Most people, even die-hard comedy fans, had not heard of comedian Paul Virzi until it was announced Bill Burr was going to produce his first special for Comedy Central two years ago. Before that, though, Virzi worked hard building his name both in the clubs of New York and on the road opening for Burr. We talked to him before that special, and now that he is coming back to Boston, we caught up with the rising headliner about what he has accomplished in the time since.
Has there been a significant difference in your comedy starting as a single man, to being a married man, to being a father who is doing comedy?
There’s a big misconception in comedy. A lot of comedians are under the impression, I can’t get married and commit, I gotta focus on my act, or Kids and getting a house and doing all that is gonna hold me back, and that’s absolutely the opposite in my case. My wife says when my son was born, she saw a difference in me. You get better material because it’s real life. I had the pleasure of opening for my best friend and mentor Bill Burr at Madison Square Garden, and I did a joke about playing one on one basketball with my son. I only did the joke a couple of times prior, but … I did it in front of 18,000 people and it tore the place down. Honestly, I’m not even trying to be arrogant, believe me, I will be the first to try to give you a funny story saying I bombed, but it killed the Garden because it was true. When you’re 21 years old, what are you going to talk about? Masturbation and drinking? There’s only so many things you could really touch on in your early 20s when you start doing comedy. But then as you grow, you get a voice and you see life, and that makes the material better.
Doing comedy at night and being with your kids during the day, do you consider yourself a stay-at-home dad?
As my career has grown, I’m headlining across the country and I’m trying to develop a new hour special, it’s kind of 50-50. I’ll be home with them in the day, but we’re at the point now where my sister or babysitters will come and help because it’s a lot. Not just performing at night, but meetings during the day, or trying to plan stuff. Plus, you know how big podcasts are now. So it’s doing a podcast, go into SiriusXM radio to promote something.
Have you taken your kids on tour with you?
The first time we did something, I was performing at the West Palm Beach Improv, and they put you up in a nice place that’s like a resort with a pool and there’s a lot of shops. So they came with me to that. [In Boston], I think my family will come out on Saturday. My son is 10, he started to really understand what I do, and starting to become a sports guy like I am. So maybe I’ll take him on the road sometimes to go to a game during the day and then have maybe somebody watched him at the hotel that night. That’s definitely something I want to do more of.
Have you become one of those dreaded sports parents that goes a little too crazy at the games?
I’m actually not the father that goes nuts. My wife is no joke. My wife walked up to my son in a timeout in a basketball game, and all the kids were tired cause it was a super early game, and goes, “You need to cut the fucking shit or I am taking you out of here! There’s no reason for us to be here if you’re going to be playing like this.” I was just like, Holy shit man.
Your son plays sports, you’re a big sports guy, and in your special last year, you have a bit about playing Star Wars lightsabers with your kids. Who’s been the bigger influence on the other, you on your kids with sports? Or your kids with nerd stuff on you?
I would say that it is probably a mixture of both because my daughter has me watching Fuller House. To the point where when my daughter leaves, I’m finishing this episode. It was so bad, it went from bad to at least they’re committing to this. Then I was like, wait a minute, this is kind of nostalgic and bringing me back to being that kid who would watch Full House at night, and now my daughter is getting that innocence from it. So now, yeah, let’s go, let’s watch a couple episodes. But now my son and my daughter are out in the yard hitting golf balls, and if we’re going to go to a Yankees or Knicks game, they’re totally down for it.
You have about an hour drive from Westchester, where you live, to New York City to perform comedy each night. Is there something on the drive to-and-from that keeps you motivated?
I was thinking about this last night actually. It’s almost weird. Last night I was at the Comedy Cellar, and I get to see friends I haven’t seen in awhile. I saw my buddy Michael Che from Saturday Night Live and Donald Glover, who’s also Childish Gambino, was just in the crowd hanging out and he was laughing at the jokes. That was kind of a cool night. And then some nights aren’t that cool. Some nights where you go in, you do your set and it’s just like, Oh well, now I’ve got an hour drive. But I use the drive to kind of reflect on the set, make sure that [I focus on] whatever bits I did that are new and refreshing and something that I think will be in the new hour and the new special. And then I just listen to sports talk radio. And last night the Knicks drafted a guy that I wanted them to draft. So I’m listening to that and before I know it, I’m 20 minutes away from home.
You’ve been coming to Boston over the past few years, and each time the venues and crowds have been getting bigger and bigger. Is there a sense of pride in growing your career in a city that you’re not from?
There is a special place in my heart for Boston. My brother went to Boston University, so I used to take those road trips to visit him and go drink out there and have a good time. But the big reason: The Dana Farber Institute in Boston literally saved my mother’s life. My mother was in the final stages of stage four cancer over 20 years ago, and she’s still here. That was because of the Dana Farber Institute. But I love Boston, I just love the city. I think the people there, you know, they’re nutty sports fans and all, but there’s an appreciation. I guess the best way I could sum it up is the standing ovation that Red Sox fans gave Derek Jeter. That’s exactly why I love Boston. Because although it’s like, “Fuck you, you’re from New York and I’m from Boston,” there’s still this appreciation for something good. If you do a joke that is goofing on them and it’s good, they appreciate it. People out there know me, it means a lot. I love coming out there.
PAUL VIRZI AT LAUGH BOSTON. 6.27–29. LISTEN TO THE FULL UNEDITED CONVERSATION AT DEADAIRDENNIS.COM/PODCAST.