Comic Rob Lederman is first a businessman. After graduating from Brockport State College in 1982 he purchased a string of tanning salons. By 1989 he would buy his first comedy club, the former Comix Cafe in the Town of Tonawanda.
Since then, Lederman has become a mainstay in the local comedy scene. Today he operates Rob’s Comedy Playhouse on North Forest Road in Amherst. Lederman, 52, is also a fixture of morning radio sharing his life with the world as a co-host on WGRF-FM 96.9.
Earlier this month, Lederman launched a new television program. His show, “Late Night in the Buff,” is on WGRZ-TV Channel 2 at 11:35 p.m. Sundays.
People Talk: Tell me about growing up as a wiseguy.
Rob Lederman: When I was in junior high in Amherst, I was borderline Special Education. because I just couldn’t pay attention. To me, school was a crowd. For dress-up day, when others wore a suit and tie, I dressed up as a girl. I was in eighth or ninth grade. I remember I was called into the office, and I had wig on, my mom’s dress. My mom had to come pick me up. It was that kind of stuff. I wasn’t mean, just digging the attention.
PT: Were you obnoxious?
RL: Sure. I came into junior high one day with a fake mustache and fake police badge and a bullhorn. I remember running up and down the halls calling people by name, wanting to arrest our librarian. That librarian hated me. I couldn’t be quiet in the library. You know what it was? Whenever there was a crowd, I felt like I needed to do something.
PT: But you made it through school.
RL: I was a C-minus student until I went to Brockport, where I was honor roll every year. My major was rhetorical studies, the art of persuasion. All the pieces came together. I took business classes. In 1982 I had tanning salons called And a Tan. I was 21. My mom ran a beauty school for like 30 years. I always had nice haircuts.
PT: On stage, what topics would you never touch?
RL: We have rules at the club, and some of the rules some comedians have a real tough time with. I feel we have a responsibility to everyone in that club not to do cancer jokes, because somehow someone has been affected by that, and they don’t want to be reminded of it. There aren’t many rules we set down, but that one is strange for everyone. Cancer has affected my life. I’ve been involved with Camp Good Days for 20 years.
PT: What motivates that?
RL: You have to give back. We’ve been pretty blessed. When my daughter was 2, we thought she was pretty sick. When I was 13, my sister was 18 and she had thyroid cancer. Today my daughter will be 14, and my sister is going to be 58. We’re still together as a family.
PT: What is the key to your longevity?
RL: Treating everyone with respect. Realizing that the same dollar spent at my club is the same dollar I had to earn to spend somewhere else. I didn’t come from anything. I’m not rolling in money. I understand if you come to me and spend $10, that is $10 you could have spent somewhere else. So I read every comment card. I read and respond to every email. I do every benefit – within reason. I do say no. We raised $87,000 for a little girl on our street.
PT: Are you better at writing jokes or delivering them?
RL: I’m a great crowd assessor. It’s the level of conversation before the show, the level of energy when the lights go down. That to me is my biggest talent. If I see 50 percent women in the audience, and 50 percent of those women are 40 and below, I know I can talk about dance recitals. If you have kids, you know how horrific dance recitals can be. I just did a sold-out show in Chautauqua. I opened up with my snowmobiling bit. If the average age is 21, I’ll get a little more political. I’ll talk about getting pulled over by a state trooper.
PT: What do you wear to work at the club?
RL: I’m so grown up. I used to wear a denim jacket and now I always wear a pair of dress jeans, a sport coat, a black shirt that has a high collar. This is how bizarre I am. If I have a high collar on my shirt, people don’t see that my nose is big. It brings my face down into my collar.
PT: What’s the bottom line in stand-up?
RL: It’s all about control. I will always start out by acknowledging people in the crowd. We’re the Chuck E. Cheese for the 25 and above crowd, so there’s always a half-dozen birthdays in the house. You talk to them, make them feel comfortable. You need to be able to set that mood because one person can ruin it.
PT: Do we want to talk about hecklers?
RL: I’d love to. Every show has them, although we don’t get them often. If we do, it’s just because they’re drunk.
PT: Are prisoners a tough crowd?
RL: No, they’re so appreciative, but don’t do the dance recital bit.
PT: What are some of your foolproof one-liners?
RL: There is a fundraiser right now in China that is having an American basket raffle. ... They found the oldest piece of chewing gum: It is 9,000 years old and came with a free Ralph Wilson trading card. … Last week my jokes were about Presidents Day. How did I celebrate Lincoln’s birthday? I opened a Lincoln diner. It only has tables – no booths.
PT: Are there trends in comedy?
RL: Honestly? It’s back to clever and clean. [Andrew] “Dice” Clay is playing a strip mall. He’s not selling out arenas anymore.
PT: And you are on TV. Please tell me about your show.
RL: Here’s how I look at this TV show. I understand how difficult it is to be able to have your business shine and how a commercial can become just a commercial behind another commercial. I thought I was creative enough to comically look at promoting business in a subliminal way. The sponsor is not just the sponsor but part of the bit. Only two segments will be sponsored.