rockers.

“We were telling jokes, playing songs, doing routines, being assholes,” Mr. Martling said. But the long nights of drugs and drinking took their toll on the band. Mr. Martling had had enough and took his act solo, developing a joke-and-music act that gradually became just jokes.

Then, in 1983, Mr. Martling sent a tape of his act to Howard Stern and was hired on as a twice-weekly gag writer. In 1986, when Mr. Stern moved to the morning slot, Mr. Martling was hired on full-time.

There are a lot of gag writers in this world, but as a joke teller, Mr. Martling is alone in his field.

“First off, it doesn’t surprise me because it’s kind of dopey,” he said. “On the other hand, it really does surprise me, because anything that anybody does that makes any money, people will imitate. When I started, there were like 200 comedians and I was the only one telling jokes. Henny still told jokes and Red Foxx was done. Then cut to 20 years later, and now there are 20,000 comics. You’d think someone would say, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll start telling those jokes.’ Because comics will say, ‘Oh, you just tell jokes,’ and I’ll say, ‘O.K., go ahead, go up there. You think it’s easy?’ You watch a comic go on for half an hour, and he’ll try and tell a joke and he’ll go into the toilet. I’m not patting myself on the back; it’s just that it’s not that fucking easy.”

–William Berlind