Inside the Improv Green Room: Pete Correalle

Originally posted May 27, 2008

This past weekend I had the opportunity to open for Pete Corealle.  Pete is a co-host of Jim Breuer’s radio show on Sirius Satellite network.  And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

I had been in somewhat of a slump.  I’m finding that this happens with all comedians (at least the ones I know).  There could be a span of time where you were just on fire: writing new material, performing all the time, getting paid.  These hot streaks can last for months, if you know how to ride the wave properly.

However, when you finally get to the beach after hanging ten on a great comedy swell, it can take a long time to paddle back out there and find another crest to cruise upon.

I suppose it happens with a lot of entertainers.  You just get sick of doing the same thing (Tell me Jimmy Buffet hasn’t at least thought about killing himself after the 7,342nd time he’s been forced to sing “Cheeseburger in Paradise”).

Repetition is a double-edged sword in comedy.  On one hand, you get so much better when you have a consistent act that you’re adding to incrementally.  That’s why acts are referred to as routines.  They’re meant to be repeated.

On the other hand, after three to four months of doing the same joke, you lose some of the emotion that originally made the joke funny to you.  Now you’re going through the motions and sometimes the audience can tell.

It was Wednesday and it had been about 2 weeks since I was last on stage.  I was feeling pretty down about the whole comedy thing in general.  I had a conversation with my dad about it and he, like always, gave some very simple and inspiring advice:

“Well, I guess it’s just time for you to write.”

Hell yea, Dad!  Hell yea!

I changed my attitude, realizing that feeling sorry for myself never got me away from that negative mindset; rather, it intensifies it by becoming the object of  my focus.  I was ready to sharpen the ax and get back to work.  But I felt like I needed to start from the beginning, like Rocky in the fourth movie.  I had been getting away from doing the open-mics.   I used to get so pumped up about thse shows because I just wanted some stage time.  However, since most of those shows either didn’t have an audience or didn’t pay at anything, my interest in doing them slowly waned.  But, I was ready to start grinding again.  Bring on a shitty open-mic at some god-awful bar!

On Thursday, I got a voice mail at 4:00 from the Improv’s day manager who asked if I could host for the weekend.

“Give me a call back within an hour if you can.  Otherwise, we’ll have to look for someone else.”

This sort of pissed me off.  She called four hours before the show is supposed to start, while I’m at work, and gave me an ultimatum.  I had some plans with friends that I would have to break, a Pittsburgh Penguin playoff game I would have to miss, etc.

Secondly, I didn’t think I was in “fighting shape.”  I could barely remember the jokes I was even doing two weeks ago.  I didn’t feel as though I was ready to take on a whole weekend at the Improv.

I received the voicemail about 45 minutes after they left it.  So I thought my chance was shot anyways.  Good.  That’s fine.  Be that way.  I don’t care. I had other stuff to do anyway.  I pouted.

Then I started thinking about when I had the chance to open for Aries Spears (more than a year ago), I broke some much more important plans.  Where was my drive?  Had I become so apathetic that I wouldn’t even take a chance to host at the Improv, an opportunity that doesn’t present itself so often?  Where was this new-found enthusiasm I had supposedly found?

Luckily, the manager called me back an asked again if I could do it.  I told them I was available and I felt a lot better about myself.

I wasn’t very familiar with Pete Corealle’s material, so I went to his website to check if I should tailor my act to set up his a little bit better.  The clips he had on the website were mostly from late night TV appearances, where comedians tend to clean up their material to make it TV friendly.  I called my friend, who was an avid listener of Jim Breuer’s show and asked him what this guy was like.

“He’s a lot like you, where he isn’t intentionally dirty.  He’ll swear and stuff, but it’s mostly incidental.”

The show on Thursday night went well.  It was great to get a set underneath my belt to get back in the swing of things.  It felt like I was coming up for air.  I even spoke with Pete about his radio show and how that came about.

“Breuer and I were good friends; he was sort of the person I looked up to when I was on the comedy circuit.  We’d worked together a ton over the years and when that Sirius launched initially they asked him if he wanted to do a show maybe like one Friday a month or something.  He called me and asked if I wanted to help out, so it was a quick little bit of money.  We did the show one day and within a week they came back with an offer to do the show everyday for like a month.  Then we just kept building steam.  We just recently got signed to a 3 year deal.”

He said that starting a good radio show is sort of like starting a small business.  If you can make it for a certain period of time, then your golden.  The audience starts to follow the storylines that develop between the people on the show so you get repeat listeners.

Also, at Sirius’ studios, everyone has their own little studio.  But the big dogs, namely Howard Stern and Martha Stewart, have huge suites from which to broadcast their shows.  He said that on a given day, he could go into his normal space and have it completely redecorated and annexed because one of the bigger stars needed to use it.

The Friday shows had good ticket sales so both were pretty full.  We had TJ Miller do a guest set on the late show.

I’ve come to change my opinion on guest sets.  I used to love them as a performer, because often, it was the only time I could get on stage.  As an MC, I really hate guest sets.  I think guest sets completely de-rail the flow of the performance as a whole.  It just adds interruptions to a show.  More on this later….

I started to notice how flexible Pete was with his jokes.  In three sets, I didn’t see him do the same show twice.  He would generally start out the same and end the same but everything in between was always shuffled and changed slightly to accommodate the audience.  He also was very good at getting the audience involved, but not too involved to the point where they were interrupting.  He would ask a question, wait for an answer and then just go right into the next topic.  If there was any hesitation, he would answer it for them to minimize the breaks in the action.

Saturday was a weird set up.  The Penguins were playing the first game in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which meant that essentially no one would be out while the game was on.  Consequentially, we only did the one show at 7:00 on Saturday.

I was waiting to go on stage when two people walked to the back of the Improv and started talking with the manager.  These two obviously weren’t from Pittsburgh.  A very porno-looking blond woman in a full mink coat (it was 78 degrees too, by the way) stood next to a trendy guy in his late thirties.  They were comedians from Hollywood and the manager told them they could do guest sets.

Damn it!  No more freaking guest sets!

I asked the sound guy if this had all been approved by Pete.  He verified that everything was Kosher from that angle.  I asked for their credits so I could introduce them properly.  The guy was legit.  His name was Dante and he had been on Last Comic Standing and wrote on my introduction card that he was a headliner for 22 years.  The woman, Rebekah Kochin’s main comedy credit was “being in 15 Horror movies.”  Oh, and she was Dante’s girlfriend.  Fantastic!

I begrudgingly brought up Rebekah whose Horror film experience shone through as she did 6 minutes of horrible comedy.  She started off her set by saying “First of all, I am like a huge Steeler fan!”

…uh…no?

Usually that MC is supposed to reset the audience after a bad set, but these two kind of barged into the Improv so I thought, let them wallow in it for a while.  I immediately brought Dante up to follow in the wake of his girlfriend’s fiery demise.  Dante had a decent set.

I checked his MySpace page afterwards, which stated that he was 34 years old.  But…he said he was a headliner for 22 years?  That would make him 12 when he first headlined.

MC in 1984:   Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome the World’s First Pre-Teen Comedian….Dante!!

12 year old Dante :  Thank you!  Wow!  It’s great to be here.  Don’t you guys hate newly sprouted pubic hair?  I mean…do I really need all of this???

Apparently no one had actually cleared any of these supplemental performances with Pete.  He was fine with it but at the same time you could tell he was confused as to why these two were performing.

On Sunday I started to notice how much material Pete had mined from Pittsburgh in the few days he was here.  He talked about the Incline, the Penguins, and Mount Washington.  He had developed a solid 5 minutes of Pittsburgh jokes.  I realized that he was at the level where you really know your own voice and can write to it quickly.  I asked him about how long it took him to get to that point, about when he felt comfortable doing an hour.

“Probably about ten years in really.  To get to the point where I could perform a solid hour probably took me that long.  That’s when you usually pin your own stage personality down.”

Some people will think, “It takes that long??  Just for an hour?”   Let me explain it like this:

If I told every joke I’ve ever written.  I could easily fill up two hours of time.  Probably 15-20 minutes of that time would be actually funny.  7 minutes of which are jokes I could tell on television without getting censored.

I had a great time opening up for Pete and we even traded some suggestions on jokes back and forth.  I’m glad I got a chance to work with yet another really down-to-earth comedian with a great attitude and even better punchlines.

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