An Examined Life with Jeff Allen 8: Mark Schiff

An Examined Life with Jeff Allen 8: Mark Schiff April 28, 2014

This week, I’m joined by one of my oldest friends, comedian Mark Schiff – happily calling in from sunny California.

Back in the day, as a young yet savvy comic in New York City, Mark and another buddy found a three-bedroom apartment in the city of $350 per month.  Recognizing a bargain when they saw one, mark and his pal found a third roommate neither one of them knew and charged him $300/month.  So Mark – the young struggling and starving comedian – lived in Manhattan for a mere $25 per month for five years!!

(More than) a few years later, I met Mark in Atlanta, when I was working in a club as one of his opening acts.  We hit it off and he even let me stay with him in New York for a couple of weeks.  That was when I got to see him open for his friend (and up and coming talent) Jerry Seinfeld.

Since those wild early days, both Mark and I have sobered up and turned our lives around.  I even recall that mark had an amazing reputation while out on the road.  He would fly into any city where he was performing, call A.A.’s Central Services Office and volunteer to talk to any recovering addict in need.

He’s living proof of how actively serving others actually contributes to our own sobriety – even a simple act like setting up chairs or making coffee.  Simply putting others first helps each and every one of us maintain a healthy perspective on life.

Pretty much the only service Mark and I are capable of, though is making people laugh.  Mark came up with some of the greats: Gilbert Gottfried, Joe Piscopo, Larry Miller and Colin Quinn.

But it was Rodney Dangerfield who inspired Mark to start telling jokes for a living.  When he was just 12-years-old, his parents took him to a nightclub to hear crooner Al Martino.  Rodney opened for Al that night and Mark had a life-altering epiphany right then and there.  He knew that’s what he wanted to do – make people laugh!

Mark has rubbed funny bones with the likes of Dangerfield, Seinfeld, and Bill Cosby – the one who taught me how to deal with hecklers.  Bill tells a story of a guy named Earl in the audience who just wouldn’t quit.  Eventually Bill called him out:

“Hey, Earl!”

“What is it, Mr. Cosby?”

“I’m gonna work alone now.”

And just like that, Earl shut up.

I use that same approach even today and it works every time.

Cosby also taught me that in good comedy, curse words should never be used as punchlines.  Which totally helped me transform my craft when I made the decision to work clean.

Now, Mark – who also works clean – feels that getting rid of all swearing in his routine actually makes him a much better comic.  He has to work harder, use a thesaurus and come up with more effective words to get people laughing.  But, it’s also fairly easy for Mark to avoid cussing on stage since he was never allowed to use foul language as a kid.  Now, he always feels like his mother and father are in the audience and simply wouldn’t approve.

But that doesn’t stop his mind from going there.

Periodically, Mark will come up with an idea that swings a little to the raunchy side of life, write it up and give it away to another comic who could use it.

Mark even wrote a play recently, and his actors were blown away!  They said it was the first script they had read in decades that wasn’t filled with curse words.  It takes a tough guy to obey his mother and not cuss!

You can hear more from Mark and find out where he’s performing next at

And for more entertaining and encouraging podcasts and videos, check out the E-Squared Media Network at

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