From the Magazine: Sarge in Charge

sarge
Sarge

The triple-threat talent keeps us laughing, even in difficult times

Like everybody else, comedian Steven Pickman, aka Sarge, lost some income to the coronavirus—in the form of 37 canceled bookings. But the Boynton Beach resident still shows up to work.

I attended my first Sarge performance in June, a standup show at Boca Black Box in celebration of his 56th birthday. COVID cases were rising, and the audience consisted of exactly 35 socially distanced patrons. But Sarge indisputably killed, delivering rapid-fire, withering material that touched on the absurdity of the zeitgeist, Boca’s greying population, and his own biography as a biracial Jewish man (“I’m a one-person hate crime waiting to happen”) and recovered addict.

A politically incorrect, equal-opportunity offender, Sarge honed his chops on cruise ships and on opening gigs for music-industry giants; he’s also a skilled pianist who often combines comedy and music in his act. He returns to Boca Black Box Dec. 30-31 for his annual string of New Year’s shows.

BEST PART ABOUT LIVING IN PALM BEACH COUNTY?

Warmth. I hate cold. I grew up in cold—Connecticut prep school, Boston College, New York winters… I like warm a thousand times over cold.

BEST PART ABOUT SOBRIETY?

The fact that I’ve gotten to a place where I’m really glad to be me. Because before I achieved sobriety, I hated my life. I used to say, I love life, just not mine. And that was my mantra. Now I love my life exactly as it is.

WORST GIG YOU’VE EVER BEEN A PART OF?

July 4 weekend in Martha’s Vineyard, 1996. There was a race riot going on in the audience. There were white people from Martha’s Vineyard at my concert, and I had to perform 45 minutes to get paid; my William Morris agents were there. It just so happened that on the streets of Martha’s Vineyard on July 4 weekend, all the Black college students in New England converged outside the theater, because after my show was over, they were getting rid of the stage and having a big dance party there. So rather than leave the Black people on the street, the cops let the Blacks into the building, and they went upstairs in the theater. So the whites were all downstairs while I’m doing a comedy show, the Blacks are all upstairs looking over the railing, and then the Blacks and whites started heckling each other. … Meanwhile I’m onstage. I just kept performing. They were booing me, and booing the people. … I finished the job, and got paid, and when I left the theater, I thought to myself, tonight I might smoke weed. But I didn’t use.

COOLEST CELEBRITY YOU’VE OPENED FOR?

They’re all cool. The Beach Boys were the coolest, because the first night I worked with them was at University of Illinois at Champaign. I’m doing my set, and I looked past this huge audience, and in the back are the Beach Boys. So after the show, we’re traveling on the same bus, and they go, “Dude, why were you in your own dressing room? From now on, you’re dressing with us. And I’ll just let you know, we haven’t gotten ready early to come out and see the opening act in over 30 years, so we love you. You’re hanging with us.”

A GREAT BIT OF MATERIAL OR JOKE THAT ONLY WORKS IN PALM BEACH COUNTY?

The material about driving: People can’t hear, they can’t see, they can’t remember who they are, they can’t feel their hands or feet, they can’t turn their head this way or that way, they have no idea why they’re in the car, and they’re driving. The other one is boarding [airplanes] by ailment: We’re not going to be boarding by group number today; we’ll be boarding by ailment. Please form a line between the two people that can walk, and the 360 wheelchairs.

WHAT’S YOUR JOKE WRITING PROCESS LIKE?

I’m not a good writer of comedy. I don’t perform the way I write. My biggest problem early in my career is I would write stuff that is brilliant, but I couldn’t remember it. But I am good at showing up, and having it show up with me. That’s how I make a narrative. I go onstage and perform it, because when you’re hit with the endorphins and the adrenaline, and the gun to your head to be funny, you come up with better things than when you’re sitting at your computer going, I need a punch line for that.

A PARTICULAR VENUE ON YOUR BUCKET LIST TO PLAY?

Carnegie Hall. And I will do Carnegie Hall.

THE STRANGEST THING ABOUT COVID-19 CRISIS?

That it’s actually turning out to be really good for people. That even though one of the symptoms is that some people die, even though one of the symptoms is that people have to take a bit of a haircut financially, one of the things that you’re hearing most resoundingly is, “I’m spending more time with my family, I’m finding new ways to do things.” It’s forcing people to be creative out of necessity—and more humane and more caring.

ARE THERE SACRED COWS—ANYTHING YOU WON’T JOKE ABOUT?

Politics, the president. I make fun of religion all the time; I don’t make fun of politics.

WHAT WOULD YOU WANT YOUR TOMBSTONE TO SAY?

He was the right size. Right now I’m working on reducing the size of my body; I put on weight. I had my knees replaced last year. But I was the right size in so many ways—as an entertainer, my ego. I showed up, and I made people happy, and I was the right size.

This story is from the November/December 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.