My friend and first runner up from ‘America’s Got Talent’ took time out to fill me in on the show, talk about how the exposure has changed his life and share some war stories from the long bumpy road of standup comedy…
Tom, Thanks for taking the time to do my Crazytown interview.
Honored. You’re confusing me with someone who has something else to do. It’s Sunday morning, what else am I gonna be doing?
That’s true. What time were you shows last night?
We do one show at 7:30pm six nights a week.
Your shows are at The Palazzo in Vegas, same company as The Venetian, does this mean that Al (My Man) and I can just drop in, casually mention your name and drink for free?
That will not get you a beverage, that will get you escorted off of the property.
Who are you performing with?
It’s The America’s Got Talent Live Show with The Olate Dogs, Joe Castillo (sand artist), William Close (earth harpist), Light Wire Theater and Spencer Horsman (escape artist).
How has your life changed personally and/or professionally since all of the AGT exposure and coming in second?
First of all, the negative is I’m in Vegas doing a show and I’m away from my wife and kids, but that’s what I signed on to do. The positive is, that, yeah, your corporate price goes up, your college price goes up and your club price goes up. This is my little 15 minutes, it may only be 5 minutes, but I’m trying to capitalize on it and it’s hard to capitalize on it when you’re busy doing 6 shows a week.
What was the hardest part about participating in a talent contest like AGT?
Well, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Who’s to say that a sand artist is any better than light wire theater? Who’s to say that the earth harpist is any more entertaining than Olate Dogs? Or vice versa. In a comedy competition, even that, I think, is skewed, cause there are different kinds of comedy. This isn’t just comedy, this is so many different, eclectic talents thrown into a mixing bowl and you have to pick out the one you think is the best. I got very lucky this year, btw, I’m ADD, I’ll go off on some things here and you can just wrangle me back. This is the first year that 2 comics made it to the semi finals. Me and Jacob Williams, the other comic out of Chicago, we both got lucky because we did the show this year. This year was much better for comedians because Pierce (Morgan) wasn’t on. Pierce hated comics but this year he was replaced by Howard Stern who is very much a fan of comedians. So, instead of having just one ally on the judges panel, which was Howie Mandel, we now had two. We got very lucky in that this was the first year we auditioned, the first year we got on the show and this year it was much more friendly to comics. Getting back to your question, it’s very difficult being in a competition with such eclectic acts. What’s your cup of tea? Maybe William is your cup of tea or maybe comedy makes you hate tea.
Sharon Osbourne and Howard Stern have completely different, incredibly loyal, huge fan bases. Both applauded You, they had really great things to say about You. Do you think that’s going to have a big effect on your career? Being endorsed by both Sharon and Howard, picking up an incredibly mixed fan base that includes fans on both ends of the spectrum?
You have to go into it knowing that you have to appeal to such a huge / broad swath of America. There was a guy name Horse who just got kicked in the groin, that was his talent and Howard loved him. And all of his minions loved him. But he was only one judge, he was only appealing to that one jack ass kind of demographic and so of course he was eliminated. Whereas the other acts that moved on to the semi finals and the finals were much more broadly appealing. It’s like when we work on a cruise ship. You have to realize that you’re performing in front of little kids, people in their 90’s and everyone in between. So you can’t just go out there and do college material or just marriage material. You have to go out there and do material that’s going to appeal to a wide base. The judges all represent their own nitch and you want to appeal to all three, not one or two but all three because if you don’t you’re not going to get in. You need to have all three judges on your side. In years past that was the trouble because Pierce didn’t like comedians so you had to be extraordinary to get past him. It’s amazing how much influence the judges have on their followings because you listen to their comments and if they annoint you then their demographics are all going to follow you. However, if they throw you under the bus you’re screwed.
At your shows can you tell when you have an audience of Stern fans, Osbourne fans or general fans of the show?
There are some rabid AGT fans. We’re in our third week now, the first week and a half it was huge fans of the show. Now they’re fans of the show and it’s more people who happen to be in Vegas and they’re familiar with the show so they come see us. Sometimes you’ll be shocked, a couple in their 40’s or 50’s dressed to the 9’s will come up to you after a show and it turns out their Stern fans. Or they’ll chat with you after the show and mention how much they love Sharon and you realize they’re Osbourne fans.
If you weren’t a standup, what would you be?
The whole thing was for me to go to law school, I was pre-law in college, I was a political science major in college, during the summers I was a cop, I clerked for a judge, I did all that crap and then I took the LSAT’s (law school admission tests) then I crashed and burned and then my long shot law schools became distant long shots and my back ups became more reality so I was slightly disgruntled and said to my dad “I want to get this out of my system before I go to school. That was 26 years ago. If I stayed on the course I had from freshman year of high school I would have gone on to be a lawyer but that did not happen and I’m quite delighted that did not happen. If I bailed on this (standup comedy) now I would go into sales, I’m assuming or something to put bread on the table.
Have you ever doubted being a standup as a choice in life?
Countless times. Almost weekly if not daily.
What will you be doing when you’re 60? 70?
My mother died at 53 and my Dad’s got colon cancer so I’m hoping I’m around at those ages. If I am I will always do standup. I go to The Friar’s Club and I see these guys in their late 100’s telling jokes. Right up ’til the end they still perform because they love doing it. They don’t need to, a lot of them are WWII vets and they have a pension and they don’t really need it for the income but they love being a ham. I know I’m always going to do that as long as I’m physically able to even if it’s just a hobby. So, I don’t know what I’ll be doing but I know that I’ll at least be telling jokes for my own amusement if nothing else.
What was your worst hell gig?
Wow. There have been a lot of them. It’s hard to nail down one. I did a breast cancer benefit on Long Island at a country club where the sound sucked so bad nobody could here me. Maybe just the first two tables up front, but nobody else could hear me so they were in conversation and it was the same time the silent auction was going on and I’ve never walked off stage before, I had been at this 20 years when that happened, and I walked off stage. I had never done that, I had never surrendered. That hurt, that I had to surrender that stage. That one hurt and another horrible one was a prom show cruise around the statue of liberty. It was all kids in prom clothes from different high schools that hated each other and wanted to fight each other. There were two microphones, a good one and a bad one and the dj had the good one and he gave me the bad one that kept cutting out every second. He introduced me, the kids who didn’t want to be there started scowling at me because thy couldn’t hear me and the dj started heckling me on the good microphone saying how much I sucked and I couldn’t come back because I had no microphone. That was a horrible death. The worst part of that was when the show was over I was out on a boat in the middle of New York Harbor and I couldn’t swim ashore. There was nowhere to go hide. I had to just stand on the deck as kids in prom dresses walked by whispering that I sucked.
If you could go back in time and make those hell gigs disappear, like they never happened, would you?
No. That’s valuable scar tissue. It helped me become teflon and brush off much less worse things that have happened to me in my career.
Where can people look for you in the upcoming year? In rehab. Or in councelling. My AGT dates and other tour dates are on my website.
Most importantly, does all of this success mean the next time we double date at Peter Lugar’s dinner is on you?
I’m sorry, you’re breaking up. We must have a bad connection.