What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they're comedians? No, that's not it. It is a fact, though, that America's biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a new recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York's vibrant comedy scene. It's called Meet Me In New York.
Tom Shillue likes to tell stories, and he's good at it. So good he won the ECNY Award this year for Best Storyteller. The year before, he won the ECNY Award for Best One Person Show, Supernormal, which he has revived for a current run at PS 122 that extends through this Saturday, April 9. In my initial review of his show, I called him "our generation's Garrison Keillor." I meant that in only the best way. You may have seen him in the movie, Mystery Team, or in any number of nationwide TV commercials. But let's let Tom (photographed below by Seth Olenick) tell us more about himself.
Name: Tom Shillue
Arrival date: Feb. 28, 1991
Arrived from: Norwood, MA
What was your best credit before moving here? Hosting a live show at Universal Studios in Florida. It was a professional job, and paid salary and benefits. That's where I met Aasif Mandvi. We moved to NYC at the same time, and were show business buddies, trying to crack into the NY scene the old fashioned way.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? The "If you can make it there…" ethos cried out to me. New York! I fancied myself like Jack Lemmon in the apartment, minus the complicated work environment and the suicidal girlfriend.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? I was a real go-getter. Aasif and I hit the pavement, answering ads in backstage with 8×10's and cover letters. Within a week I was cast as "the big spender" in an asian karaoke video of the song "Hey, Big Spender". I was paid $100 cash. Off and running!
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from?
Well, Boston was, and is, a huge stand up scene. I've often said I should have stayed there and broken in, and then come to NYC as a working comic. But one never knows. Would it have worked out that way? And how do you tell a kid who's itching to try his hand in the big city to stay put? I was on fire, my friend! Why not start in the big leagues?
Do you already have an "only in New York City" moment yet? I have them on almost a daily basis. For instance, yesterday I was at City Hall paying a parking ticket, and I thought to myself "Only in New York could I pay this parking ticket. Only in New York. If I tried to pay it in Vermont, they would politely ask me to leave. But not here, not in New York. No, Sir."
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? Comedy is a community. Other comics are your resource. Comics who are on your level — that's important. A lot of comics are restless — they want to network with the pros who they perceive as 'one level up' from them. Those guys can't help you much. It's your peers that will help you. Forget the dog-eat-dog stuff; like it's just you and your jokes against the world. That used to work, but not anymore. Make friends with people who make you laugh, produce shows together, build an audience together. Don't worry about trying to climb your way up the comedy scene, just hold hands with your friends and you'll all rise up like a balloon, laughing along the way.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? Probably coming up with more nonsense like the last thing I just said. I'm kidding, I stand behind that completely. I'll be right here, creating stuff. That's all that matters, creating stuff. We all have ambitions for our careers, but you know who I want to be like? Ricky Gervais? Maybe. How about Matt Higgins? There's a guy to emulate while you're waiting to become Ricky Gervais. Do you know him, gentle reader? Look him up. We should all emulate Matt Higgins.
Here's a sneak peek at his show, Supernormal, running through April 9, 2011, at PS122. This clip is from when he first workshopped it at Joe's Pub. Roll it!
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com