Meet Me In New York: Sean Donnelly

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 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.

(Photo of Sean Donnelly by Mindy Tucker)

Sean Donnelly and I have crossed paths so often in New York City over the years, and even just recently, that we literally crossed paths in the East Village as I was running from a podcast to a show, and he was with his wife doing something normal couples do. Probably. Moreover, on consecutive weeks, I attended the launches of new weekly indie comedy rooms in Brooklyn and both of the showcases featured Donnelly. He’s a solid guy just looking at him, sure. But he’s also a solid stand-up guy. You can depend upon him to deliver a strong set.

Donnelly first showed up on my radar by hosting one of the weekly shows in the basement of former comedy club Comix (in Ochi’s Lounge) back in 2008, and in the intervening years, performed at various comedy festivals around America, became a “New Face” in Montreal for 2013, and made it on TV as a stand-up for Late Show with David Letterman, Conan, and Adam Devine’s House Party. He also has his own podcast with fellow comedian Dan St. Germain called My Dumb Friends on All Things Comedy, and this weekend, celebrates the release of his first comedy album, “Manual Labor Face,” and his edition of The Half-Hour on Comedy Central. The album is out today. The Comedy Central half-hour debuts Saturday.

So let’s get to know this other funny Sean!

Name: Sean Donnelly
Arrival date: 2006 (to NYC)
Arrived from: Long Island (I grew up right on the border of Queens and Nassau County)
When and where did you start performing comedy? “I started at open mics in NYC mostly down in the West VIllage.”

What was your best credit before moving here? “I started here so my biggest credit before that was an audience member on The Ricki Lake Show.”

Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? “Picked NYC because I am from NY and I didn’t know how far I would go. I kinda didn’t realize you could go start somewhere else and then come to NYC.”

How did growing up in NYC shape your desire to be in show business? “I think being in NYC and coming in to check out comedy clubs got my love for stand-up even more intense. When I was like 19, I would come in and see Patrice (Oneal) and all those Tough Crowd guys at the Cellar and Boston Comedy Club. Having access to shows like that just makes you wanna do it that much more.”

Did growing up in NYC make it any easier to launch your comedy career here? “Well it helped because I didn’t have to do the whole ‘move to another town thing’ but I feel like it also hurt because I went through my comedy growing pains in the mecca of stand-up. I bet there are guys who see me now and just think of me from terrible open mics from back in the day.”

How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? “I think like two years, I did a road show in Westchester that was a joint Bachelor/Bachelorette part. In NYC, it took me like three years I think till I started working at Stand-Up NY.”

How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? “One thing I love in NYC is how you can get up five times a night if you want and have a whole spectrum of audiences from tourists to hipsters.”

Have you ever considered moving to L.A. or elsewhere to further your career? “Yes, I definitely would, but it would have to be for a showbiz-type job. I think the ideal situation would be to be able to bounce back and forth but that would cost too much right now. I always say I would love to move out of NYC in general, but when I really think about it, I do love it and it has really helped me get to the point I am at now and hopefully will help me get better as a comic as time goes on.”

Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here? “This city messes you up. I recently saw a homeless guy in Alphabet City giving the finger to an ambulance that was blaring its sirens. The most New York part was my reaction. I’ve lived in the city so long that the minute I saw that I thought ‘Yeah F%&*K that ambulance!'”

What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? “Leave your ego at whatever city you came from. There are so many comics here so be prepared to eat S%$T and not just onstage but off as well. It can be really rough at first, but stick it out and it will make you a better comic.

Where do you see yourself five years from now? “I hope to be touring a bunch but on my own terms. Maybe even have my own show, which would be amazing because it would mean I could do stand-up that way — on my own terms. That is the way I think of this whole thing. Everything helps me do more stand-up.”

You can see Sean Donnelly performing regularly around New York City. His first Comedy Central Records release, “Manual Labor Face,” is out today — he’ll celebrate with a record release party Nov. 18, 2015, at Matt Torrey’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

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

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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