Friday, September 4, 2009

Boston Comedy Interview: Tony V on being roasted and World's Greatest Dad

Yesterday’s post of my interview with Bobcat Goldthwait covered Goldthwait’s friendship with Tony V, and how they work together. Goldthwait is in town tonight for the Roast of Tony V as part of the Boston Comedy Festival, and he cast Tony in his new film, World’s Greatest Dad, which opens at the Kendall Square Cinema tonight, as well. Tony, who was working towards his masters in social work at UMAss before he started stand-up comedy, plays Dr. Pentola in the film, a high school guidance counselor in his glory when a tragedy hits his school. It’s a great role for Tony (he doesn’t get strangled to death like he did in Showtime’s Brotherhood), and the film is a wonderfully dark consideration of kindness and lost civility. [Warning -- some of this material may be a bit of a spoiler, if you want to be surprised when you see the film, you may want to skip ahead in the interview a bit].

Tonight at the Hard Rock, though, kindness and civility will most probably be tossed out the window as Tony is roasted by Goldthwait, Lenny Clarke, Steve Calechman, Joey Carroll, Artie Januario, BCF founder Jim McCue, Kenny Rogerson, Frank Santorelli, and Sean Sullivan. I caught up with Tony by phone last week about the film, the Festival, and the roast [see also this story from the Boston Globe].

So was it fun for you, getting back to being a social worker for a bit?

Yeah, it was. In all seriousness, a little bit, I think that’s what made Goldthwait think of me. You know what I mean? Because he knew that part of my life and everything. And although it’s not completely necessary for that role, like anything else, it does help. When we were talking about Kubler-Ross, I had actually done papers on it. You know what I mean? [I had] an understanding of that. And the other part is how cutthroat those people are, too, how somebody like that would actually want to ride the coattails of the guy. Because other than that, he’s stuck in broom closets in schools. That’s his life, going from school to school to patch up something that doesn’t need to be patched up.

One of my favorite parts is when your characters tells Robin Williams’ character, “It’s great, the kids are starting to come to me again.” He’s so happy because people are starting to talk to him.

Right, about misery. About their life, about their misery, and he’s gaining as much from it – he’s afraid the tap’s going to be turned off and there’s a genuine panic in him. I don’t know how closely you remember it, but in the first scene, he’s like, “No one comes to see me. Did he have any friends? Cuz I’m just sitting here.” It’s like an empty office. It’s like, finally I get to do my work. Let’s not put our foot through this.

It’s an interesting issue that the film brings up, because there is some good that comes out of this lie.

Well, some good. If you take it to its absurd logical conclusion, the world is so much better without this kid and with the lie. You know what I mean? The football player comes out, he’s going to live his life. Robin’s getting published, he’s getting laid. The school is a better place. Everybody’s happier. And that ultimately is the dilemma – do you keep the lie going because it made fro a better place but it’s eating you up. Or do you have to live with yourself.

Did you consult on any of this stuff with Bobcat when he was writing any of this?

I consult with him on everything. I can’t say specifically he called me in for my expertise or anything – this came out of his head. But whenever he writes, he constantly calls me with, “Ah, what do you think about this scene,” and “how did you like this.” Even when we were shooting, he works very collaboratively, which is one of the things I like about him a lot. But this came out of his experience and his dark head. We did talk about some of the finer points and stuff.

And as a matter of fact that scene, the one you were just referencing, didn’t come out exactly as it was written on the page. Because we discovered this, his motivation as we did it, and I have to credit Robin with a lot of that. Because that was a bear of a scene for me. You know what I mean? I understood the intent and stuff but Robin being the only reason the film got made, he’s the guy, he said, “This is Tony’s scene, let’s shoot me out first,” and so by the time it came to my coverage, I had done the scene seventeen different times at different angles, getting Robin’s coverage. I know the scene, but, as they say in the acting lingo, you’re discovering it. You know, something happened, and we did one and we got it and Bob goes, “We got it, as a safety do you want to do something that’s in your head?” And I said yeah, let’s do that while it’s fresh. And then we did this take, and that’s what it became. But he pushed it that way the whole time. Both of them, Bob and Robin were so gracious and knew I understood what the point of the scene was.

So how did you come to be roasted this year at the Festival?

I think everyone else was sick. I think that’s really what it came down to. No, I’v eknown Jim McCue for a long time, and I think he’s a good buddy and I think he enjoys what I do. And it’s like a lot of things around here, some of the old guard, or dinosaurs, as they call us, or whatever, are not as in touch with everybody else as I am. I still make it a point to sort of be around and I go to open mics and I see what’s happening, and I’ve not just gone off to make a living and forgotten where my roots are. I’m still here. This is it. I made a decision. So I just think he thought it would be fun. And I think there’s a fair amount of people who’d like to take a swipe at me.

Anybody you’re particularly worried about?

I would think Goldthwait’s got most of the dirt. We’ve been really good friends for many years, and if there’s any coattail riding I could be accused of it would certainly be his, although they’re very short coattails.

When did the two of you meet?

His first night in Boston – and I think it’s 1982, I’m putting it, it might have been late ’81, but certainly the spring of ’82 is what memory serves – his first night in Boston was my first night onstage. He had come down from Syracuse or wherever, Upstate New York. Him and [Barry] Crimmins were friends. Him, Tom Kenny, they were doing improv up there or they had a comedy troupe. “Ducks” was in the title, if I remember correctly.

Then he had come down to start doing stand-up, and he was the new guy, and I was brand new, and we were sitting at the Comedy Connection and no one would talk to either one of us, and we were both nervous as hell, and we started chatting and he said, are you a comedian, and I said, well, it’s my first night, and he said, well, I’ve been doing this up in New York and I go, oh, great. And then he went on, and our styles are completely different and stuff. And we sort of stayed friendly ever since.

What’s your memory of that show?

I was petrified and I think I was doing some sort of bastardized Gallagher act, smacking stuff. I had props and balloons and all of that. The whole Tony V. thing came about because [host] Mike Moto wouldn’t take the time to learn my name.

What do you think brought you and Goldthwait together and kept you friends through the years?

I think we share a very similar sense of humor, certainly not delivery or temperament. I think he’s much more intense than I am. But we can crack each other up without thinking about it and that, on a comic’s level, that’s what you gravitate to. You know what I mean? You can say almost anything to him and it doesn’t matter and he back to me, and it doesn’t. As friends, it’s a comforting thing to not sort of be on guard all the time, or worry.

And then I opened for him on the tour that would never end. I think we were on and off the road for like five years together. We’d go on the road and then we’d come back, and then we just got to be real good friends, even more friendly then. As I say, he’s a little younger than us, but we share a very same sensibility and cynicism towards life.

What is special about playing or coming up here?

For me, it’s home. If anything was a career choice for me, it was to make my home still in Boston. I’ve wandered in New York and L.A. but I’ve never felt more at home anywhere than here. I always wanted my quality of life to be as important to me as anything else I did. This is home and this is where I feel the most at ease.

What local comedians influenced you?

When I was coming up, one of my biggest joys was to watch Jack Gallagher work. I credit him with a lot of keeping me in the business early on. That being said, Lenny Clarke, although we do nothing that’s similar, our attitudes, our politics, our styles, I never laugh as much personally as when I’m with that man. He is one of the funniest guys on the planet as far as I’m concerned. To this day. I’m going to work with him on the Vineyard on Wednesday, and the show will almost get in the way of our good time. And Goldthwait has always made me laugh, on top of everything else. You can’t be friends with someone for almost thirty years and not find them funny. It’s just impossible.

How do you feel Boston fits into the national scene?

What it was, it certainly is not. But the legacy if anything is, it continues to give people just starting out a chance to get onstage and work. And that’s what I think makes this place special. It’s still a place where, if you don’t mind working out of your comfort zone and going to VFW or a Sons of Italy somewhere and trying your jokes, you can work a lot. The only advice I ever give people, other than to say don’t ask my advice because if I knew anything else, I wouldn’t be standing in the same club you were, ours is not a job you do in theory. You’ve got to do it. Get onstage any way you can and to suffer sucking as much as the ego will allow.

What do you think this Festival will mean for you or to your career?

I think it keeps something going. It reminds people that we’re still here, that there is a vibrant scene, still. That although it’s gone through changes and it’s certainly not what it was, it’s still a good place and there’s still a lot of people.

What do you see in the near future for Boston comedy?

I think it’s going to keep morphing into whatever it becomes, and I think as long as there are colleges… I think the best thing it’s got going for it now is Emerson and Harvard and B.U. to a certain extent. For better or worse, we live in a country where nothing’s being made anymore and you’ve got to find a living doing something abstract. It will keep becoming a place where you can try to do that. It constantly feeds itself because of geography and temperament. It’s always going to come back. I always going to be a place where people thing, well, there’s something going on there because there are smart people who want to be funny.

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