You're almost as likely to see Paul Mecurio on a cable news station as you are on Comedy Central. But in both cases he's usually pointing out the absurdity of politics and politicians, and finding humor in things many Americans find maddening.
Mecurio covers these and many other topics in his stand-up performances, and he's in town for a weekend run at Tampa Improv. We spoke to Mecurio before his visit to Tampa Bay and received a healthy mix of serious answers and satire.
CL: You had a "real job" as a lawyer working on Wall Street before becoming a stand-up comedian. Most people try their hand at comedy and then eventually make their way back into the "real world." What was it that drew you away from a stable career and into the world of comedy?
Mecurio: The free mozzarella sticks at the comedy club. I'm Italian, and to get then I would have endure interaction with my family. So having access to unlimited free sticks for the rest of my life, minus being with my family — well, that's a win-win. In reality, I sold some jokes to Jay Leno and he did them on the The Tonight Show, and it was the most powerful thing I had ever seen. I think the fact that I created something and someone reacted to it was very powerful, and really drew me to comedy.
Your humor is diverse but never really low-brow or crude. Is that intentional or just your personal writing style?
Intentional. I have a lot of interests: Politics, sports, human nature, caring for my Chia Pet farm — so as a result there are a lot of themes I like to hit. Lately it's how I hate people because I want to think the best of them, and they bring out the worst in me. Passive-aggressive people are the worst. Just tell me I'm an ass to my face so I know where I stand.
You're well known for your work on The Daily Show and appearances on cable news stations, and you're also writing and directing films. What is it that keeps you coming back to stand-up comedy, hitting the road and performing across the country?
I am running from the law. I work in different towns under an assumed name. This week it will be Fernando Von Sutpnefeldisten III. You know, something that doesn't draw attention to myself. ... Actually, I like doing all these things, and stand up on the road is fun because you get to do long sets which can really help you grow and stretch,
You also have a successful podcast, The Paul Mecurio Show. How is that different from your other creative projects and what do you like about doing it?
The podcast is really fun. Very freeing. It's long form; the average length of an interview is an hour. I have interviewed Paul McCartney, Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno, Bob Costas, Cold Stone Steve Austin and the host of Mythbusters to name a few. I like to talk to people about their process and how they got to be at the top of their game. It's a way to exercise a different muscle and I'm meeting amazing people.
You're also known as a "political satirist." In the current political climate, that phrase almost sounds redundant. How do you tap into the frustration so many people feel about politics and make it accessible and funny?
I look at it from the perspective of sitting on my couch and yelling at the TV, "This is B.S., this guy is full of s#*t!" If you start there, you'll have a point of view that calls both Republicans and Democrats on their nonsense and taps into what the rest of the country is saying. The trick is to have a point of view and be funny, or be funny and have a point of view. ... The Obamacare website isn't working. Really! Get the folks who run youporn.com to run it. They seem to have figured out how to handle a lot of web traffic.
What makes your stand-up show different than the normal fare people see at comedy clubs, and what can audiences expect from you this weekend in Ybor City?
I wear a dress and have a goat. But mainly, I like to interact with the audience a fair amount and transform it from feeling like "show" where I am presenting a set, and more like a bunch of friends hanging out and shooting the breeze. Then I weave the material into the conversation that thematically matches up with what I'm talking about with the audience. ... It makes for a loose, organic kind of show, and it offers crowds a nice mix of improv/conversation and material.
See Mecurio tonight at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$17. Tampa Improv, 1600 E. 8th Ave., Ybor City. Info: improvtampa.com or 813-864-4000.