Different regions produce wildly different styles of comedy, and New Yorker Paul Virzi packs a lot of what you might expect from a northeast comic making noise. With his meaty accent and fast talking, smart-ass style, he’s a guy to watch no matter where you’re from though, rival cities like Boston included.
With his album, Night At The Stand, debuting atop the iTunes comedy chart, Virzi is about to film a feature-length special produced by iconic Mass comic native Bill Burr. Along with comedian Mike Faverman, this Thursday I’m opening for Virzi at Kowloon in Saugus, where he’ll be warming up for said special, and so I threw a couple of questions at him beforehand …
When did you realize that comedy was something you wanted to do in life?
Eddie Murphy was a big deal for me when Raw came out in 1987. They didn’t want my dad to take me to the movies to see it, but he did. I loved it and became an Eddie Murphy nut. When I was a kid, I moved around a lot. It was tough because I’d make a whole new batch of friends, get girls, do all that, and then 4 years later have to move, so it was hard to adapt, but the people around me were always into my stories and thought I was naturally funny. We’d hang out, get drunk at parties, and I’d always make people laugh, be the life of the party and, eventually, a friend of mine told me about an open mic in Woodstock, so I did that …
It didn’t go well because I didn’t have anything written. I just went up there with bad material talking about things I thought were funny. I got off stage not feeling good at all, so I went right up to the guy running the place and said “book me here next week.” Then I went and wrote during the week, went back there and it went much better. Next I started calling [New York] clubs looking to do bringer shows. I started doing black rooms because those were the only comics that would book me. I’d be the only white guy in there on some Eminem 8-Mile shit … That was 17 years ago and the rest is history. I’ve been a pro now for 14 years.
Does being from the Northeast play into your style as a comic?
Yeah, I think it does play into your persona, the way you speak. One thing I’ve noticed is [that] when a New York comic or a northeast comic goes out west to perform, the audience always tends to look them differently because there’s more of a realness, more of an edge, and they seem to be more passionate. Not to say there aren’t great comics in LA, it just seems like they’re all out there trying to get famous. You’re from Boston, you understand. It’s the blue collar wise-ass remarks, fast talking with a little bit of swag to it. I think the audience gets a kick out it.
You’re set to film your first one-hour special. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Pete Davidson from SNL is a really great guy and he approached me asking if he could direct it. I didn’t know what that meant, and when we were ready to shoot there was a big fallout between my people and his reps, so the project fell apart.
Bill Burr, who is a good friend of mine, reminded me that [former “Daily Show” correspondent] Al Madrigal had mentioned doing it. Al and Bill are the top guys over at All Things Comedy, which is a podcast network that also does content. I did my album with them and it did great. They said they were looking to produce hours and would like to do their first one with me. We had a conference call, got a budget, and went to the same theater I had originally planned on using before the first attempt fell through.
Will you be doing your set for the special at the Kowloon?
Yeah, I’m always changing things. I’m always adding things, taking things out. So for the most part the people at the Kowloon will see parts of the special, but they will also see a lot of other material.
Do you think comedians have had to adjust to the current climate of political correctness?
There are a lot of things that have changed, some comics have changed their style, I haven’t. The audience has changed. One thing I have noticed is comedians on stage almost apologizing for things. I think this is a dangerous thing, but there is a line. No one is going to listen if you’re gonna go up there making fun of mentally handicapped children, then you’re just being an asshole, and it’s not funny. But if you say something that you wanted to put some light on, that isn’t PC, and you make it funny but you offend someone in the audience, they start blogging about you and telling people not to book you. Then you start apologizing, and that’s the downfall. I’ve seen that happen with a lot of bigger names. The late great Patrice O’Neal said, “If you’re gonna say something onstage, make sure you mean it whether it hits or not. Believe what you’re saying.” Things have changed and I think comedians need to stay true to their heart regardless of the outcome.
PAUL VIRZI W/ TOMMY O’DEED AND MIKE FAVERMAN. THU JUNE 29. 7PM/$25-$40/ALL AGES. KOWLOON, SAUGUS. TICKETS ON EVENTBRITE.