Dom Irrera’s cousin Johnny is always saying the wrong thing.
It usually turns out to be a funny thing. And that gives Dom the chance to talk about family — Italian family.
“He’ll say something really bad about somebody, but he’ll say ‘I don’t mean in a bad way,’ ” said Irrera, who makes his living as a stand-up comedian. “Like, ‘With all due respect, your brother’s an idiot.’ That kind of guy.”
When Irrera starts talking about Johnny, he starts rolling.
“He came in the house one time and goes, ‘What stinks in here?’ I said, ‘John, we’re having dinner,’ and he goes, ‘I don’t mean in a bad way — it’s a good stink.’ And he wouldn’t let it go.”
WHERE: Mainstage at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $35, $30, $26 and $20.
MORE INFO: 346-6204 and on line at proctors.org
Irrera hopes he’s rolling Saturday night. The Philadelphia-born comic and three other Italian comedians will perform at “Laughter Arts Festival — Italiano” (or “LAF Italiano” for short) on the Mainstage at Proctors in Schenectady. Pat Cooper, Tammy Pescatelli and Rocky LaPorte also will be cracking wise during the show, which begins at 8 p.m.
The sixtysomething Irrera, who lives in Los Angeles, has plenty of material for kidding around with fellow Italians and anyone else who appreciates a funny story. He grew up in a multi-generational Italian household with his mother, sister, grandmother, uncles and cousins. Family, travels and life are often part of an Irrera show.
“I guess certain cultures are just more emotional and funnier than others,” Irrera said. “You never hear about the Swedish guy who had everybody on the floor. I guess it’s just the way the cultures are.”
People can spot the differences in humor and behavior by just looking around.
“I went to a wedding in Montreal a few years back and it was all white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and Lebanese,” Irrera said. “The white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were really nice people, but they just shook hands. The Lebanese were pinching your face and kissing you. So I guess it’s the way you were brought up.”
Irrera has been on stage since the mid-1980s. He loves working on his feet, as long as a stage is involved.
“I was a terrible waiter,” he said. “I was up in New York to act, I was in improv groups. You can’t make money in improv groups, because you’re not alone. Stand-up, you can make it, because it’s just you.”
Getting some respect
Irrera’s big breaks came courtesy of the late Rodney Dangerfield, who signed the Philly kid in 1988 for his “Nothing Goes Right” comedy specials for television’s HBO. Irrera showed up as a man with a theatrical Italian accent, complete with hand gestures. He has retired the character, for now.
In 1989, Irrera’s “One Night Stand” comedy special for HBO earned him his first CableACE award for best stand-up comedy special. In 1995, he scored a second CableACE for the Showtime stand-up series he hosted, “Full Frontal Comedy.”
These days. Irrera is a mainstay on DirecTV’s “Supreme Court of Comedy” and is the voice of “Duke the Dog” on Nickelodeon’s “Back at the Barnyard.”
For “LAF Italiano,” Irrera will only be in the limelight for part of the time. He’s happy to have three other names in the playbill.
“We just split the pressure,” he said. “And I think it’s a better show. If I was going to a show, I would much rather see a bunch of people than just one person do an hour and a half.”
Pasquale Caputo, better known as Pat Cooper, has been in the business since the early 1960s. He has played the Copacabana and Caesar’s Palace, and bantered with Howard Stern.
Pescatelli appeared on both the second and third seasons of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and has entertained on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and other television programs.
LaPorte, a former Chicago truck driver and dockworker, began his stand-up career in 1988. He has also stood on Leno’s stage and starred in his own comedy special on Showtime.
Irrera always looks relaxed and comfortable on stage. He’s low key and natural, like a guy talking to you in a diner or at the office.
“That’s all I used to pray for, to get back to being myself,” Irrera said. “It’s really hard to be yourself on stage. You’re performing to make it seem natural. Now, it is natural. To get to that point is really difficult.”
It can be easier to choose subject material. Some things are off-limits, for Italian, Irish, French, German, Swedish audiences, or any other group.
“Some subjects are just not funny,” Irrera said. “Anything that hurts a kid, anything that really hurts somebody, I would stay away from. I mean, Michael Richards with the way his racist tirade was, it’s just not funny.
“Anything that’s funny is open game to me, and that’s where it comes down to your own discretion of what’s funny. I don’t think it’s funny if you’ve got somebody in the audience crying — that’s not what I’m out there for. I have no message. My message is to make people laugh. Some of these guys get up there, they preach. I don’t preach. I just want to make people laugh.”
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Categories: Life and Arts