“Knock ’em dead.” It’s a phrase often said to comedians before they go on stage. To senior stand-up comic, Marty Ross, it’s an expression he avoids. After all, the 79-year old’s audiences are often senior citizens themselves. Ross, aka the “Wrinkled Rebel,” has been professionally performing stand-up since he retired 15 years ago after 47 years in the clothing industry. A former Manhattanite, he hung up the schmata gig and headed straight to comedy.
“At 65 I didn’t want to die, so it made sense to do something I always enjoyed, making people laugh,” he said. “Even in clothing sales, humor was a big part of my relationships with clients.”
Since 2004, the Santa Clarita resident’s popularity and stand-up dates have gone from a second wind to a hurricane – taking him to some of the region’s most popular clubs, including the Comedy Store, Improv, Ice House and Flappers. You’ll often find him at J.R.’s Comedy Club in Valencia (the site of his first performance following comedy workshops in his mid-60s), at the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club (both clubs owned by comic Randy Lubas and wife, actress Diana Angelina), in New York, Las Vegas and at senior centers and retirement complexes.
“I knew I had a good set if the paramedics didn’t show up,” teased Ross, whose sassy-droll humor is infused with delicious hints of Lenny Bruce, Rodney Dangerfield and the Grim Reaper.
Ross also writes, acts and was recently on a zany YouTube show produced by AARP called “Date My Grandpa,” which included his 19-year old grandson offering him insider advice on the three senior women vying for gramps’ selection. He also has a comedy CD -– its laugh-worthy title: “Wrinkled Rebel: Going Down Fighting, But First, a Nap.”
In June, he performed at a major fundraiser held at S. Mark Taper Foundation Amphitheater. It benefited Tree People, an L.A.-based non-profit that inspires residents to plant/care for trees and create more beautiful, water-secure communities.
“I’m all for ‘green,’ including pot,” Ross said grinning. “It helps with the aches and pains of being old. Of course, I also liked it 60 years ago. But now I think it’s keeping the glaucoma away.”
His ever-increasing cadre of comic pals includes veteran KNBC weatherman and longtime comedian Fritz Coleman, Helen Hong (whom Ross first met while performing at Caroline’s in New York), Armando Anto, Pauline Yasuda, Gali Kroup, Wendy Liebman and Cathy Ladman. Many have had HBO and Showtime specials, performed on the Tonight Show and creatively contributed to major television comedy shows and movies.
With appeal that reaches across generations, Ross is a master on the miseries of aging.
On seniors and sexuality, he says, “We all used to do it with the lights on. But not now. No one wants to see the other person.”
Having been married three times, the seasoned comic acknowledges that accepting your past is vital for growth at any age.
“Everything in each relationship was once wonderful, but like chewing gum, when the flavor’s gone, it’s over,” he said, soberly adding, “Each one taught me a lot about myself, and many times I caused my own problems.”
Older and wiser, Ross admits that some of those problems were rooted in childhood.
“I grew up with a very hot-tempered father, no male role model at all. Humor became a coping mechanism for me, as it is for many people. But I could also be moody. In getting older, I came to understand what I let happen as an adult,” he stated.
Humor also helped him cope with being the third shortest person in high school. At 5-feet, 5-inches tall, making others laugh made him feel accepted.
“Being short was a problem, plus I have always loved beautiful women, a lot of them were out of my league but somehow I married a couple of them,” he said.
A sense of humor also kept him (relatively) safe in school.
“Laughter kept me from being bullied and beaten up as mine was a very tough gang-riddled school with weapons like zip guns made from car antennas, switchblades and gravity knives, brass knuckles and 45-caliber handguns,” Ross recalled.
With two daughters, Stacey and Lore, grandsons Matt and Jaden, and granddaughter, Michelle, Ross is proud of his loving brood, one that his mother, who died just before her 101stbirthday, helped foster.
“She taught me about unconditional love and kindness,” he said. “Everyone loved her. She was the first Jewish saint -– always accepting of others and non-judgmental. She also loved my wives.”
Buying SCV horse property brought equestrian Ross and his kin to this community in 1988. Saugus is where the single senior lives today. Away from the lights, audiences and everyday stresses of life, Ross nurtures his spiritual side with meditation and frequent visits to the Self-Realization Fellowship Shrine in Pacific Palisades.
“I feel peaceful when I go there, and I always find something I need to know in life,” he said of the contemplative garden.
Excitedly facing 80 candles on his next birthday cake, Ross plans to keep inspiring seniors through stand-up, laughter and self-acceptance.
He urges everyone to embrace age with a positive attitude while staying in the now.
“Don’t let pain or the past hold you down, don’t let stagnation set in,” he said. “Life is not over, and you need to keep moving forward doing things you love and loving the people who love you back.”