Irrera looks forward to local tour stop

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Veteran comedian and actor Dom Irrera is looking forward to performing in Western Massachusetts again.

"I have friends in Springfield," Irrera told Reminder Publications in a telephone interview.

His busy performing schedule just hasn't allowed a local booking for quite some time. Irrera will be at the Comedy Connection at the Hu Ke Lau on April 28.

The Philadelphia native began his career in 1980 performing stand-up comedy, acting and improvisational comedy. His big breaks came in 1986 when he appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," and in 1987 when he was part of the line-up for an HBO Rodney Dangerfield comedy special.

Since then, Irrera has been nominated six times for an American Comedy Award and won two Cable ACE awards. Besides a string of comedy specials, Irrera's comedy series on sports, "Offsides," was seen for four seasons on Comedy Central and he has appeared in numerous guest spots on television sitcoms.

Irrera is well known for his Italian ethnic humor, which comes naturally as he grew up in a three-generational Italian household.

"I always felt I was going to be a comedian," he said,

His favorite comic has been Woody Allen. Irrera has long admired Allen's writing style, although it hasn't influenced his own comedy that much.

He noted that no one has ever come up to him after a performance and said, "Man did you rip off Woody Allen with that goomba act of yours."

Ethnic humor has both its advantages and disadvantages, he said. If you stick to ethnic humor, you tend to maintain a core fan base, he explained.

A comic can broaden his or her base by performing less ethnically oriented material, Irrera said. He recalled meeting the son of the late comic and actor Red Buttons after a performance who told him his father wanted to talk with him. Irrera called him and Buttons said, "Don't paint yourself into a corner with that goomba act. Don't be an Italian comedian, be a comedian who happens to be Italian."

Irrera took the advice to heart, but he still does some Italian humor.

"It does leave a lot of the audience out, especially the Persians," he added.

Irrera has built up a side career as a voice artist for animation. He is currently recording the voice of Duke the Dog for the up-coming series based on the animated feature "Barnyard."

He has also performed voices on "Hey Arnold," "Hercules," and "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist."

He and his fellow cast members are given a script to perform, but are allowed to improvise, which is a lot of fun for Irrera.

Irrera has also appeared in a number of movies, the best known might be his funny bit as a chauffer in "The Big Lebowski." Irrera said he is a big fan of the Coen brothers who wrote and directed the shaggy dog tale starring Jeff bridges and had no idea they had attended one of his performances.

A script came in the mail with a notation the Coens wanted him to play the role and Irrera was amazed to see they had used lines from his stand-up performance for the character.

He had no idea the film would achieve cult status and admitted the first time he saw it he didn't care for it. By the second viewing, though, he was a fan.

Irrera has had plenty of television experience on sitcoms, but he's in no rush to try to get his own.

"Beware of what you wish for," he said. "It's [sitcom work] a drag compared to stand-up."

Irrera isn't a snob. He readily admitted that he would accept a starring sitcom role if offered. "I'm not willing to go around pitching and pitching [a show]."

After more than 25 years in the business, Irrera stills enjoys the "immediate gratification" one gets from performing stand-up comedy.