During the late-nineties and early-aughts (shudder), I was a young comedy fan watching shows like Comedy Central Presents, A&E’s Comedy Showcase, and NBC’s Late Friday. Really popular acts like Chris Rock and Jeff Foxworthy were living large and guys like Louis Black, Mitch Hedberg and Dane Cook were gaining a lot of momentum. Everybody had an angle, a super-memorable gimmick. But there was another category of standup that seemed less celebrated: folks who simply had funny jokes.
These schtick-less performers weren’t loud or weird or interesting in appearance. They simply opened their mouths and said funny things. Guys like Nick DiPaolo, Greg Giraldo, Louis CK, Marc Maron and Patton Oswalt were zeros in the fame game but batted a thousand whenever you could catch them for five minutes on TV. Nowadays, they are comedy household names, because eventually the Internet hit puberty and craftsmen can be judged for the actual quality of their work instead of their marketability.
Journeyman Greg Fitzsimmons is one of those guys. Luckily, today he’s reaping the benefits of sticking it out through decades of relative obscurity. His podcast, Fitzdog Radio, is in the top 25 for comedy podcasts on iTunes. You should check out the episode from last November where he dissects Philly’s ethnic culture and interviews our own Darryl Charles.
I recently had a chat with him where he talked about working in his undies, why he loves playing at Helium Comedy Club and his stance that Philly is actually part of New Jersey …
City Paper: How has podcasting changed the comedy business?
Greg Fitzsimmons: I definitely see a [bigger] turnout for my standup shows and the listeners are really connected to what I have to say. I can tell they are invested in the podcast and are not going anywhere. That’s a great feeling. Also I enjoy performing in my underwear in my garage.
CP: When last you were in Philly, you described our fair city as “Italy fucked by Ireland, plus black folks” (which you admitted is also the Bronx, South Boston, etc.) Beyond ethnicity, how do you view Philly culturally?
GF: There is a self-delusion that Philly is not New Jersey. Does anyone really think it is part of Pennsylvania?Pennsylvania is chocolate and Amish and woods. You guys are Jersey. As soon as you get enough money you go directly to the Jersey Shore or Atlantic City.
CP: You’ve shown some loyalty to Helium. Are you generally still doing clubs? Where do you stand in terms of getting away from the bachelorette parties and playing theaters? Do you prefer a traditional comedy club?
GF: Theaters are tough because you have to sell every ticket for it to make sense financially for everyone. I prefer clubs because you can be more creative and feel the room. You can write more material and you don’t have to play it big to reach the back rows. Helium is a perfect layout and has an awesome feel to it. You can see everyone and the sound is good. Most of the waitresses are really into me.
CP: Who were your comedy heroes growing up?
GF: I listened to my Dad’s comedy albums and read his humor books when I was young so I really loved Bob Hope and Art Buchwald and Bill Cosby. The Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks’ movies were a real bonding thing for me and my Dad, also. I got older and got into Steve Martin, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. In high school the Jerky Boys changed the way I talk to this day. I still call people “sizzle chest” and “Jerky.”
CP: Where do you see your career in five years? Any projects coming that you’re excited about?
GF: I am hosting a game show on The Speed Channel starting in November. It’s 20 episodes where I ask people questions while they fill their tanks at gas stations. I’m actually not kidding. I also have a show in development at Nickelodeon and am waiting to see whether a pilot I executive produced for VH1 goes to series. I’ve got five straight weeks of standup booked for the fall and in the middle of that I will do two podcasts a week and a radio show each Monday night. Oh yeah, and I have a wife and two kids at home. They seem confused when I am around the house.
CP: How close are we to the breakdown of modern culture?
GF: If you track the Holy Roman Empire, right before the fall, the similarities to our country right now are frightening. They had a bloated government bureaucracy, paid mercenaries in place of true soldiers and a sense of infallibility. The GOP has the EPA in its crosshairs for the next election so any hope for the environment is shit. These are tough days to have kids …