Louder Than War’s Eileen Shapiro interviews stand-up comedian Michael Finoia.
Stand-up comedian, Impractical Joker’s comedy producer, (TruTV’s hit comedy show), and support for The Tenderloins, Michael Finoia, has just released his new album Live In Burlington. With some of the most astounding comedic philosophies that I’ve ever experienced, and some of the funniest lines ever, Michael gets a gold star in my collection.
We spoke while he ran on the beach with his dog, on a bright sunny day that became twice as sunny after speaking to him.
Louder Than War: How are you Michael?
Just to let you know, I’m driving around with my dog. I’m heading to the beach right now. If you hear a bark….that’s Stella.
What kind of dog is she?
She’s a boxer/pit. She’s the greatest dog in the world. She pees and poops on command. The worst thing she does is she steals stuff.
What is your official title for being a writer for The Jokers?
We are called comedy producers. What we do is we basically collaborate with production and the locations department, and we figure out what places may want to work with us. Then we brainstorm ideas as to what we can do, to make the guys have fun in these different locations.
How’d you get this gig? I’m assuming you are a comedian other than this.
Well yeah, I do stand -up comedy. I just released a live album called Live In Burlington, which is on iTunes, Amazon, and Google play. The way I met the guys, is I opened up for them when they were on tour. So when The Impractical Joker’s are The Tenderloins, doing their live show, I’m one of their opening acts.
I’ve seen them live many times.
Oh yeah, have you seen me?
Well then you really haven’t seen them yet. I initially met Sal through stand-up comedy, as he is an avid fan, and is dabbling in it now. We got to talking, and they were interested in having me open for them. So I did it, hit it off with all the guys, and then I learned of an opening in the creative producer’s room. I put my hat in the ring, by submitting a packet, they blindly read the packet, and luckily they liked mine. I was offered the position and I happily took it.
Let’s talk about your new album.
So I have an album called Live In Burlington. I recorded it on Veterans Day weekend up in Burlington, Vermont, right after the election. Which was fun because that’s Bernie territory. It’s actually a little mixed. It’s pretty eclectic, and a smart crowd, so I had a good time. It was Veterans Day, as a thank you to the Vets, I invited all veterans, and armed force serviceman, to the show. As a thank you to the crowd, I offered everyone a free copy of the finished product. So once the album was done, I sent a free copy to anybody, to say thank you for coming. I got a lot of good reviews so far. People are really digging it. The fans from the show have been big supporters too. The guys were kind enough to send out a quick tweet and recommend the album. That was very kind of them.
Comedy and I don’t usually get along.
I think that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.
But I love to interview comedians, Can I ask what happens when you are in front of a crowd, and no one laughs?
I wouldn’t know.
We were talking about this the other day, about comedy verses the crowd, and some people blame the crowd; yes there are definitely bad crowds. If you’re always getting laughs, there’s something wrong, because you’re not taking risks. One of the important parts of doing standup is reminding yourself to go into the deep end every now and then, and then remind yourself how to swim. It’s very easy if you have 15 or 20 minutes of killer material, and you just stick with that. That’s a trap. One time I was in Reno doing the show with an elder comic. I was writing in my notebook in between shows, and I was trying to figure out some new jokes I wanted to try. He came over to me and he said, ‘Kid you’re working way too hard, because you know, write an hour, hit the road. I do cruise ships and casinos doing the same hour for 20 years. It kills every time’. It got to me and thought if I was ever him, I’d want someone to put me out of my misery. The thing I enjoy about comedy is the process of a thought delivered for the first time to a crowd, and then having that spontaneous pressure to figure out a way to make it funny at the end, and put the punchline onto it, make it real, and to figure out how it fits in with the structure of my set. You always deliver your jokes with a real fun energy because it’s new. The hard part for me is delivering old jokes as if I just wrote it.
What made you decide to be a comedian? Were you born funny?
I’ve always been surrounded by very funny people. My grandfather and my father, my grandfather being my mom’s father, and my father are incredibly funny. My dad is very analytical and very quick-witted, while my grandfather is, as far as I can remember he has never been in a bad mood. He always tries to figure out a way to end every conversation with a punchline, leaving someone laughing. Everybody always loved him. I always loved being around him. He always figured out a way no matter how much he was in pain, (he had a bad back from iron working but you’d never have guessed it) how to leave people laughing. I grew up around a lot of blue-collar construction, and things like that. Everybody just had an easy-going lovable sense of humor. I just like being around funny people. I think I used it as a defense mechanism, or as a way to get chicks when I was growing up.
What do you like most about being face-to-face with an audience?
That’s a great question. I think that for a minute we’re all forgetting about how shitty life is. When I look out in the crowd, I see people of all different backgrounds and races, and genders, orientations and all that stuff that seems to be dividing people now, and everybody’s just sitting and laughing. It makes me feel good that I’m a part of that. I don’t take any credit or anything. I mean they could be doing anything together. We should be kinder to each other I think. I also really like the show where we interact with each other. Sometimes comedy is just when one person goes up and tells jokes, and the crowd is not invited to take part. I kind of like to have interaction with the crowd. I like talking to people, and having every show be different. To me it’s boring to get up and recite jokes. It’s more fun to involve the crowd. I try to make every show different. Then it’s new for me every time.
You must write a lot.
I do. I’ve got a lot going on in my life, and I don’t want to go to therapy, so I figure why the hell not just talk about it on stage. I actually started a show called Hot Seat at The Comedy Cellar in the West Village, in Manhattan. They have a room called The Fat Black Pussy Cat on 3rd between McDougal and 6th Avenue.
I started a show, and what it is is, I invite my comic friends to go up and tell either a story, or a new premise that we are working on. Then we open it up to the crowd for a Q&A. It’s a lot of fun because it breaks down that wall. A lot of comedy is considered, ‘OK I’m going to talk and you shut up’. If you talk to me we are going to consider it heckling, and you are going to stick out. But this kind of breaks that wall down. It says here are a couple of ideas that I’m working on, a new story, and so what is your input? What interests you about the story? To me that’s fun because when you’re writing, and when you’re writing with another comic, you tend to try to punch something up quickly. We’re always looking for the funny part.
Sometimes it’s nice to get out of your own head, and look at it from a civilian perspective. It might open up different angles as to how you approach the joke, or certain things you may not have thought of. It’s nice to hear what thoughts they have about something. I’ve done it a couple of times, and it’s a lot of fun.
When can people see it?
I’m doing it 12 and 26 April at 8.30pm. Tickets are available at comedycellar.com.
You know I had a million jobs before I did stand up. I feel like I take pieces from everything I did and include it in the comedy. The minute I did it I thought I would never do anything else again in my life.
How is your personality reflected in your work?
Well, I hope it’s purely my personality. I don’t know, that’s a hard question. From what I’ve heard, people say that I’m the type of person that you feel like you can be best friends with after a couple of minutes of knowing me. A review of my album said that. To me that’s success because, that’s exactly what I want. I’m a pretty liberal mellow guy, also I get so pissed over the dumbest stuff. I think I react to things too quickly and then I regret the reaction. I’ve been writing a lot about that recently. Like trying to figure out examples of how I’m an idiot. I’m more than willing to admit it. I try to be as honest as possible. I’m not good at writing all like hey what’s the deal with this, it’s got to be something that I’ve experienced, or that I’ve been touched with in some way. I have a hard time just cranking out jokes about airline peanuts, or dating websites, or things like that. One of the things that I believe in most is that no one knows anything, and the smartest person is the one who admits that. I think that really is my philosophy on politics and religion, science, and all of that stuff. We are just trying to figure it out as we go. I think that there is absolutely no reason to be a know it all. I go up and I just talk about how I look at things, if you like it great, if not then you know there’s 1 million other comics for you to check out.
Who would you die for and be ok with it?
What dreams have you been sitting on, and how clear are you as to why?
I’m kind of doing everything I want. I think that what I have luckily figured out is that this thing is a marathon and not a sprint. I think that some of the stuff I used to freak out about, like I’m not doing enough, I’m not making it fast enough, we all have that. I don’t want to be a superstar, I don’t want to be a face that you can’t walk down the street without being bothered. I don’t really want that. I just want to have a crowd or a fan base that appreciates my work, and is willing to take the longer ride with me. I want to buy a small town, and fence it, and help every dog that needs rescuing. That’s really what I want to do. I like dogs more than I like humans.
Don’t let your wife know that.
I think I would die for my wife too.
His comedy album – Live in Burlington is available for purchase here
If you’d like to catch one of his Upcoming Shows please visit this link. You can also hear Mike on his podcast called JamCast. Available on iTunes.
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.