STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Despite his semi-regular area appearances and flirtations with fame, it’s sometimes hard work being Raymond the Amish Comic.
In Indiana — a state where you might think he’d be popular because of its noteworthy Amish population — he’s finding it difficult to get repeat bookings. “The audience loved me, but the club (ownership) fainted. Indiana’s such a squeaky clean state, and I’m a cursing comedian,” said Raymond, who handles his own bookings.
What began in 1991 as morning radio goofing-off-on-the-phone with Bearman and Keith on rock station 95.1 WZZO-FM in Allentown has become an almost-25-year standup comedy career with an onstage Robin Williams-as-Pennsylvania Dutchman persona — ranting off the cuff about Facebook, iPhones, Netflix, weather forecasting, shoveling snow (which strangely was a hit at a recent show in Florida, according to Raymond) or whatever happens to cross his mind.
You might even hear him go off about finding the cause of the beeping sound coming from his land line phone while doing the interview for this story about his July 18 show Upstairs at the Broad Axe Tavern in Whitpain Township.
Wait, he has a phone? And swears? It’s not a bunch of jokes about farming? There’s no way he’s really Amish.
Maybe not. But the truth, said the Lehigh Valley resident, is that the people you see on the multitude of Amish themed reality shows are mostly actors, and not genuine Amish. “I always try to watch the first (episode),” he said of series like “Amish in the City,” TLC’s “Return to Amish” and “Breaking Amish,” and his favorite — even though he’s sure it’s fake — Destination America’s “Amish Haunting.”
The home improvement show “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish” is “unwatchable,” he said, and Discovery’s “Amish Mafia” he declared “beyond fake.” “The Amish take care of themselves. You don’t see them whining: ‘Some tourist took advantage of me’,” the comedian said.
The Amish Comic almost got some reality show face time of his own on National Geographic’s “Amish: Out of Order.” He said a never-aired segment featured cast member (and aspiring country singer) Mose Gingerich on stage at one of Raymond’s Pennsylvania shows singing “Amazing Grace” in German, while the comedian processed out of the theater in mock solemnity. “The place howled,” he recalled.
Nat Geo’s decision to not include that footage was easy to understand, he said, because it was incongruous with the serious tone of “Amish: Out of Order.” “I didn’t want my silliness to ruin it,” Raymond commented.
Another reality show flirtation with fame was an utter — or should that be udder? — disaster. Although things have changed since then, “America’s Got Talent” was not comedian-friendly during season five, Raymond said. While he admits his kind of comedy rubs some people the wrong way, the judges’ hostility was detectable well before being buzzed in an astounding five seconds. “Howie Mandel yelled at me for improvising. Sharon Osbourne said she hated clean comedians … Nick Cannon looked like he bit into a sour pickle,” he said, adding that right before going on, a producer gave him a deflating anti-pep talk: “Try not to talk to the judges — they’re in a bad mood.”
“I’m glad I did it. I’m not a TV comic. You can’t put me on TV with a bunch of knock-knock jokes. I have to be able to let it fly,” he said.
While Raymond half-jokingly laments “fame has eluded me,” he was in the video for Weird Al Yankovic’s hit 1996 parody “Amish paradise.” “I thank him for doing ‘Amish Paradise.’ When that was released, they had cassingles. I was getting so many copies of that … that I would use them as Christmas gifts,” he said.
He was also an Amishman (what else?) in the Tim Allen movie “For Richer, For Poorer,” getting paid $25 extra dollars a day during filming for having Amish-style facial hair.
Richard Pryor’s daughter, Rain, is a fan.
Raymond the Amish Comic was also part of the workshop production of Sony Entertainment’s “The Gong Show Live.” He’s appeared on MTV, Comedy Central and live on stage with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson as part of the “Rubbing Elbows with Ian Anderson” tour. “We hit it off; we’re email buddies,” Raymond said of the rock singer/flutist.
His other famous bearded buddy is Chris Barron of the band Spin Doctors. One time Barron opened for Raymond at the Sellersville Theater in order to promote an upcoming solo show of his own at the theater.
Never one to pass up spinning a yarn, Raymond said that he once wrongfully accused Barron in a text message of stealing his favorite pen. When the comedian later found it and apologized, Barron texted back: “What has my life become? (Twenty years ago) I’m on tour with Spin Doctors and women are on our bus taking their tops off … and now I’m texting an Amishman about the joys of finding his blue pen.”
IF YOU GO
What: EJO Comedy on the Road presents Raymond the Amish Comic, with special guest Pat Rocchi.
When: 8:30 p.m. July 18 (doors open at 7:15 p.m.).
Where: Upstairs at the Broad Axe Tavern, 901 W. Butler Pike, Whitpain.
Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door (cash only). Go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1717472 or call (800) 838-3306.