On radio or in clubs, comic shows no pity

Entertainment

April 03, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Shock jock Howard Stern doesn't have a stand-up gig. Neither, unfortunately, does National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg.

But Mickey Cucchiella spends his mornings as co-host of 98 Rock's popular morning show, Mickey, Amelia & Spiegel, and weekend nights hitting the mid-Atlantic comedy-club circuit - two ventures that he swears are closely related.

"I'm not a radio guy," says Cucchiella, who headlines Baltimore's Comedy Factory this weekend. "I'm a comedian on a radio show. My biggest joy in life is to make people laugh. Essentially, what I do is a four-hour stand-up act five days a week."

With its often raucous, sex-related humor, the morning show has been likened to the movie Animal House, containing such regular features as "Jugs for Plugs" (in which a woman willing to go topless gets to promote the event of her choice) and "Lox Landers' Porn Review." (Landers is an alter ego for co-host Josh Spiegel.)

Cucchiella's late-night act - which, unlike his on-air gig, isn't monitored by the Federal Communications Commission - is, if possible, even less politically correct. Cucchiella's stand-up show regularly pokes fun at men, women, black people, white people, Christians and Jews. If you're not offended by the end of the comedy routine, you haven't been listening.

But embedded in every bit that Cucchiella does is a large dose of self-depreciation, frequently directed at his appearance. The 40-year-old funnyman is short, squat and shaped like a crumpled beer can, and he shows himself no more mercy than he does his other targets.

Last year, for instance, he goaded guests on Mickey, Amelia & Spiegel to express an opinion as to who is uglier: Cucchiella or co-host Spiegel. When Cucchiella "won" a round by being declared the less attractive, he'd clasp his fists above his head in triumph.

Here's Cucchiella on meeting his wife, Jamie. Eight years ago, she and her then-boyfriend attended a show that Cucchiella was headlining:

"When she walked in, I thought, 'That's truly the most beautiful woman I've ever seen,' " he says.

"I destroyed her and her date verbally in my act just so I could keep looking at her without being ridiculous. She e-mailed me later and told me I was funny. I responded, but she was so beautiful that I thought there was no point in trying to date her. By the third e-mail, I thought, 'Maybe she has no self-esteem.' "

His put-downs of himself serve a purpose. The first rule for comics on the air or in a club is to win over the audience, he says, and the best way to accomplish that goal is to mock himself.

"It's not about the audience loving what you're saying," he says. "It's about the audience loving you. Once you hook them, they'll go along with you for the whole ride."

On stage, Cucchiella pours every ounce of his body into his routines, slashing down with his arms to emphasize a point or standing ramrod stiff with a foolish grin on his face. Once he gets going, he might frog-jump across the stage.

"There's a big debate in the comedy world about so-called 'smart comedy,' " he says. "Just because you refer to an obscure film from the 1940s in your act, it doesn't make it funny. I'd rather be goofy and funny than clever and not funny."

Cucchiella's stamina is legendary and not infrequently includes 20-hour days. Weekday mornings, he rises at 4 a.m., drives from his home in Baldwin to the North Baltimore studios. After finishing the morning show and attending to station business, Cucchiella will make it home by midafternoon. He might try to nap, though with three children younger than age 7, it's not easy.

Not infrequently, Cucchiella will appear at promotional events for the radio station until nearly midnight. When he's performing his stand-up routine, he does three shows in six hours.

"I've never needed a lot of sleep," he says, "but by the time my last show is done, I'm truly exhausted, mentally and physically drained."

That drive is doubtless what makes the high school dropout and former ditch-digger one of Bawlmer's most unlikely success stories.

Cucchiella grew up in Lauraville, in a green-and-white shingled home in which his grandmother has lived since 1959. His blazing mouth and short attention span made him a teacher's nightmare. (As a teen, he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.)

"He was the class clown," says the comic's mother, Sandy Cucchiella. "He was so disruptive that for six months in the eighth grade, they put his desk outside the classroom, in an art closet."

Finally, the boy and his teacher struck a deal: "He told me that if I behaved the whole day, the last 10 minutes of class, I could stand in the front of the room and tell jokes," Cucchiella says.

Unfortunately, not all teachers were understanding. After dropping out of school at age 16 - a decision the comedian says he regrets - he worked odd jobs and played drums in a band.

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