PLAYING THE CORPORATE MARKET

STORY BY W.C. KIRBY,JR.

If John Caponera looks familiar, that's because he is. In 1993 the head of Disney television, Jeffrey Katzenberg, saw his stand-up act and signed him to a development deal. This led to John starring role in the NBC sitcom, The Good Life. But you may also have seen him on The Tonight Show, The Drew Carey Show, For Richer or Poorer, Blossom, Tales From the Crypt, The Dennis Miller Show, L.A. Law, ER, or dozen of other guest appearances.

It is extremely apparent that John's twist on comedy comes from his life experiences. He grews up on Chicago's South Side and was one of those kids who thrived on making others laugh. One of six children, he took it upon himself to be the entertainment at family gatherings.

By the time he got to college at Lewis University in Lockport, Illinois, he became one of the school's most unusual students with his interest divided between baseball and thespian endeavors. He was cast in a number of plays including One Flew Over The Cookoo's Nest.

"When I graduated from college in 1979, I wanted to be an actor but didn't have the money to move to New York or Los Angeles, so I started doing open mic nights at a local comedy club near Chicago. At first the most I got was gas money.Then after about a year, the older veterans would take me on the road and let me open for them. My comedy career kind of snowballed from there. I started out with a skit that I wrote in college. For my final exam in public speaking, all the students were required to do a comedy monologue. Mine was a pretty big hit in class and one of the other students told me about a contest they were having at a local bar and encouraged me to sign up. I ended up winning $500. That's when I started going to comedy clubs."

After headlling clubs for several years all through the Midwest, John finally make the move to Los Angeles in 1986. I got signed to star in a NBC series in 1994 (The Good Life). Drew Carey was my best friend on the show and that is how he got noticed." That show was followed by a sitcom with Dolly Parton that never got aired.

"That show had a six show commitment at CBS and the first three were so awful that they scrapped them. They brought me in for the last three after re-tooling the show. I was suppose to be a restaurnant owner that was her love interest. The last three episodes turned out really nice, but by that time it was a sinking ship.

"I also did a pilot for NBC called Ace In The Hole, which was rated pretty highly. Unfortunately, by this time they were looking to attract singles shows like The Single Guy and Friends. I had a kid on this show, so they passed on it. I've been to the plate many times in the sit-com world and have been part of some great projects, but my bread and butter has always been stand-up in clubs and the corporate world.

"There is a huge difference between these two venues too. In the clubs you can sort of let your hair down and let everything fly, but in the corporate setting you want to be sure you are doing a clean show. You don't want to ruffle any feathers. I have actually cut back on my club dates because I have been doing more corporate gigs. I just picked up a couple of dates for Mercedes Benz where I am going to do their golf outings. I perform at the dinner parties afterwards and have been doing them the last four years. I would much rather do a couple of corporate dates than a string of club show because I have three kids I don't want to be gone from my family that long.

"My sports material goes over well at these outings where there is a predomimantly male audience because thay can connect with the references. Corporate audiences make you work a little harder but you can be funny without having to be blue. They tell you what they want and you have to adjust. After September 11, 2001, corporate shows fell off. Obviously a lot of people chose not to fly and some companies cancelled their meetings. When those dates opened up, I was forced to fill them with club dates. That was a reality check. It really makes you appreciate the corporate market and any comedian who complains about having to do clean comedy doesn't have his or her head screwed on straight."

"But the corporate market is starting to come back. "I just got six more dates from Mercedes that they weren't planning to do this year. I'm a bargain compared to some of the prices that some major corporations are paying." And it is true, some corporations are looking for alternatives to the more pricey productions.

John admits that corporate gigs give him more time to further his career in other areas. "I am doing Damon Wayons' show (My Wife and Kids) next week. If I weren't doing corporate shows and still had to rely on clubs, I wouldn't have time to explore other possibilities."

If you watch John's show, it is uniquely different than most other stand-up routines, but the performers who influenced his life work are many of the same who have influenced other comedians who have made the corporate market their home. "Early on, the people who made me laugh were George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters and Robert Kline. I like how they would take a premise and just run with it. I like to do the same. I think my acting backround lends to my stand-up because I tend to act out my bits and I'm very physical and animated with alot of facial expression. I believe you have to sell your material using whatever talents you possess to convey it to the audience."

As far as where television is going now, John thinks that is much of a mystery. "Everything has already been done. Every subject matter has been done to death. I don't know where they can take sit-coms. I actually would like to do some drama too. I have already done ER and L.A. Law. I played a drug enforcement agent a few years ago in Drug Wars. I have learned the hard way that at any given time, only 20% of all actors work. That is whay the coporate market has access to so much good talent..

"I started my career during the comedy boom. I started in 1980, so I saw it thrive, become over exposed and decline. I am fortunate enough to be one of the survivors. There were a lot of people out there that were performing that never should have been working. It was just that there were so many clubs and Americans had such an appetied for comedy. Now that the comedy boom has peaked, the herd has been narrowed and what you have left are mostly very good comics.

"Alot of comedians can't do corporate dates. Even if you take all the curse words out of your performance, many comics are use being loose and uninhibited. In a corporate setting every time you do a joke, you really have to worry who it could possible offend. You have to be cautious. It doesn't mean you can't be yourself and it doesn't mean you can't put on a good show. You have to know something about your audience. When I do the Mercedes gigs, 90% of the audience is male. I know I can get away with alot of sports material. When the audience is mixed, I cut back on the sports and do more family and relationship material. I have learned that a buyer may or may not say something positive about a good show, but if they are unhappy, they will say something about a 'bad' show every time. It is my job to make sure that doesn't happen. If I haven't done a corporate show in a while and I have been doing clubs, I will sit in my hotel room and go over my act, knowing what I know about the client."

John continues to light up corporate audiences. His impressions of the late Howard Cosell and Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray are dead-on and hilarious.


John Caponera sizzles with home-cooked humor

By Allen Johnson - Chicago Tribune

Everybody knows a neighborhood guy like John Caponera. He's the one who is always cracking jokes among a circle of friends, and offering his own silly spin on life. The prototype for possibly every street clown, Caponera worked Thursday at Zanies as part of a weekend set, street-savvy comedy seeping out of every pore. He showed that a neighborhood goofball, with the right mix of intelligence and belligerence, can become a successful stand-up comedian.

As the cutup, It's his job to walk out of a movie such as "Twister" with his pals and offer some insane line about it. "Were twister chasers, man! That's what we do ' That's who we are!" said Caponera in his best surfer-dude voice. "How else are we gonna learn about them? What else do you need to know? They go 1,000 miles an hour, they pick up your house and drop it in another state! You don't chase it, you run from it you goofy moron!"

The perfect street corner jive-talker is one who can make fun of himself: "I got a $230 handicapped parking ticket in L.A. I deserved a ticket, but $230? You would think I parked on a handicapped person."

And you would expect someone on the street to go off on a celebrity such as Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman: "He fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. One game he actually had white hair; He looked like a friggin polaroid negative."

Caponera, joker that he is , didn't get how some athletes have contract clauses giving them extra cash for "not committing a felony." He laughed after saying the Brady handgun bill "means you have to wait five days before you can shoot a member of the Brady Bunch."

Caponera was able to take his talent for clowning and effectively put it onstage. He started as a bartender at Zanies in 1979, opening for comics between making drinks. The 39-year-old South Sider parlayed that opportunity into a successful comedy career, working all over the country and making appearnaces on HBO, Showtime, "The Tonight Show" and his own 1994 NBC sitcom "The Good Life".

Caponera has excelled with a series of bizarre impersonations, including a slacker who "solved all of the world's problems" while not loading a truck at a South Side warehouse (the turmoile in the Middle East can be solved by having all the different religions play each other in softball, winner take all) and the Chicago Cubs very own Harry Caray (Coming up in the bottom of the ...Hey! There's the Pope... it must be big hat day here at Wrigley").


Unique mix of talent results in perfect blend at Riviera comedy club

By Michael Paskevich - Las Vegas Review-Journal

Comic John Caponera has a clever way to inject some excitement into the dreadfully dull America's Cup yacht races currently being staged off the coast of San Diego. "Put cannons on the boats and let the crews wear pirate costumes," he told an early-week crowd at the newly improved Riviera Comedy Club. He figures TV ratings would soar the first time a skipper unleashes a broadside blast that blows a hole through a competitor's sail.

In one of the strongest and strangest comedy shows of the year to date--support acts include a guy who starts his show with a coffee break and a crusty 75-year-old chap who will tell you aging is "a crock." Headliner Caponera capped off a quirky evening of comedy with a deadly funny set that further heralded his status as one of stand-up's brightest lights. The host of "Jocks" TV show on Comedy Central, Caponera certainly knows about the weird world of sports.

His solid impressions of the late Howard Cosell and the forever-befuddled Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray highlighted his flair for odd voices--his own stage voice ranges from a whisper to that of a demented drill sergeant--and his running gag about golfer Kim Williams playing a round with a bullet in her neck, a true story, is an instant classic.

Yet sports play only a small portion of Caponera's wide-ranging if often dark-spirited comic journey through life. He conducts a symphony of familiar gestures while driving ("these days they'll throw a pit bull in your car"), questions the motivations of white guys who act black and wonders with deadpan disbelief just how a woman let a tumor grow to 156 pounds before finally seeking medical advice.

Unafraid of letting a room grow quiet, Caponera sets his own intentionally erratic pace, pausing to perfection to complement his oddly timed but rewarding comic insights. The jokes are further bolstered by his talent for facial gestures that range from goofy to arrognat, making Caponera arguably the hottest club headliner going at present. Count on seeing more of him in the future as word of his immense talents spreads further.


Caponera stuffs Zanies with home-grown laughter

By Howell J. Malham Jr. - Chicago Tribune

Every so often, the kingdom of comedy is graced with a gifted, naturally refined performer who can effectively demonstrate the transcendental powers of the medium while making it look deceptively easy.

Here , then, is John Caponera, a formidable and resourceful comic who calls upon his treasured South Side nuances to make his routine soar into a dimension ruled in tandem by sarcasm and negativity.

Playing to a sold-out Thanksgiving Eve crowd at Zanies, Caponera stepped up to the microphone and, in his best Comiskey Park drawl, summarily encouraged the house to keep right on boozing. "Dat's right folks, get drunk and drive home as fast as you can," he said with the facetiousness of a drill instructor. "Actually this drunk driving stuff isn't funny. In fact, they say a man gets hit by a car every 30 seconds...I don't know who this idiot is but he must be in terrible pain."

As he paced and mugged in between his situations, Caponera never let the set droop, not even when his microphone temporarily died. For a better part of the evening, he pounded the loyal locals with vived characterizations of people everyone knows; the kind of people, he says, who always carry tape measurers in their back pocket.

"I had this foreman when I worked for this trucking company and he knew everything ," Caponera said as he donned a baseball cap with the bill flipped upward and nibbled on an unlighted cigarette. Once in character, he proceeded with the skewering: "He'd stand their all day and say stuff like 'Hey John, I'll tell you what's wrong with the Middle East...I'll tell you right now. There are too many Arabs..."

Caponera left Chicago eight years ago and is headed for Los Angeles, hoping for a shot at something tastier than just playing one-room comedy shops. His "butt kissing" eventually paid off: NBC debuts his new sitcom "The Good Life" in January.

His stretch on the coast, however, has not rounded out his incredulous Chicago edge. "Hey if a disaster doesn't involve me, I go on with my life. I was golfing during the L.A. Fires at the Malibu Country Club and you could see the smoke coming over the trees and ashes were falling all over the course and I couldn't help but thinking there's people just outside those trees going "Man, we just lost everything ," and I'm thinking, should I use a seven or an eight iron to get to the green. It was the weirdest felling. Maybe I should go with the seven iron because the wind is blowing that smoke pretty damn good. But at the same time you feel bad you know....cause I took an eight on that hole and don't you hate that?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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