For more than forty years Tim Sample has made a living as a Maine humorist. He doesn’t rattle off one-liners, insult his audience, or drop f-bombs. Instead, with a thick down east accent, he tells stories that are gentle and affectionate, always deeply rooted in Maine and conjuring a real sense of place and identity. It sounds a bit…provincial. Not the kind of entertainment that would really work outside of New England, right?
Sample’s career wouldn’t have lasted four decades if he hadn’t performed all over the country for audiences in the north and south, east and west. “I did a show one time in Tuskeegee, Alabama,” he remembers. “It was for an organization called Stand Up for Rural America. There were representatives from all fifty states, and the only thing they had in common was they worked with rural populations doing weatherization and Head Start and a bunch of things like that.
“And when I talked about the little dirt road, the country store and the guy sitting there with the snappy answers—'Where does this road go? Don’t go far, stays right there’—they went crazy. Because they automatically translate it.”
The humor is, in short, universal. The story about the Maine lobsterman isn’t much different from a story about a Kansas farmer or an Oregon woodsman. Turns out you don’t have to be from down east to get down east humor. “That’s why you can make ‘West Side Story’ out of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” Sample says. “Because the building blocks don’t change. They’re still human nature. That’s what I look for.”