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Just For Laughs: In conversation with Dom Irrera and Sean Cullen

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By: Stuart Nulman

Comedian Dom Irrera has been an ongoing festival favorite since he made his debut at Just For Laughs in 1988. This helped to make Irrera the obvious choice to host the All Star Show, which is playing at Club Soda from July 16-19, and at Metropolis on July 24.

“I have been popular here in Montreal for years. I have been popular here even before there was a Montreal,” boasted the Philadelphia native during a recent phone interview from his home in Los Angeles.

A new addition to the National Bank Club Series, the All Star Show will have Irrera helm a line-up of comics who have performed at Just For Laughs multiple times and have quickly become fan favorites, like Irrera, such as Alonzo Bodden, Ryan Hamilton, Judy Gold, Robert Kelly and Adam Hills.

“This is a very strong line-up, and this show will have something for everyone,” said Irrera. “And I know the audience will get a good show. In fact, I guarantee that people will love the All Star Show, to the point that if they don’t, you, Stuart Nulman, will refund all of their money back.”

While the pressure to deliver a good show has now been lifted off the shoulders of Irrera and his all star co-stars, he has maintained throughout his career that he likes being a comedian because it gave him leeway to be more honest and say things that are on his mind without having to worry about the repercussions. “The world is more politically correct these days, in which someone can get fired for saying anything at work,” he said. “Comedy is the last vestige of freedom around now, and comics have that license to freely say what they want.”

And it was his upbringing in a large family in Philadelphia, in which everyone spoke their mind with a humourous edge to it, that gave Irrera the impetus to become a stand-up comic more than 30 years ago. “In my family, everyone was a clown, but they never wrote down anything that they said, but I did it, and f— them for being so lazy,” he said. “If they did write down their material, my family could have been massive in Quebec. They could have been hosting festivals around the province like the Verdun Local Comedy Festival.”

A rabid sports fan, Irrera loves Montreal for many reasons, and one of them is for its sports tradition. “Montreal is one of the most peaceful loving cities around, but those Stanley Cup riots they had, that was so f—— crazy. What happened there? It’s like a guy who wins the lottery and celebrates the win by beating up his wife,” he said.

And he’s not shy to be in the minority position about the global mania that is surrounding the World Cup this summer. “Because I live in L.A., I rooted for the home team during the World Cup, which is Mexico,” he said. “But a soccer game runs too long. If I can’t get to sleep, I turn on to a soccer match on TV and I fall asleep right away. As far as I’m concerned, let the rest of the world have this sport.”

With a career that has seen him perform at comedy festivals in Australia, Ireland, France and Denmark, and has compiled an impressive resume of movie and TV appearances (many remember him as prop comic Ronny Kaye in an episode of “Seinfeld” 20 years ago), Irrera admits that he is always making stand-up comedy a constant work in progress.

“I’m always honing my act, and I keep on working towards making myself a better stand-up comedian,” he said. “I enjoy this career of mine where I am always making people laugh. If I get laughs, and people recognize me as ‘he’s the guy’, that’s fine with me.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to make my way to the bank to get that All Star Show “refund” money.

* * *
Sean_CullenSean Cullen, like Dom Irrera, made his Just For Laughs debut back in 1988.

However, while Irrera made his debut at a gala in the St. Denis Theatre, Cullen, as one-third of the manic musical comedy trio Corky and the Juice Pigs, made his debut outside the theatre. Actually, it was right across the street from the theatre, in which he, Greg Neal and Phil Nicol opened up a guitar case with a hand drawn sign in the middle of St. Denis Street, and began to entertain the spectators waiting outside the theatre before that night’s Louie Anderson gala (myself included) with their attention-getting repertoire of offbeat comedy, songs and jumping around.

“Me, Greg and Phil actually crashed the festival that year, but in retrospect, it was pretty nice,” admitted Cullen in a recent phone interview from his Toronto home.

From there, Corky and the Juice Pigs began to establish themselves as Just For Laughs regulars, which was capped off with their gala debut in 1992. When Cullen went solo in 1998, he debuted his first one-man show “Wood, Cheese and Children” at Just For Laughs, and from there became a festival regular himself, appearing in numerous club shows and galas as recently as last year. This year, Cullen continues his association with Just For Laughs performing a solo show on July 23 as part of the Off-JFL Series, he will be part of the Talk of the Fest lineup with host Nick Offerman on July 25, and he will be doing a live taping of his podcast “The Seanpod: With Sean Cullen” on July 24.

“The Seanpod will be me and my co-pilot Mark Edwards. There will be talk, we will make up sketches between the talk, we will play extemporaneous songs and even be opening up to the audience for suggestions to make up some of those songs and sketches. It will be a multi-weird show,” said Cullen.

The thing with Sean Cullen, is that he is so multi-talented, it’s difficult to place him into one category of comedian. He can sing, perform on the stage (he played the role of Max Bialystock in the Toronto production of “The Producers”), host his own TV show, do a variety if voice overs, write a series of children’s and young adult novels (including a series featuring the character Hamish X), do improv comedy, and be a game show panelist (which he does with great comic effect on the updated version of “Match Game” that’s seen on Comedy Network).

“The idea of being so multi-talented is a throwback to some of the greats during the golden age of comedy like Jackie Gleason, and the team of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, who had to have a variety of talents in order to survive,” he said. “Also, in order to survive in the Canadian entertainment industry, you have to be able to do 10 different jobs, which is not like in the States, where if you do one thing very well, you become famous.”

“And I love the broadness of it all, because it elevates any show that I do. On Match Game, I enjoy being spontaneous and having to think on my feet when I preface every response that I reveal to the contestants. I also have to remember that I want them to win some money on the show, too,” he added.

And while he awaits word regarding a third season of “Match Game”, Cullen has several projects in development or about to be released in the near future, including a science fiction novel, more touring, developing a new hour-long TV detective series (“which will be like Monk meets Columbo”), and a new comedy CD that’s schedule to be released next month called “Live from Planet Serpo”.

For Sean Cullen, being multi-talented certainly has its benefits.

* * *

If you have an event that you want publicized in the Grapevine, please send the information to my attention at bookbanter@hotmail.com

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