It's Clean in Mayberry

A joke usually depends on an element of surprise, something that tacks left when you're expecting it to go right. An easy way to do that is through vulgarity, or an over-the-top stage presence. Comedian Jack Mayberry prefers the difficult road, relying instead on a restrained delivery and clever turns of phrase.

"Comedy is a trick. It's like substitution," Mayberry says. As one of his lines goes: "America, where anyone can be president, and therein lies the problem." That's the kind of wordplay Mayberry loves.

Best known for his big-eared Ross Perot impersonations on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Mayberry prefers to have fun with the West Texas sensibilities of his family. "My dad didn't wear a seat belt. He wanted to be thrown clear," his oft-used line goes. "To me, it was a joke ... and some years later, my dad had a car wreck, and they said if he had had his seat belt on, he would have been hurt. So the joke's on you."

The comedian also likes to recite his grandfather's catch-all solution for every problem: "Put them all in one place, and blow them the hell up." As the joke goes, Mayberry points out, "Well, they are in one place," to which his grandfather replies, "Well, blow them the hell up."

"Throw them clear, blow them the hell up -- that's very Texas," Mayberry says.

As a former KILT disc jockey (and at one point, Harrigan on the Hudson & Harrigan Show), Mayberry was able to do comedy on the air, though he could never tell if anyone was laughing. He transitioned into stand-up just as it was starting to take off in Houston in the '80s. His inoffensive act, however, prevented him from being considered one of the "Texas Outlaw Comics." Even now, with the increasingly lax standards of cable television, Mayberry proves that clean, subtle, intelligent humor can be funny -- and that may be the biggest surprise of all.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dylan Otto Krider