Dave Russo
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Dave Russo

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The best kept secret in music


"2004 Boston comedy Festival"

Boston can be a very funny city. Sometimes it's funny ha-ha. Sometimes it's funny uh-oh.

But next week it will be funny for the right reasons when the fifth annual Boston International Comedy and Movie Festival takes over many of the Hub's nightspots Monday to May 1.

The centerpiece of the fest is the annual stand-up comedy competition, with a $10,000 grand prize. The preliminary contests will be held Monday through next Friday at various locations (The Comedy Vault, Nick's Comedy Stop, the Charles Playhouse).

The final event, hosted by Boston comic Steve Sweeney and ``America's Funniest Videos'' and ``Hollywood Squares'' host Tom Bergeron, a Bay State native, will be at the Berklee Performance Center May 1.

But an assortment of other events also are tied into the fest, including Jackie Mason's May 1 show at the Orpheum and Joan Rivers' April 29-May 1 stand at the Wilbur Theatre.

Nick's Comedy Stop will be the site of auditions for David Letterman's show April 30. The Improv Asylum will present a special show dedicated to the Big Dig Wednesday to April 30.

There also will be comedy workshops, the Women's Show (May 1 at Nick's), a ``Best of the Fest'' gig May 1 at Dick Doherty's Comedy Vault and even an auction on Tuesday to benefit the Boston Arts Academy at the Comedy Connection.

The comedy competition is still at the heart of the fest, however, and winning it can give a comic's career a boost. Dave Russo won the event's first competition, and he still can see the dividends.

``Winning gave me an introduction,'' he quipped. ``I finally had something a host could say when I came onstage - `Winner of the Boston Comedy Fest.' ''

Russo's win also led him to host the 2001 competition, where he met the booker of the Tropicana in Las Vegas. He'll be doing two weeks there next month, another perk directly related to the fest.

``The business is all about perception,'' he added. ``When people read the bio and see write-ups from papers that I won the fest and beat out 80 other comics, it does add a certain legitimacy. Winning definitely put my name on the map and helped me get booked because Boston has a great comedy reputation.''

But winning isn't the only reason to enter the competition. Veteran comic Frank Santorelli is in it again this year, even though he placed third last year and second the year before.

Unlike Russo, he isn't looking to establish himself as a comic. ``I just love doing these things,'' he said. ``Plus, I got paid $1,800 for not winning, for doing half a dozen five-minute sets.'' Santorelli won $1,200 for his second-place showing, $600 for third.

Santorelli has been a part of the Boston comedy scene since 1985. He's also an original member of ``The Sopranos'' cast, with 15 episodes under his belt as Georgie the bartender. His other television gigs range from ``Star Search'' to ``Evening at the Improv.''

``Being in the fest really didn't help me in any other way other than the money I won,'' he said. ``But, for me, I just love the competition.

``I tell young comics, `You've got to be able to do five minutes (of good material) because that's all you're going to get when you audition.'

``You have five minutes to sell yourself,'' he said, ``and that's really what it's all about. I'm hoping to get to the finals this year so I can be seen by somebody because I understand a bunch of industry people are going to be there.''

- Dean Johnson

"What happens in Vegas will make or break 'The Entertainer'"

February 20, 2005
BY MIRIAM DI NUNZIO Staff Reporter Advertisement

LAS VEGAS -- Suffice it to say Wayne Newton knows a thing or two about entertainment. After all, he's been performing since he was a toddlin' tot of 5. And he's the first to say that talent alone, "back in those days," wouldn't get you very far.

Sitting in his spacious and comfy greenroom after a recent performance at the Stardust Hotel, where he performs six nights a week, Newton is quick to offer up the names of those who helped him along the way. Names like Benny, Gleason, Ball, Darin, Hughes (yes, Howard), to name a few. Now 62, Newton wants to help another young artist fulfill his or her lifelong dream by becoming the "Trump of the desert." He's the host of "The Entertainer," a new reality series airing at 9 p.m. Sundays on the E! Channel.

For the funky hybrid channeling both "American Idol" and "The Apprentice," 10 contestants (singers, comedians, magicians) were chosen from thousands of auditions to come to the Las Vegas Hilton and vie for the title of "The Entertainer." They are put through various "tasks" that may or may not reflect their particular talent, and one by one, they are eliminated (the show is currently in its fourth week).

No one is "fired" -- they are simply asked to leave the stage. Ridicule by the judges, including Newton and two of his longtime band members, is banned. ("What do you gain by humiliating an up-and-coming talent on national television?" Newton asks.) And the prize for their 10-week audition? A not-too-shabby $1 million performer's contract with the Hilton Corp. and a stint with the Newton show across town at the Stardust.

"I sat down one day and asked the question, 'If I were starting out today, where would I get my chance to do what I do?'" Newton says. "The lounge system that so many of us came up through in this business is gone. That training ground is gone; places like the Chez Paree in Chicago, the Copa in New York. These are extremely talented young people who want to work in this business. They just need that one big break. And that's what this show is all about."

On this particular night, we're soon joined by three of the contestants -- illusionist Nate Burton, comedian Dave Russo and prop comic (a la Carrot Top) Joe Trammel. The three have become pals, but only one of them will walk away with the break of a lifetime. The show is technically over, but no one knows the outcome. If one of them is indeed The Entertainer, he's not talking, under penalty of forfeiture. But they are willing to talk about the process.

"We were sequestered in this 15,000-square-foot penthouse suite at the Hilton for the duration of the show, and can you believe we had cabin fever?" Burton says. "No TV, no papers, no phone, no radio. Just these guys."

"Sure it's been hard on us, but then this business is hard, and we all had to work our butts off to do the job," Russo interjects, his Boston accent coming through loud and clear. "I mean, it's Wayne Newton! This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and it has been a life-altering experience."

Each finalist underwent not only grueling talent auditions, but also extensive medical and psychological testing. They had no contact with the outside world, which was difficult for all of them, especially Trammel, who has a young daughter.

"It was hard, but it was so worth it," Trammel says. "In the end, none of us will lose. We've all gained something from this entire experience."

From their new mentor, Newton, the trio says they've learned what it takes to not only make it in show business, but also to endure.

"Mr. Newton gave us the best advice the very first time he met with us as a group," Russo says. "He said, 'Be true to yourself, and be yourself. The audience will immediately connect with you if you do those two things.'"

"This is better than 'American Idol' because this is not just about being a singer, it's about being an entertainer, which is something completely different," Trammel adds. "This wasn't about some unknown young kid performing for the first time. We already work in this business and we just need that one break to get over the next hurdle. And unlike 'Idol,' Mr. Newton gives us constructive criticism and advice. He has never talked down to any of us, insulted us or made fun of us. Simon [Cowell, of 'American Idol'] doesn't teach anyone anything about show business.

"I've learned more about entertaining from Mr. Newton in these 10 weeks than I could have learned in a lifetime. That says it all, doesn't it?"


"Show Stars up and Comers!"

NEWPORT - The second Newport Summer Comedy Series, now sponsored by Clements

Market, made its return to the Newport Yachting Center Sunday night focusing on up-and-coming comics.

The night had more hits than misses with four comics performing, two in the first show and three in the second (comic Jim Colliton went twice). The comedians are all from the Boston area (though two have relocated to New York City), and had a flair for regional humor.

Throughout the night, each comic decided to pick on the beleaguered city of Brockton, Mass. "You know how they have duck tours? In Brockton, they have crack tours," Colliton said. "Pay $3 and it lasts three days."

Colliton poked fun at being a house-dad on days when he?s not touring, how he spends much of it watching cartoons with his daughter. He also has become the oldest "kid" in the neighborhood street hockey games.

"One of the moms got mad when I brought beer," he said. "Come on. It was the playoffs."

Colliton talked about how he appeases his wife by going camping. "I?m out there thinking that people in jail are getting a better sleep tonight than I am," he said.

Also on the bill were Jon Fisch, Michael Coleman and Dave Russo. Fisch is a returnee, having opened for Anthony Clark last year.

And he used much of the same material as last time around. He referred to himself as looking "like the white Tiger Woods" and added, "But I thought about it, and I?m a lot less white than that guy."

Fisch is, in fact, Jewish and uses his heritage for laughs. He said he roomed with a few other Jewish guys, none of whom could figure out how to fix a heater.

"We stared at that heater the way Ted Kennedy stares at a six-pack of O'Doul's."

Fisch has a relaxed comic style and his oddball one-liners work: "I think women set up blind dates so their friends can get a free meal" and "I have to pick up my parents at the airport later tonight " they like to drink there."

Michael Coleman, who works for WBZ-AM in Boston is a master of voices. He spoofed about 30 songs in about 10 minutes time, including "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to the tune of "LA Woman" by the Doors.

Coleman also does a mean Tom Brokaw, reporting on Mary and her lamb.

The master of the night turned out to be Russo, a quick-witted and loose-limbed comic, who, like Fisch, is a Bostonian now living in New York. Russo is a gifted physical comedian, who spoofed a slow-motion running segment a la "The Six Million Dollar Man" and turned his face into a massive squint in order to play Robert DeNiro.

Russo claimed to have been kicked out of high school, forcing his mother to home-school him. "Every day of my life is a high school reunion," he said. "And recess was me and my boomerang."

As a way to improve race relations, Russo suggested a large dance contest, with contestants such as Elvis Presley, James Brown and John Travolta taking part. Russo deftly mastered the moves of each.

The contest ended in a tie when Michael Jackson performed as part of both the white and black teams.

The night drew about 325 people. Cox Communications filmed the event for a show to air on Aug. 1 at 9 p.m.

The series

- By James J. Gillis - Daily News staff


Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Dave received national attention when he beat out over 30,000 entertainers in 10 major cities to be apart of the E! Entertainment Network's 10 episode series The Entertainer starring Mr. Las Vegas himself Wayne Newton. The Entertainer has been viewed by over 80,000,000 in 20 countries. Dave has made himself a reputation of being one of the country's most versatile and entertaining comics working today! He has performed at over 200 colleges and top venues across the country including The Comedy Stop at the Tropicana in Las Vegas/Atlantic City, The Comic Strip, Dangerfields, and Gotham Comedy Clubs in NYC, as well as The LA Improv and The World Famous Comedy Store. Dave has worked with heavyweights in the entertainment industry such as The Bare Naked Ladies, The 9/11 Benefit show, Wayne Newton's USO Tours, Dave Chappelle, Lewis Black, Steven Wright, Paul Rodriquez, Sinbad, and Mitch Hedberg to name a few.
His trademark scaly cap is a direct throw back to his Boston heritage. Russo, quick-witted and loose-limbed, is a gifted physical comedian, who spoofs slow-motion running and morphs his face in order to play Robert DeNiro. His act is a high energy combination of improvisation,(singing, dancing, mime) story telling, and rapid fire punchlines!