"I’ve gotten things in my career that tell me to keep on with the journey. But you look at me with Mr. Sinatra, me on the last episode of Seinfeld, I kinda feel like Forrest Gump popping up in different places."
– John Pinette
Guy MacPherson: Are you on the road now?
John Pinette: Nope. I am at home until, I guess, Friday, the 24th. Then I go to Albuquerque, which is quite a journey from here.
GM: Where’s here?
JP: I’m at my house in Pennsylvania. I have a house in Pennsylvania and I have a little place in L.A.
GM: Are you Amish?
JP: You know what? We live near the Amish. I actually like living near the Amish. I do some self-deprecating stuff in my act and I talk a lot about my own journey. I don’t like to make fun of people, but I can make fun of the Amish because it doesn’t get back to them.
GM: (laughs) Exactly.
JP: They don’t know.
GM: Do you ever have any interaction with them? They fascinate me.
JP: Oh, absolutely. We went to Lancaster a few weeks ago. There’s outlets there so I took the ride. Yeah, in the area they’re at all the farmers markets and they sell their actual crops and they sell prepared foods and stuff. And they actually do a lot of construction work in the area. I mean, you couldn’t get better fiduciaries to put on your roof or anything. I mean, they are slow. They come by buggy.
GM: Well, you get what you pay for.
JP: Actually, they have the Mennonites drive them. Mennonites are Amish but with a license.
GM: They’re modern Amish.
JP: Yes, exactly. It kinda sounds like an oxymoron, modern Amish. But they’re very good people. It’s a completely different culture. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of the world you go, ‘You know what? Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.’
"I tell jokes. It’s a common ground that people share: everybody eats. And everybody has an opinion about food."
– John Pinette
GM: You say you don’t like to insult people. So we’ll never see you on a Comedy Central roast, I take it.
JP: You know, I doubt it. I watch them once in a while. It just seems too easy to just stay up there and insult people. I have a bit about the Cake Boss. And, you know, he’s the boss of cake. Listen: I started in 1998 with the album Show Me the Buffet. And everybody said, ‘Oh, you’ve got so much food stuff in your act. It’s all about food.’ Yeah. Well now we got the Food Channel, we got Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, Adam Richman, and food, food and food. So I kind of consider myself ahead of the curve. Or the curves, if you will. We have a show about cake. I just think that it doesn’t really evolve because what’s gonna happen next week? They’re gonna make a cake. Now they have Cupcake Wars. They’re battling over cupcakes. You can use a cupcake like a hand grenade. I did a Cake Boss bit on my last DVD and I actually got to talk to Buddy from a radio station in New York and I was glad to hear it was something that he could laugh at, that he didn’t think was mean-spirited or anything. Because I don’t think that’s what I’m on stage for.
GM: I think he’s coming to Vancouver.
JP: He does a tour! He’s a rock and roll star.
GM: So are you.
JP: Oh, listen. I tell jokes. It’s a common ground that people share: everybody eats. And everybody has an opinion about food.
GM: Have you tried to move away from food jokes and found the audience won’t let you?
JP: Oh, no. No. And I think it has evolved at its own pace. I think I brought a lot more of my life to the stage. I go by a text of talking about something but there’s a bit of the show that’s extemporaneous. So I do go up there and work on my feet.
GM: You say you started in ’98…
JP: No, no, no. That was the first CD. I started in ’86. I’ve been doing it 26 years.
GM: Ah, that makes more sense because I interviewed Maryellen Hooper in 2000 and she cited you as one of her favourites.
JP: Oh, that’s nice. She’s a really nice gal. And funny, too. She lives in Orlando.
GM: Yeah, and she married some sort of explosives guy?
JP: No, he’s, like, imagineering. You know, that subsection of Disney that does all the stuff for the park. But she has to live at that Disney place, you know, where there’s a piece of paper on your front lawn and the Disney police come. They have Mickeys but they have, like, batons and pepper spray.
GM: You’re a bit younger than I am. I certainly remember Sinatra, but in my mind he’s from an era from our parents. Does it blow your mind that you worked with him?
JP: You know what, when I look at some of the things I’ve done, like opening for Mr. Sinatra off and on for about a year and a half – my last date with him was at the old Desert Inn in Las Vegas and it was a grand time and that was his second-to-last gig at the Desert Inn. But I look back at getting a call while I was in Vegas doing a show. I’m supposed to go to Wisconsin and my manager says, ‘No, you’re going to do the last episode of Seinfeld.’ And I said, ‘Well what about Wisconsin?’ You know, I’ve gotten things in my career that tell me to keep on with the journey. But you look at me with Mr. Sinatra, me on the last episode of Seinfeld, I kinda feel like Forrest Gump popping up in different places.
GM: Good analogy! And did you have a sign a paper saying you’ll forever call him Mr. Sinatra?
JP: No, actually he was cool with Frank. I just always called him Mr. Sinatra. He thought I was Gleason; they didn’t tell him. He called me ‘The Kid’.
GM: Do young comics today get similar types of experiences or do they have to be in it a lot longer?
JP: I think it’s harder in a way because I came along at the last of the old school of Las Vegas, where you had a musical act but you had an opening comedian. Or you had a comedian open for a comedian. There were a lot of opening venues in Las Vegas still. So I did Caesar’s with the Pointer Sisters, I opened for the Temptations, I opened for the Four Tops a lot, the Oakridge Boys, which I do not wish to speak of. If I hear Elvira one more time, I’m going to kill myself. But I see great young comics, I really do. It does take a lot of time, but I don’t think they have the opportunities. I don’t think they have the TV opportunities. When I was younger, we Evening at the Improv, we had Caroline’s, we had Comic Strip Live. Obviously Just For Laughs was a huge thing for me. And I don’t see them having those opportunities anymore and I wish they did.
GM: Opening for all these musical acts, that was show biz.
JP: Absolutely. That was old school Vegas. And things change. Everything pretty much became a four-wall and people kinda pick their own acts. You couldn’t be a guy that gets a call that says, ‘Okay, you’re opening for Julio Iglesias in Connecticut.’ It just doesn’t happen much anymore.
"Believe me, it absolutely started out as a defense mechanism. Without question. Then it turned into much more of a craft and something that I really love to do. There is a craft to it. You not only have to say funny things, you have to say things funny. And I think I’ve worked on that quite hard."
– John Pinette
GM: Who did you start out with in Boston?
JP: Oh, goodness. Well, Louis C.K. was there, Nick DiPaolo, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, of course Denis Leary. Denis had a few years on us all. Billy Martin was there. Billy Martin’s now the head writer for Bill Maher. And quite a few more. It was kind of a magical time. I didn’t know it because I was young and stupid but it was a magical time upon reflection.
GM: A lot of those names you mention are heroes of the alternative scene. Do you feel you get respect from that corner of the comedy universe?
JP: You know what? Sam Kinison once said if you’re funny, you’re funny. Everybody has a piece of the rainbow. I think I can laugh at their stuff. And when I meet them, they’re really nice. At one time, we all did a gig together here or there so there’s always something to talk about. I wish them all the best.
GM: There are some comedians who work clean and you don’t even realize it until somebody points it out. I was thinking yesterday about you: you don’t necessarily work clean, but you don’t even realize it.
JP: I try to work clean but once a show I’m gonna say ‘fuck’. And do you know why? Because I find, as I grow older and as I grew more on stage, the more I was the John that sat around the table at dinner or at college and people really laughed. The more I become that guy on stage, the more I can bring to my audience. And once in a while I say ‘fuck’. So that’s why I may say it once a show. Unless it’s a corporate show, then I will not get the cheque. (laughs) I think it’s clean as far as not being graphic in nature. I think I’ve been fortunate enough to have a pretty wide range of an audience, a pretty wide demographic. And I gotta tell you, I was in Tarrytown, New York, and I had this nice couple with their two little kids come to see my show and they tell me that it’s nice to listen to comedy with their kids. It certainly makes you feel good. Louie Anderson taught me that, actually. Louie Anderson said, ‘You know, you should work cleaner.’ Because in Boston it was kind of a free-for-all. Second show Friday night in Boston with 400 drunk people in the audience, you pretty much had to keep their attention any way you could. I didn’t want to come off strange and go, ‘I can’t believe I said that.’
GM: What’s your profile like in Canada compared to the States?
JP: I’m actually going to be working on a show here. I really can’t talk about it because I don’t know what the deal situation is. But I can’t ever give back what Canada has given to me as far as the experiences of working every city with just full auditoriums. To go to Charlottetown, PEI, on a Monday and have a thousand people in the audience, which in PEI that’s pretty much everybody. I mean, if somebody has a heart attack, you see two people leaving the show. Canada’s just been very good to me. It’s my favourite place to play, as far as doing one 90-minute concert.
GM: Did you have much knowledge of the country before you started touring here?
JP: I did not. And now I have a full knowledge of Canada. At what point do you make me an honorary Canadian?
GM: As soon as you get a show.
JP: There you go. Exactly. It’s just been a great ride and I look forward to this fall. I do like the fact that this is in the fall so we won’t have to fight the… We were in the maritimes in January and February and what I like about Canadians is they come out. They don’t care. If there’s three inches of snow outside, people in Pennsylvania hide in the basement and clutch canned goods. Canadians put their stuff on and they go to the show.
GM: They have to otherwise they’d never go out.
JP: Yeah, exactly! We did Ottawa in February and walked to an Italian restaurant in two feet of snow. And it was pretty fun.
GM: Were you funny as a kid?
JP: I think so. My family doesn’t seem to think it came really into life until high school.
GM: You hear a lot about kids being funny to offset teasing from other kids…
JP: Oh, believe me, it absolutely started out as a defense mechanism. Without question. Then it turned into much more of a craft and something that I really love to do. There is a craft to it. You not only have to say funny things, you have to say things funny. And I think I’ve worked on that quite hard.
GM: I’ve read you develop your act on stage. Is that for a paying audience or do you go to clubs to work on it?
JP: I always have a set amount of material. What I do is I start out with a little bit of a story, and the story can’t grow until I bring it to the stage and it grows kind of organically on stage. So what you may see two minutes of in one city, by the time I get to the fifth city, it may be ten minutes long.
GM: And Vancouver’s later in the tour so we’ll be seeing the developed stuff.
JP: You’ll be seeing the whole nine yards.
GM: Is there a name for this tour?
JP: The DVD is Still Hungry so I guess it’s the Still Hungry tour. Which is kind of a double entendre, the fact that I like food. But it’s really about the fact I’ve been doing this 26 years and I can still find new things to talk about and still love doing it more than I ever have. I mean, I loved doing it when I was younger but part of me was a scared kid.
GM: And maybe when you’re younger you take it for granted?
JP: Oh, without question. Absolutely without question. And I certainly don’t think that way now.
GM: Are you still a comedy consumer? A fan? Or is it more like when it’s your job you just want to get away from it?
JP: No, I watch comedians. I did a comedy cruise with Lewis Black and Dom Irrera and Kathleen Madigan and Vic Henley. We did a comedy cruise a couple years ago and I watched every show and I had a great time. Ordinarily we wouldn’t have the chance because, as headliners, we’re all ships that pass in the night. I go to a venue and I hear, ‘Oh, Kathleen says hello.’ Or ‘Lewis says hi.’ So it is very nice.
GM: Will you be bringing an opener?
JP: Yes. I don’t know who yet but I think it’s going to be Darren Rose.
GM: Oh yeah. From Toronto.
JP: Actually he’s from Oshawa.
GM: Ah, same thing to us westcoasters.
JP: Yeah, exactly. I believe Darren’s going to do the tour and we get along quite well. He’s very funny.
GM: John, thanks a lot. I know you gotta go.
JP: Well, I hope you got some stuff. And thank you so much for your time. Have a great day.