At 85, Jerry Farber Still Has the Last Laugh
His birthday party at the Red Light Cafe raises $15,000 for David Staton, an ailing performer.
It was standing room only and even very little of that as Jerry Farber’s many friends packed the Red Light Cafe near Piedmont Park to celebrate his 85th birthday. Despite his advancing years, the tall, lanky funnyman has lost none of his talent to keep his audience laughing, with his penchant for rapid fire, well timed and timely humor.
The organizer of the evening, Howard Osofsky, gave Farber a gentle, good-natured ribbing before introducing him to the crowd. He reminded them that when Farber ran for Atlanta mayor in 1989, he wasn’t even registered to vote. His political pollster reminded the comedian that he had a recognition problem. Too many people, he said, knew him.
He may have been right because in that election he only received 2,100 votes, far behind the landslide winner Maynard Jackson, but just a few votes ahead of the other runners-up. They included, according to Osofsky a used car salesman, an Eastern Airlines flight attendant, and an unemployed dishwasher. But if his popularity with voters was questionable back then, there was no doubt that during this big 85th birthday party, that Jerry Farber was loved.
Atlanta city councilwoman Mary Norwood read an official government proclamation recognizing him as “Atlanta’s Ambassador of mirth, music and storytelling and for over six decades as an acclaimed and recognized treasure.” It went on to recount his selection as a three-time local winner of comedian of the year and his career as a longtime fixture at numerous Atlanta nightspots, including his own comedy club on Pharr Road in Buckhead.
A letter of appreciation was read from United States Sen. Jon Ossoff and he received a framed, hand-crafted laser carving of his name on black marble surmounted by a large and very imposing star.
There was a full evening of entertainment that included Sherri Winklemann doing her Marilyn Monroe impression of “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” to a very appreciative Farber. Also among the many performers during the evening was Rabbi Micah Lapidus, who teaches music at The Davis Academy. He has been a frequent performer at Neranenah, the Atlanta Jewish music festival.
Planning for the event, which began over three months ago, included a benefit for David Staton, a well-known, 55-year-old song writer and performer who has been waging a serious battle with a stage 3 cancer diagnosis. The evening, which featured an auction of an autographed guitar by Nashville star Wynonna Judd, raised more than $15,000 toward Staton’s medical bills.
Farber’s idea of celebrating his birthday over the years to raise money for those in need was something he said he learned from his parents as he was growing up in Greensboro, N.C. He pointed out that they always had the familiar blue and white metal box from the Jewish National Fund in the house. On their birthdays, they didn’t open presents, they donated money to those less fortunate than themselves. As Farber has grown older, he has come to fully appreciate that lesson.
“It makes you grateful to be healthy, even in my 80s, to be able to lend a helping hand. Part of that is because so many friends during my rough years didn’t leave me. They stayed around to help, and I needed help and so I guess that’s why I feel it’s so important to give back.”
A short film about Jerry’s later years was screened seven years ago at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. In the production he reflected on the ups and downs of his life, that included in his worst moments a raging gambling addiction that almost destroyed him. But in his 85 years, he has always had the ability to come back for the last laugh. He did again on his birthday at the Red Light Cafe.
Much of that resilience he credits to his ability to laugh at himself. It’s been a gift that has allowed him to reach across the footlights and touch an audience with his humor. Not only to help them laugh at life’s challenges but, as Farber says, to regain the strength he also needed to survive all these years.
For more information about the Red Light Cafe, visit www.restaurantji.com/ga/atlanta/red-light-cafe-/