Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Martling began a career in stand-up comedy in 1979, developing a blue comedy act in local venues. He self-produced his first of three comedy albums during this time, What Did You Expect? (1979). After becoming involved with Rick Dees's radio show as a regular joke feature, Martling sent his albums to New York City radio personality Howard Stern, who invited him as a weekly guest and writer in 1983. This led to his hiring as head writer from 1986 to 2001. He released further albums during his tenure, including Sgt. Pecker (1996), Joke Man (1996), Hot Dogs + Donuts (1998).
Martling was born on February 14, 1948 in Mineola, New York, a village on Long Island. The eldest of four children, he is of English, French, and Dutch ancestry. He said his mother had a "biting wit" and his father Percy a natural joke teller who recited off-color stories, yet their marriage suffered from "a cold war going for many, many years". Martling took up music at seventh grade and spent time as a gymnast in his youth. He attended James H. Vernon School in East Norwich, New York followed by Oyster Bay High School and, in 1971, earned a mechanical engineering degree from Michigan State University. After graduating, he stayed in East Lansing, Michigan for a further two years. During his time at university, Martling was the singer and guitarist in a band. He quit the group, and spent six months in Denver, Colorado working in construction.
After returning to New York, Martling became the singer and guitarist in a new band, the Off-Hour Rockers, with guitarist Chris Bates and keyboardist Herbie Werner and would incorporate jokes, banjos, and the kazoo in their sets. He also performed solo shows and told jokes during his act. In order to accommodate the band's gear, Martling drove a used hearse. Martling took stand-up comedy more seriously when, in 1976, he attended an open-mic night at Catch a Rising Star comedy club in New York City. "The auditioner bailed out early and the MC wasn't in the room, so I jumped on stage and told a joke, one that I was sure the entire world knew. The MC, David Sayh, came back in the room and saw me up there but let me finish". Sayh encouraged Martling to continue performing as a joke teller, and soon found out that "few people knew any of the zillions of jokes I knew".
By 1979, Bates and Werner disbanded the Off Hour Rockers to start a new group. At that point, Martling started to pursue stand-up comedy full time, developing his stage act of songs and dirty jokes. During a gig at My Father's Place in Roslyn, New York, Martling met the likes of comedians Eddie Murphy, Rob Bartlett, and Bob Nelson who would perform for several minutes at Martling's gigs. In 1979, he set up a "dial-a-joke" telephone line from his parent's attic, Jackie's "Use Your Finger! (516) 922-WINE", which remains in operation to this day. Also in 1979, Martling released his first comedy album, What Did You Expect?! (1979), which he recorded himself using his own recording equipment. This was followed by Goin' Ape! (1980). To fund his early comedy projects, Martling secured a loan from comedian Rodney Dangerfield who claimed he was never paid back, though Martling said he repaid Dangerfield in jokes.
Martling made a breakthrough in 1981 when Dave Lipson, writer and producer of Rick Dees's morning radio show on KIIS in Los Angeles, discovered his joke line and played his daily joke updates on Dees's program. The exposure led Martling to star in a designated joke segment for Dees, who went on give Martling his nickname, "The Joke Man". Also in 1981, Martling released his third album, Normal People Are People You Don't Know That Well (1981).
Martling first heard of radio personality Howard Stern in August 1982 when the owner of Garvin's comedy club in Washington, D.C., where Stern performed during his time at WWDC, suggested to Martling that he send his comedy albums to him. By early 1983, Martling had mailed his three comedy albums to Howard Stern, then less than a year into his stint in afternoons at WNBC-AM in New York City. Stern took a liking to his material and invited him on as a guest in February 1983, which soon turned into a weekly guest spot without pay. Stern then began a regular segment titled "Stump The Comedian", a contest where callers were challenged to start a joke that Martling had to provide the punchline to, otherwise they win prizes.
In 1985, following the show's cancellation from WNBC, Stern stayed in New York City and relocated to afternoons on WXRK. Martling was subsequently hired as a writer on The Howard Stern Show when it moved to the mornings slot in February 1986, initially for two days a week. After around two months, Martling was hired full time and became known as the head writer who would take lines written by himself and sound effects and producer Fred Norris and "determine what goes in front of Howard". Along with Norris, Martling contributed material to radio bits and song parodies and is featured and credited on Stern's television shows and home videos and albums. In 1994, a puppet that resembled Martling, known on the show as the "Jackie puppet", was made that was featured on Howard Stern on the E! channel and voiced by show impressionist Billy West.
Martling would release further albums during his time on the show, including Sgt. Pecker (1996), Joke Man (1996), Hot Dogs + Donuts (1998), and F Jackie (2000).
In 1998, Martling was absent on the show for six weeks while his contract with WXRK owner Infinity Broadcasting Corporation was being renegotiated, and refused to be featured on the E! show until he had also secured a contract from the channel.
In February 2001, Martling made history when he became the first comedian to perform at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York City.
On March 5, 2001, Stern announced Martling's departure from the show after negotiations fell through once more. He has since added other reasons to his departure, including his inability to sleep and perform effectively for the show, as well as his imminent divorce and alcohol abuse. In August 2001, a newspaper reported his wish to return, but Stern declined, partly due to the Win Jackie's Money contest he had already started, which involved comedians auditioning for Martling's place in the studio by sitting in on some shows. In October 2001, comedian and actor Artie Lange replaced Martling for a tenure that lasted until December 2009.
Following his departure, Martling returned as a guest during the show's final week on terrestrial radio prior to its relocation to Sirius Satellite Radio, on December 15, 2005. He returned to the show on Sirius on March 13, 2007, and has since returned in the studio and by phone. A two-day special on Martling's time on the show titled Stern Spotlight: Jackie Martling aired in May 2007.
Since 1993, he has released six 78-minute dirty joke CDs, three videos, a DVD (A Safe Distance from Genius), five joke books including 1998's best-selling Simon & Schuster title, Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling's Disgustingly Dirty Joke Book, and the iPhone app The Jackie Button. He also co-created a line of electronic joke products with EB-Excalibur, and their MiniJokeMaster Jr. keychain is sold through various retailers.
Martling has appeared in many films during his career, including the comedy documentary The Aristocrats (2005), Mail Order Bride (2008), Venus & Vegas (2010), and White Irish Drinkers (2010). He appeared in the short film Jokebitch (2005). Martling received a Best Supporting Actor Award at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival. He appeared on the TNT television show Leverage and in August 2007, Martling filmed the pilot episode for the sitcom The Pikers.
On October 3, 2006, Martling returned to radio as the host of a weekly, one hour comedy show, Jackie's Joke Hunt, on Stern's channel Howard 101 on Sirius. Martling's co-host was a fellow member of the Friar's Club, Ian "McKean" Karr. The final episode, "The Last Lick Hunt", aired on November 25, 2014 after 402 shows. Martling can also be heard on the Sirius comedy channel Raw Dog Comedy.
Martling released his first music album, Happy Endings (2007), co-produced by guitarist Frank Vignola.
In October 2008, Martling and former American Idol runner-up Bo Bice entertained American troops in Kuwait and Iraq.
In 2010, Martling wrote and performed a one man show for a run in New York City titled JokeLand on Broadway. In 2012, he appeared in Fred Carpenter's Send No Flowers, the short film My Cross to Bear, and voiced two puppets in the human/puppet film, The Fuzz (2013).
Martling's second book, The Joke Man: Bow to Stern, is set for release on October 24, 2017. Lange wrote the book's foreword.
Martling has been arrested four times; in 1965, 1967, 1969, and 1987, two of them for drunkenness. Martling has been sober since 2001.Comedy albums
What Did You Expect? (1979)
Goin' Ape! (1980)
Normal People Are People You Don't Know That Well (1981)
Sgt. Pecker (1996)
Joke Man (1996)
Hot Dogs + Donuts (1998)
The Very Best of Jackie Martling's Talking Joke Book Cassettes, Vol. 1 (1999)
F Jackie (2000)
Joke Master Jr.: For Ages 3–12 (2006)
Gross Master Junior: For Ages 12–16 (2006)
Happy Endings (2008)