GIGGLE CITY: John Caponera lives the Good Life

When it comes to stand-up comedians trying to break into television, many are called, few are chosen.

John Caponera had his big chance as the star NBC’s The Good Life, co-starring Drew Carey, which was cancelled after the 1994 season. Caponera has since been on Letterman, had parts in big-time television shows like ER and even hosted a sports show on the Comedy Network, but he still supports his family with stand-up comedy. There are worse fates. Caponera starts a five-night run at the Comic Strip tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 23).

Q: If you could be any celebrity, who would it be and why?

A: I always wanted to be a sitcom star, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be Charlie Sheen.

Q: Not even for a week? That might be fun.

A: I had my own sitcom back in ‘94 and if it would’ve taken off, things would’ve been different. Who would I want to be?

FEMALE VOICE IN BACKGROUND (his wife Yolanda): An at-home father.

A: Yeah, I’m on the road a lot. I’m missing my kids and my wife’s ready to go the nuthouse.

YOLANDA: You should be a big sitcom star.

A: Yeah, in a perfect world.

Q: Sounds like you and your wife have a lot of laughs.

A: Yeah, she says, ‘I’m sick of you being on the road, I’m getting lonely, I’m missing a man’s touch.’ I say, why don’t you just go to the airport and get a pat-down? Put your phone on vibrate and I’ll call you seven times in a row. The one regret I have in my career is that I had kids late in life, because I wanted to pursue my career. I don’t mind doing gigs, I just don’t want to get a plane and be away from them. My little girl Katie, she’s eight and she cries when I leave town. I’m missing soccer games, dance recitals. You’re missing a lot. You don’t get those back.

Q: What’s your best heckler story?

A: When I was first starting out, around ‘82 or so, I got a gig down in Florida as opening act. I get a call from the owner one day and he said there’s a band working this theatre and they want an opening comedian to do 15 minutes. It’s $100 and I was desperate at the time so I said yes. It was a big rock ‘n’ roll crowd, which wasn’t my cup of tea. The band was Night Ranger. The emcee, the local DJ in Tampa, says he’s just going to announce me from the side of the stage and then I go out there and do my thing. So he says, ‘ladies and gentlemen, who are you here to see tonight?!’ The crowd yells: NIGHT RANGER! ‘Who’s your favourite band?!’ NIGHT RANGER!! ‘But first we have comedian John Caponera.’ But the crowd doesn’t even hear that. They’re looking for the band. They think I’m a roadie messing with the microphone. When I start talking, they start booing. I can hardly get anything out. Then it dawns on them that I’m a comedian and I’m trying to entertainment them. So they start throwing stuff, like cigarettes. Then I hear some coin hit the stage from the balcony. That’s when I stop the act and I say, ‘whoever threw that, I’m gonna come up there and kick your little ass!’ And place went nuts. YEAH! Oh, my God, I actually struck a chord here. I attempted to be violent. And then I tell a couple of pot jokes, and YEAH! They turn on me – for the better. I didn’t have enough pot material to do 15 minutes, but they listened anyway. I got through it.

Q: What’s your favourite joke you don’t do anymore because it’s dated?

A: I used to do a great joke about Joe Hazelwood. Does that name ring a bell? He was the captain of the Exxon Valdez. It was bit about him being ordered to go to AA meetings. Everybody at AA meetings think they have the saddest story, they’re all Johnny Onebetters; and he goes up and says, ‘Hi, I’m Joe Hazelwood. I had a little boating accident. I got drunk and rammed my oil tanker into the coast of Alaska and spilled 50 million gallons of oil, killing wildlife for the next 50 years.’ Oh my God, get this guy a drink!

Q: Do you have to be a pessimist to be a good comedian?

A: I don’t think so. They say most comedians draw from a lot of pain. I grew up a very normal life. My dad was a fireman. I had  tons of friend, played sports, very normal. I just wanted to be funny. I started out doing impressions and I got tired of that, and I said if I can’t prove I’m funny without doing impressions, I’m not going to do it. So I started talking about everyday things that made me laugh – and that’s when my career started to take off. I wasn’t mad at the world. Even to this day, whatever strikes me as funny is what I talk about. Any good comic has a third eye and a third ear. In other words, you’re always conscious of what’s going around you for things you can use in your act. I can’t just sit down and write jokes. I have to read about it, experience it, get it from my kids, and then I just bring it to the stage. Like last night I’m putting my daughter to bed. And I sat down on the bed and accidentally pocket-called somebody on my phone. She said, ‘I guess you ass-phoned him.’ And I laughed, and I said, I guess I did ass-phone him because the guy on the other end is an ass.

Q: What do you do when a fan tells you a joke and says, “You can use this in your act.”

A: I’m very tolerant and patient. I always just say, ‘oh, yeah, I’ll open with that next time.’ I’ve heard some good ones that I’ve actually used in my act when I do cruise ships. There’s old people there and you get some good old jokes. A lot of times the old timers don’t want to hear bits. They just want to hear a good old joke.

Q: Lay it on me.

A: This couple’s going to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. So the night before the wife says, ‘hey Frank, why don’t we just both show up at the breakfast table naked? It might stir things up.’ He says, whatever. And after about a minute she says, ‘hey, Frank, I think it’s working. My breasts are tingling!’ That’s because you got one in your oatmeal and one in your coffee.