As Interviewed By Brian McGuinness
Conducted Late June, 2008 - Published July 1, 2008
Everybody likes making fun of Italian people. Mike Marino does it for a living. From actor to full-time stand-up comic, Mike Marino shares his thoughts with me about the wonderful world of stand-up.
Brian: You got your start doing commercials, acting in TV and films. Why'd you make the switch into full time stand-up comedy?
Jim: When I first moved out to California, this is where I came out here to follow my dreams. I had been doing a lot of commercials and shit in New York City. When I came to California, people kept saying "You Jersey people, you're so funny." So I just said to myself, "Maybe I am funny and I might as well go with it." So I started going to open-mics and shit like that. And before you know it I became a full-fledged comedian. I still got my acting chops, but this is what I'm doing.
Brian: So, was it people on set that were saying it?
Jim: Oh yeah. I remember a bazillion years ago when I was 21 years old, me and six actors from New York City were in Italy for three weeks making a commercial for "Join the Navy, see the world." and for some reason I couldn't stop imitating Rodney Dangerfield. And everybody kept saying I looked and sounded like him and I was making them laugh. And even then people would tell me I should be a comedian, but I never went for it. But that's when I originally thought "Maybe I am a funny guy."
Brian: So it wasn't a childhood dream growing up then. Was your dream always to act?
Jim: My dream was always to be an actor from when I was a very young kid. I went to an open-mic in Bayonne, New Jersey. They were having a comedy contest. I was 29. I remember grabbing the microphone thinking, "I can do this." I blew the room away just kidding around and I won. Then sometime later I went to an open mic at Rascals which used to be down the Jersey shore. I went to that open mic, I met a talent coordinator who was looking for talent for other projects. He said to me, "You have a good flair for this and because of your theater background and training you'll probably pick it up real fast." And that was Bob Gonzo and I've been with him ever since.
Brian: That's pretty late, starting at 29, compared to most comics.
Jim: Yeah, I was really late. Most start at like sixteen or seventeen. When I was sixteen and seventeen I was on a soap-opera. I had no idea how to pick up a microphone.
Brian: Do you think that helped or hurt you in any way, starting so late?
Jim: Yes and no. It probably hurt me because it was a time in my life where I probably should have been excelling as an actor and it pulled me backwards a little bit, but now it's catapulting me forward. My last three theatrical roles I've gotten are because they saw me doing stand-up.
Brian: Cool. Was your acting at the time at a stand-still which made stand-up seem more attainable or exciting to do?
Jim: No. Everything was going according to plan. I didn't have anything to do at night anyway. I wasn't married, had no children. I was going out every night anyway, might as well go to an open-mic. When you're in your late twenties, early thirties going to open-mics you can be a real good pussy magnet.
Brian: How do you feel your comedy has changed over the years?
Jim: I've gotten more confident in my convictions. I believe more in what I'm saying than I ever did because what I'm saying is my life. There are no lies in my act. It's the truth and the truth is always the funniest thing. I'm having fun, man. I'm doing concerts averaging 1,000 seat theaters. I got a few huge theaters to do this summer. I'm back in the Montreal Comedy Festival this year. I'm going to do six weeks in Canada.
Brian: You said you do a lot of truth. You do a lot of stuff about being from Jersey and your Italian background and stuff like that. Did you grow up in a big, funny family?
Jim: When you grow up in an Italian family with blonde hair and blue eyes no one believes you are who you are. You hear tons of funny things just from that. Listening to my father yelling and screaming at people, and the different places we went and experienced, it's a great place to get comedy because other people can relate to you.
Brian: Do you think that helps a lot, being surrounded by comedy growing up?
Jim: So many comedians grow up in what they say is 'painful' stuff. I didn't. I was always a happy-go-lucky kid. So, I think I was just fine the way I was.
Brian: Is any topic off limits to you in your stand-up?
Jim: I don't think making fun of anybody's ethnic background is necessary. If they're offended by it you're going to kill half your audience. So I don't really dig in and make fun of people or ethnic backgrounds, although I have jokes for everybody.
Brian: But you do a lot of Italian jokes?
Jim: Yeah, but it's not offensive.
Brian: Okay. So what or who makes you laugh?
Jim: Well, I was a fan of George Carlin and I loved Rodney Dangerfield. I like a lot of up and coming comedians you see today. Everybody has their moments.
Brian: Anybody in particular.
Jim: Not really.
Brian: Ha, okay. What'd you think when you heard the Carlin news.
Jim: It's sad to hear about it when you think of his career. I'm at the age when I would remember him when he first came out and he did comedy albums. He's the first guy to break barriers with dirty words. You saw him go from a skinny 70's pot-smoking funny man to a regular character on that children's show with the choo-choo train. He had a pretty illustrious career. I think he did more HBO specials than anybody else. We're going to miss the guy. I've never met him though. I think the other comedian that really is a legend in the stand-up comedy world more so than anybody is Don Rickles.
Brian: So is there anything you hear about there that irritates you a bit, regarding any aspect of stand-up comedy?
Jim: Last Comic Standing.
Brian: Bingo. Nice answer. How come?
Jim: First of all, most people who audition are not stand-up comics. They're just some crazy person who thinks they can tell a joke. They're throwing people in a house and mixing them and making them look like a crazy family. What about the stand-up comedians from all across the world, who would actually blow a room away because they've been headlining for twenty years? That would be a competition.
Brian: Yeah, it's pretty bad that show.
Jim: Imagine you took the ten best stand-up comedians who all have more than fifteen years under their belts and said, "Okay, everybody gets five minutes." The audience would be in pain.
Brian: What's your favorite joke?
Jim: I don't know if I ever had a favorite. I always liked this one, "A woman goes into a bar and raises her arm to order a drink. When she raised her arm everyone noticed a lot of hair under her arms. So a drunk guy said to the bartender, 'Send that ballerina a drink for me.' Bartender says 'What makes you think she's a ballerina?' The drunk guy says, 'Any girl who can put her leg up that high is a ballerina.' I always thought was just sick.
Brian: So you said your first time on stage went good. Did it always come natural to you?
Jim: My first and second year I was doing stand-up in New Jersey at that time and I would drive for hours to go to an open-mic and catch five minutes in the blustering snow of the winter. I remember one time Gonzo took us to a bar where there was nothing but motorcycle bikers and my first bit used to be "Fire Marshall Bill" and I remember getting booed until I fucking left the place. Then I stayed outside and people came up to me and said, "Why'd you get off? You were the best!" Oh, is that what this is?
Brian: How do you decide what's going to be an actual joke for you?
Jim: I think what I do is try to experience something during the day that might be funny or silly and that will be something I'll bring up at night. A couple of weeks ago for example, I made my parents have a garage sale so they can get rid of some of their junk and the conversations I had with people who came to buy I put in my routine that night.
Brian: What were some memorable ones from that day?
Jim: Well I actually went to someone else's garage sale across the street. And I said, "You're selling an iron that has no cord." He said, "Yeah but I only want a dollar." I said, "What would anybody use an iron for if it has no cord?" He said, "You can hold a door open." Then I started shopping around. I said, "Do you know you're selling ONE snow ski? Where's the other?" He said, "That's a long story!" Who needs one ski?!
Brian: Hey, it's only a dollar. What's yo' problem?
Jim: Right. Then I bought some old toys. Toys in New Jersey are different than toys in other states. In Jersey, we get G.I. Joe dolls but we call them G.I. Joey and when you pull the string he told you to go fuck yourself. We also had Clue in our house but we weren't allowed to play it because nobody wanted to be a rat. Remember that game? "Who did that?" "I don't know, I didn't see shit." These are jokes I was making up off the top of my head one night. I also wanted to do an Italian magician. But there wasn't that many Italian magicians. "Okay, next I'm going to make dis guy disappear…okay, show's over."
Brian: Is a lot of your act improvised or mostly planned out?
Jim: Planned out 65%.
Brian: How do you feel the state of comedy is right now?
Jim: I think it's at an all-time high. There are stand-up comedians making more money than you ever could imagined possible and there's more need for a place to go and laugh than any other time in history because of the economy, gas, the war. People need an outlet and they've been going to comedy shows now more than ever. You got guys like Dane Cook and Russell Peters, guys making almost three, four, five million dollars a year doing stand-up, I think something good is up. Even Artie Lange is making $75,000 average a show. If I made $75,000 a show I'd quit on Tuesday, but I'm getting there.
Catch Mike at MikeMarino.net or his next big concert August 9th in New Jersey "Mike Marino Live from Asbury Park Paramount Theater."
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