March 5, 2009

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Legally hilarious
Paul D’Angelo goes from the courtroom to the comedy clubs
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

Boston native Paul D’Angelo started his comedy career leading a double life as an attorney by day and stand-up comedian by night. When he left the legal world behind him, he quickly became a name on the Hollywood and Boston comedy scenes, opening for acts like George Carlin and Dennis Miller, and headlining legendary comedy clubs. D’Angelo will perform along with comedians Steve Scarfo and Lou Broad on Friday, March 6, at 8 p.m., at Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry. Tickets cost $17 and can be purchased at 437-5100 or www.tupelohall.com.

Why did you decide to go into comedy?
I was an assistant D.A. in Essex County and had only planned to stay there a few years to get some trial experience. I used to follow comedy, and started going to shows when I was in the D.A.’s office. I loved Stephen Wright and used to go watch him, but I never dreamed of doing it myself. One day, I did a bachelor party for my best friend, and was bombarded by people afterwards to do the same thing at other events. I said, ‘No, no, this is a one-shot deal,’ but it kind of set off a switch in my head.

Did being an attorney prepare you for the comedy world?
I wasn’t worried about my stage presence, because I had done about 100 trials by then, and when you’re yelled at by a judge in front of a crowded courtroom, no comedy club can scare you. I wrote material for years, so when I finally got on stage, I had 20 minutes of material, but only five minutes, so they literally had to drag me off. My parents weren’t real supportive — in fact, my mother, when she heard I was doing comedy, said, ‘I’m glad you got that out of your system.’ That was the support I got. I quit for a year but still kept writing. After doing only 10 open mikes, I started headlining immediately, so I was working five or six nights a week, while still working as a D.A. I ended up working in the D.A.’s office for 11 years, and for seven and a half of those, I was doing comedy. At one point, I was working pretty much every day of the week and taking gigs wherever I could — Provincetown, Worcester, Springfield, Hartford — and would have to be up for work the next morning. So I was always exhausted, but it was so exciting to me. Still is.

Do you still practice law at all?
I go into court when my friends’ kids get in trouble, and I have to put on a tie that feels like a noose around my neck. When you’re an attorney, you’re dealing with other people’s problems. Now, I get to make people laugh. It’s a job, though, just like any other. It’s got its ups and downs — you have bad nights, and travel a lot — but I thank God I made the decision to go into comedy.

Where do you get your material?
I had someone come up to me and say that what they loved about my stuff is that it’s everything we can relate to. It’s real life. Everybody’s got kids, financial problems. In the wintertime, I have a big chunk of material on winter I’ll probably do at the Tupelo show, because everyone’s getting fed up of winter now. I think my act is kind of cathartic, because I vent a lot of frustration and people can vent through me. I tell a lot of young comedians that there’s a thin line between comedy and tragedy. If you have a life that’s like ‘I love my job, I love my family, everything is beautiful,’  there’s nothing funny about that. If you say, ‘My wife’s driving me crazy, my kids are nothing but trouble, my boss is a jerk,’ that’s where the comedy comes from.

What was the Hollywood comedy scene like?
I call it the lost years. I kind of paid my dues in the reverse. I rose so fast in the beginning, I kind of had to suffer at some point, and had to give up a lot more. There was a proliferation of comedians when I went there, but a lot were really bad, trying to use it as a stepping stone, as a means to an end. The bad thing about comedy is that in almost any other field, you rise in the ranks according to your skill, your accomplishments, but in Hollywood you’re dependent on someone else giving you a break, and it can be really frustrating because you see a lot of people who aren’t as deserving it getting all these breaks.

You’ve been able to open for some incredible comedy and musical acts. Who was your favorite?
Well, I got to sit in the back of a limo with Dennis Miller for three hours going from one show to another. It sound funny, but in college I was a big Meatloaf fan. So getting to hang out with Meatloaf was one of those moments where you pinch yourself and say, ‘Am I really talking to this guy?’ I actually said to him, ‘Do I call you Mr. Loaf?’, and he said, ‘You can call me Meat.’

What advice would you give someone looking to make it in comedy?
First I’d say to them that there’s nothing you can do that can replace getting up on stage as much as possible. Also, try and look at your own life and find the comedy — personalize your own comedy. It’s a lot of hard work and takes dedication. I ask a lot of young performers, ‘Do you really want this? Is this your passion, or are you just interested in dabbling in it?’ It sounds contradictory saying that I take comedy seriously, but it’s a passion. I’ll get up in the middle of the night — sometimes 15 times — to try and perfect a joke, thinking about how I can rewrite it. I don’t care if you are a musician, an athlete, or a comedian — you get out of it what you put into it. — Dana Unger