“The number one rule of comedy is to know your audience.” Standup comedian Paul Anthony certainly knows his. A jovial, friendly man always looking for an opportunity to make people laugh, Anthony (who was recently hired at Bay Street Theater as sales and sponsorship manager) is very serious when it comes to his company, Long Island Comedy, which has been delighting audiences for 13 years.
Anthony, who was born in Queens and moved to Massapequa after getting married, started his career as a salesperson in the radio industry, working for stations like WALK 97.5. “Being in sales, I used to go out and do presentations for clients, and part of my sales pitch and my presentation was always to try and make people laugh and incorporate humor into my presentations,” he says. “It evolved into me going into the city. I started doing stand up and haven’t looked back.” Eventually, Anthony started Long Island Comedy.
“The concept was exactly what it sounds like,” Anthony explains. “I said, ‘You know what, there are comedy festivals in every major city around the country—Boston, Los Angeles, New York City—but never on Long Island. So we threw it out there and got a fantastic response. The concept was to bring a whole different litany of comedians of different levels. You had your established comedians from late-night TV or top venues, but you also had up-and-coming comedians out of New York. That’s where a lot of comedians tend to gravitate to the tri-state area. That’s where we started.”
Since then, the Long Island Comedy Festival has played in theaters all over Long Island, including the East End, and grown to include other shows, such as the 50+ Comedy Tour, which features somewhat older comedians, and New Year’s Laughin’ Eve. Long Island Comedy is unique in that all the shows under its umbrella are performed in theaters, not comedy clubs.
“Being in a theater environment is very different than sitting in a comedy club,” Anthony says. “It’s a much more focused approach to a show. I always tell people to go and watch any comedy special you see on [television]—no one’s filming their special at a comedy club. They’re doing it in a theater environment. People appreciate it. We tend to draw a slightly older demographic to the shows because that’s who’s more inclined to go to a theater venue, pay a slightly higher ticket price. They’re not interested in nachos and a two-drink minimum.”
Long Island Comedy has adapted the “comedy showcase” format for its shows. Rather than an opening act and a headliner, Anthony’s shows feature four or five different comedians who get equal time to make the crowd laugh. “They do a shorter amount of time each, but when you come out to a show you’re going to see four or five comedians and the law of averages tells me that the audience will love at least three of them,” Anthony notes.
With a stable of talent, Anthony has developed a comic community on Long Island. “The comedians that we work with come from all over the country. When we first started, most of the comedians were from Long Island, then New York City. It’s a very tight community…every comedian we work with wants to help and support [one another]. It’s not really a competition; it’s more of a brother- and sisterhood. And so a lot of times at shows, I encourage new comedians to get there early and don’t just do their set and leave, but hang out and just network with the other comedians.”
Of course, Anthony does more than just coordinate and produce shows. As a comedian himself, he’s constantly creating new material for his sets. Anthony considers his comedy to be “observational,” often mining gold from his own life. “You’re supposed to be able to establish who you are onstage. I’m the middle-aged white guy who’s a little angry,” he laughs. “Not all the time! Sometimes I’m delusional. Sometimes I’m also, definitely, out of touch.”
But Anthony is certainly not “out of touch” offstage. He has found that often audiences don’t want to hear about certain topics, like politics. “People who are coming to our shows, half the time they don’t know who’s on the show, they just know they’re going to have a good time. They’re trying to escape Fox, CNN, and [uncomfortable] conversations with their neighbors. They are here for an hour-and-a-half to forget about some of that,” he says, noting that audiences who want that specific flavor of comedy will likely seek out a comedian known for that kind of work.
East End audiences can check out Long Island Comedy this New Year’s Eve, at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson or at Suffolk Theater in Riverhead. Anthony thinks that audiences will have a blast as they ring in 2019 with a lot of laughs.
For tickets and more information on New Year’s Laughin’ Eve at Theatre Three and Suffolk Theater, visit longislandcomedy.com.