WEST PARIS — Joe Perham, a Maine humorist, teacher and occasional actor, has died, and praise for his long career was everywhere you turned Thursday.

On Facebook, where Perham had maintained a page, words of love and admiration go on and on. Same on YouTube, where several of Perham’s comedy clips and performances can be found.

Around West Paris and beyond, people were sharing stories and expressing gratitude for the man who did a little bit of everything.

“I was fortunate to have Joe as an English teacher through my freshman year of high school,” said Kristi Bancroft of West Paris. “Today, I also teach freshman English, but have never had the impact on students that he did. He also coached me on my speech for graduation week, and we remained friends into my teaching career.

“I still remember many of his one-liners, and admire how he would recite poetry, speeches from Shakespeare, and scenes from other great plays,” Bancroft wrote. “May his humor live on! He sure put West Paris on the map!”

Perham was 80.

For a quarter-century, he worked throughout Maine, performing as several characters. He released more than a dozen albums and was said to be an influence on that other Maine humorist, Tim Sample.

In one interview, Sample described Perham as a “seriously funny guy with a professionally honed native wit, which inevitably leaves his audiences weak from laughter.”

In 1990, Perham appeared as a mill inspector in the film “Graveyard Shift,” an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story. Friends said he and his wife Margaret also appeared in “Bed & Breakfast” with Roger Moore and Colleen Dewhurst.

Mostly, though, he was known for his regional comedy, which centered on things such as outhouses and pig farming. He started recording those stories on vinyl, but by the end, Perham’s material was in digital form, too.

“This was basically his retirement job,” said musician Conni St. Pierre of Bethel. “He was definitely a genius at what he did.”

A genius who liked to get out among the people. St. Pierre said that back in the days when Perham’s material was on cassettes, he peddled them town by town from the trunk of his car.

“He was literally going around to all the mom and pop stores,” she said. “It gave him an excuse to drive around Maine and meet the people. And they got to meet him.”

Perham produced 17 titles, which included both comedy and the rich Maine stories he liked to tell. The titles themselves have a decidedly Down East flair, such as “Out Behind the Barn,” “Trap Corner Revisited,” and “6 a.m. at the Trap Corner Store.”

St. Pierre said that when he’d show up to record his work, Perham would sometimes come with a posse of as many as 30 people.

You know: for background.

“He would recruit the best laughers that he knew,” St. Pierre said. She was laughing pretty heartily herself as she recalled it.

In recent years, Perham continued to sell his work, St. Pierre said, with the help of his grandson, Luke Gizinksi, who lives in Lewiston.

Elaine Emery of West Paris used to perform with Perham, handling the musical components while Perham handled the jokes.

“We had a really good time,” Emery said. “He was always funny and he knew the business. He could always come up with a one-liner or a whole joke.”

And while Emery was the musician of the pair, Perham dabbled a bit in that, too. Thinking about it made Emery chuckle.

“He could never get his guitar in the right key,” she said. “He’d call me up and say, ‘I’ve got a gig and my guitar is out of tune. Can you tune it for me?’ So he’d come over and I’d tune his guitar. He’d tell me a joke or two and then off he’d go.”

While most people talked about his comedy, few neglected to point out that when he wasn’t making people laugh, he was helping out in any way he could.

“He was a very dear person to a lot of people,” Emery said. “And I was one of them.”

Emery said that as a lay preacher (Perham did that, too), he counseled a lot of people who were grieving or otherwise in distress. He knew people, she said. He knew how to comfort them.

“He was just a wonderful person,” Emery said.

Vance Bacon grew up with Perham. Cousins, they knew each other all of their lives. So was Perham always funny?

As far as Bacon recalls, yes, indeed.

“He could stand up somewhere for hours and tell all kinds of jokes and stories,” Bacon said. “We’re going to miss him.”

Perham graduated from Colby College in Waterville with a master’s degree in English and education. He taught English, but also — naturally — speech and drama. How good a teacher was he? Good enough that his lessons are reaching into the next generation.

“It is a powerful thing to get a classroom of students to sit still waiting for the conclusion, and no one did it better,” Razell Smedberg-Ward of Chesterville wrote on Perham’s Facebook wall. “I was just re-telling one of his stories to my niece on a long car ride the other day, and crediting Joe with the details and nuances that kept her attentive.”

By the age of 50, his comedy was established enough that he could retire from teaching and do it full time.

Friends said Perham recently retired because he had Alzheimer’s disease. It was believed he passed away either late Wednesday or early Thursday.

Although Perham was known worldwide, the people who lived in West Paris tend to think of him as their very own.

“I’m not exaggerating,” said Rick Denison, who grew up in the area. “Joe was our own ‘living treasure’ in the Oxford Hills, like the ones in Japan who are revered for their artistry and as custodians of cultural traditions.

“One of the traditions Joe maintained was the outhouse joke, on which he was arguably the world’s leading authority,” Denison said. “As a teacher he is remembered fondly by every student who ever passed through his classroom and found inspiration, and by his academic peers. As a friend and family man he was exemplary. He accepted with alacrity the invitation to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of my father, a man who appreciated a good Maine story as much as anyone and more than most.

“Whatever the hereafter’s equivalent to the Trap Corner Store is,” Denison said, “he’s there now, reminding everyone about the famous brakeless West Paris firetruck and the goings-on at Penley’s mill.”

St. Pierre said she was sad Thursday night. “Sad and devastated,” in fact. She was comforted, though, by the fact that Perham enjoyed such a long and happy career and also by the certainty that he’ll be remembered a long time.

“Joe was an amazing person,” she said, “and he’s left a unique legacy of humor and oral history.”

[email protected]

‘s work can be found at his official website at joeperham.com


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.