A musical child prodigy, Steve Pickman was born to an Orthodox Jewish woman and a black man in 1961. Adopted by a white Jewish couple from Long Island, Sarge (his professional stage name) saw his way through the ups and downs of exciting jobs in sports and the high fashion industry with his gift of gab — all while using drugs and alcohol.
After hitting rock bottom, Pickman got sober and rose through the competitive stand-up comedy business. Today he is a husband, father and mentor to thousands.
I read his book, “Black Boychik,” in two days. He is real. He is hilarious. And he’s coming to the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Nov. 12.
Jaffe: I expected you to be all giggles and am jarred by how intense you are.
Sarge: I am constantly in the mode to help others and still deal with my own addiction. I am funny when it’s time to be … like at night. I am not on all the time. I have a calling to be useful. I am a confluence of professional substance abuse clinician and comedian. My view of life is to use humor.
Jaffe: What can you uniquely share about overcoming addiction?
Sarge: It’s like overcoming cancer in many ways. Addiction tendency is in some people’s DNA. It is not cultural. It strikes all economic strata. I use mentorship and peer counseling to be most effective. My unique approach is using humor to gain trust. I go into prisons, make documentaries, read, consult with doctors and mental health commissions, speak at events as a keynoter. I am feverishly in the business of helping those with substance abuse.
Jaffe: How do you approach working with today’s youth?
Sarge: Very tough, entitled generation. They have no fear or respect for authority figures. They have an F-you attitude toward a cop, a judge, a policeman. They are riddled with anxiety, addiction towards technology and cellphones. I have to use a newer approach, that’s for sure. It’s healthy to have authority figures.
Jaffe: You went to Emory University in Atlanta. How did that work out
Sarge: I had never been to a cold climate but was struck with Atlanta’s beauty. I had also been only exposed previously to an all-boys prep school environment. Looking through my experienced adult lens now, Emory was where I began drinking. It helped me with my social fear. I was thinking about being an artist or performer when everyone else was pre-law, pre-med. There were a lot of suicides, pressure, tests and the Olympic bombing.
Jaffe: How do you practice Judaism now?
Sarge: I am spiritual and cultural. I appear for Hadassah, many Jewish Federations, Chabad recovery centers, philanthropic appearances like bond dinners and galas. About 70 percent of what I do is Jewish-related. I just came from a seven-city whirlwind tour of Israel.
Laughing With Sarge
Here’s a sample of the humor you can expect when Sarge (Steve Pickman) appears at the Book Festival of the Marcus JCC:
- “The Jewish part of me doesn’t work on Shabbos, and the black part tries not to work the other six days.”
- “I went to visit my Jewish parents the other day. I do this whenever my self-esteem is too high.”
- “I’m black and Jewish. I hire myself to clean my own house. … I’m a criminal and my own defense attorney.”