Both live music and stand-up comedy have their differences and similarities. Obviously, they’re both part of the entertainment industry with both creative mediums requiring the exhibitor to go …
Both live music and stand-up comedy have their differences and similarities. Obviously, they’re both part of the entertainment industry with both creative mediums requiring the exhibitor to go on stage and perform. They are also different in nature with music usually conveying emotion while establishing a connection with whoever is listening and comedy aiming to make people laugh. Rhode Island Comedy Hall of Famer John Perrotta has been combining the two with his Comedy Factory, which will be taking over the Pub On Park on 655 Park Avenue in Cranston on May 28. Starting at 6:30pm, the musical duo G & Meg will be kicking off the evening followed by Perrotta being joined by fellow comics Rockin’ Joe Hebert, The Prince of Mystery, Stacy Kendo, Stephen DeNuccio, Hunter Andy, David Prando, Jim Small, Paul Koczwanski, Caen Lioce and Stephen Turgeon.
We had a talk ahead of the show about his earliest comedic influences, how the Comedy Factory started, making videos with his grandson, recently meeting a sketch comedy icon and what people can expect when they stop by the Pub On Park on Sunday night.
Rob Duguay: What would you say is your earliest memory of watching stand-up comedy and the spark that made you want to pursue it?
John Perrotta: I always remember watching Rodney Dangerfield on the Ed Sullivan Show and Don Rickles. Don Rickles was my idol, I’d always laugh so hard at the way he’d interact with the audience. The stuff he said then, you can’t say now. He was crazy, but when you look at his old videos, some of the stuff he said would be so politically incorrect now. I met Don once at the old Warwick Musical Theatre, he was performing with Joan Rivers and I went up to the fence, he came over and I talked to him.
He did send me an autographed picture, which to this day I can’t figure out what I did with it. I had it hanging up and I think somebody must have been in my house, they saw my autographed picture of Don Rickles and they must have taken it.
RD: Ahh, that stinks.
JP: Yeah, it was really cool. I had that and Don Rickles is my favorite.
RD: Well, I hope you find that photo. I grew up watching some of the Rat Pack guys with my grandfather so I can relate a little bit to your fandom of Don Rickles. Your Comedy Factory pretty much functions as a traveling comedy club with you and other comedians taking the stage at various venues, so how did you go about starting this and what initially gave you the idea to have it be this entity with it being this comedy troupe rather than just having it be yourself?
JP: I had done stand-up comedy back in ‘83, once I did very well, then I bombed twice and I had quit for about eight years. I went to the Comedy Connection in East Providence, saw a show with this headliner from Boston who was really funny and I kind of got the bug again. I wanted to try it again, so I took Frank O’Donnell’s class and when I got into comedy, places started closing everywhere. I did Catch A Rising Star in Cambridge, Massachusetts once and they closed after that. I then did Stitches in Boston, they had an open mic that was hosted by Vinnie Favorito which I did a few times and then they closed.
I was ready to get into the Brass Rail in Seekonk, which was a club that the hypnotist Frank Santos ran, and then they closed. Then I was just getting into performing at Periwinkles Comedy Club in Providence. I was going to host a weekend there, which I was really excited about, and then they closed. A friend of mine named Tim Sullivan then had the idea of us starting our own comedy night and I thought he was out of his mind. I thought that was like going to the moon, I didn’t think it was even doable and I had no clue.
There was this comedian who was around running this thing called Funny Farm Comedy and he was booking a room in Warwick at an Italian restaurant that was called “The Great Impasta”, which is long gone now. He wanted to give us the Saturday night and Tim and I had no clue whatsoever, we kind of watched what this guy did. We charged a five dollar cover and we started this comedy night. We were only there for around a year and a half or two years but the comedy night went really well. The restaurant itself didn’t do so great, but we had this comedy night and it got so popular that every time we did it the room was pretty much full.
We did a fundraiser one night, and we had both Tom Cotter and Bob Marley who are now playing theaters all over the country. Tom came in second on America’s Got Talent, these guys are big now and we had them performing as part of this fundraiser back-to-back. We also had Bill Burr and some bigger names that really blew up. Different guys would stop in and when the place closed, it was somewhere around ‘92 I came up with the idea for “The Comedy Factory” with the slogan saying that it was “New England’s Traveling Comedy Club”. I started putting shows together because I obviously couldn’t afford to buy my own comedy club, so I had the idea for a traveling comedy club and as my name got known more and more I started using the current name for it to avoid confusion with the Comedy Connection and whatever else.
That was a good move because people had seen me at shows and parties, so I just kept it like that. I just started emailing restaurants to see if they want to have a comedy night and somewhere along the way in the early ‘90s, I was at Old MacDonald’s Chicken Farm, which was kind of like Wright’s Farm and they served fried chicken. I was there performing at a bachelor party for a friend of mine, he said that I should do a comedy show there. I then talked to the manager, he was game for it and it was a place that was all you can eat so I came up with the title “All You Can Laugh”. I’m sure that somebody has done that before, but the idea literally came from my head for this dinner comedy show, so I did that for a couple years and we would get 300 people.
It was eight dollars and they would give you a salad, macaroni, chicken and bread, all for eight dollars. I had Bill Burr there, I had Tom Cotter there, I had Bob Marley and we would get literally 300 people. This went on for around two years, the people who ran the place had some legal problems and they ended up closing, but that was when I got into doing the dinner comedy shows. I liked that niche because nobody was really doing it, but it’s a lot of work. Nobody wants to do a dinner comedy show because it’s a lot more work than just showing up with an amp in some club and doing a basic comedy night. When I was young, my parents and I would go to this supper club that used to be in Johnston and I went there with this girl I was dating when I was 17.
They had a band playing, it was kind of like a Rat Pack type of thing in Vegas. We were eating dinner and I had always remembered that, so I just liked doing the dinner shows. Eventually, before COVID hit, I got friendly with Steven Palumbo who is a great local singer. He does his own Rat Pack show, he does Sinatra and he’s great. Him and I talked about doing something together so we decided to do a show at Savini’s in Woonsocket, which is a really nice venue and we called it the “Laughs & Music Dinner Comedy Show”. Steven would sing, then we would have the comedians and it went really well.
Then COVID hit and when the pandemic cleared up, I said to myself that there’s something there and I like it because nobody offers a place where you can go have dinner, have a singer on and then see a comedy show. No one is doing that, so I wanted to do something with this and now I have a bunch of different singers and musicians involved in addition to the comedy. It really adds a nice touch and really people really enjoy it.
RD: I think it’s a great combination. On Facebook, you've been posting these videos of yourself and your grandson, who you like to refer to as "Baby O", and you've been trying to get him to do some vacuuming around the house, you’ve tried to get him a job in landscaping and you’ve even tried having him run for office among other things. How is "Baby O" doing these days and what do you think of his career prospects with all these different opportunities you’re trying to get him?
JP: That whole thing started when he was really small. One day he was sitting in his chair, I started taking a video and it was either my wife or my daughter who filmed me talking to him like he was a regular person. I did a couple of them without thinking about it and friends of mine and people at shows started coming up to me and instead of asking me about the next show, they were asking me about the next video of “Baby O”. It kind of blew up, all these people wanted to see the baby so I just kind of ran with it. It’s a little comedy and somewhat serious with me talking to him like he’s a regular guy and it just kind of hit.
I do one every week or two, they get a few hundred views and people always come up to me saying that they love the “Baby O” videos. It’s crazy, he kind of has his own following.
RD: Those videos are wicked funny. You also recently got to meet Kenan Thompson from “Saturday Night Live”, who is in Rhode Island filming Good Burger 2, at the Park Theatre in Cranston the other night after a performance you did as part of Poppy Champlin's Rhode Island Comedy Hall Of Fame induction show. How did the both of you end up meeting each other that night and what was he like in person?
JP: It was kind of a fluke thing. The owner of the Park Theatre, Ed Brady, is very friendly with Kenan so the word going around that night was that he was possibly going to stop in. I’ve always enjoyed his sketches on “Saturday Night Live” and I remember watching him when he was on “All That” and “Kenan & Kel” with my kids when they were young. When I went on stage, he wasn’t there but apparently when I hit the stage I was only doing a 10 minute set while doing the whole kitchen sink of my material. I had a really good set and when I got off, my friend Mike Cronin asked if I wanted to get a picture with Kenan.
I said “What?!” and I walked over, there’s Kenan Thompson in sunglasses standing at the bar and he enjoyed my set. Mike told me that he was really laughing, he shook my hand and we got a picture together. He was really cool, I didn’t talk to him for long but he was a really nice guy.
RD: That’s great, that’s awesome. You talked earlier about how this upcoming show at the Pub On Park is a combination of live music and stand-up comedy, so what can people expect from this?
JP: There’s different kinds of shows and at the Pub On Park we kind of mix in some newer acts with some headliners. It’s a couple hours with G & Meg opening it up with music and then the rest of us going up to do comedy. This is kind of a mix of newer and veteran acts, we started doing open mics at the Pub On Park around nine years ago and there used to be a laundromat right next door that caught on fire. They ended up expanding by knocking the wall down to make the place bigger. We started doing a lot of comedy shows with a lot of success there, they have a menu of different things and it’s just a good time.
For tickets, please call John Perrotta’s Comedy Factory at 401-639-7726 or log onto comedyfactoryRI.com.