Comic Sarge is in charge at Campaign opener
By Masada Siegel, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
Performers are ultimately storytellers, weaving a tale, expressing emotions, creating joy. They can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Sarge — a comedian, singer and pianist with a story to tell — will perform at the 2012 United Jewish Campaign Opening Gala on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Engineers Club in downtown Dayton.
A few years ago, when he was performing on an Alaskan cruise, in the audience for one of his shows were members of Dayton’s Bettman family. Todd Bettman, now vice chair of Dayton’s United Jewish Campaign, asked Sarge if he would be interested in performing in Dayton.
“It took a few years to make it happen but I am really excited to come perform, especially since I have never been to Dayton,” Sarge says.
Though his aim is to make just about anyone smile, Sarge wasn’t always happy himself. It took time for him to find his place in entertainment and in the world.
Adopted as a baby and raised on Long Island in a Jewish household, Sarge knew he had a talent for music but wasn’t sure where he fit in. As an adult he learned his biological background: a Jewish mother and an African-American father.
“When I was 6, I saw The Sound of Music, came home and could play the music by ear,” he says. “I had never touched a piano before. My parents took me to Juilliard to figure out my gift. But I never used the piano ‘til I became an entertainer, which was in 1992 when I started working in comedy when I was 29 years old.”
While his talent was strong, his self-esteem was not. It led him down a path of self-destruction: from drinking to drugs, to even theft and homelessness.
One morning, a voice in his head said it was enough: it was time to quit drinking, drugs, everything negative and find his life’s mission.
“Inside of every addict is a voice and the voice says I can’t keep doing this,” he says. “I have to stop doing this. That voice is the one that gets you into recovery. If you are given the grace of God, that voice wins. Sometimes that voice comes into someone mortal who says, ‘Can I help you?’ Then there is a window of opportunity to help.”
Comedy has taken him from the clubs in New York to six seasons for a cruise line.
“It felt great, I knew what I was doing,” he says, “and I had found the place I belonged, the stage. One night an agent got in touch with me and that was the beginning and I started touring. My career has taken me from small clubs to 3,500-seat venues to Radio City Music Hall. ”
Through his life’s experiences of hardship and joyous times, Sarge believes that he has a calling of sorts, a mission of how to use his talents.
“I found my place in this world: of being of service to others, to bring joy into their lives.”
Even greater success has also knocked on Sarge’s door. “This year, I experienced the most incredible break when I did a benefit show in Los Angeles. Garry Marshall was at the show. I was hoping to meet him especially as I saw him laughing. I spoke with the organizers and sent him a note.”
A week later, Marshall called Sarge. He had written a part for him in a new film he was working on called New Year’s Eve.
Marshall is the director, writer and producer of hit television shows and movies including Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries.
“I saw him at an event and he was one of the entertainers,” Marshall says. “I had never heard of him before but wrote down his name and said, ‘let’s get him a part.’”
“He’s funny and brought a lot of humor to the set,” Marshall says. “He was very entertaining. I try to help those people who have had a hard journey through life.
Sarge has had a tough road and now he’s doing great. He has a wife and child. He’s a together guy now and when you do a film, you spend time and money and need to work with good people.”
Sarge was on set working with Jon Bon Jovi, Robert DeNiro, Halle Berry, Ashton Kutcher and Hillary Swank. New Year’s Eve opens in December.
“Life is all about forgiving yourself for being human, for making mistakes,” Sarge says. “People will disappoint you, but forgiving is the answer. I can’t walk around angry for 10 minutes — you have to forgive.”
Gala co-chairs are Melissa Sweeny and Dan Sweeny. Melinda Doner is chair of the United Jewish Campaign and Dr. Martin Jacobs is chair of the Cultural Arts and Book Festival. Attendees will be asked to make their pledges to the Jewish Federation’s 2012 United Jewish Campaign, which helps meet the needs of Jews in Dayton, Israel, and worldwide.
Sarge will perform at the 2012 United Jewish Campaign Opening Gala on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Engineers Club, 110 E. Monument Ave. The program is also the kickoff of the DJCC’s 2011 Cultural Arts and Book Fair. Tickets are $18 general, $72 reserved, $10 student. Call Alisa Thomas at the Jewish Federation, 853-0372.