Andrew Norelli
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SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Friday, June 24, 2005

Andrew Norelli performs in Danville on Saturday, 16 years... Tommy Drake, who now lives in Houston, enjoys having a jo...

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When Andrew Norelli and Tommy Drake did a sketch routine together at Danville's San Ramon Valley High School, they had no idea they'd be putting a comedy show together in the same town some 16 years later. Yet here they are: Two professional comics who have stayed in touch throughout the years and will be performing on stage in Danville on Saturday night.

Norelli's family in Moraga might have had an inkling.

"My family loves what I do. They say funny things like, 'Hey, you should get on "Saturday Night Live"!' Like you can just call 'em up with, 'Hi, my mom thinks I'm funny, can I be on your show?' " said Norelli, 30, a New York native who came to California at age 2.

In 1989 the boys did a Sonny and Cher routine at their high school, but Drake, now a Houston resident, thinks they might have met earlier.

"I think we played on the same Pee Wee soccer team, but I know we went to the same junior high, and got to know each other in high school," said Drake, 32. "The Sonny and Cher routine was Andrew's first performance. I had already done hundreds of shows with drama, kid shows and juggling acts."

It was seven years ago when Norelli, a surfer in his spare time, got the real comedy bug, about the time when being a student at UC Berkeley became a job.

"What a waste that was. I'm not knocking it for everyone; it just wasn't for me. I got A's in college. It wasn't like I slacked off; it was just tedious. It's like having a job where you pay them!" said Norelli, who has since opened for Dave Chappelle, Christopher Titus, Margaret Cho, Dave Attell and Pauly Shore. But comedy wasn't thrilling either, at the beginning. "We all start in the most undramatic fashion -- a sad open mike with three drunks or homeless people in the crowd. You do that until you hit the next level, which is an open mike with four drunks in the crowd,'' said Norelli.

However, Norelli said he found comedy pays high dividends in freedom of speech.

"I enjoy it because you can't use profanity at a regular job," said Norelli, whose fast-paced shtick includes commentary on alternative medicine, health and technology.

Drake enjoys the boss-free environment as well.

"I hate having to work with other people. With comedy, I'm writer, producer and performer," Drake said. "Not only am I my own boss, I get to do my ideal job. Plus it has me gainfully employed."

Drake began his comedy career at age 10 when he picked up juggling and magic as a hobby. By age 19, he landed a job at Paramount's Great America in Santa Clara as an actor and director of the interactive street theater.

Shortly thereafter, he met his wife, Becky, a real estate agent, at his brother's wedding.

Ironically, his recent claim to fame was an almost two-year stint from 2003 to 2004 opening for Cher's "Farewell Tour," where he performed 125 shows for just over 1.3 million people, mostly in the United States and every major market in Canada -- "All three of them!"

More recently he co-created a tour with comedian friends John Wessling and Chuck Savage called "Hell Gig America," a performance of 50 shows in 50 states in 50 days, a feat he believes hasn't been done by comics before.

"It was great. It was done by rock artist George Thorogood and the Destroyers ('Bad to the Bone') in 1981," Drake said. "We did a documentary of logging in over 200 hours (of comedy)."

The final, edited 90-minute film will be shown at the Just for Laughs Montreal Comedy Festival on July 15, along with a 10- to 15-minute comedy set.

"I've been trying to get into Montreal for eight years now, and finally with this film, we got in," Drake said.

But before the festival, Drake and Norelli will do Danville.

"Tommy and I haven't worked together in quite a while," Norelli said. "It'll be fun to see how our acts have evolved. And there are many people from our high school who have seen us, but many who have not. This is their chance to come out. I grew up here. I've known many people since I was 5 years old. It will be fun to see some of them again."

A fan since high school, Silas Carleton moved to Danville and San Ramon Valley High School from Albuquerque at 17. Norelli was one of Carleton's first friends on campus.

"He was a very gregarious guy. As a comic, he's one of the most dedicated, diligent guys I know. He'll find a coffee house or open mike, perform for only two people sipping java and treat it with real work ethics," said Carleton, a surveyor for URS Engineering in Pleasant Hill.

"He's pretty amazing. He does great observational humor and he's a great storyteller. I've been to more shows than any of his fans."

For Norelli, counterculture comedy is what gives him purpose.

"It's such an unconventional and thrilling w - Charleen Earley, Special to the Chronicle


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Bio

Andrew Norelli is aggressive, fast paced, and quick witted. Cell phones, traveling, and the challenges of being a consumer in today’s world are just a few topics he covers. His style of venting and ranting is both entertaining and cathartic to any audience. Having performed with the country’s top acts, including Christopher Titus, Dave Chapelle, Margaret Cho, and many others, Andrew commands the stage presence of a seasoned Comedy veteran. Come see his take on dealing with the frustrations of a Corporate society and a world that takes itself way too seriously.