The Amish comic and the iPhone

Raymond the Amish Comic that could go with my Monday column, drubi18 - in front of the venue where he's playing, is by Daniel Rubin
Raymond the Amish Comic that could go with my Monday column, drubi18 - in front of the venue where he's playing, is by Daniel Rubin
Posted: June 19, 2012

Raymond the Amish Comic said to look for him outside the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville.

A mop of shaggy hair. A long, graying beard that began at the jaw. And a Saab 900.

"You weren't expecting a horse and buggy were you?" he asked.

Raymond is 54, and in recovery after growing up Amish on a farm in Blue Ball, Lancaster County. His parents died when he was a boy. He was never baptized, "so I never signed the deal," he says. "I never took the oath. So I'm really not shunned. I'm technically a lost soul. Like you."

Occasionally, someone will wander into his hour of profane observational comedy and want to hear jokes about farming. He'll throw one or two in, if pushed.

"What I really like to talk about is technology," he says. "I'm completely obsessed with it." I wanted to meet him when I saw the promotional photo he was sending around to gin up publicity for his gig on Thursday at P?J Ryan's Pub in Phoenixville. He's pictured in a plain black suit and hat, holding an iPhone with the symbol for Slow Moving Vehicle on its screen.

Raymond is a tangle of contradictions. His looks could place him in the agrarian 18th century, yet he's on top of world events and masters social media, with a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account @amishcomic.

When I ask him if he has any rivals, he's reminded of a joke.

"Aren't you that Amish comic?"

"No, it must have been the other one."

He has never played Phoenixville before and likes a new town. Saturday morning, we sat down for breakfast at Nudy's Cafe, where he scoured the menu of peach French toast and crab benedict for something to eat.

"I'm going Dutch on you," he told the waiter. "I'd like some normal pancakes. This is way too fancy."

Over a plain stack, he told his story — how he moved to the Lehigh Valley when he was 13, how he has always felt a little detached from the way of his fathers. "The coming-out process started with me at an early age. I was out by 14. I had some family that were out. I didn't pack up and leave. The world sort of took me."

When Amish teens come of age, there's a rite-of-passage ritual, he said, called rumspringa, from the Pennsylvania Dutch word for jumping around. "They let you run a little wild. You hide blue jeans and T-shirts in the woods and you go out drinking and hopefully get it all out of your system."

He didn't.

"I'm celebrating my 38th anniversary year of rumspringa," he said. He'd hit 30, and was working in a printing shop in Emmaus when his comedy career started out of a need to be happy.

The shop "was a miserable place," he said. "Lots of tension. I don't like tension. I want everything to be like Mary Poppins."

He was the coworker who cracked jokes to lighten the mood. One day, a friend called in to a local radio station, WZZO, and handed Raymond the phone. He started riffing. He kept calling in. The hosts kept putting him on the air.

After a few months, he showed up bearing a funnel cake his wife had baked in the shape of the station's call letters.

"The hosts were shocked I wasn't this old guy they pictured."

Someone at the radio station had a connection at a comedy club. They asked if he could work up five minutes of material.

"Great. When?" he asked.

"Tomorrow night."

And so he went on stage. People laughed. He kept adding bits, some about growing up Amish, some about the weirdness of the modern world, all delivered in a gruff voice, peppered with curse words. He worked so steadily over that Christmas, two sold-out shows a night, that he turned down his boss' request that he come in from vacation to print some jackets. When he returned after New Year's, he got fired from his day job. He hasn't had to hold one since.

For most of his 21 years as a comic, he's been his own agent and publicist. He has shot TV ads for car dealers and has a cameo in Tim Allen's movie For Richer or Poorer. He did well enough on America's Got Talent that he scored a running engagement in New York City, in a live version of The Gong Show.

He played the Unknown Comic — so unknown he didn't need to wear a bag over his head.

"I don't know when I'm being funny," he said. "That's probably why I'm not famous yet."

We were out of time. He had to go pick up his daughter, who was rehearsing a play in town. He describes his wife and daughter as "city people." He doesn't like to give their last names, to shield them from attention. He left me with an Amish joke.

"How do you make an Amish woman happy?"

I shrugged.

"Two Mennonite."

Sounds funnier than it reads.

Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917, drubin@phillynews.com, or @danielrubin on Twitter.

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