There’s something in the air. It can’t be denied. Some of the best comedians in the world have come out of the Boston scene. I don’t know what it is but it’s been happening long enough that it deserves looking into it. I just spent two weeks there playing the clubs, the bar shows, and the basements. Did a crash course in the Boston scene, and I loved it. Don Zollo a Boston comic who’s a veteran of the scene wants to do a documentary on the history of the Boston Comedy universe and I think he’s onto something.
DAYS OF THE DING HO
When I met Jay Leno in the late seventies in LA he had fled Boston to New York and then LA. He had started in Boston and had played crazy clubs. Not comedy clubs. Strip clubs and mob joints. Music clubs. Anyplace he could get up. There really wasn’t a ‘comedy scene’. Later on though, from the days of Barry Crimmins and the Ding Ho, Jimmy Tingle and Lenny Clark, it was a different world altogether. I always remember Boston as being this magical comedy town. Disneyland for comics.
I used to come visit my buddy Bob Nickman who had moved there from Cleveland in the tip of the eighties to work his way into this bustling scene. It was unlike any other city. San Fran was a cool comedy town. They had a major comedy competition and some funky clubs, Robin Williams started there, Bobby Slayton and Kevin Pollack and of others when I was just getting going, Samuels and Cohen, Will Durst, but there wasn’t the bite to it that Boston comedy had. The feeling that it really mattered. That it wasn’t just gums flapping and jokes flying. Barry Crimmins, Jimmy Tingle, Lauren Dombrowsi, Jack Gallagher, Mike McDonald, Kevin Meany, Janeane Garafalo, Paula Poundstone, Don Gavin, Steve Sweeney, and Kenny Rogerson were all incredible comics. They could tear a room apart. Make a crowd wonder if they were gonna make it into work the next day. Lenny Clark, Tony V, all those guys, they were masters, and the Boston crowds were so good. I used to wonder if it was because they drank so much. It had to help. It was more than that though, they were smart, crisp, and sharp, they were a mirror of the comics. They too had a jaundiced view of the world. Were ready to laugh at it. Make fun of everything. Piss on anyone that had any kind of an attitude.
WHEN STAND UP STOOD OUT
Fran Solomita, a Boston comic who was around and working the rooms at that time made an excellent documentary of this whole first wave that lays this all out with majesty. It’s so worth taking a look at.
Oddly enough, with all of these ball breakers, and deep thinkers, and world class story tellers, the stand-up that sort of broke the Boston comedy scene onto the national stage was a little guy with an oddball style who told Salvador Dali-esque one-liners in a bit of a whisper. A Johnny Carson show booker was in town and saw him at the Ding Ho had him come out to LA and do the Carson show and Steven killed. It more or less put the Boston comedy scene on the map.
One of my personal favorites to ever come out of Boston was Barry Crimmins. Just a really special guy. An amazing political comic. The Mort Sahl of his time. I really want to do a piece on Barry one day here. One of my favorite docs ever is the one Bobcat made. Call Me Lucky. If you’ve never seen it, you’re missing out. It’s so good. Barry was an amazing person and entertainer and he was such a force of nature. A major piece of the puzzle that created the Boston comedy scene. The Ding Ho alone is a bedrock piece in what would be Don Zollo’s documentary I’m sure.
THE NEXT WAVE (S)
After the Kenny Rogersons, and Don Gavin, Lenny, Tingle, Wright, Paula, Dennis Leary, Bobcat and that whole group, another class or even two, would follow that was even deadlier with comedy firepower. A group that, in hindsight, would make you think, ‘holy shit’, why would anyone start anywhere other than Boston?’ I mean they just kept coming. Dane Cook, Louis C.K, Bill Burr, Patrice O’neal, Joe Rogan, Bobby Kelly, and so many others, Joe List, Doug Stanhope, just killers.
Tony V is a funny fucker. He’s a Boston legend. A typical example of the kind of comedy town Boston is. They have their own heros. Comics that are just saran wrapped perfect for the place. Tony is one of them. He lays it out simple, as if he was put on earth solely to make them understand some of the day to day shit that’s been placed in their way. He’s so great. One of the highlights of my two week trip was sitting around smoking a cigar with Tony, two smart young Boston comics, Will Noonan, Andrew Della Volpe, and comedy club owner John Tobin, in an old time Boston cigar joint in the North End. It was like waking up inside of one of Dennis Lehane’s novels.
LAUGH BOSTON AND THE BEST OF BOSTON HEADLINERS
I was on a show at Laugh Boston which is a cool comedy club in South Boston. It was the a group of some of the best new comics coming out of Boston and Tony V and myself and what I saw was damn impressive. There’s no reason to think the magic train doesn’t stop bring the goodies. I saw at least five stand-ups that could break big time with some years and a little luck. There was some serious talent that night. The best one though, who I would put money on, is Will Noonan. He has chops to fall in line with Burr and Louis C.K., Sam Morril, that crowd. He’s a tremendous writer which is the most important arrow in the quiver. He’s also got strong stage presence. A very American stand-up vibe. Going all the way back to Andy Griffith. He’s old fashioned and modern in the very same blink, which is dangerous. He has a new special coming out shot at Capo which I can’t wait to see.
Someone else that was great to watch that night was Kelly Mcfarland. It’s not fair to call her a new act because she’s been around a long time. She’s a pro and in fact I think she probably had the best set of the night. Her and Tony V. It was a tough crowd, a Tues night crowd, and she was the one that really got them going. Such a strong performer.
The two weeks was, as I’ve said, a crash course. Illuminating. Educational. Humbling, and inspirational. Josh Mandel, also a funny young comic, does shows at a place called Article 24, which is a great little room. Will Noonan has a show in the basement of an elegant restaurant in Southie called Capo that is a gorgeous room and was a lot of fun to work. I had a great time there. The whole trip was perfect. It’s pretty daunting though. I have to say to think of all the history and all the world class Boston comics. It’s mind boggling. Nuclear comedy history. If you’re into stand-up at all, look into that world.
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