Interview: Comedian Nick DiPaolo
Nick DiPaolo, the New York-based and twice Emmy-nominated comedian and writer, has a Showtime special, "Nick DiPaolo: Raw Nerve," which was released earlier this month and is available on iTunes and Amazon. You can catch it on Showtime2 tonight at 1:15am as well - set your DVR. The Boston-bred DiPaolo is an outspoken artist who does not shy away from sharing his opinion whether or not the current cultural hegemony agrees with it. He has been positioned as a political comic, probably because, as his friend Colin Quinn has told him "It doesn't matter with you Nick, if you're telling a joke about McDonald's we know how you voted." But true fans of comedy will be able to separate any political inferences in "Raw Nerve" from the transcendent humor that is inspired by DiPaolo's perspective. The political material in DiPaolo's work is a tiny percentage of the whole picture and even if you are a hardcore liberal, if you have an open mind there is plenty of humor to appreciate.DiPaolo doesn't come out to southern California often, despite having lived in the region for 5 years working in television but this doesn't mean he doesn't have a big fan base in the area. It was a pleasure to bring you a conversation with someone as unfettered and fearless as DiPaolo, it would be great to see him perform in LA sometime soon. You can also look forward to seeing Nick DiPaolo in at least one episode of the upcoming season of Louis C.K.'s "Louie". In the meantime check out "Nick DiPaolo: Raw Nerve."
Nick DiPaolo: I've got an idea for my next DVD cover, me and that pastor who burned the Koran, with my arm around him. Just something provocative, I won't even mention anything Moslem in the whole set, people are just so...
Thomas Attila Lewis: Paranoid?
Nick DiPaolo: Yeah, paranoid, exactly [laughs].
TAL: It's kind of crazy how over-reactive everyone is.
Nick DiPaolo: I saw that commercial [thinkb4youspeak.com "That's So Gay"] the other day, the one with my friend Wanda Sykes who I worked with for over two years on Chris Rock's show at HBO, I saw that commercial for the first time, it made me furious.
TAL: Are you still on the level with her that you could give her a call and ask her what's going on?
Nick DiPaolo: She'd say "Nick, go fuck yourself!" in that sassy voice of hers [laughs]. I'll run into her when she comes to New York and bust her chops about it, I'll say "Because you're out of the closet now you're going to tell me what to say?" There's such a double standard when it comes to that. Really, there are certain words in the English language that are off limits for me because I'm a white heterosexual male? She's a funny lady and I like her but that kind of infuriates me.
TAL: Well it's something you touch on in "Raw Nerve" but I hear it in other areas of comedy, I think Greg Fitzsimmons has a bit about that, that he can write a check to the United Negro College Fund but he can't say their name out loud as he hands in the check. So how did we get to this point?
Nick DiPaolo: How? With his politics, he's liberal. I like him, he's a friend of mine too, but he's very liberal, you know? He thinks I'm like a right wing fascist. So when he asks that question... it wasn't my doing. When I do stuff like this, I'm not doing it to be politically incorrect. When you're a comic or an artist you talk about stuff that you feel strongly about, at least you learn to, it's cathartic, or at least it's supposed to be. It's a great place to vent, hopefully people can laugh, not everybody is going to laugh.
TAL: I think what you are touching on what a lot of people are encountering - do you have to have a mental gate that governs what you can or can't say, without having to double or triple think everything and therefore have the meaning change about what I'm trying to communicate.
Nick DiPaolo: Exactly, this country was built on that, it's what separates us from Hugo Chavez and the third world shitholes - I can do that here in America. Comedy clubs are the only place, eventually I'm going to look up and see somebody from the government standing in the doorway of the Funnybone going, "What did you say?" Comedy clubs are one of the few places left.
I laugh when I hear minorities, women, or gay [comics] complaining about political correctness because it's not stifling their speech. It's stifling white heterosexual Christian males for the most part. Really, is a black comic going to get in trouble for making fun of white people or a gay woman comic going to get in trouble for making fun of me?
TAL: Didn't Kobe Bryant recently get in trouble for calling a ref something?
Nick DiPaolo: And boy didn't that story go away in a flash? If that was, who's a white guy who plays, if Steve Nash said that it would have been on the NBC nightly news.
TAL: He would have had to appear on an episode of "Glee" as part of his...
Nick DiPaolo: [Laughs] Yes, as part of his community service!
TAL: Your willingness to do communicate this - is this something that Louis C.K. saw in you to get involved in his first season of "Louie"?
Nick DiPaolo: [Laughs] Well, Louie has known me forever, we came up through Boston together, we actually were roommates. His politics are always polar opposite of mine but we're mature enough and smart enough to not let it get in the way of our friendship. He'll say some heinous stuff kiddingly, but he's not politically correct, you know what I mean? He went after Sarah Palin on Twitter, he told me he was drunk. He had been up all night, he had been at the airport and was in a bad mood. So he twittered all this stuff about Sarah Palin that was vicious - I read it, I was laughing so hard. I lean right in my politics and I kind of like her but it's his right to say that. But someone at FX or somebody told him to take it down.
TAL: And now he really doesn't tweet anymore.
Nick DiPaolo: Is that right?
TAL: I hardly ever see anything from him.
Nick DiPaolo: He doesn't need it, you get to a certain level. But he knows my politics and that's why we did that ["Louie"] scene.
TAL: That was great.
Nick DiPaolo: That was scripted too but it looked like it was ad-libbed. He's so great, I'm so happy for him. Sometimes you see people who make it and you wonder how they did it but Louie can write, he can direct, he's brutally funny, he's smart as a whip.
TAL: Are you in this upcoming season [of "Louie"]?
Nick DiPaolo: Yeah, I'm in one a scene. I make jokes about this too. I have a buddy with a hit show but it has no regular contracted players, he grabs us when he needs us. Oh, by the way, not to keep coming back to "Louie," but we had that episode about the word "faggot," when we were sitting around the card table. That was brilliant! It explained everything. Rick Crom is a friend of ours, that's what I mean. But GLAAD gets involved and they raise the tension. I'm not saying that people don't get beat up but come on, you're not going to quell speech.
TAL: Can you tell me about how "Raw Nerve" came about? Did you have a 50-minute set that you wanted to get down?
Nick DiPaolo: Yeah, careers peak, and there's ebb and flow, and it had been a while since my last Comedy Central special. I had been working the road and paying my bills. I thought I had something to say and that it was socially relevant which is more than what most people are doing. You see what I'm saying? You should get credit for that whether people agree with it or not. So I called Barry Katz at New Wave and told him I wanted to do a DVD. That was the original plan, it was just to do a DVD. I had the material, I shaped it for a few months. I wasn't even at my fighting peak where I was working every night. I live 40 miles north of New York City so it's tough to go in and work every night. But I did put in the work before we shot the special. I was on the road and was doing several cities where I could do the full 45 or 50 minutes. I tightened it up and shot it at Foxwoods in Connecticut.
Originally it was going to be the DVD of my "Funny How?" CD and we shot a performance in Boston but I didn't like it and I had already written a lot of new material. More than 80% of this is new stuff. And right now I'm already starting on a new hour for another recording. You've got to shine some light on people, you have to give them some love, to inspire. I was talking about this with Colin Quinn on the phone, otherwise you're telling jokes every night and they dissipate into the night air, and that's it. I take pride in what I do, I try to be socially relevant and somebody should see it. But let's be honest, this business isn't run by people who like my politics. HBO? C'mon, their hero is Bill Maher, are they really going to put me on?
TAL: I was going to ask you about that - you have HBO, Comedy Central, and Showtime. With your experience, what do you see out there? What do you think the lay of the land is in terms of bringing comedy to TV?
Nick DiPaolo: I'll tell you what it is: it's a mess! Comedy Central is giving people hour [specials] who have been doing comedy for 3 years, it's a mess. It's TV, it's the old thing, the art vs. business, they collide. They're looking for the next young person, they're putting on people who aren't ready yet. They put on specials, an hour of a guy, I've never heard of the kid, and they tell me he's been doing comedy for 6 years - really? You have veterans like me or Bobby Slayton who have been doing this [and we're not on]. So Showtime, I thank them, I'm grateful that they stepped up.
TAL: It does appear that Showtime doesn't seem to have a problem putting on comedians that are different, maybe not "controversial."
Nick DiPaolo: And they shouldn't and neither should HBO, but they do. It's the same people working there who were there when I was writing for Chris Rock 11 years ago. They're very liberal, they're in a bubble. Are you going to tell me that I'm the only funny comedian who leans right in the whole country?
TAL: Well, they'll say that they've got the "Blue Collar" comedy guys.
Nick DiPaolo: And you know what I say to that? "Blue Collar" is making fun of white people and I don't want to be lumped in with that. They found their niche - but if they bring that up, I laugh in their face. OK, so the Def Comedy Jam, that filth, do you think that represents the black point of view politically?
TAL: No, I don't think so.
Nick DiPaolo: And neither does the Blue Collar comedy, it's making fun of white rednecks.
TAL: Now regarding what you said about Comedy Central, I do like John Oliver's comedy hour, where he brings in 3 to 4 comedians who do 10 or 12 minutes. That seems a lot more responsible than what they were doing on Fridays and Saturdays where they were giving hour long shows to people I've never heard of.
Nick DiPaolo: There's a market out there for me, and believe me... I'd like to get back on the radio. I did that for a little while in New York and I'd like to do that. Jon Stewart said something about me, and I know him, he's funny and talented, he definitely deserves all of his fame, but we have completely different politics. But he said something to Colin or one of my buddies, "If DiPaolo breaks through it will be frightening" because there's this blue collar angry white guy mentality that's out there. I have a cult following, I'm taking the long road, you know, but like I said, the people that run the business aren't crazy about me.
TAL: But what I hear from you certainly isn't politics, perhaps a tiny amount, 10% or something like that. You give props to whomever whether they did something right or wrong, whether it's a Republican congressman in an airport bathroom...
Nick DiPaolo: Right, because as a comic you are supposed to try to find the truth and laugh at what's true. It's just my opinion right now that people on the right are a bit closer to the truth as to what's going on with the world. Just like people on the left were in the '60s on the race stuff, when the conservatives were wrong. These things ebb and flow.
TAL: And a lot of this is about you and your reactions, what you are perceiving. It's for our brain to process...
Nick DiPaolo: Exactly, it's my perception. But that's a good point, in these interviews I come across as a political comic and I'm not. But Quinn said "It doesn't matter with you Nick, if you're telling a joke about McDonald's we know how you voted." Which is very very true, it's in my DNA.
TAL: But at the same time, this isn't for judgmental people, people who can't see the humor because they disagree with the politics.
Nick DiPaolo: It's funny, when I did my first couple open mics, 20-something years ago, I remember somebody saying "You're going to be popular because you're politically incorrect and that's going to be big." It's still not true, each year since then, and that was in 1988, it's getting more politically correct, and I'm still waiting for it to swing and it's not going to.
TAL: I guess we've had the rise of "shock comics" and I don't even really know what that means anymore.
Nick DiPaolo: Exactly - they throw that label on people, "Oh, because you found what Howard Stern said shocking he's now a shock jock?" They would have said that about Lenny Bruce and it minimizes what they do. "Oh, Rush Limbaugh is just an entertainer" - that's not true, he's more than that, when you have presidents addressing what he does in their speeches, he's more than an entertainer.
TAL: So tell me about your time in LA.
Nick DiPaolo: I lived in LA for 5 years and all I saw, every time I went into a comedy club was a black or latino comic, "Yeah, I got pulled over by a white cop today." It was all the same, "pity me" story. I didn't care for the LA comedy scene. It was young and stupid. [People would] rather watch the Kardashians. I did like it outside of LA, north of LA, Orange County. Or La Jolla, my favorite room, I did my first comedy CD at the Comedy Store in La Jolla. A bunch of kinda rich Republican types who loved my stuff. In LA what was all right was the Comedy Store. Mitzi Shore loved me, she gave me carte blanche to the place. It was kind of depressing though, there would be the comics hanging out that were famous in the '80s and the carpet was the same as when Richard Pryor was there. But there was a room called the Original Room where you could work out new stuff, a smaller room. But then the big room, Mitzi would throw me up there on the weekend - what a beautiful room. But it was mixed for me, people wondered who this white punk from Boston was.
TAL: Everything seems to be so business oriented in LA now. People trying to get in show business or they have an affiliation with it. How much of it is real comedy and comedians or people trying to get on a TV show?
Nick DiPaolo: You don't go to LA to develop, you go there when you're finely honed and seasoned. That's how it used to be but now everybody wants a short cut. But they put together 12 miserable minutes to get on "Comics Unleashed" and hope that someone spots them.
A clip from "Nick DiPaolo: Raw Nerve"