Perhaps no comedian has benefitted more from promotional products than Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling.

After all, the 40-plus-year entertainer was invited to come on The Howard Stern Show in 1983 after shipping a promotional package of three albums, flyers, stickers and 8x10s to the eponymous shock jock – a grassroots marketing tactic that had already helped the Long Island native quickly carve out a niche in the New York comedy scene. By 1986, Martling became the head writer of the wildly popular radio show, playing an integral role in the controversial program’s meteoric rise in pop culture.

The raunchy comedian capitalized on the program’s 20 million daily listeners (at its peak) by having his contract guarantee multiple mentions of his stand-up shows and branded merchandise – T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, cassettes, video tapes, gadgets and more – throughout each episode. Ahead of his time, Martling understood the power of promo even though his fellow comedians and colleagues, including Stern, routinely roasted him for selling “tchotchkes.”

“You wouldn’t believe what I’d bring to gigs,” Martling says. “Folks couldn’t buy it fast enough. Sure, people would break my balls about it. ‘Jackie and the stupid mugs?’ But people cherished those things.”

Birth Of ‘The Joke Man’

In 1979, just a few months into his comedy career, the musician-turned-dirty joke teller launched a “dial-a-joke” telephone line: (516)-922-WINE, which is still in operation. To promote the free phone service, he gave out stickers with the number and the slogan “Use Your Finger!”

“They were ubiquitous,” Martling says. “The comics used to go wild because no matter where they went on the road, they’d see a sticker somewhere and it got to be very, very funny.”

As buzz about the phone line spread across the United States, Los Angeles-based disc jockey Rick Dees began playing the jokes on his syndicated radio show. Eventually, they became too dirty for the airwaves, so Dees requested cleaner jokes that he would pay for and use exclusively. As for their origin, Dees offered to credit a crazy dentist in Encino who goes into the closet and records jokes.

Ever the marketing maven, Martling realized that wacky character wouldn’t enhance his burgeoning career. So, Dees responded with a new moniker: Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling, the guy from New York who knows all the jokes in the world.

Thus, Martling’s brand was born.

“Rodney Dangerfield said Shecky Green was the funniest comedian ever, but he didn’t have an image,” Martling says. “Dean Martin was drunk, Jack Benny was cheap and Rodney got no respect. But all people could say was ‘Shecky was really funny.’ It’s not something you can take to the bank.”

Big Business

Martling leaned into the gimmick, ending his stand-up performances with “Stump The Joke Man,” a contest in which crowd members would recite the set-up of a joke and see if Martling knew the punchline.

If they somehow managed to pull off the impossible, they’d receive the ultimate prize: branded merch. “I figured I’d get a nice T-shirt made and put the dirty dial-a-joke number on the back,” says Martling, who always ordered from $2.95 Guys, a San Diego-based screen-printing shop.

“You become good friends with these people. I made sure it was a good product. Every time somebody wears that, they’re advertising me and the phone line, and they’re also bragging that they stumped me with a joke.”

After his commercials ran, Martling would receive a daily report from a telemarketing firm on how well merch and ticket sales had been that morning. More than 20 years later, he’s still mind blown at how many people agreed to an upsell, adding a T-shirt or mug to their cassette purchase.

“It was frightening the amount of money that came in,” he says. “Promotional products were invaluable.”

Life After Stern

Martling left The Howard Stern Show in 2001 after an impasse in contract negotiations. He recounts the now legendary showbiz story in his recently released documentary Joke Man and his 2017 autobiography The Joke Man: Bow To Stern.

  • From 2006 to 2014, he hosted Jackie’s Joke Hunton Sirius XM Satellite Radio.

Martling still performs stand-up comedy across the country. For a list of his upcoming shows, visit