Since its reopening last year, the Park Theatre on 848 Park Avenue in Cranston has become the prime venue for stand-up comedy in Rhode Island. It’s even the current home of the state’s …
Since its reopening last year, the Park Theatre on 848 Park Avenue in Cranston has become the prime venue for stand-up comedy in Rhode Island. It’s even the current home of the state’s Comedy Hall of Fame. On January 27, a stand-up comedy event will be taking place there for folks who like to laugh without hearing vulgar language. It’s being presented by “The Ivy League of Comedy” and it features three comedians. These comics are Shaun Eli, Andy Pitz and Liz Miele with the whole thing starting at 8 p.m.
Eli is the founder of the comedy group and we had a talk about how it all started, how stand-up comedy is fairly easy compared to other things, where he gets his material from and how he feels that he gets to work with the funniest people on the planet.
Rob Duguay: What's the story behind “The Ivy League of Comedy”? How did this group get started? I know you went to the University Of Pennsylvania, so did the group start there or did you meet other comics at other Ivy League schools?
Shaun Eli: It didn’t start at Penn, it was many, many years later. I was working at a bank and I started doing stand-up comedy, my comedy was clean and colleagues & clients would come see me at comedy clubs. They would tell me that my comedy was clean and while they didn’t object to the other comedians’ material, they wanted to take clients for a corporate event and they were looking for clean comedy shows. There weren’t any and as a business major I realized that there’s a demand for this product and there doesn’t seem to be a supply so I started putting together clean shows. I also wanted a very corporate sounding name, so I called it “Ivy League Comedy” with my original goal having it be comedians from the Ivy League but I realized that there’s only eight of us so it wasn’t going to work.
We were going to a theater one day to do a show and they put on the marquee “The Ivy League of Comedy”, which my first thought was they got the name wrong and my second thought was that the name was better. I then immediately changed the name of the group to “The Ivy League of Comedy” and we do clean shows at theaters, corporate events, charity fundraising events, all sorts of places.
RD: Awesome, that’s great. Stand-up comedy is one of the hardest creative mediums anyone can do, so what made you want to get into doing it? Was it a comedian you grew up watching or a sitcom on TV?
SE: I actually want to dispute that it’s one of the hardest things to do because there are people who teach handicapped children to fight fires, I stand on a box and talk into a stick. The worst that’ll ever happen to me is nobody laughs and I’ll go home crying, which hasn’t happened in a very long time. I guess it is in a way unique in that as a comedian I’m the writer, the performer, the stage manager, the wardrobe guy and sometimes I’m the lighting & sound person. My company is just me so I’m the marketing guy, I’m the bookkeeper and I do everything, but it’s what I’m good at. I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument.
To me, the fact that people can play guitar while singing words that don’t necessarily fit what their fingers are doing is amazing because that’s two things at once and all I’m doing is talking. The harder challenge creatively is writing the jokes and that comes pretty naturally to me. People have asked me how I came up with them and I say “I have no idea.” There’s a lot of comics that I admire but I don’t know if anyone has influenced me. There’s a lot of talented people out there that I look up to and the beauty of my job is that I get to work with them. Let’s say that you're a low-level professional tennis player, you don’t get to team up with the greatest tennis players around and doubles.
If you’re a minor league baseball player, you don’t get to play with the big club until you get promoted. In stand-up comedy, I get to work with some of the funniest people in the world and it’s great. I get to work with them, travel with them and hang out with them so I think it’s a great job.
RD: I can totally see why. Your material is based on ordinary stories such as dining with a vegetarian or successfully fighting a parking ticket and making it funny. Do you use a lot of events that have happened in your life to tell jokes or do you obtain your source material in other ways?
SE: It’s both, I do tell a lot of stories and one of the advantages of being a storyteller comedian is that it’s easier to remember because it’s something that happened to you and you can even change a few details of it to make it funnier. With fighting a parking ticket, every single part of that story is true except that there’s a reference to a beer that I occasionally change the name of because nobody has heard of Schmidt outside of the Philadelphia area. Some stuff is easy, but not all my stuff is storytelling, some of them are just things that occur to me. I’ve recently heard a commercial on the radio that the IRS is the largest & most aggressive collection agency in the world. I thought that they could be the largest, but most aggressive? Have they heard of the Mafia?
The IRS has auditors, the Mafia has Anthony. The IRS can seize your bank account, the Mafia smashes your kneecaps. The IRS drags you into court and makes you pay, the Mafia drags you into the New Jersey Pine Barrens and makes you dig your own grave.
RD: That’s really good (laughs).
SE: I got another one for you.
SE: I had a date with a really hot woman last night. She snuggled up close and said that she wanted to share something with me, I said “Sure, I’ll share whatever you want” and she said “My student loans.” Now I owe Citibank $87,000.
RD: That’s another good one (laughs). Outside of comedy, you're a world-class rower and dragon boat racer. Out of both rowing and dragon boat racing, which do you enjoy the most?
SE: I only did dragon boat racing for one year, and that year I made the national team and we went to the world championships which was a long time ago. I’ll definitely say rowing over dragon boat racing, it was nice to make the finals in Hong Kong in dragon boat racing but I still row. The beauty of rowing is that I can row by myself, you can’t row a 20 person dragon boat by yourself. You can paddle a canoe or a kayak but I prefer rowing.
RD: Did you do rowing when you attended Penn or did you start later on in your life?
SE: I started at Penn during my freshman year, I was on the team for four years and when I got out of college I was part of the New York Athletic Club rowing team for another decade. I don’t race anymore, but I still row just not in the winter.
RD: That’s understandable but that’s wicked cool. What can folks expect from “The Ivy League Of Comedy” when you, Andy Pitz and Liz Miele come to perform at the Park Theatre?
SE: You know how I mentioned that I get to work with the funniest people in the world? Andy and Liz are just amazing, they’re really, really, really funny. There are some people who’ve had videos go viral just because it’s a popular topic and Liz has had videos go viral because she’s just a brilliant comedian. Andy has been on [The Late Show with David] Letterman and The Late Late Show, they both are just hilarious comedians. People talk to me sometimes to book famous comedians and you’re going to get somebody for between $30,000 and $50,000 for your corporate event but for $5,000 you can get somebody who’s not famous who’s just as funny. Cranston is in for a treat.