Very few comedians have been both “on the scene” and successful for as long as John Pinette. Even if I’d never seen anything he’d done before I could have guessed he was part of the comedy elite by his simple ease and grace in our interview. “Hello Friend” begins his opening statement, and it went on from there. I mean literally, all he ever called me was “friend” and it added an old school classy feel to the proceedings. It became clear that this guy became famous before the “whycon” generation; and still held himself to a higher level.
John’s new special "Still Hungry" premiered on Friday, July 29th on Comedy Central. This is his fifth major work if you count specials and cds; and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. John has also been in a number of television shows and movies. He was in a couple of the “Revenge of the Nerds” movies, as well as my personal favorite “The Punisher”! So consider him established. As he said when we started the interview:
“After 25 Years on stage, I have no problem being me.”
Fair enough John, let’s get started.
We began by talking about his creative process, and how it figured into his new album:
“My way of writing shows is to talk it out on stage. I never sit at a desk and say “I think that’s funny!” What I do is go up on stage and have someone with me in the audience to ask, “Now what did I say?” I really do. I try to wing it as much as I can. I find that searching for the bit, or searching for the notes really gets in the way of the comedy for me. I just think it’s more exciting when you have to find funny. It’s like developing [your bits] in the shark tank, when you find funny.”
This style of writing had especially contributed to the previous special “I’m Starvin!” This also benefited his previous job in “Hairspray” on Broadway.
“[I’m Starvin!”] was in a different league than specials I had done before. On stage I had gotten pretty relaxed because I was doing 8 shows a week, portraying a character that was the farthest from me as it could possibly be. So I got really comfortable with just being with an audience, and being with an audience for a long time, and being with them for a whole journey.”
In case it’s not clear how different John is from whom he played in “Hairspray”. Here is a picture:
So “I’m Starvin!” had been a success and a big change in terms of comfort and style for Pinette. Well he would call this newest special the next step forward for him comically.
“So this is really a much better “I’m Starvin!” and it’s called “Still Hungry”. This is really a double entendre on the fact that I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and the traveling I’m not crazy about. It’s gotten worse because the knees and the feet don’t always feel great. But when I hit the stage it’s better than it’s EVER been…at least as far as I feel about my ability to make an audience laugh. Also it’s humbling because I feel like there is so much more I want to do.”
Well John, I wish more comedians were still hungry. Speaking of inspirational incites from this interview I talked to John briefly about his pre-success history. He had this to say: (SPOILER ALERT: I wish I had friends this great)
“Everybody moves to Los Angeles hopelessly in debt, and you wake up every day and think should I pack my bags and go home. I even did that once. I was back [home] for a couple of weeks when a friend handed me a plane ticket and $500 and said “There is nothing for you here, go back to LA”. Luckily I never looked back.”
That is so cool. It turns out John did get a chance to thank his friend a few years back. I am not sure what you can say when someone has sent you back to Hollywood where you eventually made a huge success out of yourself. “Thank You!” doesn’t seem to really cover it.
Pinette got one of his biggest early breaks opening for Frank Sinatra. Mr. “S” as John calls him had wanted to do an eclectic tour with his normal heavyweights Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr. when circumstances (including Sammy’s death) prevented this lineup. Still wanting to perform with a variety of different acts, Sinatra arranged for comedians to be added to the bill. John Pinette was luckily one of these new editions.
“I had like three gigs with him, on stage for maybe 12 minutes. Then [the last night] I was invited to go to dinner with him which was very rare for an opening act. He treated me very well, like family, and before he walked into the limousine he said “Well ok, so I’ll see you again.” And just like that, I was booked for more shows.”
John would go on to do several tours with Sinatra, including a run at the Desert Inn which he mentioned felt pretty nice. This led to a lot of opening work in Vegas, which at the time had a lot of different headliners as opposed to set acts for each casino. So John got a chance to open for a many of the greats. One last thing on the subject of his time with Sinatra:
“I was a big drinker back then, and let me tell you, maybe he wasn’t like he was in 1960 but he drank me under the table.”
Nice. I’m going to have to wait for the invention of the time machine before I can get soused with The Chairman of the Board. Good one Pinette!
I find it hard to include anything more here that portrays the man any better than he can with some clips from his most recent special. Here’s one now:
Ok ok…. one more…
Keep an eye on Comedy Central for the inevitable re-runs for this special and set your TIVO. Also set your GPS to any of the locations of Pinette’s upcoming tour which you can find out about here:
I’ll end this interview the same way John did with me. What a delight of a person.
“Take Care Friend… bye bye!”