Twenty years ago, Jimmy Tingle shifted his career into DIY mode when he rented out the Hasty Pudding Theatre for an extended run of his comic one-man show. He has followed that path ever since, taking on the financial risk and responsibility of running the house — almost exclusively in New England — including a five-year stint as proprietor of Jimmy Tingle’s Off-Broadway Theater in Davis Square, Somerville. When he plays New Year’s Eve at the Wilbur, that’s going to change.
It’s unusual, Tingle notes in a telephone interview, for a comedian to rent a space to put on his or her own show. That business is usually handled by bookers or producers. Tingle took the initiative so he could develop the show he wanted to see and for a bigger stage. “By doing it yourself and being your own producer, it just gave you the freedom to do things,” he says. “If I had to wait for a producer for that to happen, I probably never would have gotten into that theater.”
Tingle, 60, is still working social media and promoting the show. But for the most part he’s just the talent for the Wilbur gig. He mainly has to worry about being funny. “It’s great to be working at the Wilbur because they just do so much and that’s all they do, they’re a producing house,” he says. “Hopefully it’ll lead to other places where you just go in and do your thing, you don’t have to worry about everything else.”
It would be hard to imagine Boston comedy without Tingle. The Cambridge native has been a fixture since the much ballyhooed comedy boom of the ’80s. And he has stuck close to home in large part for domestic reasons. “I never really wanted to be on the road while we’re starting a family,” says Tingle. “I didn’t want my wife to be a single parent. And this is such a great area for what I do. There’s millions of people in this Greater Boston area. And it’s just been a great place to perform, work. The sensibilities of the people that live here, we have very similar sensibilities. So it was easy and it was comfortable, and it is comfortable to stay.”
Tingle and his wife, Catherine, celebrated their 20th anniversary in November, and just sent their son, Seamus, to college. He and his wife are empty nesters, Tingle notes, which gives him more freedom to expand his range in 2016. “I hope to be traveling more,” he says.
To that end, Tingle has been getting advice from former Boston producer Barry Katz, who worked with a slew of well-known comedians, including Dane Cook, Bill Burr, and Louis C.K., early in their careers. Tingle was scheduled to head to Los Angeles the day after he spoke with the Globe to be a guest on Katz’s podcast, “Industry Standard,” and Jay Mohr’s “Mohr Stories.” Tingle did a handful of podcasts under his “Humor for Humanity” banner this year, some of which have not yet aired. He’ll bring that back in 2016. “I’m interested in utilizing the technology that’s available to do my own thing,” says Tingle, “and trying to go to another level of commitment in terms of that.”
Podcasting takes some getting used to for a comedian conditioned to pull laughter from a live audience. The Humor for Humanity mission statement is “more than entertainment — raising spirits, funds, and awareness for nonprofits, charities, and social causes.” That goes for the podcast as well as the live shows (part of the proceeds for the Wilbur show will go to Globe Santa). That can be a hard balance to strike on a podcast when you’re talking about serious subjects with guests from food pantries or the Red Cross. “I forget, oh yeah, it’s ‘Humor for Humanity,’ ” he says. “That’s kind of the needle I’m trying to thread there. How to be consistent with the entertainment part as well as the content part.”
Tingle won’t be ignoring his local roots. A lot of his work live and with the podcast will benefit New England-based organizations. But he does want the podcast to have more of a national appeal eventually. He compares developing a podcast to paying dues as a local comic. “You don’t develop, really, onstage in LA or New York,” he says. “You develop someplace regionally where you can experiment and practice and get your sea legs. Then you go to New York or LA.”
JIMMY TINGLE! Humor for Humanity
At the Wilbur Theatre, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $35-$59. 617-248-9700, www.thewilbur.comNick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.