Profile in Comedy: Tony V
Tony V is a hilarious stand-up comedian and actor who has appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Seinfeld, and Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist. He can currently be seen on Showtime's The Brotherhood. He has also appeared in lots of national television commercials and even did a stint as the American Tourister gorilla. He just finished a film with Robin Williams.
When did you first realize that you were uniquely funny?
Yesterday morning at 3:51 a.m…. Woke up feeling kind of odd … that feeling turned into strange and that in turn morphed into funny with a capital FU. I've been plying my trade since 1982 — I have been fascinated by comedy and comics since my youth, when I would peek through a sliver of opened door late at night to glimpse The Tonight Show when I was supposed to be very asleep. Sometimes I wouldn't even notice my parents “doing it” on the couch I was so wrapped up in what was on the TV screen.
Who do you think were your influences?
Being a bit older than a lot of folks when I started, my influences go way back to the Marx Brothers. Much of their word play, I believe, still holds up. W. C. Fields — his attitude and outlook have been mimicked ever since. And I truly believe that if Lenny Bruce had not suffered and endured what he did there would be no comedy as we know now! Or ever! He kicked the door wide open and used his head to do it!
Do you remember your first original joke?
“I was driving down a country road, I saw a sign that read: Pony Rides $5, so I pulled up handed the guy five bucks, he put a little horse in the back of my car and said, ‘Have him back by six!’ We had a nice day, the pony and me. I'm going back tomorrow.”
When did you realize that comedy was something you had to do for a living?
When it started paying me more than I was making as a social worker. I love the hours, have always been intrigued by working opposite hours of everyone else, and I love the idea of confronting the night. The whole idea of swimming upstream gives me a jolt! It always just seemed like a natural fit, still does.
What was your first job in comedy writing or performance?
I wrote locally for a short-lived Boston show called Local Heroes. I worked on an early draft of a movie named Celtic Pride. (I am uncredited but do have a bit part as a cabbie in the film.) I also wrote, produced, and performed on the F/X network's first-ever original show called Bobcat's Bigass Show starring Bobcat Goldthwait (who I believe to be one great comedian and one truly amazing friend). We really plowed some very silly, funny, out-there kind of ground. It's worth a look if it can be found anywhere. It might be out on “Viewmaster,” I'm not sure!
What is the biggest difficulty you've encountered being a comedy writer?
Getting people who can get things done to look at what you wrote and understand it. My experience has shown me that many people in positions of power are dopes. It's a struggle but one worth it if you are passionate about your work. In many cases a thick skin and perseverance will triumph. I envy the young creative people of today because of all the outlets they have to have their stuff viewed. Even if you're not young, you should take advantage of everything the “ether” has to offer. Get on your computing witchcraft machines and get your stuff looked at!
Are there jokes that you do just for you?
You have to do jokes just for you or you'll go mad. Mad I tells ya — MAD! I do a bit where I ask the audience how come there are no famous tuba players. I have a standing offer of twenty dollars (when I have it, I throw it around!) to anyone who can name a tuba player that someone else in the crowd would say: “Oh yeah, he's good!” I think it's terrific, not so much with all audiences.
You co-wrote the screenplay for Celtic Pride. How did the movie change from your original script?
The drafts I worked on were actually funny! The finished product was nothing like I envisioned it. The idea was mine. Colin Quinn and his brother did the first draft. Then I did some punch-up on some of the gags and the three of us met several times to finalize the draft Disney bought. Once Disney bought it and ran it through their sanitation device, it was a shadow of the original. From what I remember, and it's been a while since I've seen it, the film became a whole lot of premises with no punch lines. It really seemed like they paid for the title and threw away the humor. No heart, no soul, just sap. The original script had Larry Bird (the legendary Celtic) being kidnapped in kind of a combination hero-worship/bad-bet-gone wrong scenario. It was much richer and had more places to go than the “Ultimate fan/losers” angle that they took. Of course now I will probably be hunted down and killed by Disney Black Ops … wait, I think I hear someone coming…. Quick! Call the Coen brothers! They're the only ones who can stand up for what's right.
What are the differences between writing for yourself and writing for others?
If you write for others it's theirs. If you write for yourself it's yours.
What do you find exciting about comedy right now?
Comedy is a living, breathing, ever-evolving entity. It is ageless, timeless, and defies logic and common sense. In this regard, comedy can be truly unique and wondrous all the time. Every generation has a comedy genius and most of them are people you've never heard of. That's the best thing ever.
Where do you think the future of comedy is headed?
I think there is no future in comedy. It's always in the now and what happens in the now is always happening and that's the best part. The future is now and it can happen at any time. I think people in the future will only laugh at pictures of dogs' asses … believe me, it's heading that way!
As audiences are becoming more specific and more segmented, is that making your job easier or more difficult?
Eventually I hope to only perform to middle-aged, out of shape guys named Tony. It's like what's happened to television, only live. I predict that very soon everybody will have their own comedian who travels with them to keep 'em laughing. “This is my lawyer, Mr. Scmegowitzbergstein, and I believe you know my comedian, Eddie!”
What is the best thing about being a comedy writer?
Being self employed and self-reliant. Who would have thought that at this time in history being a self-employed writer/comedian/actor would be as stable as any other business choice?
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming comedy writers?
“Don't let the bastards get you down.” (Bono) “It's a complex world.” (Rudy Cheeks) “Listen.” (Tony V)