There's a lot going on in Mike DeStefano's comedy career this spring, and the debut of his half-hour Comedy Central Presents tonight is just one of those things. We talked about as much of it as we could earlier this week. But first, here's a clip from his special:
Have you seen your Comedy Central special yet to see how they edited it or bleeped it? "No, I haven't seen it. I cut out cursing. I think I might've gotten bleeped one or two times. Everybody is shocked that I can work without cursing. I curse because that's how I talk in real life. I didn't become a comedian because I want to change the way I speak or talk."
Speaking of becoming a comedian, your personal backstory has quite a lot of trauma to it, with not just drug addiction but also great personal loss. Did you do not do any stand-up comedy before that? "The first thirty years of my life was a nightmare. I shoulda been a serial killer and not a comedian."
What changed the path for you so you didn't become a serial killer instead? "I don't know really. I did it. I tried it out at an open mic. I was suicidal and I remember getting a laugh at an open mic." Was that here in New York or down in Florida? "That was down in Florida. West Palm Beach, Florida, was the first place I did open mics there. It was the Comedy Corner in West Palm, they would put me up for guest spots, and then a few months into it…wait. It was a few years. I only did it once a week. When I moved to New York is when I really tried to get up and start to try become a good comic." When was that? "Let's say 2000. Ten years ago."
Here, DeStefano talks a little bit more about what happened to him before he became a comedian, in this 2009 performance at storytelling series The Moth:
Did you have any influences comedically in the beginning or when you were younger? "No. I didn't have any influences. I was a heroin addict. Criminals were my role models, not entertainers." So how did you ever pick stand-up comedy? "I used to make my friends all laugh all the time. People told me all my life, even when I was a kid, that I should be a comedian."
What other jobs did you have before comedy? "I was a drug counselor. And I was a bouncer. I ran a nightclub in Florida for a while. I worked in delis, i worked in supermarkets. I did whatever I could to pay the bills."
I remember when I first saw you at the HBO Aspen festival three years ago, I made a note of how your attitude was so much different from all of the other new comics showcasing for the industry. You seemed like the only one who wasn't worried about how it went. Where did that security come from?
"I started comedy after all the worst fucking shit in the world. I experienced watching my wife die a slow, painful death. And then I'm going to be afraid of some scumbag from L.A.? They're weak, most of them. They're not scary. They're pathetic. I can see them coming a mile away. So no, I've never been impressed with rich people or famous people." Does that attitude help you in this business as much as it may hurt you? "I think it's helped me because I've never had to worry about it. I've always been comfortable with focusing on just being funnier all the time. I think it's working. A lot of people spend 10 years kissing everyone's ass, and then 10 years wondering why they kissed everyone's ass, and then 20 years later they have the same exact act." He said other comics may have gotten into stand-up because "they're getting revenge against the world" for their childhood, "or they want to get into a party, or get laid. I don't have any of those obstacles."
I know in addition to your Comedy Central Presents half-hour, you also recently taped a separate Comedy Central special specifically designed for people in recovery — Comics Anonymous also featured Jim Norton, Rich Vos and Robert Kelly. What can you tell me about that? Last time we talked, you were hoping to build a tour around it, too? "That was great. It was for Comedy Central so it was kinda limited in terms of what you could do creatively. I wanted to do more behind the scenes, interviews with people talking about addiction. Next time, I'll do something with HBO or Showtime where you can get into all of the shit, so the comedy is even more appreciated." When will it air? "They're saying maybe in the fall." And a tour? "I'm working on that now. We're working on putting together a tour to build up to when that all airs."
Do you think that the preconceived notions audiences have about people from the Bronx helps what you're trying to accomplish onstage? "I remind people of the guy who used to take money from them as a kid, their lunch money. That's funny that people find me intimidating. I'm not violent. I don't beat people up. (But) that's good. That keeps weak people away who are annoying." Is that a good stereotype for the Bronx, though? "Everyone who lives in the Bronx isn't like me, but I tend to look or talk like the guy who is the stereotype."
"It doesn't help me with bookers or stuff. I'm nobody's favorite, because I seem threatening in some shape or form, but I don't care about it. I'm going to accomplish what I'm going to accomplish. I think some of the bookers…because of my aggressive looks and the way I am, it reminds them of someone who hurt them when they were little so they're getting revenge on that person by not booking me. Every booker thinks they discovered Chris Rock. Every one of these morons think they were the first to give him a shot. But some of them are full of shit, right? Yeah, it is a strange business."
How much road work do you? "I do some college comedy with with a drug recovery message to it. I don't do the comedy clubs. I do the colleges and the 12-step gatherings. But the road? Not at all. That's everyone's goal to go on the road. I'm going to go on the road and build up my fan base. I'm not going to go to Michigan unless I'm getting paid a lot of money to do it. I'll accomplish that night in New York. I'll do that first. Then they come out to invite you to their little town."