Joey Gay
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Joey Gay

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The best kept secret in music

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"Joey Gay"

"Comedy comes naturally to me," says stand-up comedian and actor Joey Gay, who mines his laughs from his infamous surname, his colorful childhood in Brooklyn and his place in the family as the younger brother of five sisters, which gave him a unique perspective on the differences between men and women.

Reminded how short life is by his father's death, Gay decided to pursue his dream of going into show business. He's been entertaining audiences ever since, and is now a regular at New York comedy hotspots like Caroline's on Broadway, Comedy Village, Laugh Factory and Catch a Rising Star. In addition to performing at top clubs across the country, he has also appeared at casinos such as the Borgata and Resorts in Atlantic City and Foxwoods in Connecticut.

He wanted to be on "Last Comic Standing" so he could "compete against the best comics in America," and describes his style of comedy as "the same as my style of dance - doing what is least awkward."

As an actor, he has appeared on NBC's "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Deadline." On the big screen, Gay appeared in the films "Close Strangers," "Exit 8A," "Times Modem," "The Vibe" and "The Play." He has also appeared on several cable shows, including MTV's "Damage Control."

In his spare time, Gay is working on a documentary about New York City's historic comedy clubs. The documentary features interviews with some of the biggest names in comedy, including Woody Allen, Brett Butler and Richard Lewis.

- Last Comic Standing website


"Joey Gay's Excellent Adventure"

By JAY DIXIT


WHEN Joey Gay heard that Pips Comedy Club in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, was for sale, he discovered his life's purpose. All the elements of his past - growing up with an embarrassing last name in a rough part of Brooklyn, learning to be funny to ward off schoolyard bullies, running a strip club for five years and doing standup for eight - everything had been leading up to this.

Pips, a shoebox of a space sandwiched between Lundy's and Randazzo's, two of the borough's venerable seafood palaces, was born in 1962, just as comedy clubs were coming into their own, and at 43 years old, it is generally regarded as the country's oldest comedy club. In its heyday, Pips jump-started the careers of Rodney Dangerfield, David Brenner and Andrew Dice Clay, and was a stomping ground for a string of heavy hitters that included Joan Rivers, Andy Kaufman, Woody Allen, George Carlin, Billy Crystal, Robert Klein, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno.

But in recent years, the club had fallen on hard times, and late last summer, the owner decided to sell it to a man who planned to turn it into a Greek restaurant. Mr. Gay, who at 35 is eight years younger than the club, couldn't bear the idea.

"I felt like I was the only Yankee fan, and they were tearing down the stadium," said Mr. Gay, who talks like a raspier version of Joe Pesci and radiates an old-fashioned formality that reminds people of a 1930's film star. "The bluebloods of American comedy started here. That means something to me."

Mr. Gay got in touch with Louis Torelli, a restaurant manager who was his best friend in sixth grade at St. Rose of Lima Catholic school in Midwood, where the boys grew up. Along with a partner, Mr. Torelli had been planning to open a Subway franchise. Mr. Gay persuaded them to put their money into Pips instead.

They bought the club in September, and now they face a formidable challenge. Its remote location, on Emmons Avenue at the end of the Q line, makes it relatively inaccessible, especially for Manhattanites. Though the club has a long history, it is a history few people know or care about. A-list comics have long since stopped performing there, and the Jews and Italians who populated the neighborhood when Pips was the center of New York's comedic universe have been replaced by new immigrants, particularly Russians, who are less likely than native English speakers to want to see comedy in English. Perhaps most crucially, two decades of bad word of mouth seemed almost impossible to overcome.

Damion Sammarco, a friend of Mr. Gay's and his co-host at a Lower East Side open mike, thought it was a bad idea all around. "Joey used to always talk about how if he had a couple hundred thousand dollars, he'd buy Pips," Mr. Sammarco said. "And I'd say to him: 'Joey, if you had a couple hundred thousand dollars, I'd do everything in my power to stop you.' "

Where Even Bartenders Heckled

Pips, which occupies a century-old storefront along what was never a very picturesque section of the waterfront, was founded in 1962 by a onetime standup comic from Brooklyn named George Schultz. Mr. Schultz had named his German shepherd Pip, after his favorite Dickens character, and when he bought the club, he named it Pips, too.

The early rosters were studded with unknowns, though they wouldn't stay that way for long. In the lineup, for example, was a childhood friend of Mr. Schultz's named Jacob Cohen who had tried comedy without success as a young man and was working as an aluminum siding salesman. When he took another shot at comedy, he changed his named to Rodney Dangerfield, landed on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and, with "I don't get no respect" as his signature line, became a star.

Other early performers included Joan Rivers, who, since she had no car, showed up only when Mr. Dangerfield gave her a ride. "He would literally take both hands off the wheel to write down jokes, pad in the left hand, pencil in the right hand," Ms. Rivers recalled. "I stopped going because I was afraid to ride with Rodney."

David Brenner, who went on to be a regular guest host on "The Tonight Show," got his first paying gig at Pips, and his rise to stardom, combined with his loyalty to Mr. Schultz, gave Pips its early momentum and attracted other top-flight comics. Largely thanks to his efforts, Pips became something of an Algonquin Round Table for a generation of comedians.

At the same time, Pips was pure Brooklyn, the only club, as "Goumba Johnny" Sialiano, the host of the morning show on WKTU-FM, remembers, "where you could get heckled by the bartender."

Outsiders learned quickly what a tough room it could be. "It was pretty rough for an Irish Southern chick," said Brett Butler, who later starred in the 1990's sitcom "Grace Under Fire." "The guys had their elbows on the table, looking at me like, take your clothes off or get outta here."

"Keeping it Surreal" in Midwood

As Pips was becoming a launching pad for a brilliant new - New York Times


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Stand-up comedian and actor Joey Gay mines his laughs from his infamous surname, his colorful childhood in Brooklyn and his place in the family as the younger brother of five sisters, which gave him a unique perspective o¬n the differences between men and women.
He is a regular at New York comedy hotspots like Caroline's o¬n Broadway, Comedy Village, Laugh Factory and Catch a Rising Star. In addition to performing at top clubs across the country, he has also appeared at casinos such as the Borgata and Resorts in Atlantic City and Foxwoods in Connecticut. As an actor, he has appeared o¬n NBC's "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Deadline." O¬n the big screen, Gay appeared in the films "Close Strangers," "Exit 8A," "Times Modem," "The Vibe" and "The Play." He has also appeared o¬n several cable shows, including MTV's "Damage Control." In his spare time, Gay is working o¬n a documentary about New York City's historic comedy clubs. The documentary features interviews with some of the biggest names in comedy, including Woody Allen, Bret Butler and Richard Lewis.