If you’re a regular reader of the New Paltz Times, you already know that Mark Sherman is a funny guy (as well as an insightful and very bright one). The newspaper has been publishing his humor column once or twice a month since 1984, and the series has developed a devoted following. These days, Sherman’s also a regular contributor to Psychology Today – mainly writing with as much scholarly seriousness as he can muster on gender issues, one of his fields of academic specialization, but sometimes tweaking one of his columns to examine the sillier aspects of human behavior.
Had you been a SUNY New Paltz student between 1970 and 1997, when he taught in the Department of Psychology, and happened to take or even sit in on one of his classes, you would also be highly cognizant of the fact that he has a natural gift for casting facts in a humorous light. Sherman’s teaching style was as entertaining as it was information-packed and thought-provoking, and even non-Psych majors like this correspondent lined up enthusiastically on enrollment day to take his courses.
If you’ve been around these parts a while, you may also be aware of Sherman as a gifted lyricist. In his teaching years, at times he would haul his guitar case to class and serenade his students with originals such as “Please, Professor” or “The Freudian Blues,” and he occasionally landed a booking in a local music or comedy club. Though he doesn’t “play out” much anymore, collections of his songs – the vast majority of them humorous, naturally, and more than a few scatological – are available in local shops on CD.
You may also have seen Sherman’s collection of 36 of his most-requested essays, Real Men Don’t Write Columns: A Psychologist’s Humorous Look at Men, Women, Family and Psychotherapy, in bookstores and gift shops in the New Paltz area. It was this volume, published in 2004, that led to him being invited (via a mutual friend in a writing group) to begin giving live readings of past columns at Mohonk Mountain House the following year. “Soon I was doing them 10 or 12 times a year,” he reports. “People seemed to enjoy them. That’s when I discovered that [my columns] were good when done orally.”
“I was already comfortable in front of groups, because of my teaching,” Sherman continues. “I began to be a little more dramatic when I read. I knew this wasn’t standup; I wasn’t going to be funny every minute. But I liked it better than working in comedy clubs, where the problem was alcohol. I have never been heckled at Mohonk.”
The Mohonk gigs still go on, but the entertainment world is changing along with evolving technology and the rising popularity of social media. So it was only a matter of time before someone suggested that Sherman take his motherlode of columns – numbering more than 700 by now – into the medium of live recording. His eldest son, Eric Sherman, who runs an audio production/postproduction studio in Burbank, California called Bang Zoom Entertainment, asked Mark if he had ever considered doing an audiobook or a podcast series.
“About a year ago, Eric started his own podcast, called The Strange Thing About…,” Mark relates. “He wanted to recapture something of what radio used to do, like Tales of Tomorrow or The Twilight Zone.” Sherman père began listening to podcasts and became a fan of Marc Maron’s WTF interview series. Then he tried taping low-tech home recordings of a few of his columns read aloud, and let his tech-savvy son critique them. The advice was good and the feedback encouraging.
Enter Jason Sarubbi, New Paltz-based bass-player, recording engineer and bandmate in the Trapps with Sean Schenker, who had worked with another of Sherman’s sons, Jonathan, in the band Mishap. “About one year ago, I began to record my columns at Jason Sarubbi’s Split Rock Studio,” Mark continues. “I want to give a shout-out to Jason. He’s been terrific…. What’s important to me is really good sound quality.” Sherman also spent some months researching online platforms, finally settling on Libsyn.
With at least 40 columns now in the can, the professor-turned-podcaster has finally gone public on the Internet:
As of Tuesday, Feb. 27, Sherman had just uploaded the third installment in his new series. He plans to release a new audio column each Monday, he says. The podcast is titled The Kvetching Professor, subtitled Taking a Break from Quality Time. You can listen at http://thekvetchingprofessor.libsyn.com or https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-kvetching-professor/id1350057982.
The first episode, “How to Attract Women,” was selected because it’s based on the Psychology Today article that has gotten Sherman the most online “hits” by far – often from readers who mistake it for a serious advice column rather than humor, he notes. Episode 2, “Idiot Moments,” consists of rueful recollections of foolish decisions made in childhood, while Episode 3, “The Third Gender,” bewails the inability of men in academia to be taken seriously as alpha males.
The core of each episode – which run about 15 minutes in length, appropriate for a between-task pick-me-up – is a reading of the actual column, more or less in its original form. The audio quality is excellent, and Sherman’s presentation clear and straightforward, with pauses for comic effect in the right places but a hint of the professorial manner still lingering. He gets to wing it a bit more in the introduction and signoff, which are punctuated by clips from his extensive musical archive.
Sarubbi is also helping him digitize his collection of past musical performances, recorded on reel-to-reel in the 1960s and on cassette in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so we may be hearing some new song collections released in the foreseeable future as well. “I have hours and hours of songs, some of which I didn’t even remember having written,” Sherman says. “The tapes had lasted surprisingly well.”
Is a second career in the works? In the gently neurotic manner that is characteristic of his approach to humor, Sherman waxes fretful about the fact that he’s not spending his retirement doing things to save the world, like some other people he knows. But soon his philosophical outlook takes an upturn: “Humor is one of the things that help us get through what we’re going through,” he says. “Maybe people who do humor are doing something really important, too.”
Mark Sherman’s live readings at Mohonk Mountain House are open to the general public by paying for a meal or spa treatment. Upcoming readings are scheduled for this Monday, March 26; Wednesday, April 25; and Monday, May 21. You can also follow him on Twitter at @profmarksherman for updates on new podcast releases.