If Sam Massell is the Mayor of Buckhead, then Jerry Farber is the Court Jester.
Farber’s tenure as a comedian/pianist/club owner/impresario in Buckhead and Sandy Springs goes back almost 50 years.
And some of his jokes are even older than that.
“I’ve got to warn you that Jerry does a lot of adult humor,” deadpans his friend Lew “Reg” Regenstein, who will be among those “roasting” Farber at his sold-out 75th birthday party on Saturday, March 2. “All of his jokes are over 21 years old.”
Hear that rim-shot? It’s part of the Jerry Farber soundtrack. Even during a relaxed breakfast at Java Jive on Ponce De Leon, Farber is still on. One expects to hear a ghostly drummer somewhere punctuating his one-liners.
As he prepares for a meal of eggs-in-frames, he lays out a colorful row of vitamin pills, intended to stave off the insults of time.
“I take E, B, D and C,” he says about his diet supplements, “and then I take a green one, to direct all the traffic.”
Farber is getting older, and that’s no joke. Sensing his own mortality, he says he’s been reading the Old Testament, the Torah and certain Buddhist texts, because he’s “cramming for finals.”
Certainly his inquisitors at the roast, including Massell, Regenstein and CNN reporter Art Harris, will harp on his advanced years during the fund-raiser, which will take place at the small Buckhead club called Jerry Farber’s Side Door, in a corner of Buckhead’s venerable Landmark Diner.
The roast benefits the Georgia Center for Humane Education, an animal advocacy group dedicated to teaching respect for animals and combating animal cruelty.
Being kind to animals is a natural for Farber, who lives with a parrot, a dog, a monkey and the occasional human.
What is significant about this milestone is that Jerry Farber, a sort of human Rosetta Stone of Atlanta entertainment, is still here.
From where he’s sitting, stirring his coffee, he can point his finger across Ponce De Leon at the Clermont Motor Hotel, and the beginning of his career as a pianist. He played in the Jungle Room, which would later become the much-storied strip club, the Clermont Lounge, home of beer-can-crushing Blondie.
In the 1970s he was a regular in the lounge at The Lark and The Dove in Sandy Springs, and more comedian than pianist. In the 1980s he had his own club on Pharr Road in Buckhead, where many Atlanta comedians cut their teeth, including Jeff Foxworthy and Brett Butler.
He was part of an era when music and comedy clubs could be anchored by a single personality — Tom Mullica at Tomfoolery, Cy Timmons at Care Erewhon — and Farber participated in the transformation of Buckhead from charming village to riproaring, all-hours party spot.
“To me it was marvelous,” says Farber. “Then it became like a tumor.”
Before Buckhead exploded, Farber’s club went kaput. He picked himself up, and went on the road, cultivating corporate gigs, and appearing regularly at The Punchline. Married several times, it took his most recent union, in 2000, to Roberta “Rocky” Rochman, and the birth of their child, Joshua, to accomplish what the years could not.
“I grew up,” says Farber of the impact of fatherhood. “I started looking for insurance. I bargained with The Deity for five more good years.”
Though she and Farber divorced after a short time, he turned out to be a good father, Rochman said. “He is the dad I could only hope for for Joshua,” she said.
To keep his side of the bargain with The Deity, Farber started drinking wheat germ and cranberry smoothies. Farber is as skinny as he ever was, albeit with a few more wrinkles and a little less hair. (He says he’s been diagnosed with DTS, or Diminishing Tush Syndrome.)
Josh is now 13 and, according to Rochman, a natural singer and comedian. “I’m frightened to say that he gets up on stage and he’s pretty good at it.”
Farber’s influence on the young began at his old club, where he used to conduct comedy master classes. He invites young comedians to the Side Door, and Art Harris’ son Josh Harris performed there on a recent Thursday to a small crowd that included Chuck Wolf, founder of Wolf Camera and Steve Selig, former president of the Atlanta Jewish Federation.
“He’s the most nurturing comedic figure I’ve ever known,” said the younger Harris. “So much of my style has developed under his guidance.”
Why does Farber help out young people?
“I think he wants to steal our girls,” said Harris.
Jerry Farber’s Saturday roast is sold out. For more information: 770-738-3000; jerryfarberssidedoor.squarespace.com/ The show benefits the Georgia Center for Humane Education. For more information: www.human-animalbond.org/