INTERVIEW: Nick Di Paolo
Fans of Nick Di Paolo may best remember him from his various appearances and vicious barbs on Comedy Central’s Roasts, but beneath his wise cracking veneer lies the soul of semi-conservative pundit and diehard Red Sox fan that celebrated Boston’s 2004 World Series victory at home by himself. Starting out in Boston as a young comic, Di Paolo honed his act over the years, living both in Los Angeles and New York, where he would eventually settle and become a regular at legendary New York institution, The Comedy Cellar. With numerous radio and T.V. appearances to his credit, and several half-hour Comedy Central specials under his belt, Di Paolo is currently preparing for the premiere of Raw Nerve, his first hour long special for Showtime this Saturday, April 30, at 9 p.m. SanDiego.com recently had a chance to catch up with Di Paolo from his home in New York, and discussed his first time at an open mic, the difference between crowd work and riffing, and where he was the night Bill Buckner let the ball roll right through his legs.
What year did you start doing stand-up?
Nick Di Paolo: I did my first open mic; brace yourself, in the summer of 1986. I did an open mic and what happened was I had this job working for a steak and seafood company selling food door to door; it was called Boston Gourmet. So I did an open mic and right after I did that I had to move to Rhode Island for this food company I was working for. I was only in Rhode Island for about 8 or 10 months, came back to Boston, and the first thing I did when I got back was put my name in again for an open mic and after that, I was doing open mics every night.
What was more important to you: the first time you did the open mic or the second time when you moved back from Rhode Island?
NDP: The first time, cuz that’s like breaking your cherry. I mean if I didn’t do that I wouldn’t have made the second call. That’s the big step, when you finally take the step to get up in front of strangers and say, “Hey listen to me, I’m funny.”
What do you remember about that first time going up?
NDP: It’s like being raped as a kid, you black it out. Here’s what I remember: That day I went to a cookout at my family’s house, 20 minutes north of Boston. I was having a few beers and then I drove into Boston drunk, like a good Bostonian. Pull up in front of a club called Stitches, which I was familiar with because I was a bar back there for six months. I pull up and I remember seeing the marquee out front said “Comedy Hell.” I remember just being nervous and there’s a little room off to the side of the stage, that’s where you stand before they introduce you. So that stage was the first place I ever did open mic. It’s called Stitches, it’s long gone.
And that was in 1986?
NDP: It was the summer of 86’, because I remember being in Rhode Island when the Red Sox lost to The Mets, and I came back the following Spring and did my second open mic. It’s funny, for years I was telling people it was the summer of 87’, but then I remembered that Mets thing.
Bill Buckner; right through the legs.
NDP: I’ll never forget where I was. I came home from Rhode Island one weekend and I was in a bar in Boston for the Buckner game. I had a girl sitting on my lap who looked like a young Jane Fonda, she was fucking smoking at the time. I just met her, she’s sitting on my lap and I’m buying her drinks, and then the ball goes through Buckner’s legs and I go, “Get the fuck off me!” She’s like, “What’s the matter?” I go, “None of your business!” I come spilling out of the bar with about 1,800 other Boston people. I’m looking around and there was drunk people in the streets fighting, it just turned into the ugliest mess. Because at that point we still hadn’t won in a thousand years.
Where were you when they won the World Series in 2004?
NDP: That 2004, when we tucked it up the Yankees’ ass’, then went on to sweep, that is my sweetest sports memory of all time. And I had just moved into the house I live in now. I had moved in here in 2004.
Were you watching at home?
NDP: Yeah, and my wife could care less about sports. There I am sitting there jumping up and down, tears in my eyes, she can’t even relate.
Were you watching with any friends?
NDP: No! I didn’t want anybody around. She’d walk into the living room and I’m like, “Get the fuck out.” She’s like, “What do you mean?” I dunno, you’re jinxing something.
How many years would say that it took you to find your voice as a comedian?
NDP: You continue to, ya know. You think you have your voice down; long time. At least for me, look everybody’s different, but I would say before I even started to hone in on it, I would say 12 or 13 years. It’s funny because I always had the attitude. People are like, “Oh he’s a little bitter.” “Really, I’ve been doing open mics for a month, how can I be bitter? You mean angry, right?” I’m not bitter, people who are bitter are people who think their life has past them by and I don’t feel that way. I especially don’t feel that way about my comedy career.
What's your process like for writing new material?
NDP: I do a lot of it onstage. I’ll bring the premise up there, and I’ll do the joke as written and I might add something to it while I’m onstage or say something off the cuff that’s really funny. They key is to record yourself and listen to the recording the next day.
How often do you do crowd work?
NDP: Not much at all, that’s cheating in my opinion. That’s a sign of a guy who doesn’t have material. Look that doesn’t mean people are going to laugh, but you should tell your readers, any comic can do that that’s worth their weight in salt. That’s like a prerequisite to being funny off the cuff, and anybody who goes into the audience and starts zinging people, it’s usually done by comedians who don’t have the chops. One of things I take pride in, if you come see me do stand-up for an hour, I’ll tell more jokes per hour than a lot of comics.
What about riffing?
NDP: Absolutely, that’s how you write. The best sets I’ve ever had in my life were 60 percent material, 40 percent off the cuff in between material. And don’t confuse working off the cuff with working the audience, I’m talking about two different things there. People are like, “Yeah he was really good on his feet.” Well he was picking on people in the audience, an open micer can do that and get laughs. That’s why you have to record yourself every night.
I saw you on The Joy Behar Show last night, was Paulina Porizkova acting like that the whole time?
NDP: I didn’t talk to her that much before the show started, she came at the last minute and was having her makeup done and stuff, she seemed alright. Cuz’ she got a little bit of fame at one time, I think she’s bought into that whole Hollywood stupid way of thinking, at least in my opinion, but ya know, she’s alright. She didn’t really get under my nerves.
She seemed like she was hamming it up the whole show.
NDP: Yeah, that’s the impression that I got, which is ya know, Joy was a stand-up comedian, I’m a comedian, so sometimes if you’re a supermodel in the eighties I guess that’s what you resort to.
The other guest on the panel was Joe Levy from Maxim Magazine, and he seemed bewildered when the topic of Obama's collegiate years was brought up.
NDP: They’re so blinded by their fucking ideology, these lefties, they’re so blinded by their political correctness and their white guilt. He was like, “Why are you asking that of Obama and not other presidents?” because we didn’t have to ask other presidents. We saw pictures of George W. Bush with fraternity brothers, there was plenty of shit about him being an average student, we can look at papers he wrote. And that goes for the rest of the sitting presidents. The fact that Obama hasn’t released any of it; that’s why we’re asking. What Joe Levy and people like him are trying to imply is that we’re giving Obama the third degree because he’s black, which I take total offense to. It’s like get over the ideology.
What’s your stance on the birther debate?
NDP: I wasn’t one of those birthers, but the more I kept hearing about I was like, ‘Oh that’s interesting.” Did you hear that phone call with like, his grandmother? She was doing an interview and the guy interviewing her said, “So he was born where?” And she’s like, “Kenya.” And then there’s like a break, and you can hear people talking to her, and she comes back on the phone, “No! Hawaii! He was born in Hawaii.” So that sort of peaked my interest, but when I hear Ann Coulter and people who DO research this stuff say that he was born here, it’s like okay, I don’t have time to go through his fucking records. I tend to believe that he was born in Hawaii, but you shouldn’t be called racist or wacko for asking that questions. They released his birth certificate today, did anybody stand up and say, ‘Why’d you take so long, why didn’t you do this a year ago instead of dividing the country?” That would be my first question, “What the fuck took so long, Mr. President?”
Do you think Lady Gaga really stole the name of your first album, "Born This Way?"
NDP: I don’t know if she took it from me. Actually Colin Quinn is the guy who came up with title, and he came up the title for the second one too!
When you're not on the road, do you usually work out at The Comedy Cellar in New York?
NDP: That’s right; I live about 40 miles from where The Comedy Cellar is located, I don’t live in the city anymore I moved out to Westchester County, north of New York City. And The Comedy Cellar for people who don’t know; it’s a bunch of comics go on, it’s not like you go to see me at The Funnybone in Denver where I’m the headliner. The Comedy Cellar is a small room, in a cellar with about 140 seats, and each comic goes up and does about 15 minutes each, total. And there’ll be about 5 or 6 comics on each and they do 2 or 3 shows a night. So during the week I’ll just do like, one show at The Comedy Cellar and maybe one at another club. But on the weekends, they put too many comedians on now. The sets are only like 10 minutes long, so it’s not really worth my while. When I go on stage at The Comedy Cellar, I want to be working on new material, it’s like a gym to work out new stuff. So I won’t drive on the weekends because like I said, the sets are only 8 to 10 minutes long, cuz’ they tend to put on more comics, and on the weekends it’s not really a place to work on new stuff. It’s packed every night, so it’s become really popular. It used to be a great place to go down like on a Wednesday night, there might be 40 or 50 people in the audience; a great place to try out new shit. But now it’s so popular and it’s packed every night, you go up there and try to work on new shit and you can get your ass handed to you, but whatever.
Would you say The Comedy Cellar and The Original Room at The Hollywood Comedy Store are similar entities?
NDP: Yes, exactly. I actually recorded my first album in San Diego, at The Comedy Store in La Jolla. I don’t do it anymore because I live on the East Coast, but that’s the only room I would fly across the country to do. I fucking love that room, that’s the perfect comedy room. It’s just square, no frills, old piano in the fucking corner, black curtains. I used to rock that joint, that’s why I did Born This Way there. I used to go down there 2 or 3 times a year or more. Mitzi loved me, and I love that room.
Your Showtime special Raw Nerve airs this Saturday night, do you have any special plans?
NDP: You know where I’ll be? I’ll be onstage at The Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis, which is cool because it’s really my first theatre where it’s like a thousand seat theatre and Minneapolis has been great to me for some reason. I’m almost as thrilled about this Saturday night gig at this beautiful theatre with a ton of my fans, it’s just as exciting to me as the Showtime special.
Will we be seeing you again in the next season of Louie?
NDP: I did an episode, I had a small scene. I don’t think I got used as much this year as last year.
Does Nick Di Paolo have a mesage for the children?
NDP: Yeah, quit whining about being bullied. I’m fucking tired of it. Either hit the kid back or shut the fuck up.
Nick Di Paolo's one hour comedy special Raw Nerve, premieres on Showtime Saturday April 30 at 9 p.m. Download the digital album “Nick Di Paolo Raw Nerve” (New Wave Dynamics) on 5/2/11 at Amazon