Growing up, comedian Richard Jeni was the “court jester.” His kingdom was Brooklyn, N.Y., and his older friends made up his royal court.
Years later, after winning numerous awards for his comedy, Jeni describes himself as “Seinfeld with an edge.”
“I don’t do props, I don’t do impressions,” Jeni said in a phone interview. “I just stand there and deliver a high-energy talk in a way that is funny.”
On Saturday, Jeni brings his classic stand-up routine to GW’s Lisner Auditorium. With a penchant for humor and wit, Jeni speaks nonchalantly of performing for audiences.
“In a way, stand-up comedy is really simple,” he said. “It’s just putting the big laughs together in a row.”
However, stand-up is much more than earning laughs. A comedian also needs to earn respect, a feat Jeni has accomplished. Over the years, he has compiled a long list of credits and awards for his outstanding performances.
In 1993, the American Comedy Awards named Jeni “Best Male Stand-up Comic.” He earned CableAce awards for his comedy special, “Richard Jeni: Platypus Man,” and his writing on A&E’s Caroline’s Comedy Hour.
After grabbing the attention of the comedic world, Jeni expanded his repertoire. He has starred in numerous commercials for companies such as Certs and Coca-Cola. In 1989, he won a Clio Award for his zany role in a series of commercials for the Milk Association. Currently, he is the voice heard in TV spots for the Office Max megastores.
Jeni also dabbled in the movie industry. He co-starred with Jim Carrey in The Mask, portraying Carrey’s sidekick, Charlie. And despite his numerous achievements as a comedian, Jeni said people always ask him what it was like to work with Carrey.
“To a lot of people, that’s real show business. Movies are the king, and television is a step below that. Stand-up is somewhere between porno and dwarf tossing in some people’s minds.”
Even after his experiments in other fields, Jeni said stand-up remains his favorite.
“Stand-up is the best job in the sense that you have the most control,” he said. “You’re really in charge.”
Jeni acknowledges his power as a comic and uses it to control his audience, ushering them into his act. He draws the audience into his performance so they become part of it instead of merely watching.
“When it comes to stand-up comedy, in a sense, it’s like porno in that people have a very bottom line – they want a result,” Jeni said. “With porno, people want to be titillated. With stand-up, they want to laugh.”
Although comedy is second-nature to Jeni, he says he has a method for creating humorous routines.
“I try to start out with something people can relate to or agree with,” he said. “If you start out with something the audience doesn’t understand, you waste a lot of time trying to explain it to them.”
Instead of toying with politics, Jeni sticks to topics that people come across in their daily lives. From health to relationships to jobs, Jeni uses his own experiences and thoughts as the basis for his routines.
” `Write what you know’ is the old saying,” he said. “I am always looking for some experience that I’ve had to draw from.”
With all of his success, Jeni continues to look for ways to expand his impressive resum?. He is working on a sitcom, but it remains in the developmental stages. For now, he will just continue to tour and entertain audiences with his stand-up.
“I’m never not going to do stand-up comedy – that’s my job. Stand-up is my winnings.”
Richard Jeni performs Saturday at 8 p.m. in Lisner Auditorium. Tickets are $20 for GW students at the Marvin Center newsstand and $25 at TicketMaster outlets.>/i>
This article appeared in the September 17, 1998 issue of the Hatchet.