Native American comedian to perform in Pittsburg
By Lou Fancher
At first glance, Marc Yaffee is a comedian like any other.
A man of three homes -- Los Angeles, Reno, Nev., and the road -- he prefers to work his standup act in intimate venues where the crowd clusters close to the stage or military bases, where appreciative audiences escape their life-threatening situations and release their anxiety in laughter.
"It's not a deep practice for healing, but you can help people cope," the 54-year-old comedian says.
Arriving for his debut in Pittsburg on Saturday, Yaffee selected the California Theatre for the taping of his first live-performance comedy special, "Marc My Words!"
The one-hour show will feature his standup along with host Samson Koletkar, and supporting act, Ina Romeo.
It's all fairly standard until Yaffee begins to explain his ancestry and childhood influences.
"My birth father is Navajo and Mexican, my birth mother is Scotch, Irish and German, my adoptive father is Jewish and my mother is Mexican."
The ethnic mashup leaves him identifying as Native American and grateful for growing up in Southern California with "a lot of security and laughter."
He says he's not an attention-seeker at parties, but his shy past and a desire to please sends him onstage where he can create a voice that brings together total strangers.
"A crowd of people who wouldn't have anything to do with each other outside of the show -- comedy can make them become like one."
Yaffee is a founding member of the Pow Wow Comedy Jam and was featured on Showtime's "Goin' Native," the first all-American Indian comedy special in cable history.
He has appeared on PBS, SiTV, and is a guest columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network.
Comedians often find a niche and although he says his act is "clean" and cycles from life on the road to relationships to politics to being a Native American, Yaffee's not afraid to touch the pulse of hot subjects like immigration.
"I try to keep it friendly and make a joke that spins, but doesn't divide people. We all have our own responsibilities and challenges, no matter what ethnic or economic group we're in.
"I'm not a "woe is me" comedian, but people who suffer have a really strong sense of humor."
The show in Pittsburg he says will be PG13: no "f" bombs that would offend his mother, if she were in the audience, but containing enough bite to satisfy the Bay Area crowds he says are "hip and smart and forgiving of my cornier material."
Koletkar will open the show. "He's East Indian and Jewish. He's microchip and I'm buffalo chip," Yaffee says.
Romeo, the supporting act, is like her Shakespearean namesake: from a big family, raised in a metropolis with plenty of drama (Detroit), an actor (she moved to LA to work in Hollywood) and romantic: "She loves to work the audience," Yaffee says.
The live taping is part of a larger career push. Yaffee is working with producer/director Ken Knoll on a sitcom pilot for "Almost Americans."
The show features the comedian as a Native American teaching citizenship to new immigrants.
After a November filming in Albuquerque, N.M., he plans to pitch the pilot to cable.
In the meantime, he'll continue his usual process of writing material in streaks. Juiced up by a week of shows in clubs or the camaraderie of bouncing jokes off of colleagues, the ideas flow.
"I'm not a structured Jerry Seinfeld-type, writing eight hours a day."
Which isn't to say he doesn't hone the material. Switching two words in a joke can "make it sing," and "putting a curve ball" on the delivery sometimes makes an average joke a solid hit.
If there's a "universal funny" that appeals to all audiences, Yaffee suggests it is found through connecting to the crowd, not the specifics of a joke.
Being a Native American comedian, he says, has an upside and a downside. "We're only one percent of the population so we're a novelty and the material is fresh, but we don't have a huge demographic crowd base."
Choosing to capitalize on the positive, he answers Donald Trump-inspired people who ask him why he doesn't return to his native country by saying, "Hey, I'm Native American. This is my country."