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Interview: Local lawyer turned comic Yale Hollander lightens up St. Louis

Bill Motchan

Stand up comedy fascinates me. Ordinary people getting up on a stage with a cold crowd, hoping to crack a few smiles and make a dent in their minds the following day. Musicians can climb on stage with an instrument and sing a tune, protecting themselves from sudden ridicule. A comedian's instrument is his or her's sense of humor, which they dispense with a microphone while standing idle on a stage.

If you look up Yale Hollander on the internet, the first column that will hit you comes from St. Louis Jewish Light website, where columnist Bill Motchan talked to the litigator turned comic about making people laugh and carving a side career as a funny guy. It's a potent read and fills you on how the guy started using his natural sense of humor to lighten a room up and put himself at ease at the same time.

I first got a whiff of Yale's personality on social media, where his words always seem to cut the stale air between witty and informative. Saturday, he commented on the sparse crowd at the Missouri Tigers homecoming game. The other day, he was inquiring about the best Smiths song. There's no fancy methodology about his comedy. He's just a guy with a need to make you laugh.

This past week, he performed at the Helium Comedy Club in Richmond Heights. Saturday night, he got on stage at the Heavy Anchor. A comedian doesn't have stage setup or a band. They are pale riders hoping to generate humor in a very serious world.

In order to get to the real scoop on Hollander's idea of humor, I tossed some random yet important questions his way in a go for broke interview. Settle in and read a breezy conversation that never aims for Barbara Walters heavy.

Buffa: What was your first joke and who actually laughed at it?

Hollander: Knock Knock

Who's There?

Osborne

Osborne who?

Osborrrrrrne in a cross fire hurricane . . .

I'm not sure who, if anyone laughed at it, seeing as how this was around 40 years ago, but it's all right now. In fact, it's a gas.

Buffa: In your opinion, what makes certain people panic on stage? How did you fight through it?

Hollander: Silence - whether that be silence because you've (hopefully just momentarily) lost your place in your set or silence that follows the joke you thought was going to kill but didn't. In either instance I'm learning to just move on.

Buffa: Go to food before you go on stage?

Hollander: I try not to eat too close to stage time. I'm a particularly neurotic guy (shocking for a standup comic, I know) so the last thing I want is fuel for an upset stomach or dry mouth.

Buffa: If you could talk to one comedian, dead or alive, for ten minutes, who would it be?

Hollander: Johnny Carson - I can't think of anyone who had a keener ear for comic success and I want to know everything that he looked for when deciding on a couch invitation. Also, I want to know everything there is to know about Carol Wayne.

Buffa: Which celebrity are you dying to roast and why?

Hollander: Chester Lampkin. Because he still hasn't come out to one of my shows despite his promises to do so.

Buffa: Let's say a young comedian, in his early 20's, walks into Helium and sits next to you, asking for advice. What do you tell him or her?

Hollander: "Let me introduce you to my friend Chris Cyr."

Buffa: Who provides a comedian with more material: Donald Trump or George W. Bush?

Hollander: It has to be Trump for no other reason than he's gotten people to get sentimental about W. That's pure magic.

Buffa: If you can perform at any venue, which one?

Hollander: It's a tie between The Comedy Store in West Hollywood and The Comedy Cellar in New York. Both legendary.

Buffa: Who was better? George Carlin or Richard Pryor?

Hollander: Oh, that's no contest. The clear winner here is . . . . (fakes heart attack and collapses)

Buffa: Dane Cook: legit funny guy or hack?

Hollander: Let's just say I'm not a fan.

Buffa: Which comedian on the local scene (other than yourself) could make the most stoic British guard break down and cry laughing?

Hollander: Way too many to choose from, but the one who could do it the quickest would be Libbie Higgins.

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Hollander has a passion for comedy. You can tell when you read his tweets or hear him talk. If you don't want to do it, the result will dim the lights on stage instead of create laughs. Comedy is a bold profession, because you have to find a way to be yourself in front of strangers and by the end of the session (which could be 10 minutes or an hour), make them as comfortable as family.

Like local comics Rafe Williams and Tina Dybal, Hollander just wants to make people laugh, make a few bucks doing it, and keep things interesting. You should check him out in person. Without an ounce of effort, he makes the stage his own.

If that doesn't convince you, just mention mozzarella sticks and hand him a cigar, and he's yours.

Find Yale on Twitter and Facebook for mini doses.