by Danny Peary
Surely Charles Dickens was correct when he famously wrote, “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as hilarity,” which explains why we are experiencing an epidemic of laughter at the Bay Street Theatre this summer.
All three plays being presented on the mainstage this summer are comedies, and the theater’s Comedy Club is back featuring such stand-up superstars as Paul Reiser, Amy Schumer, David Brenner and Paula Poundstone.
And at 8 p.m. this Monday, June 17, four stellar comics whose faces you’ll more likely recognize than their names will seize the stage in the 3rd Annual All-Star Comedy Showcase.
This highly-anticipated humor fest is the brainchild of its 24-year-old host Joseph Vecsey, a former streetballer — his father is Hall of Fame basketball writer/analyst Peter Vecsey — who gave up his NBA dreams to do stand-up, write funny scripts, interview his peers and idols on his acclaimed The Call Back Podcast, and put together comedy revues.
Q: Joseph, you live in New York City, so what is your connection to the area and Bay Street Theatre?
JV: My parents have a house on Shelter Island, so my sister Taylor, who writes for East Hampton Patch, and I have been coming out here since we were kids. I saw comics like Jeff Ross perform at Bay Street and realized that the only up-and-coming comedians who appeared there were opening acts for big headliners. So in 2010, I came up with the idea to give them a showcase. I sent a proposal to its managing director, Gary Hygom, and he liked the idea, particularly because he could hire my acts to open for headliners that summer. That first year we put on our show in May and it was called The Underground Comedy Showcase.
Q: Why did you come up with that concept rather than saying, “I’m a comic and I’d like to open for one of your headliners?”
JV: I’d been doing standup for only six or seven months and wasn’t ready to open for someone big. My name was an absolute zero and I needed more experience. However, I already knew a lot of standup comics that I could bring to Sag Harbor. At first Gary thought I wanted to rent out the theater, but I said, “I don’t have any money. Can we do a split at the door?” The theater took in more than we did but it was a success and we came back last year with a new name, stronger show, and better date. June 17 for this year is our best date yet.
Q: Have you performed and hosted elsewhere since 2010?
JV: I did bar shows, clubs, theaters, colleges, restaurants, rough urban rooms in Brooklyn and Staten Island, even a hostel on 103rd and Amsterdam. I got so much better and even opened for Jim Breuer and Susie Essman at Bay Street last year. Bay Street in 2010 was my first big gig, but since then I’ve hosted shows all around New York and popular clubs like the Laff House in Philadelphia and Jokers Wild in New Haven.
Q: What is your role as the host?
JV: Hosts are comedians so they both introduce the acts and perform. Sometimes confused people come up to me afterward and say I should be doing comedy myself. They think I was just naturally funny when talking to the audience and don’t realize that I was trying to be funny. I’ll do two or three bits rather than full routines, and a lot of crowd work, making sure people are ready to laugh when the first act comes on. I’ll ask where they’re from and even pick on a couple of them, but not in a malicious or embarrassing way. Last year everyone was very receptive.
Q: Is Bay Street a good venue for comics?
JV: Comics really like performing here because it’s a good size theater, yet as intimate as a comedy club. You see the audience and the nice backdrop is close so the laughs bounce off it. Also Bay Street’s location makes it very appealing.
Q: I see that you have assembled a diverse lineup of comics this year.
JV: I agree. We have four acts who will be doing 15 to 20 minute routines. Kenny Garcia is a very laid-back comic who tells well-written jokes and lets the audience come to him. And then he takes it to unexpected places. Chris Clarke and I used to shoot sketches together in which I was a skinny white kid who abused his big African American sidekick. He is naturally hilarious. I love the substance of his comedy, his delivery, and his expressions — he has a great look. Mark Riccadonna is a friend who helped me find work when I was a beginner. He is probably the most universal and versatile comic in my lineup. People respond to him because of his great stories and clever jokes — and also because his humor is super clean. Our fourth comic is Mirina Franklin, who is coming in from Chicago, where she is working with Wanda Sykes. She’s a rising star who is basically herself on stage, friendly and smiling, but will suddenly start mimicking, verbally and physically, aggressive and sassy people she comes across. She’ll bring to the show hilarious humor told from a unique perspective.
Q: So what kind of show can we expect?
JV: An amazing show that is geared not only for the slightly older audience that Bay Street typically draws, but also high school and college age comedy fans. Last year we were happy to attract 225 people, but the theater seats 300 and I hope young fans will help fill it this Monday. They will see four comedic talents with a ton of professional experience who aren’t doing comedy as a stepping stone to the movies. These individuals instead want to continue to perfect their craft — their art — and are content to be among the best stand-up comics on the planet.