Seriously Funny


February 06, 2005|By Emeri B. O'Brien | Emeri B. O'Brien,SUN STAFF

When a friend asked local comedian Joe Recca to write material for him for the Baltimore audition of the BET comedy contest show Coming to the Stage, Recca saw an opportunity -- for himself.

He hit the stage at the Comedy Factory in downtown Baltimore and made it all the way to Hollywood.

Recca, who has been doing comedy for 17 years, was seen weekly last fall and this winter on BET battling other promising comedians on the contest show, and last month won the crown of BET's "Next Superstar of Funny."

"I couldn't believe it," Recca says. "I have to pinch myself to see if it's really real. Finally, Hollywood has a chance to take a look at me."

Recca got his first taste of Hollywood when he recently taped a guest appearance on the UPN show Eve. He will also get a chance to appear on a BET show. Before he won the national contest, Recca, 46, appeared on HBO's Def Comedy Jam and Showtime at the Apollo, and wrote material for comedian D.L. Hughley. The big gigs in between were pretty thin.

Like most struggling comedians in the Baltimore area, Recca paid his dues on the local circuit by performing at the Improv, the Comedy Factory, Jokes on Us in Laurel and the Comedy Cafe in Washington.

The Norfolk State University graduate, who has a degree in sociology, was a probation counselor for four years before the comedy bug bit him. When he realized he was making just as much money from comedy with a lot less stress, Recca quit his day job.

"Sometimes you have to invest in risk and follow your passion," Recca says.

Recca prides himself on being a universal comedian who can crack up any audience.

If Recca is the master, then local comedian Mark "Big Dawg" Agent is his proud pupil.

Agent says he learned the business by going to hole-in-the-wall comedy clubs and listening to Recca and other veteran comedians.

"There is a science to this," Agent, 37, says. "It's not like being funny in your living room."

He is used to commanding people's attention. He teaches fifth grade at Woodmoor Elementary School in Baltimore County. (The standup act is something that he tries to keep from his students.)

Agent, who got his start at the defunct Larry Stewart's Place downtown, was host of Def Comedy Slam at the Comedy Factory for a year and a half before the show closed last year.

The married father of two has shared the stage with nationally known comedians John Witherspoon, Mo'Nique, Sheryl Underwood and Hughley.

He even won a Sinbad look-alike contest in the mid-'90s, a feat that he is not proud of. "Sinbad hasn't been on the Top 10 sexy list," Agent says.

The Gilman School and University of Maryland graduate worried recently that the Baltimore scene for local black comedians was "dead" -- since the ending of Def Comedy Slam, a showcase for black comedians.

Although the comedians do get to perform at mainstream clubs like the Improv, the gigs there have been sparse, he says.

Happily, he learned last month that he had been chosen to serve as host of a revival of Def Comedy Slam at Club 347 on North Calvert Street.

In addition to his local shows, he keeps busy pushing a sitcom that he wrote about a Baltimore blue-collar worker who is trying to be a comedian. It's been four years, and there have been no takers.

But Agent is determined to make it. So far, the biggest show that he has done is a Narcotics Anonymous convention in Pennsylvania.

Recca said accepting all types of gigs is the first step to success.

For those trying to break into comedy, Recca offers this advice: "Make sure you get your resume and put it on, and see if FedEX is hiring."

But, seriously.

"Stay original; don't steal other comedians' jokes, and you do have to leave Baltimore," Recca says.

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