BOSTON — Though Jimmy Tingle has long made biting political humor a staple of his stand-up routines, he insists his dive into Massachusetts politics is anything but comic relief.

The Cambridge-born comedian and social activist, who returned to school and earned a master’s degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, raised eyebrows with his recent announcement that he would run for lieutenant governor, a job with limited visibility and few official responsibilities.

“Initially a lot of people might think it’s a joke or whatever, but I’m serious,” Tingle, a Democrat, said in a recent interview.

He’s not the first to go from seeking laughs to seeking votes – Democrat Al Franken navigated from “Saturday Night Live” to the U.S. Senate. But Tingle’s candidacy comes at a time when comedians in general appear to be exerting greater influence on political discourse. TV host Jimmy Kimmel’s emotional opposition to Republican attempts to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law is but one recent example.

Tingle, 62, said running for office was a decision long in the making and not an effort to start a trend with other comics.

“I’ve been doing social and political humor for 30 years,” he explained. “I’d like to go to the next level and see if I can actually be involved and affect social change on a personal level.”

Tingle’s credits include appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and his own HBO comedy special. He was a regular contributor on “60 Minutes II,” a spinoff of the CBS news show.

Convincing voters his intentions are genuine is challenging, he acknowledges. After all, he once headlined a satirical one-man show called “Jimmy Tingle for President: The Funniest Campaign in History.”