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Eddie Ifft found roots of comedy at Aspinwall altar

| Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008

One of the first comedy venues for Eddie Ifft was St. Scholastica Church in Aspinwall. Parishioners who attended Mass there in the '80s might recall an altar boy who enjoyed milking the liturgy for laughs, so to speak.

"I used to wear the cassock," Ifft says. "I would get up on the altar. I found out if you stand on the fan that it blows up and looks like an Oompa Loompa or something. I would do it during Mass. I would look, and the entire congregation would be laughing. I said, 'This is awesome.' I served Mass twice a day just so I could get the laughs."

Ifft, a Fox Chapel Area High School graduate, stand-up comic and filmmaker, performs Friday through Sunday at the Pittsburgh Improv at the Waterfront in Homestead.

His father, Edward Ifft Jr. of Fox Chapel, helped launch his comedy career. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, he worked for his dad at Ifft & Palmer Associates, a financial services, insurance and investments firm. But the younger Ifft was leading a double life.

"He started hearing stuff from people," Ifft says. "He said, 'What's going on?' I said, 'I have something to tell you.'"

Ifft dropped the bombshell: He wanted to become a stand-up comedian.

The elder Ifft gave his blessing. Not coincidentally, that also was the lad's last day at Ifft & Palmer.

"I didn't exactly fire him," says the senior Ifft, laughing. "I said, 'You might as well get started tomorrow.'"

Ifft spent several lean years in New York City. During one appearance at the Funny Farm in Atlanta, an associate of Ifft's father saw the name Eddie Ifft on the marquee.

She thought it was his father who was performing, and that he must have been experiencing a midlife crisis, Ifft says.

Ifft's struggles finally have borne fruit. Last year, he was one of five finalists in the MySpace/Sierra Mist Stand Up or Sit Down Challenge. He also has appeared on NBC's "Last Comic Standing II," Comedy Central's "Premium Blend" and BET's "Comic View."

He made sure to thank his parents when he filmed his recent Comedy Central Special at the Hudson Theatre in New York City.

"I knew this all happened because of them," he says.

Ifft probably is one of the most well-traveled stand-up comedians. He has performed in South Africa, China, Dubai and Jordan. He performs frequently in Scandinavia and Holland, he says.

"There's a better audience for comedy in Holland than there is a lot of places in America. They're a lot more willing to take risks than they are in America. The main-street comedy clubs in America have really kind of dumbed down what the comedy is. They're looking for what doesn't offend anyone and what makes people happy."

After spending time at home for the holidays, Ifft flies to Australia for three festivals in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.

During his global travels, he began filming "America: The Punchline," a documentary that examines perceptions of America in comedy venues in London, South Africa and the Middle East. The current political situation has delayed the release of the film, however, since America has become popular again.

"Let's just say (Barack) Obama ruined everything for us," Ifft says. "I said, 'I'm glad for the country, (but) I'm upset for our movie.' Around the world, he's loved. It put America back in a good light. They used to condemn our democracy and say, 'You guys think you live in a democracy.' We went and kind of proved them wrong."

Additional Information:

Eddie Ifft

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pittsburgh Improv, Waterfront, Homestead

Admission: $15

Details: 412-462-5233

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