Stand-up comedian and satirist Jimmy Tingle hit primetime back in 1999 when he earned the "Andy Rooney" commentary slot on CBS' former 60 Minutes II. After he closed his own live theater in Somerville, Mass., in 2007, Tingle decided to go back to school, and this May, graduated with a master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
Considering his credentials, it's perhaps not quite as surprising, then, to learn that Harvard picked his speech from a pool of 32 applicants to deliver at the university's commencement. Perhaps not surprising, but still worthy of congratulations. Here's the Boston Globe story on Tingle. And here's his address to the Harvard grads of 2010. Roll it!
Back in the day, Jimmy Tingle almost fashioned himself a television career as the next Andy Rooney when he got hired to deliver Rooney-style commentary for CBS and its short-lived 60 Minutes II. This new video, in which Tingle talks about why we like the idea of public transportation in theory but not in reality, shows that Tingle still is ready to fill in for Rooney and be just as common-sense nutty so no one will know the difference. He can even let his eyebrows grow wild, if need be. You hear this, CBS?
The premise behind the movie, Man of the Year, which suggests that a late-night TV host could become president. Sort of. Anyhow. Here are some additional thoughts from comedians on the subject.
From Lewis Black, who plays the joke-writer/speechwriter for Robin Williams in the movie. When is the right time for a comedian to run for president? "Yeah, when Christ returns and there is total peace on Earth, then you might want to have someone who just tells jokes. Then, but only then." Black said he had some input on the script, sitting around with writer/director Barry Levinson and co-stars Williams, Christopher Walken and Laura Linney to talk out the plot and figure out speeches and jokes. But what if people wanted you to run? "My official stance is I would never run, because I would only use it to get laid on a regular basis." He said the trappings of the office offer too many diversions, from a bowling alley in the White House to a boat to anything else he probably could think to ask for. "And it wouldn't be for good!" Most presidents wake up early, but he wouldn't. "I would be asleep by five in the morning." No, but seriously. "I did some political stuff for a while. It just made, it wasn't, the people who do it made me crazy." Of course, Black's act often revolves around people and things that drive him nuts. It wasn't always that way. "There was a time when 20 percent of my act was politics," he recalled. "I like talking about the weather." On Conan the other night, Black tried out a new bit about neuticles, which are implants for neutered pets. Yes. Exactly. "You saw that? That's my new breakthrough piece!" But back to politicians. "These guys are just taking up so much of my time," he said. "I go yeah, OK, I can get off on this, but then they keep giving me more!" As he noted in this summer's HBO special, Lewis Black: Red, White and Screwed, it's almost too much to handle at this point. That might be why it's so timely to talk about a comedian saying what needs to be said to the politicians. "I think it's a fun thing to throw out there. It's the right place, right time."
From Jimmy Tingle, who runs Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Theatre in Somerville: He said that some entertainers look for something more fulfilling to do after 25-30 years of performing. But he added, "That's a very rare person who wants to completely go into the day-to-day tediousness and give-and-take of day-to-day politics. Because it's much bigger than making a speech." He understands why people would create Stewart/Colbert T-shirts, because Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can cut through the rhetoric with satire. "Jokes are basically soundbites," Tingle said. "That's why Stewart and Colbert are so successful. Not ony are they funny, but they also have artistic and creative freedom to say whatever the heck they want. That's something politicians don't have." And that's not even something Tingle had when he delivered commentaries years ago on CBS' 60 Minutes II. "They wanted commentary about everyday life. They didn't want to do politics. They didn't want to do issues. They wanted bottled water, parking tickets, things people can relate to."
From Doug Stanhope, who grew up in Worcester and has a Stanhope for President MySpace page seeking the Libertarian Party nomination. When Stanhope performed at the Abbey Lounge last month as part of the Boston Comedy Festival, he told fans after his show that in truly libertarian fashion, he doesn't want to be in charge. "I don't want to be president," he said then. "There shouldn't be any president."
Katie Johnston Chase of the Globe weighs in with a fairly positive review of Jimmy Tingle's new one-man show, "Jimmy Tingle's American Dream." We saw the same show. She got more space for her review. I think mine manages to get more perspective on Tingle for those who do or don't know him well. Then again, I'm biased. Here is what I wrote in the Herald...
Satirist Will Durst once observed that the one-man show differs from a typical stand-up comedian's act only slightly, offering more theatrical qualities and life lessons.
Jimmy Tingle, who hosted Durst in his namesake Davis Square venue earlier this year, delivers on both counts in "Jimmy Tingle's American Dream.''
Befitting his "cafeteria Catholicism,'' Tingle's show has the air of a joking confessional.
He looks back to his beginnings at the Ding Ho in 1980, reminiscing about his fellow comics and their own pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. "Where do you see yourself in 25 years, Jim? I see myself in Davis Square! In a basement! Preferably on the Red Line!'' he said. "I have a simpler dream.''
Over the course of 90 minutes, Tingle shares how he and other Americans, from the Pilgrims to the newest immigrants, pursue their dreams here.
The old pope, the new pope, gay marriage, stem cell research, the ineffectiveness of torture and the war in Iraq, the messiness of democracy and of the Red Sox - they're all targets of Tingle's wit.
Noting the irony of picking the Big Dig contractors to oversee Iraqi reconstruction is fairly easy around these parts.
The clash between Tingle's abstinence from alcohol and the economic need to win a beer-and-wine license for his theater offers more rewarding laughs.
So do tales in which the comedian reflects on his own mortality.
At 50, Tingle has spent half his life onstage.
And he has had plenty of time since his 2002-03 production, "Jimmy Tingle in the Promised Land,'' to reflect on his all-too-brief prime-time career as the closing commentator on 60 Minutes II and to come to grips with running his own theater.
Amid the storytelling in "American Dream,'' the satirical barbs, a Q-and-A session and the very topical monologue, Tingle and director Larry Arrick still manage to construct a few stand-alone pieces of commentary that remind us how and why Tingle got on CBS in the first place.
"Jimmy Tingle's American Dream,'' at Jimmy Tingle's Off-Broadway, 255 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville. 8 p.m. Thurs-Sat, open-ended run.
Related: His official show/theater page.