HOWELL – A healthy dose of hometown humor is what’s in store when local comedian Joseph Anthony takes the stage this Friday at the Elks Lodge in Howell Township.
Anthony, who originally grew up in New York, has made appearances on television shows such as “Last Comic Standing” and “The View.” These days, he counts himself as one of the many “transplants” currently living in Howell Township.
“Basically, everybody is a transplant,” says Anthony about his Howell neighbors, “and I’m a comic that’s all about the transplant.” But while there is a good deal of local humor that shines a light on life in Central New Jersey, his performance doesn’t stop at the county line.
His act is like a live therapy session where the audience plays psychiatrist, and while there’s no couch involved, Anthony goes on a humorous psychological expiation about his fears, his frustrations and his foibles. Other comedians may entertain with observational humor, political critiques or crass jokes about adult situations, but not so with Anthony, whose on-stage performance is much more personal. Although he is humorously exorcising his own demons, much of the subject matter will resonate with the audience, many of whom will have similar experiences.
“With me, if you’re dealing with life in general, and you want someone to hold a mirror up to it, the tragedy, the pain, [and] the struggles, I’m going to make you laugh,” says Anthony. “I’m going to give you permission to laugh at my [life], because you can’t laugh at your own stuff, because it’s so real. Now, it doesn’t make me laugh, but that’s how I deal with it.”
There’s a familiarity about Anthony, an everyman quality that is relatable and disarming. His fears and shortcomings put the observer at ease and blur the line between comic and audience. He takes you into his world and gives you a comedic zip-file of his life. Anthony becomes like that distant cousin that only sees his relatives once a year during the holidays and feels the inherent need to update you on 365 days of his life in 30 minutes.
“If you came in here with any problems, anything on your mind tonight,” Anthony will tell the audience, “after listening to me, you’re going to leave feeling a lot better about yourself.” With that, Anthony takes you on a psychological trek, leading the audience like a comedic Diogenes shining a light through the recesses of his mind in search of truth.
“Most people over a certain age are married or in a relationship, and I’m all about the horrors of that situation,” Anthony explains. “Anybody approaching middle-age or is middle-aged, I’m going to let them laugh about how their lives are falling apart physically [and] financially. I’m going to give them a look into the life of a comedian dealing with all kinds of bumps in the road.”
Anthony is something of a walking dichotomy, on one hand listing the variety of internet platforms he participates in (Substack, Facebook, Wix, Twitter, Fiverr), but will tell you frankly that he doesn’t interface well with any of them.
“It’s a nightmare to me,” Anthony confesses. “It’s a nightmare to me to have to read, and get my daughter to video, get the editing, figure out the file, it’s too big, it’s too small. The minute I go to technology for its use, within two minutes I have an anxiety attack. I’ve never created my own website. I’ve sat down in front of the dashboard for thirty seconds and go, ‘Someone else is doing this for me.’ I have the same attitude about landscaping.”
For an individual whose first love was writing, Anthony stepped into comedy as an internal calling. After attempting to pursue a writing career, and after “throwing out some queries and things of that nature for a while, and going back to school for it, I got bored. Stand-up was always sort of this secret desire. I took continuing ed classes at the New School in New York, because they teach everything. If you want to learn how to thread a needle, they have a class in it.”
Anthony took a workshop that was being taught by a working comedian, and upon writing and presenting his material in front of the class, he saw he was getting laughs. He decided to try his hand during the open mic night at a sold-out Pip’s Comedy Club in Brooklyn, and when his material went over well with an actual paying audience, Anthony was hooked.
But he was not an overnight success, and earned a living through a variety of jobs while he pursued his passion.
“I’ve had some really bad jobs, like, hardcore New York construction,” he admits. “I’ve worked in banking. I’ve had all kinds of jobs that I don’t like. Pretty much any job I’ve had, I found a reason to hate it.”
But Anthony is happy to be working again in front of live audiences. The pandemic was particularly hard for performance artists, concerts, live theater and stand-up comics. For a man who doesn’t associate well with technology, the quarantine period was hard enough, but worse for someone like Anthony.
“I am a hypochondriac,” Anthony admits candidly. “It’s not about COVID. I don’t want to get a cold, let alone COVID. So, label me if you want but I’ve always been that way. I’ve always been the type to shake a hand, [and if] the person seemed seedy to me, I couldn’t wait to find a place to wash my hand.”
With stand-up on hold during the pandemic, Anthony returned to writing to make ends meet, doing script consulting, blogging, a newsletter about stand-up comedy and even some writing for online business magazines. But it wasn’t until recently that Anthony began to again write for his stand-up act. During his quarantine time he noticed that the way people were relating to technology was working as a substitute for actual real-life relationships.
That realization became fertile ground, and he has emerged with comedic observations that take the audience down a seemingly well-lit path, turning with an O. Henry twist that would make James Joyce envious. But, for Anthony, it’s all part of his special truth.
“I live it” he says simply. “I write it. I don’t do shock value. Some things I say may be shocking, but that depends on the listener. But I don’t do contrived shock-value humor. I won’t intentionally write stuff that isn’t true just to get a rise. That old adage, to be yourself, is a good one. You’ve got to be you.”
Joseph Anthony will be appearing on Friday, April 8, at the Howell Elks Club with fellow comedian Gene Trifilo as an opening act. The doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25, which includes appetizers. Tickets may be purchased at the bar. For further information, contact Jim Eadicicco at 732-489-0281.