Tim Sample Kevin G. Sample photo

When it comes to Maine humor, there is only one person I think of: Tim Sample. He has represented our state on not only the local stage but the national stage as well with his “Postcards from Maine” segments that appeared on CBS News Sunday Morning from 1993 to 2004. He’s even had a cooking show on PBS. But aside from all that, Sample’s written and/or illustrated over a dozen books; narrated audio books by Robert McCloskey and Stephen King, and provided narration for the film documentary “From Stump to Ship.” I have chatted with him many times over the years and caught more than a few of his live performances where I joined the entire audience thoroughly enjoying his spot-on Down East stories, so when I discovered that he was heading back to the Waterville Opera House on the 25th of this month, reconnecting seemed to be in order; so I placed a call to him and spent the next 47 minutes getting caught up and reliving old times.

Sample: Mr. Clark!

Q: Mr. Sample!
Sample: How are you?

Q: Not too bad, and yourself?
Sample: Well, you know, we’re of a certain age where just being on the right side of the grass, enjoying the day and able to sit up and take nourishment is a positive thing.

Q: It certainly is — and I have been flashing back to sitting with you on those soda fountain stools in Barry’s Pharmacy in Pittsfield.
Sample: Oh, gosh — I still reference that sometimes in my monologue. I talk about how I always had to convince my wife that I was actually working when I was sitting around Barry’s Pharmacy listening to the gossip; I collected a lot of good lines from there over the years (chuckle).

Q: Well, in a way, you mentored me: I was illustrating my album review columns for The Morning Sentinel at the time and I really appreciated your suggestions. It’s been a long time since last we talked.
Sample: It has been a long time and it’s always good to hear from you.


Q: What are you up to nowadays?
Sample: This Sunday {Sept. 24} I’ll be doing the Common Ground Fair with Noel Stookey and David Mallett. Now, the first time I opened for Noel was in 1976 in May, I was 25 and Noel was 37 and now I’m 72 and Noel’s 85, I mean, it’s a bit amazing that all that stuff happened, I just feel a real sense of gratitude.

Q: Could we talk a little bit about your view of what’s happening in this country now? Does it impact your performances?
Sample: I don’t often use current events in my show and that’s part of the reason people of all different political, social and cultural stripes can access what I do because it’s about human nature, it’s not about current events or politics or culture.

Q: Are you doing a lot of shows now?
Sample: I am doing, I’m grateful to say, exactly as much performing as I want to do; I’m doing maybe 12 to 15 shows a year and about half of those shows are open to the public.

Q: Well, one of the performances coming up for you is the one on Oct. 25 at the Waterville Opera House.
Sample: It was Oct. 23rd or 26th, 1981, 42 years ago almost to the day, that I was at the Opera House; I have a photo of the poster on my website that has Marshall Dodge and I, “Sample & Dodge with special guest Jud Strunk.” We were ramping up for that, I knew Jud and Marshall didn’t know him. I prevailed upon Jud to do the show with us and we were all excited about it, and maybe three or four weeks before the show, Jud was killed in that plane crash. Dave Mallett came in and did the show, and we donated a portion of the proceeds to Jud’s family.

Q: I know that you have performed there many times, before that 1981 show and certainly after, but what can folks going there expect from this upcoming show?
Sample: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, what I do is informed by four-and-a-half decades of performing and recording and doing shows. The feedback that I’m getting from my audiences, and these are people that have been to my shows on and off for decades, is that they love what I’m doing now. It’s the same stuff: it’s Maine storytelling and I do a couple of songs, but I also shift gears a little bit and I talk a little bit about the history of storytelling and how it is a great natural resource and a great part of our cultural identity. It has themes that run like a connective thread through most of the generations …and my interpretation of Downeast Maine humor centers on human nature. A lot has changed in our culture but human nature has not changed at all.

Q: How do you see humor in the grand scale of things, just out of curiosity?
Sample: Humor is a great lubricant of difficulty, when you laugh, really laugh a heart-felt laugh, it releases endorphins.


Q: And that, in turn, will induce good feelings and positivity, right?
Sample: And there is so much cultural polarization around now that if you can get everyone in the audience laughing at the same thing and laughing at the same time in the same room, to me that’s powerful. And that’s kind of what I always look for: find a common thread that everyone, no matter what the age they are or what culture or what political perspective, can all laugh at at the same time, I know I’ve said something that is about the human culture and the human condition.

Q: Is there anything, Tim, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this column?
Sample: Well, you know what I’d really like to say is this, Lucky: these younger people in their 20s and 30s who come to my shows don’t have any idea what it’s like to sit for an hour or an hour-and-a-half through a monologue, and they’re laughing, and there’s no F-bombs and there’s no targeting of racial, ethnic or cultural groups. So I say to folks, if you don’t know what that would look like, come on and find out!

Q: You make people laugh without offending people, what a bizarre concept in this age of shock comedy.
Sample: Yeah, I don’t swear and I don’t single out or mock this, that and the other group. It’s strange but it’s proved out to be a pretty effective professional strategy (laughter), and it’s what I’ve always done.

Q: And as long as you are rooted to that, you’re going to be fine.
Sample: That’s right — that’s right, yeah! (More laughter)

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at luckyc@myfairpoint.net if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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