Adored stand-up comic and native New Yorker Bobby Collins—who’s toured with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Cher, Julio Iglesias and Dolly Parton—is bringing his very funny comedy act to Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater on August 29. From his rise to Vise President of Calvin Klein to his decision to pursue his dream of being a comedian, Collins with us about what influences him, his love of making people laugh, what it means to be a New Yorker, and what he believe makes America great right now!
What led you to comedy?
I was like the funniest guy. It got me girls. It got me out of fights, and I was clever. You know, when you use your brain, and you see things going on, and so you say something funny—it breaks any kind of tension. People will listen when they’re laughing or smiling. Laughter opens people up.
Why do you think New York provides such great material?
Let’s put it this way, the other day I took the subway to Coney Island with my wife, and I tapped her and said, “Look around at all the nationalities. This is what makes America wonderful, and some guy wants to put a wall around all of this.” All of this is what makes America and the New York area great. We’re all striving for the same thing. Keep your eye on the doughnut, not the hole. We’re all in this together. We’re Americans. We’re the best people in the world.
What does your family think of your career as a comedian?
My wife and kids love it. My oldest daughter on the phone the other day said, “Dad, remember when I was little and all these people would say hi to you because you were on The Tonight Show?” She’d ask me how I knew all these people. She thought they were all my friends, and I’d say to her, “Honey, I do stand-up comedy. I go around the country and make people laugh, and people have a special place in their hearts for people who make them feel good about themselves, and that’s what you do as a comedian. You entertain. You make them laugh, but you also educate.” And she never forgot that.
What inspires your comedy?
I look around at the world, and then I use my mind, and have fun with it. I got on a plane the other day, and a kid next to me had piercings all over his face—his ears, his nose. He looked like he fell into a tackle box. He had twelve rings going across his eyebrows. He’s looking at me. I’m looking at him, and I go, “You ought to put a shower curtain up there.” The material writes itself.
You gave up your career as Vice President of Calvin Klein to pursue stand-up comedy. What would you tell others faced with a similar decision between security and following their dreams?
I knew if I stuck with [Calvin Klein], I’d change my name to Murray, and I’d wear a white belt, and move down to Florida and take part in shuffleboard tournaments. So I quit, and started to do comedy full-time. I’ve been doing it for 30 years since, and the phone keeps ringing. I say, “Life is too short, so follow your dreams!” At least you can say you did it. Do it on the weekends, do it after you come home from your day job—if you’re not following your dreams, you’re not fulfilling what’s in your heart. I always say, “God first. Family second. Career third.” You’ve always got to get back on where you got off.
You’ve had the opportunity to tour with some big names. What’s been one of your most memorable moments in your comedy career thus far?
I would say, there are a few. Whoever I worked with, I took the best and left the rest. Meaning, one day I was opening for Julio Iglesias, and he taught me something. I didn’t go out for a sound check, and it was in a big stadium. When I went out, the sound was a little off. Afterwards, he came into my dressing room. He said, “Bobby, you see those people? You see those 35,000 people? You know, those people work really hard to make some money to come see you, to see a good show. They come to see us, and they travel. A lot of them were eating an hour or two ago in restaurants, because they were coming out to see a show. They saved their money to go do that. So we have a responsibility to give them a good show.” I looked at him and said, “I thought I did.” He says, “You always take the time to do the sound check, to make sure that everything is right, so that they can have the best experience.” I looked at him, and smiled, and said, “You’re absolutely right.” He was absolutely right, and it was a very valuable lesson I learned.
Your book On the Inside: Witisms and Wisdomisms came out in 2013. What did you want readers to take away from it?
I wanted people to hear my voice. The highest compliment I get is when people say that they read my book, and that they were looking at life in such a different way before. They know the ideals and lessons I mentioned—and I put it in so many words of how this guy tried to cheat me, this owner of this venue did this—and how I went to the higher level, and saw what it was. I had doctors say to me how they were going in one direction, and then they read my book, and it put them back in touch with who they wanted to be.
You’ll be presenting your comedy act at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater on August 29. What are you most looking forward to?
It’s Long Island! I love Long Island! You got to keep in mind that we’re sharing the planet with a lot of different types of people now. We got to start thinning out the herd. The gene pool could use some chlorine. So when I’m out on Long Island, Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor—that’s like having a cuddly blanket, because we have the same sensibilities. I go there every year, and it’s just a great theater. It’s good people. It’s solid. It’s a beautiful area.
Bobby Collins performs at the Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor, on August 29, at 8 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets visit baystreet.org or call 631-725-9500.