By Angela Barbuti
Mario Cantone will poll the audience demographic at his show at Gotham Comedy Club this weekend—but he already knows what to expect. “Older, younger, black, white, some gay, mostly straight,” said the 53-year-old comic, who celebrated his birthday this past Sunday. Although a Boston native, Cantone has fully embraced life in New York City, appearing regularly on The View, dining at Per Se and bumping into his Sex and the City costars on Broadway.
Our Town: Where did you get your comedic start?
Cantone: In junior high and high school, doing talent shows with Robert Klein and Lily Tomlin’s material. By my senior year of high school, I started writing my own stuff. I went to Emerson College and got into the Emerson Comedy Workshop that Denis Leary started. He brought me into it my freshman year, and it was the most popular thing on campus at the time. It was huge.
How do you think of material for your stand-up?
It just depends on what hits me. I usually can’t talk about something that I’m not really passionate about. Either I love it or I hate it. It’s got to be one or the other. If I just don’t care about it, or it doesn’t affect me in any way, it’s hard to talk or write about it. Most of the impressions I do, I love all of them.
Which are your favorite impressions?
Liza Minnelli and Bette Davis. Those are two fun ones to do.
Do most people recognize you from Sex and the City?
It depends. If it’s young, crazy, screaming girls, it’s Sex and the City. If it’s a young black or Puerto Rican kid in my neighborhood, it’s Chappelle’s show. If it’s middle-aged women, it’s The View, which I like the best because then they really know what I can do. If you just see me on Sex and the City, you have no idea what I do, although I loved doing that show. I loved that character. It was a thrill and it made me internationally famous.
What was it like to work on that show?
It was a great thing; I had a great time. I came in on the third season and I got to be a part of it through the last movie. I was lucky. If you’re doing a half-hour show or two-hour movie, and you have four leading ladies, you have to give every one of them a storyline. When you’ve got these guys coming into the picture who are not even romantically involved with them, who are just gay friends, and they laugh, become popular, and remain—it’s a big deal.
Are you still in touch with the girls?
Once in a while, I speak to Kim and bump into Sarah and Cynthia at the theater. Kristin lives in L.A., so I don’t really see her too much. But the director and creator, Michael Patrick King, I’m in touch with a lot. I’ve known him for, gosh, 27 years.
What’s it like to be part of The View?
A blast. That keeps me afloat. I love it. I love all those girls. I get to sing, co-host and do commercials. I’ve been the lead guest, the second guest—I’ve done everything. If someone is supposed to co-host and doesn’t show up, they call me. On Dec. 21, I’m doing a Christmas-musical number.
Your Broadway debut was in Love! Valor! Compassion! in 1995. Will you be on Broadway again?
Yeah, I’m working on a new one-man show for 2013, which will be directed by Joe Mantello, who directed Love! Valor! Compassion!, Assassins and Laugh Whore, the one-man show I did on Broadway from 2004 to 2005.
What’s it like doing a one-man show? Do you get nervous?
Yeah, it’s terrifying. It’s also exhausting, cause it’s just you out there. I do six different musical numbers, so it’s like doing a musical on your own.
Where do you live? What are your favorite restaurants in your area?
On the border of the Chelsea-Clinton area. I love food very, very, verrrry much. For pizza, across the street is Co., which is the Sullivan Street Bakery’s pizzeria. It’s the greatest pizza in the world. Divine. Another great pizza place is Tavola. I love the Red Cat, which is on Tenth. If I want to go upscale, I go to Del Posto, which is my number one. I like the upscale restaurants, you know—I’m a hoity-toity diner. My other place is Scarpetta. Delicious. I do my little birthday tour of restaurants.
What is a birthday tour of restaurants?
My birthday was Sunday, and the whole weekend I go to dinner. Felidia, Per Se, Esca.
You mostly go out for Italian food. Do you think your Italian-American background affects your comedy?
Yeah, it’s certainly a part of who I am, and not only in the material, but in the way I speak and deliver sometimes, the cadence and the rhythm of it is very Italian-American.
What is the crowd like at your shows?
I would say 75 to 80 percent straight, sometimes even 90. It’s very interesting. I always say this: The gay crowd doesn’t really come to see stand-up as much. They like the women, which I get, cause I do too! And I poll it every time. I’ll say, “Where are my straight women?” Big applause. “Where are my straight men?” Big applause. “Where are my gay men?” Like 12. When I am put in front of a mostly gay audience at a benefit or something, and they’re forced to see me, it’s amazing. They love it. I wish they’d come out more, but they don’t for me. But anyway, it’s okay. I love my people.
Mario will be performing at Gotham Comedy Club on Dec. 13 through 15. For more information on Mario, visit www.mariocantone.com
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