By Jason Tanamor
When I mentioned to comedian Pete Correale about seeing comedy legend Bill Cosby do two hours of jokes, I had to ask, “How can you consistently stay funny that long?”
“I’m not going to disrespect Cosby or anything. But what I will say though is I think no matter how funny a comedian is, an hour and ten minutes is pretty much the limit,” said Correale. “Even when I watched Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” as a kid, I laughed my balls off, but you didn’t want it to be much longer than that.”
Correale went on to say that any longer than that, people just can’t keep laughing. “When Chris Rock did “Bigger and Blacker,” he just fucking shreds for like an hour and fifteen to the point that you’re exhausted. And then good night.”
So when I called Correale for an interview, I was certain to keep it under the hour and ten mark.
Q – I’m going to confess and say that I haven’t heard a lot about you. And I’ve been covering stand-up for a while. Can you tell me how long you’ve been doing stand-up and how you got involved with it?
A – From the first day I grabbed the microphone until now I haven’t stopped. It’s been 15 years this May since I started doing stand-up. For me, I loved watching stand-up comedy growing up but it never really dawned on me as something I could actually do. My dad is an architect and my mom is a teacher, it was a very white collar, you go to college, and get your degree type of environment. My senior year of college I took an acting class for a credit. I thought I had the acting bug, so when I graduated, I moved to New York City. I only grew up in Long Island, right outside NYC, and always wanted to move to NYC so when I moved there, my sister got me a job working front desk of a hotel cause she was a big doopty do at a hotel chain. I went on some cattle call auditions, got myself a headshot, and pretty quickly I realized, “What am I doing? This is ridiculous. I’m not even an actor.”
Just dicking around for two years, I got into this ridiculous improv group. There were like 10 people, a bunch of people going nowhere, we were all a bunch of knuckleheads. We performed at comedy clubs at like five o’clock at night; we did this like three times, well before the stand-up comedy would start. And we performed to like eight to 10 people who were our family and friends, it was really ridiculous. But after the third time we did it, it was at Stand-Up New York, everybody was going to go out for drinks and stuff, I just asked the comedy club manager if I could stick around and have a couple of beers and just watch the show. He was like, “Yeah sure.” And instantly, within the first five minutes of watching the first comic I was like, “Holy shit, I want to do that.”
I’ve never fell in love with anything that quickly. I started doing open mikes whenever I could, I was working from seven in the morning until three in the afternoon at the hotel and after about seven or eight months of this, I got a job, lucky enough, sweeping and mopping the floors at a New York comedy club. After I got off at the hotel, I’d go home and take a nap and then get to the club at about six and mop and sweep the floors, straighten up the tables, and then I’d cook some hamburgers, or whatever they needed me to do, and then at the very end, I would always get up on stage. The very last person up was me. I got no money, and had a college degree, I was mopping floors, but it didn’t matter to me cause I was getting stage time. I did that for a year and a half, just every night going on and I was able to leave the mopping and sweeping cause I was getting spots at places here and there. But for the most part, for me Jason, was really important from day one, I don’t know if it was instincts or what, but starting out in New York City, the beauty is you see the best right away, right in front of your eyes.
As far as being under the radar, that’s what a lot of comics say about me. I wasn’t in a hurry to present something unless it was really, really presentable. I want to be 50 years old and still be relevant up here. I want people to be able to look back at my stuff and still laugh cause it’s still relevant. I did Letterman, I’m doing Letterman again in May, I’ve done the Tonight Show, Carson Daly, but I’ve never done a half hour for Comedy Central, I stayed away from it because if I ever wanted to present it on a grand level I wanted it to be an hour, I wanted it to be special. I feel that after 15 years of hard work, the plugging and the writing I feel like it has really come together. And I hope this is like the break out for me and people will start to know me more.
Q – Your act revolves around happenings in your life. It seems like a lot of comics talk about their lives in their acts. Do comics just have funny lives?
A – I don’t think we have funnier lives than the average person, I just think as comics, there’s a lot going on in the brain and you start to train yourself to look for the funny, and dissect everything. Comics tend to just question everything and ponder everything, even the mundane, more so than the average person. That’s why people laugh when a comic is talking about something that happened to his or her life, because the same thing happened to them. The comic isn’t necessarily funnier but better about presenting it in a way where everyone can relate.
Q – When you write material, is there a certain process that you use?
A – It’s funny, cause some comics will sit at a computer and write for a certain amount of time, others will write on napkins. To me, I’ve come to the conclusion and acceptance that my writing style is that I don’t have a writing style. And by that I mean, I will get up in the middle of the night and write on a piece of paper if something comes to me as funny. I will go to a coffee shop and sit at my computer for three hours and write even if I have nothing to say. I’ve carried around a recorder and said jokes into the recorder so that later on I can sit down and play them back and write them out. Nothing works for me, yet everything works for me.
Q – Do you think it takes a certain type of person to be a comedian or do you think someone can learn to be a comedian?
A – I think with hard work, anybody could probably do comedy in a sense that if you worked really hard at it, and were a relatively normal person, you could be successful enough to get up on stage at a comedy club and make people laugh for about 10 minutes.
Q – It seems to me, I’ve been to enough comedy clubs, that if you don’t deliver the joke properly, it could be the best written joke, but if you don’t deliver it right, you’ve lost it.
A – Yeah, and that’s what I was going to say. The best way I can answer that is with a story. When you first start out you try to get up on stage wherever, but now I’m at a certain level where I tend to just play the Comic Strip and the Comedy Cellar mostly. That’s all I need and those are my favorite places. So this guy that runs another club calls up and says, “I really want you to start playing here. Will you call in your availability?” I said sure, it’s in my neighborhood. I email him when I’m around, and three weeks in a row he gives me one spot. The third week he gives me one spot, it’s like 15 minutes on a Friday. So I email him and say that I appreciate it but forget the spot. “I’m not going to play your room. When I play some place, I need to be there every night, or close to it, I can’t just play there once a week. It doesn’t do anything for me.” So he emails me back and says, I’m sorry to hear that. I wish you’d change your mind. You just have to understand my position. I have 80 comedians calling in for 33 available spots. So I email him back and say, “For what it’s worth, let’s be honest, you have 80 people calling in for 33 available spots. You certainly don’t have 80 comedians worth paying money to see. There’s not 80 damn comedians worth paying to see in New York City, maybe in the whole country.” And that’s my point, there are so many people that can just grab a microphone and tell ten minutes worth of jokes and get on a Carson Daly type show, but the really great ones, it takes a commitment to not be afraid to be 45 years old and not have any money. It’s a level of commitment where it takes being on the stage all the time until you’re as comfortable on it as you are in your own living room. No matter how funny you are, I’m sorry, but all the great ones have been at it for 15 years minimum.
Q – I understand what you’re saying. Sometimes I see openers and headliners where there’s a huge disparity between their level of funny. Sometimes the headliner is just THAT much funnier.
A – Yeah, sometimes I’ll do shows and there will be a bunch of different comedians playing. And the seasoned ones can talk about what happened to them THAT day, and yeah, the jokes may not be that funny and you’re just riffing about your day, but the way they tell them makes them funnier than everyone else. It’s a level of comfort, you feel more comfortable in their hands cause it seems like they know what they’re doing and have been doing this for a long time.
Q – How many chances do you give a joke before you realize it’s not working?
A – That’s such an instinct thing. I have a joke where I say, I was at the beach once, I was smoking a cigarette, and I say to my friend, “This is the best place to smoke. It’s like you’re actually in the ashtray.” I had said that from time to time with friends and I had never thought to say that on stage. And then after three years, one time I just said it on stage and it got a great response.
Now on the other hand you’ll say a joke that you think is hilarious and you’ll get nothing. And you can’t understand how these fucking people aren’t seeing it. “How are you not seeing it?” I have a punch line I’ve been saying for the last three weeks where the punch is, “Isn’t every wife really just a hooker with one client?” And like one person will laugh and no one else will but that one person will really, really laugh and I’m like, “I know I’m on to something.” But after three weeks I just put it aside. What will happen, a month later when I’m telling a story, all of a sudden that punch line will work better. Or I’ll come across as nicer and that joke will just work. You never say that you’ll do it just one more day. You just find that you’ve stopped doing it.
Q – Do you find that audiences in the Midwest, the East coast or the West coast just laugh at different things?
A – Not that they think something is funnier in different parts of the country than others, but more that they think it’s OK to laugh. I headlined at the Improv in Melrose a couple months ago and a couple jokes that kill in New York didn’t get… like I do a joke that my 80 year old grandmother came to visit, I love her to death but she walks like two miles an hour. She wanted to see Ground Zero but I didn’t want to take her all the way down there, so I said fuck it and took her to a construction site in my own neighborhood. In New York that kills. In other parts of the country that gets a nervous response. Some were laughing and some were nervous but after the show people will come up to me and say that Ground Zero joke was so funny.
Q – You have a Comedy Central special coming out May 30th. Now this is your first TV special, right?
A – Yeah.
Q – How difficult was it to come up with the perfect set for this special?
A – It’s really just an accumulation of 14 and a half years of plugging away night in and night out. It’s not like I took three hours of stand-up comedy material and sat down and said, “OK, let me decide what will be the best 60 minutes to do for a special.” For me, about a year ago I started working with this fantastic management, particularly this manager named Judi Marmel. The management company is named Levity. They represent Jeff Dunham, the puppet guy. We started working together and chatting and she said, “You’ve never done a half hour for Comedy Central before, have you?” I said no, I’m just waiting to present. She said, “I think you’re past a half hour. What do you think about doing an hour?” I go, I think I’m ready to do an hour too.
So I took an accumulation of my best one hour set over the course of 14 years and I made a tape and we sent it to Comedy Central and within a day or two they said, “Fucking let’s do it. We want to give you an hour.” And when we made the deal, the set that we made for Comedy Central was pretty much the same set that I showed them to get the special. I have to do at least 60 minutes on stage. If I don’t, they can’t contractually sell a DVD at Wal-Mart or Amazon.com. I don’t understand but that’s how that works. But for Comedy Central, once I do the 60 minutes, the production company gives it to Comedy Central and then they, Comedy Central, edit it down to 42 minutes because of commercials. And you have no say of the 60 and some odd minutes, which 42 of them they are going to use. But I was pretty proud of it. I’m not one of those guys that say, “I can’t believe they left that one out.” But when you purchase the DVD, the full 60 minute set is on the DVD.
Q – You talk about your wife a lot. Does she play a role or do you run things by her or does she have a say about what you’re going to talk about?
A – No, absolutely not. There hasn’t been one time in my whole life where my wife said, don’t do that, don’t say that, da da da. The only thing my wife will do is critique me like a friend would in a sense like, “That joke sucks.” But if it’s about her or not about her, never, ever, ever.
Q – Your special airs on Comedy Central on May 30th. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
A – I’ll be on Letterman on May 22nd, and if you like what you see, you can see a longer, extended version on May 30th.
Q – Well hey, thanks for the interview, Pete.
A – Good chatting with you. Be well.
Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous."
By Jason Tanamor