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Funny Couple On Fair Oaks
By Karen Topakian
While traveling through Canada doing stand-up gigs in June of 1996, comedian Paul Jacobs arranged to have dinner with his friend Fran in Vancouver. Fran brought along a friend of hers, Loree Rose, a former stand-up comedian.
Rose and Jacobs really hit it off. They went out to dinner again -- just the two of them -- and again...and again. Jacobs extended his stay in Vancouver by nine days, but then he had to get back to the States. Once he'd returned to his Fair Oaks Street home in Noe Valley, however, he couldn't resist calling Rose to say he'd like to see her again.
"As my daughter put it," says Jacobs, referring to his grown daughter Rochelle, who also lives in Noe Valley, 'Let me get this straight, Dad, your second date was nine days long?'"
Jacobs began crossing the border every couple of weeks to see Rose. Then Rose came to San Francisco for a short visit in August. And in December "she moved down here for three months -- to clean my apartment," quips Jacobs.
Rose remembers being impressed by Jacobs even before she met him. "Fran said, 'Paul said he'd call at seven,' and I'm, like, 'Yeah right, seven on the wrong day!' That was usually my experience when a guy said he would call at seven -- it would be the wrong year or the wrong week or something. But Paul actually called at seven! I was really impressed. And there were a few things he said that kind of made me curious..."
"Like 'Will you marry me?'" interrupts Jacobs.
"Also," says Rose, not missing a beat, "he kept his mouth shut. I mean, he just said important things.... You know, he didn't ramble on about salmon or something dumb. Whatever he said touched me somewhere and was meaningful to me. And I was surprised because he was a guy. It's true. That wasn't my experience!"
Rose pauses, then adds, "One of the things he said to me was, 'Do you always laugh this much?' My heart went, Ohhh, that's so sweet. Yes, and don't bug me about it."
Jacobs didn't bug her. Instead he proposed marriage, she said yes, and they tied the knot on May 1 of last year.
Jacobs, who won the title of "Second-Funniest Person in New Jersey" in 1992, has performed everywhere from a converted luggage store on Market Street to the Punchline Comedy Club. He wasted no time incorporating the details of his new relationship into his act.
"I got married," he says, "because I needed new material."
"Each year before we make love, we sing both national anthems," he revealed to a Vancouver audience last fall. "There's always that independence versus togetherness issue because we're used to living alone. Last year we took a vacation in Hawaii, and we got separate rooms. Hers was on Maui. We want to build on that experience."
Rose, who was in the audience, says she cried like a baby, though on the audiotape of the performance you can hear her distinctive laugh.
Why the tears? "A lot of my friends were there, and I wasn't used to love being public -- it was always sort of a secret thing," she says. "And all of a sudden there was this man standing up there being really funny about our love. I was just so overwhelmed and touched that he would write it and do it in front of people."
Rose retired from stand-up comedy in 1996, just before she met Jacobs. But she relishes a few fond memories. During one performance at a recovery house for drug addicts, she did a routine that was sandwiched between a talk by a Vancouver Sun columnist and a presentation by the local coroner. "I opened for the coroner," she says with a grin. "That was my favorite part."
Despite the fun she had at this event, Rose says, only one person approached her afterward, and that was only to say, "My mum thought you were funny."
"I stopped after that," says Rose. "It was kind of over -- like bad sex."
It was great getting all that attention up on a stage, Rose recalls, and she loved making people laugh, but writing and performing comedy was no easy task.
"I had a lot of trouble not being able to stand up and tell the truth," she says. "You have to really exaggerate on stage, and that's hard. Even though I do exaggerate in my real life, [on stage] you have to almost make up stuff, and you have to pretend it's really you."
At one point, Rose attempted to do a comedy spot about her former in-laws, each of whom weighed "around 500 pounds. It was actually a test for me to see whether I could stand up and talk about people who were that big -- and still get laughs. But because I wasn't big myself, it didn't work."
She takes a moment to reminisce about those Fellini-esque Sunday dinners with her ex-husband's family, where marshmallows floated in huge mounds of jello and the meals started with someone yelling "Go!": "They'd stand up and grab food onto their plates and just stuff it into their mouths, and then they'd sit back and say, 'Uhh, that only took 10 minutes. We're full. Let's go into the living room.'
"Aunt Minnie, she had a big bra, a DD cup," Rose continues. "She would hang it out on the line, and little birds would go in there and make their nests...."
These days, Rose spreads her humor amongst coworkers and customers at Flax, the art supply store where she holds a regular day job. Before this, she did social service work as an advocate for the poor and disabled. The job sometimes required working with criminals, which Rose was glad to do. "If you're in jail, not a lot is funny," she observes. "And that's one of my things -- making people who maybe don't laugh, laugh."
She used to joke around with the prisoners, making comments such as, "It's good to have a captive audience." And she admits she usually felt more comfortable walking into a maximum security prison "than walking into a comedy club where people expected to laugh."
"I thought you weren't going to say how we really met!" interjects Jacobs, who is currently channeling most of his humor into a screenplay. "It's a dark, biting, black comedy," he says, "dealing with corruption in a nonprofit."
When not writing the screenplay, Jacobs sometimes thinks about leaving the world of stand-up in favor of entertaining accountants or lawyers when they need someone to lighten up their dreary business functions. This would mesh well with the work he does as an educational testing consultant.
"I'm often used as a consultant, supposedly because I have expertise in educational testing," he says. "But the reality is, I'm a facilitator who makes people laugh. People with different theoretical or philosophical points of view may hate each other, and I make them laugh. They seem happy, and they think I know something. And if I do it on the East Coast, I've come from 3,000 miles away, so I'm a valuable consultant."
Looking back over all his years as a comedian, Jacobs notes how he once used comedy to distance himself from other people. "I wanted to be that funny person at the party, the one everybody paid attention to. But when I got there, it was empty. It was an avoidance of intimacy." When he finally realized this, "it was a revelation to me."
"I was the same way at parties," chimes in Rose, "but now I just go to sleep at nine. By the time the party starts I'm in bed. It's not a problem."
"If you're hosting the party it is," her husband teases.
Some people might be daunted by the challenge of starting a new relationship, as Jacobs and Rose did, at the relatively late ages of 61 and 49 -- especially if one partner had to emigrate from another country. But for these two, a shared sense of humor keeps molehills from turning into mountains.
And fortunately, Rose loves her new American home in Noe Valley. She particularly likes passing by Gladrags clothing store when strolling along 24th Street. "I don't even have to go in," she says. "I just like walking by and having that smell of the candles or whatever it is they have in there. Oh God I love that."
The couple also enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing the same people every day in front of Martha's Coffee. "There's this bench of regular faces that you see even if you don't know who they are," says Rose. "You say oh yeah, like, everything is in its place."