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Steve Marshall Unplugged

Comedian Steve Marshall's amped performances don't require a microphone, creating an acoustic set that brings him closer to his audience.

by Chuck king

DELRAY BEACH – The microphone proved unnecessary.

The spotlight, something to be avoided.

Steve Marshall wasn’t interested in delivering the kind of set an audience expects from a stand-up comedian. At times, he almost got lost within that audience.

Marshall never really approached the microphone during Tuesday’s hour-long set at Delray Beach’s Turtle Taveern, yet no one complained.

Wearing a black Puma sneakers, black jeans, and a black t-shirt with “Brooklyn” emblazoned in a script font resembling a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, the New York native with an accounting degree darted from one dark table to another, working the crowd like a politician soliciting votes. Handshakes, high fives and smiles were abundant – both from the audience and Marshall himself.

“It’s not a gimmick, I just enjoy it better,” Marshall said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s just like, if somebody’s electric and they go acoustic. I just like it better like that.”

A veteran comedian, Marshall’s act didn’t always look this way. For more than two decades he performed like a traditional stand-up comedian. He climbed onto the stage, stepped into the spotlight, grabbed the microphone, and delivered his jokes.

That started to change about six years ago during a private show in Florida. Upon introduction, Marshall walked from the back of the room to the stage, stopping to greet audience members on the way.

“That was the beginning of it,” Marshall said. “And I kind of did my first five or 10 minutes in the audience and then I went on stage. And then, I went back to New York, and it felt so comfortable. Being in the audience felt so comfortable. I said, let me see if I can try it again.”

Eventually Marshall realized he didn’t need the microphone. The audiences seemed receptive to his quirkiness. And Marshall felt comfortable as a man of the people, with the people.

“I started not using a microphone, and I started doing my whole show in the crowd, and people really liked it,” Marshall said. “And I found that I was better able to hear myself and hear myself more authentically and I could modulate my voice better when I was not amplified.”

Marshall’s act is sometimes raunchy. It’s definitely not woke.


The acoustic approach lends itself to crowd work and quick wit.

Marshall carries with him several tattered notebooks containing jokes he’s written throughout the years, but he estimated improvising almost half of Tuesday’s set.

His voice carried easily throughout the Turtle Tavern without seeming forced. Marshall didn’t yell, but rather projected, like a Broadway actor would.

“It’s like Muhammad Ali,” said Marshall, who invoked boxing metaphors multiple times to describe his comedic style and perfromance. “When you watch Muhammad Ali throw punches, right, he’s relaxed. But those punches can knock you out. The thing is, I have a great ability to remain relaxed even though my voice is picking up in volume.”

Marshall’s crowd interaction didn’t stop with the final punchline. Marshall’s dinner sat cold and lonely nearly a hour after arriving at his table while the comedian shook hands and posed for pictures with anyone who wanted to talk.

Tuesday’s Turtle Tavern performance launched a busy South Florida week for Marshall. He performed at Tavolinos on Wednesday and had a private gig on Thursday. Friday and Saturday night’s Marshall takes the stage at the Boca Black Box.

Though that room is significantly larger than the Turtle, Marshall pledges to continue performing sans microphone. Why?

Back to boxing,

“When you look at [former title holder Floyd] Mayweather, he’s more of a defensive boxer,” Marshall said. “When you look at Tyson. He’s more of a knockout boxer. They say in boxing, style makes the fighter. Well, I think the same thing with a comedian – style makes the comedian. Not the content, the style. What fits me best is without a microphone, without being tied down on a microphone cord, which makes me feel like I’m a dog on a chain. I have to feel free and, also, I really enjoy people. And I want to get close to people.”

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