WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Didja’ hear the one about the 11-year-old comic?
He just broke up with his girlfriend and they went their separate ways. Actually, they just got different teachers.
But seriously, folks …
Sean Smith could very well become America’s next big funnyman. Nevermind that he’s only 4-foot-10 with a cherubic face. The sixth-grader has been cracking jokes almost since he learned how to talk. He’s come a long way since those early days when timing came naturally, but the words got in the way.
Today, with pithy one-liners about mean nuns, older girls, his Irish heritage and the trials of growing up, Sean would be right at home in any comedy club – if only Mom didn’t sweat the small stuff, like letting him hang out with seasoned funnymen when he could be studying the three R’s.
And Sean can hang. Just check out his repertoire:
“I’m Irish, and my skin’s so fair, I get sunburned in a full moon.”
“The other day, my teacher took me out of my class and she says, ‘Sean, the classroom is no place to be a comedian.’ I said, ‘You’re not gonna’ believe this, but that’s what the priest said to me in the confessional.’ “
Don’t get him started on the tribulations of childhood.
“I’m dating now, but it’s kinda’ hard to meet girls when you aren’t allowed to cross the street. No, actually, I’ve got a girlfriend, and you should see her. She’s in fifth grade, but she’s got the body of a seventh-grader.”
Sean, a redhead with mischief written all over his freckled face, got his start two years ago at a Jersey shore comedy club. Visiting Sea Isle City with his family, he was walking past Coffee.Comedy when he noticed familiar names on the marquee.
He persuaded his mother to take him inside. Philadelphia comic Joey Callahan was one of the performers.
“There was this little boy there with his mother, sitting on the edge of his seat, hanging on my every word,” said Callahan. “I saw myself in him, so I said come next week and we’ll throw you on stage.”
Sean quickly became a favorite of audiences and other funnymen.
“His first night, he came on in a blue suit, white shirt and a red tie,” said club owner Steve Trevelise. “He looks at the audience and says, ‘I bet you’re wondering why I’m dressed this way. It’s because I made my First Communion today. And I’m Jewish.’ “
It got better.
“I’ve got a girlfriend now. She looks like my Mom. She talks like my Mom. She acts like my Mom. My Dad hates her.”
After working the club’s Wednesday night “family night” through that summer, Sean appeared on sports radio station WIP in Philadelphia and another station’s morning show, achieving a measure of regional fame.
He became the regular Wednesday night emcee at Coffee.Comedy this year, sometimes enduring ribbing from his fellow comics.
“He’s 11 years old!” said Paul Lyons, after being introduced by Sean one night. “I’ve got jokes older than that!”
But Sean’s maturity – and much of his comedy – belies his age. His material isn’t kid’s stuff, even if it’s about being a kid.
“It’s easy to break up with a girl. You play hide and seek, but you just don’t go after her.”
Sean, who writes some of his own material but gets some from his older mentors, works mostly church fund-raisers and coffeehouses.
His mother, Moira, loves him dearly, but doesn’t want him hanging around comedy clubs at such a tender age. She’s not surprised by his comic aspirations.
“When he was very young, he’d make jokes, but they didn’t make any sense,” she said. “He was learning how to talk and how to make jokes at the same time. He had the timing down, but not the words. Getting people to laugh, that was always his goal.”
Sean, who attends Haddonfield Friends School, plays guitar, bowls and skateboards, and has appeared in summer theater stage productions. He is second soprano in the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Boy Choir.
But he likes stand-up the best.
He counts Chris Farley, Rodney Dangerfield, Mad magazine and “Saturday Night Live” among his comic influences, and has a bedroom bookshelf packed with titles like “How to Be a Working Comic” and “Successful Stand-up Comedy.”
When Dangerfield died, Sean came up with a tribute using the bug-eyed comic’s trademarked shtick – but his own material.
“I get no respect. The other day, I accused a kid of copying off my test. He says, ‘Why would I copy off your test? I can get my own F.’ “
What impresses older comics most is Sean’s moxie.
“He’s fearless,” said Callahan. “He walks on stage with no fear, not an ounce of hesitation or doubt. He just glides when he gets up there.”
For his part, Sean is in no rush to be an adult.
“Once I get older, I’m going to go to college,” he said. “When I get out, I’d like to make comedy a full-time job. I just love making people laugh, to have someone smile at me and think I’m funny.”