There are a lot of funny guys around and one of the funniest is an alumni of Saturday Night Live who's brought his brand of humor to the Las Vegas Hilton for an indeterminate run in the resort's Shimmer Cabaret. His name is Joe Piscopo and he had them rolling in the aisles when I dropped into see him the other night.
Talking to Piscopo involves a great deal of concentration as the words come pouring out fast and furious and you don't want to miss anything. "I'm more of an entertainer than a comedian," he says. "I love Seinfeld (Jerry) and Brenner (David), but I like to be standing on the stage improvising, like I did way back in the late '70s in New York."
He tells about going to audition night at the Improv, saying, "I remember I drove from Jersey and there were like 200 people in line waiting to audition. I didn't even get out of the car, just turned around and went home, but six weeks later I was a regular there."
He says his big break came from Saturday Night Live (SNL). "I was at the Improv and SNL was looking for new players. In my mind, I'm thinking this is the last thing I'm gonna do. Who wants to replace Gilda (Radner), and Chevy (Chase), Dan (Ackroyd), Belushi? I had a friend who was a writer on the show and he tells them, 'You gotta see Joe.' They needed somebody to do characters, so I got in to see them and I showed them my Frank Sinatra-esque character and they dug it.
"And I'm thinking, there's no way I want this job, I can't do it. I was doing voiceovers for commercials in New York-I was an anonymous working actor/entertainer and that's all I wanted to be in my life. But we went into the studio; I did a few characters and got hired!
"Anyone who knows the show knows that the original cast was probably the best cast in the history of television. John Belushi. Eddie Murphy. Chevy (Chase). Billy Murray the greatest of all. I can't tell you what a thrill it was. Danny Ackroyd was the captain of the Starship SNL, the guy we all look up to and our idol.
But when Belushi would come in, he was standoffish. Then he took us out to lunch to the House of Blues, a little blues bar down in the Village, a beat-up old place, hole in the wall. I'm sitting there all by myself, scared to death and Belushi comes up to me and says, 'Piscopo.' And I think, Oh geez, what now? He puts some coins in the jukebox and plays New York, New York, and he and I started doing dueling Sinatras. I'll never forget it, Belushi singing, 'Start spreading the news....' and we're going back and forth.
Everyone started to watch it... and then Belushi drew into himself and stepped away. But he just wanted a moment, you know....I felt bad for him because he was such a huge icon and he just wanted to hang and people pushed him. I'll never forget that. He was such a sweet soul and that was a big moment for me.
"These are good memories," he says, and tells about the time he wrote Sinatra a letter and "I poured my heart out (we're both Italian Americans from the same neck of the woods, North Jersey). I ended by saying that it is out of respect that I do him in my act and that he was my hero.
"I sent the letter but I don't hear anything back. I'm thinking, I hope I didn't tick him off, but I kept doing the impression. Then one day, I get a chance to meet him and he says, 'Hey, Joe Baby, how are ya?' like I was his best friend. He was so warm and wonderful, like a father figure to me and every single time I met him - I was never in the inner sanctum - he would ask me to perform for him. It was so cool.
You can catch Piscopo Sunday thru Thursday at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.95 plus tax and service charges.