Nick DiPaolo: "I'd Like to See More People Cutting Loose and Taking Risks"
For more than 25 years, Nick DiPaolo has battled it out in the comedy trenches alongside peers Louis C.K., Colin Quinn, and the late Patrice O'Neal. The Boston native has also waged a few personal wars of his own--mainly those against political correctness and complacency. Headlining Caroline's on Broadway Friday through Sunday (4/4 - 4/6), DiPaolo may miss the days of endless road gigs and creative risk-taking, but he remains optimistic that open, authentic dialogue will always be welcome on the stand-up stage.
Photo courtesy Nick DiPaolo
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You made the move from Boston to New York extremely early in your comedy career. What did you think you had figured out at only two years in?
That's a good question. I guess I thought I was better than I was. I grew up north of Boston, so in the late '80s, when I started, that was like the Mecca. There was a whole stand-up boom going on, and comics were moving from other parts of the country to Boston to do comedy. There was just so much work, even as an open mic-er. I remember looking at my book; the first full year I had worked over 300 nights, and that was just because there was so much stage time. Every restaurant and every pub in New England--not just Boston proper--had a comedy night. So it was a matter of good timing.
As a kid I used to watch a lot of comics. I used to watch Johnny Carson; I was fascinated with his monologue, and I remember seeing Jay Leno on The Merv Griffin Show. I was fascinated that somebody could come out and just talk and make a crowd laugh without acting like an ass. So I started to do open mics, and there was so much work to go around, it was every night for a couple years. A Monday night I would be at a Chinese restaurant in Rhode Island, on Tuesday night I'd be at, like, the Holiday Inn in Nashua, New Hampshire, and I might be in Boston at Stitches, the next night I might be at a college like the University of Massachusetts. There was just a ton of work. And what's funny is us comics thought that was normal; that's how it would always be. But it actually helped. When you first start out, stage time is the whole key. So you grow by leaps and bounds. Then I had a guy named Barry Katz who told me I should start going down to New York, so I listened to him.
Was he running [West 3rd Street's] Boston Comedy Club then?
Yeah, right after I moved down, he started the Boston Comedy Club. He was my manager, and he was Louis C.K.'s. Me and Louis were actually roommates for about a year. Looking back on it, it was so much fun: just doing three or four sets, just running around the city.
Budd Friedman and his wife ran The Improv on 44th and Ninth, and that was a big thing, to pass at The Improv. That was the first obstacle, was Silver Friedman. It took me like three or four chances before she said yes, and then I thought, "Oh, now I can move to New York!"
The New York comedy scene feels like it's in a different place than it was even 10 years ago. I'm not sure if it's because everything that's shocking has already been said, that the internet has rendered audiences incapable of shock, or that political correctness is rendering the act of envelope-pushing obsolete.
I think you hit it on the head with the internet. I listen to these young guys on the radio, and I think stand-up is in good hands with these guys. But you're right with political correctness, and people are so hyper-sensitive now, and I think these young guys coming up are like, "Look, if I want to get on TV..." That's the one similarity, I'd say. Even when I was coming up, when you first start out you want your material to be accessible so you can get some exposure, I guess. My first 10 years was all TV-clean stuff. And then once you got a few credits on your resume, then you felt you had earned the right to cut loose and say whatever.
I think these guys coming up now, they grew up with Comedy Central, and they grew up hearing us on the radio. I didn't have that coming up. Comedy Central had just started, but we didn't have satellite radio, where you could hear a thousand comics a day around the clock.
I'd like to see more people cutting loose and taking risks, you know? It's not about killing; some of them just tell mildly amusing stories. I'm 52 now, so that's what's scary out of all the things: to watch yourself change, but the demographics stay the same. It's still people in their 20s; that's really weird. But your act should grow with you. Obviously you should change over the years. You have these guys still telling the same jokes. It's kinda sad to see some comic in his 50s talking about smoking pot in college. If you're an artist, you've got to talk about what's going on in your life that very second.