By MIKE CHAIKEN
Social media is the new water cooler.
And comedy and comedians suddenly have surged forward to become the new talk around the water cooler.
When comedian Melissa McCarthy transforms herself into White House spokesperson Sean Spicer on “Saturday Night Live,” the clip goes viral the day after.
John Oliver’s monologues on “Last Night Tonight” are shared, shared, and shared.
All of a sudden, comedians are feeding into the news cycle as well as feeding from the news cycle.
“I think it’s because the political atmosphere has never been this charged since Watergate,” said Paul Mecurio, who brings his stand-up routine to Comix at the Mohegan Sun this week.
Mecurio has a pretty high comedy profile these days. He’s appeared on a Comedy Central special, on “The Late Show w/Stephen Colbert,” “The Daily Show,” “The CBS Late, Late Show,” HBO, “The Tonight Show,“ ESPN, Showtime, NBC’s “Fridays,” and “The Joke Show” and VH-I Clip Shows among others. He is a recurring pop culture and general news commentator and satirist on CNN, NBC, Fox News, MSNBC, CBS, HLN, and daytime television.
The Republican and Democratic presidential primaries set the stage for comedy’s resurgence, bringing politics back to the forefront of people’s consciousness, said Paul in a phone interview between rehearsals. Mecurio himself had his interest transformed during the 2016 election. Prior to this past election, he said he would turn on the sports news when he got home. But as candidates lined up to run last November, he found himself zeroing in on the political updates. And that interest continued even after Donald Trump assumed the presidency.
“People are talking about (politics),” said Paul. “I’m not surprised comedy has come to the forefront.”
Comedy— especially satire— and politics aren’t the strangest of bedfellows, explained Paul. After all, humorist Will Rogers was known for skewering the politicians of the 1920s. Mark Twain also was known for sticking it to the politicians of the 19th century. Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin also were not afraid of poking fun at the leaders of the second half of the 20th century.
But these days, said Paul, as the political scene has become more frustrating, comedy has become a way for people to vent.
And comedy is flexing some muscles.
Melissa McCarthy has received considerable attention for her over-the-top portrayal on SNL of White House spokesperson, Sean Spicer, who she dubbed, “Spicey.” After “Spicey’s” appearance, Paul noticed some changes in Spicer’s handling of the press.
“These people hear this and do adjust their behavior…”
Recently, Paul—who frequently appears on news programs as a commentator—was asked if the comedians have been ganging up on President Trump and have shown a bias against him. But he said comedians and comedy writers are not the news media where they are expected to be fair. Instead, their job is to look for the juicy bits that make their audiences laugh. They’re not going to leave something funny on the table in order to be fair to everyone, they’re going to pick it up, and run with it.
In a social media world, and a 24-hour-news cycle, material for comedians is popping up minute by minute.
Paul said keeping up with all the headlines is a lot of work for a politically minded comedian. But, he said it’s a good problem to have.
In today’s heated political climate, Paul said, the material writes itself.
Although Paul does find himself on political talk shows as the one lone voice neither on the right nor the left—he’s simply the guy who can point out the bull being tossed about—he said politics in his stand up routine only takes up a mere sliver of his time on stage. And typically it’s put into the context of what’s happening in his own life.
For standup, Paul said his comedy is more about social observations and his own life. He finds a lot of comedy by revealing what he’s all about about, and what kinds of things tick him off. Audiences will find him talking about his home in Stonington, Conn. He’ll talk about his family. And he often will refer to his previous career as a lawyer on Wall Street.
A lot of attention has been paid by the press to Paul’s life as a lawyer prior to becoming a comedian. That kind of background, he said, has been helpful to his comedy. As a lawyer, he said, you’re expected to analyze things and break the bigger picture down to its components. Essentially, he said, you learn to think and over think.
When you’re telling a story on stage, Paul said, that ability to overthink allows you strip away the different layers of yourself and your subject and get the audience to laugh at the honesty of your observations.
Off stage, Paul said, having been a lawyer also taught him an important skill as a comedian— you have to treat the career like a business. Comedy has a lot of ups and downs, and it often goes side ways. “If you have a business sense, you can navigate it.”
“Comedy is a fun art form,” said Paul, “but it is a business too.”
One of his other side ventures also has helped his sense of comedy, said Paul.
Mecurio hosts a podcast called “2 Chairs and A Microphone.” Paul McCartney, Stephen Colbert, Bryan Cranston, Carrie Keagan, Judd Apatow, Kristen Chenoweth, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Burr, Adam McKay, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Lewis Black, Thomas Freidman of the New York Times, Rob Reiner, Artie Lange and many more have been interviewed by Mecurio.
Paul said he likes to communicate and he likes to communicate in an entertaining fashion. In his standup, said Paul, he likes to be able to speak with his audience, improvise based on their reactions, and get them laughing. When he’s interviewing people on the podcast, he also is entertaining his audience, but he does this by riding the improvisation based on the answers provided by the guests to his questions. The podcast has helped sharpen his skills for speaking off the cuff while he’s onstage and to keep it entertaining.
In addition to the standup work and the podcast, Paul said he’s in the process of finishing up a role in the film, “The Bleeder” with Liev Schrieber. The movie is about the boxer who took Muhammad Ali to 15 rounds before losing. That film is coming out at the end of May. He also is continuing his role as a political commentator on CBS Sunday Morning. He’s making appearances still on “The Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert.” He’s creating a one-man show about his life, which follows his transition from lawyer to comedian. And he’s auditioning for this role and that role.
“It’s a real mixed bag,” said Paul of his career at the moment.
Some days, in a moment of frustration, he jokes with his wife that he would like to have just one job to do like he did when he worked on Wall Street. But he is enjoying himself. And he said you learn to just kind of roll with it.
“You don’t get a chance to be bored,” said Paul.
Paul Mecurio performs at Comix at the Mohegan Sun April 27 to 29. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. For tickets, go to Comixcomedy.com. Tickets are $15 to $35,
For more information about Paul and to check out his podcasts, go to www.paulmecurio.com/