Friday, October 22, 2010

The Boston Comedy Exit Interview: Tom E. Morello

Tom E. Morello has two more Boston
shows at the Kowloon.
The Boston scene loses another one of its own soon when Tom E. Morello
heads to San Antonio. Morello has been a staple here for several years, a regular at The Comedy Studio. He'll say goodbye to Boston with two shows at the Kowloon tonight and tomorrow, opening for Jimmy Dunn.

What made you decide to leave Boston now?

Life intervened in a wonderful way for me, as I met an amazing woman and fell completely in love with her, (while simultaneously planning for our respective moves to Los Angeles together). She is an immigration attorney, and her contract working on the California/Mexico border was expiring in September. California is in the midst of a state-wide hiring freeze, and she was offered a substantial career advancement opportunity in San Antonio. She was emotional about telling me this great news, thinking that it would be a potential deal-breaker between us. It took all of 3 seconds for me to respond to her fortune with a very genuine, "San Antonio sounds perfect!"

For many years, I had let comedy steer where my life was headed, and frankly, that was a strategy that provided me modest success, but the method had outgrown it's usefulness at this juncture. This is the perfect time for me to reverse the course, and let my life dictate where my art goes. Comedy can be packed up and shipped around, but great women come but once in a lifetime.

What are your plans when you get to San Antonio?

I've always been fascinated at the prospect of parachuting my act into uncharted territory, and I'll certainly have that chance! I'm a lifetime New Englander, and my first time ever spent in Texas will be when my car crosses the state line as I move in. My New England-style act will be a change of pace at every show I'm on, and I certainly won't be the only Latino comic on any showcase lineup, a distinction that was both blessing and curse in Boston.

The Tex-Mex comedy scene is alive and well in that belt, and I look forward to carving my niche among the established players there. My act always works well in the "fish out of water" scenario, and I've never been further from the stream than I will be in Spurs country.

What do you think you gained from learning comedy in this scene?

Everything I am as a comic, I owe to the Boston comedy scene. What other kid without a college education or formal training gets to perform in front of Harvard, Boston College, M.I.T. students and faculty, but also entertains construction workers, firemen, and police at a Chinese restaurant in Saugus?

I got to do exactly that for 11 years, and the forced adaptation you develop by telling jokes to academic geniuses seated next to working-class warriors can't be duplicated. A comedian can't survive in Boston with only smoke and mirrors, because it is a no b.s. comedy scene. If you are derivative, mediocre, green, or're dead in the dirty water.

Any one particular show in Boston stand out in your memory?

The last time I performed with the late, great Kevin Knox will always stand out in my memory. The show itself was fun, (as Kevin made every show a party) but something motivated me to pull Kevin aside after the crowd had left, so that I could tell him how much I appreciated him. I had no idea his health was about to turn for the worse, and though Kevin was great at many things, he always deflected praise with a smile. Kevin allowed me the chance to say my peace, he gave me a big hug, and thanked me for the sentiment. It was the last time I ever saw him, and I'll always treasure that memory.

I was never close friends with Kevin, but I personally viewed him as a scion of the cosmos. On a very spiritual level, Kevin Knox was the comedian I modeled my performing style after. So many comics had callously stolen that man's jokes, or ripped off his stage persona, but I carefully watched him work and always tried to absorb his boundless energy and joy for performing. No one could ever duplicate his act, (and sadly, so many have tried) but Kevin taught me that I could do my own thing and still learn from the way he went about his business. He was a beautiful human being, and I will always be grateful that the geography of performing comedy in Boston allowed us to work together many times.

What will you miss the most?

I will miss The Comedy Studio and Rick Jenkins, who are basically one in the same. Rick is a dear friend, and it was a pleasure being one of the regular players who watched the Studio evolve into a well-oiled machine that produces such great comedians at a nearly break-neck pace. I was never really a comedy "blue chip" prospect, and I didn't have a whole lot in the way of training or natural ability. I was raw, pig-headed, and it took me a long time to reach competence as a stand-up comic.

Rick was the most consistant voice whom I could trust would look out for my best interests in comedy. He also allowed me to help produce hundreds of shows from the booth, (working sound, timing and filming the comics) which gave me a keen eye for rhythm, and the basic foundations of stand-up. I think that Rick excels in challenging comic sensibilities, and figuring out how things play in regards to the many different audiences that will receive a performance. One producer might find an act too dirty, but a cable network might find the act not edgy enough, and a comedy club audience might totally love that very same performer. Rick is really good at pointing out those distinctions, and has a great mind for the art of building, telling, and ultimately marketing the joke. He's as solid a comedy emcee as there ever was, and his act flies under the radar enough that many don't realize how great a performer he truly is.

I'll also miss late-night drunken shouting matches with Rick on the second floor of the Hong Kong after the Comedy Studio shows, where we loudly called each other out on our respective stubbornness.

Ultimately, I will always value and respect his counsel and our friendship. Rick Jenkins is a really great guy, and I'm sure we'll be yelling into the phone at each other over comedy industry semantics in the near future.

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