BY JOHN MCCURDY / MANAGING EDITOR
One could say Jerry Farber likes jokes. Listen to this guy wax poetic:
“Laughter is what G-d gave us to reward us and to ward off what will happen in every life; that is, tragedies and sadness,” he said, then cracked a grin. “And if we don’t laugh, we might as well just join the Tea Party.”
As for how the laughter comes about, Farber keeps it, well, kinda kosher. You won’t find any fart references or “F” bombs here, but he’s got no qualms with poking fun, even at himself.
And so, to celebrate his 75th birthday, he’s going to have a bunch of friends come to his club – Jerry Farber’s Side Door – and talk bad about him.
“I’ve had roasts before, but this one’s going to be about the underbelly of my life,” Farber smiled. “There’s eight roasters, and everybody involved, they’ve known me for 40 years or more – through the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.”
The shindig’s set for March 2, doors at 7:30 p.m. Seating’s limited, so if this sounds like your cup of tea (can’t imagine what that’d taste like), visit jerryfarbessidedoor.squarespace.com.
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No lies: Jerry’s first show was his own bar mitzvah.
“The entertainment was so bad…” he remembers. “No, really, we had a bad band. My mom said, ‘Jerry, do something.’ So I got up, emceed, told jokes.
“My friends liked it, the older ones acted like they liked it, and we all agreed it was better than what the band was doing.”
Inspired by such a successful debut, Farber took to showbiz from that moment on. Already a pretty good piano player, he was soon playing gigs at country clubs in and around his native Greensboro, N.C.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’d really like to do this. The hours are great, people all want to shake your hand, and I know how to do it…’” he says. “Now, 60 or 70 years later, it’s the same joy.”
The road was not always easy. Jerry dropped out of school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and went to work for a while with his father, a clothing manufacturer. He got his “mojo working” pretty quickly, though, and moved to Atlanta, where he tinkled the keys and told some jokes at gentlemen’s clubs to get his start.
A three-week stint at the old Lark and Dove on Roswell Road turned into a 12-year stay that helped him establish a following and get on his feet financially. Eventually, he felt ready to open his own spot; thus, Jerry Farber’s Place on Pharr Road was born.
It was there that he broke ground – helping to introduce the world to the likes of the Indigo Girls, Jeff Foxworthy, Brett Butler and Yakov Smirnoff, not to mention being the first nightclub in the country to go non-smoking – but he unfortunately almost went broke, too.
“It was a scary moment,” he says of his joint’s closing. “I was young middle-aged. But because I had a reputation, agents picked me up, and I did work all over the East Coast. And I really liked it; I liked it a lot.”
Farber lived the traveling life for the next 20-plus years, and though he was never gone more than two or three weeks at a time, it wasn’t until his son was born in 2000 that he started seriously contemplating putting his roots back down in Atlanta.
Still, it took a good friend – the late Johnny Esposito – introducing Farber to Tommy Lambros, owner of the Landmark Diner and its adjacent bar space, to get the ball rolling. From there, another close pal of Jerry’s, Bobby Ezor, took over the renovations and presented the key as one heck of a Chanukah present in 2010.
Today, the Side Door rocks with laughs and good tunes Wednesday through Sunday and also offers a great event space. Find out more, view the upcoming bill and buy tickets at jerrfarberssidedoor.squarespace.com.
“I’ve found a way to make the club work,” Jerry says. “I have this child, who’s everything to me, and good friends. And that’s all you need.”