“I think boxing is an incredible sport and I would like to see it really become regulated because I think it could bring back a lot of the past.” —Dom Irrera
Comedian Dom Irrera came out of Philadelphia and would embark on a ride of his life that started in the early 1980’s when he was then, just a young comedian doing his standup acts all around the United States in front of growing crowds. In 1989, Irrera got his own HBO special, “One Night Stand” where he hit a Reggie Jacksonesque Home Run. The show was very funny and a huge success earning Irrera a Cable Ace Award, which was a major accomplishment that year because he was up against well established comedians.
Dom did not rest on his accolades. He went back out on the road to find that the exposure that he had received was now packing them in to watch him perform. Over the last 17 years, Irrera has done numerous shows not only domestically, but internationally, with a following that can’t wait for him to come back to countries like Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and many others. In addition to his standup work, he also has appeared on many television shows and not to stop there, has found success in voice over work as well.
Recently I spoke with Comic Genius, Shelley Berman, who told me and I quote, “I think Dom is one of the best comedians we have; fast, original, and funny.”
Well, we can add another line to an already impressive resume for Irrera. That line is “A True Boxing Fan.” And as Dom would say, “I don’t mean that in a bad way.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, RSR brings you Comedian Dom Irrera.
BB: First off, let’s bring the RSR readers up to speed on what is going on in your career.
I’m doing my standup act over all over the world. Currently, I have an animated series for the Nickelodeon Network. I was in an animated movie called “Barnyard,” which is a series that airs in September of this year and we have about 40 episodes of that. Also, I have a Radio Show called “Live from the Laugh Factory” at audible.com that I host every week.
BB: You grew up in an era where standup comedy had legends such as Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and George Carlin to name just a few. Is there one Stand Up Comedian that you can point your finger at and say they are the reason you got into doing it?
I would have to say Woody Allen even though we are very different in our comedy. I thought his writing was just brilliant. I only met Woody one time at a Knicks game up in the Executive Lounge. He pretty much stopped doing standup in the late 60’s and I listened to his Comedy Albums. So that is where I heard his act. My dear friend the late Rodney Dangerfield helped me out a lot and then even older comedians such as the late Red Buttons.
BB: You have done a lot of voiceover work in your career. Knowing that you do great impressions (dead on Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather) from watching you perform, do you enjoy this work as much as you do your standup routine?
I do enjoy doing voiceover work. The downside of standup is working alone, which is not as much fun as working with a group that you can goof around with. In doing voiceover work, you can work with other people and improvise.
BB: How did you first get into voiceover work?
I think the first thing I did voiceover work on was a Disney movie called “Thumbelina” in 1994, where I voiced one of the toads. From there, I had a series called “Captain Simian & The Space Monkeys,” which didn’t get picked up after the first season, but I went on to do “Hey Arnold,” which was a big hit.
BB: Do you feel standup has changed since you first started in it and why?
It has an ebb and flow to it of course, and sure it has changed a little, but not that much. I feel what is tougher for the young guys and gals is that everything has been said. There is nothing grosser or meaner to be said because it is all out there. Now you have to be just funny and it is very tough out there.
BB: You also have done a lot of television and movie work as well. I want to throw some names out that you worked with and give me your thoughts on them.
One of the most talented people I have ever worked with. He is just one of those gut funny people and an old friend. Damon and I came up at the same time doing IMPROV and also had a series together called “My Wife and Kids” that I did some appearances on. He has always watched out for me and I appreciate it very much.
He was the guy who gave me my biggest break by putting me on his HBO series Nothing Goes Right. After that, I could actually draw at comedy clubs. Rodney was another fellow comedian that always looked out for me and I will be forever grateful to. He was just a riot. I can recall I would go up to see him and he would have a robe on, but nothing under it. I would say, “Rodney please, I don’t want the horror of your D&^% and Ba$# set in my head before I sit down for dinner. He was a very funny man even when he wasn’t trying to be.
I can remember one time I was working the IMPROV and Rodney was there. I asked him if he was and hungry and he said, “(Dom doing Rodney’s voice) You know what I can go for? A 20 year old girls A@# in my face.” I replied, I guess that rules out Canter’s Delicatessen. (The waitresses there were much older). I can remember one of the last times I saw him before he died. He said, (Dom in Rodney’s voice again) “What can I do for you kid?” I said, “Just be my friend.” His reply was, “you’re all right kid…you’re all right.”
I worked with Drew for a long time. He was a guy who went from a comedian on his way up, to a major TV star. Carey had the right vehicle to showcase his talents. There are so many pricks in the business that it’s nice to see a good guy like Drew make it. When one of those guys such as Drew makes it, instead of resenting it, I am happy for him.
Another nice guy like Drew who I was happy to see make it.
I lost touch with him, but felt like we had something in the movie we did called “Hollywood Shuffle” back in 1987. However, I think he made a big mistake not keeping that group together that worked on the movie. I am not sure what his thoughts were after that, but I feel had he kept the ensemble together, he would have had a couple of more hits with them.
(Laughs) Arnold was a kid who kept getting replaced because his voice kept changing since the kids were growing up and their voices would change. Had they gotten a girl to play him, they could have kept the same one like they did with the voice of Bart Simpson, who is voiced by Nancy Cartwright for almost 20 years now.
She has been very nice to me and is amazingly successful. Oprah has quoted me for such a long time by using my “I don’t mean that in a bad way” and then she would say, “as Dom Irrera says.” I said to myself that is a beautiful “Money Plug” as they call it in the business.
BB: In 1989, your HBO Special “One Night Stand” was a big hit and earned you a Cable Ace Award. Talk about that show and did you know as a boxer does at times in a fight, once it starts, that this is going to be a special night.
You’re right. It is like a boxer who knows. I used to play a lot of basketball and you can just feel when you go onto the court that you are going to be able to shoot that night. I felt the same way when we shot my first HBO special.
BB: How did it feel to win the Cable Ace Award for this show?
It was amazing because I came up out of nowhere and was competing against guys that were all famous. I was sitting there and to be honest, I had a feeling I was going to win, but I would never tell anyone because they would have thought:
Who is this jerk?
BB: Did you have a funny line when you gave your acceptance speech?
Funny thing, I was in the bathroom and I ran up to the stage to accept my award. I only said, “Thank You, I was talking to Garry Shandling in the bathroom, not to be a name dropper.”
BB: If you had to pick one career milestone up until today in your career, which one would you pick?
That is a good question. I don’t think it is one show, but the fact that I perform internationally that I am most proud of. One time, I did not get this TV show and this guy says to me, “You’re too New York and nobody is going to get you.” I replied, “I am from Philly” and he just grunted and walked away. I think the fact that I can perform in say Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and the Bahamas to name just a few, who enjoy my comedy and get me, is something I am very proud of.
BB: Finally, before we get into the boxing, you have a signature line that always cracks me up, which is: “I don’t mean that in a bad way.” How did you come up with it?
You know, I don’t really know how. I don’t even know when I started using it because I never look for a hook. I used to do, “that don’t make me gay,” then “I don’t, do you” and “Bada Boom Bada Bing.” I was actually the first one who did that for my generation. Then The Sopranos started doing it and folks would say, “are you mad about that?” I was like, what am I going to do? Get mad at The Sopranos for talking like a bunch of Italian guys.
BB: When did you first start following boxing?
My father was a professional boxer in Philadelphia. The one thing about boxing is you can’t be a 500 boxer really because there is no career in that for the most part. My analogy here is that in some sports, .500 is not bad, but in boxing, that is not good for your career. So I can say from a very young age, I was aware of it and have followed it ever since.
BB: Growing up in an Italian – American home in Philadelphia in the 50’s and 60’s, was boxing a part of your childhood since Italians have always loved boxing.
As I mentioned about my dad, earlier, sure it was. I can recall them watching the old Friday Night Fights by Gillette. It was really always around me.
BB: Philadelphia during your time there was a hotbed for boxing. Did you ever follow a career of a boxer that came out of there closely?
Yes, I followed Joey Giardello who was very big from the area when I was a kid. With him being Italian and very popular on the local scene, we all used to follow his fight career. He would go on from there, to have a national name when he became the WBC Middleweight Champion in 1963, by winning a unanimous decision over then Champion, Dick Tiger.
BB: Rocky Marciano was a superstar to the Italian community during your childhood. Do you have any recollections of him?
Just what my Uncles used to tell me all the time that he was just relentless in the ring. He would beat the opponent’s arms up so badly which caused broken blood vessels and such, that by the end of the fight, they could not lift their arms up, so he could stop them. This cracks me up about Marciano or even other sports out there. How in the heck can you beat a guy or a team with a computer like they did with that computerized fight years ago that matched Muhammad Ali Vs Rocky Marciano. Even though Rocky won in their analysis, how in the heck do you really know who could have won?
BB: Do you get out to the fights often? If so, which ones have you seen lately and what were your thoughts on them?
I haven’t been out to fights in quite sometime, but I used to go to the forum a lot with the son of a friend of mine who wanted to watch boxing. Today, I watch a lot of the classic boxing they have on ESPN more than the current fights because I just feel that they were more exciting back in the day.
I also always enjoyed watching Vinny Paz and actually used to do a bit about him in my act. I would crack on people who always complained about an ingrown toenail or a pulled muscle and here you had a guy, fighting with a broken neck.
BB: Did you ever see the footage of him training with the halo still screwed into his head?
I sure did and he had gigantic Balls for sure!
BB: What fighter in the last 25 years do you personally feel not only was big in boxing, but transcended the sport as well?
That’s a good question. I would have to say Sugar Ray Leonard even though there were some things about him I didn’t like. He was like Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons with his stardom back then. Leonard fought in a great era in the welterweight division with fighters such as Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, and Wilfred Benitez.
I think you have to also mention “Big” George Foreman because as you know, he was villain in his day, then comes back to boxing after a ten year layoff to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World at the age of 45 when he stopped then Champion Michael Moorer, on November 5, 1994, in the tenth round to become the oldest Heavyweight Champion in the history of boxing and a very loved figure this time around not only in boxing, but outside as well.
BB: Do you think the sport has moved forward or back since you first started following it?
I think it has definitely moved backwards. They really need some new blood at the top that are legitimate business men who know how to promote legitimate fights on a regular basis. As big as a promoter as Don King is, there is just too much crap that surrounds him. It’s like Football. You have some element of it that are hoodlums for sure, but the sport as whole is trying to clean itself up. Boxing needs to do that as well, and I think if it were regulated like many have discussed, it would help it out a lot.
Boxing has opened many doors for young men that had it not been there, they might have wound up in jail. I respect the sport for what it does for those young men.
BB: Do you have any funny stories involving boxers you have either met or know personally?
Randall “Tex” Cobb, who is a friend of mine and as you know, fought Larry Holmes in that brutal WBC Heavyweight Championship fight (November 26, 1982) where Tex took a serious beating. That was very hard to watch and in my mind, I wanted him to just go down, but he was too stubborn. That was very hard and I am sure for anyone that is friendly with a boxer to watch.
Are you ready for this? Tex and I used to be bouncers at Doc Watson’s Pub in Philadelphia. It was not a tough club. (Laughs) We used to card medial students. It was like, “Ok Irving, show me your card!” The funniest thing about this job was more people messed with Tex, than me. I guess they figured this little 5’8, 140 pound guy had to be bad because if he wasn’t, why the hell would he be a bouncer?
The truth is that I know nothing outside of a move or two. My Dad taught me in boxing that really helped out in Summer Camp as a kid.
Maybe this story is not that funny, but it sure was strange. Years ago, I was out on the Island (Long) in a bar playing pinball. Well, Gerry Cooney walks over and very lightly pulls me away from the machine and starts playing. He didn’t say a word or even crack a smile. I am thinking to myself, what am I supposed to do? I can’t beat this guy, so do I hit him with a bat and run? I just walked away because there was nothing to really do.
BB: Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?
Yes, I do. I think it goes back to what I said before about the sport needing to be regulated like the other mainstream sports. Regulation could do this for sure. I don’t claim to know how to do this because of the fact that is not a sport with unified regulations throughout. But I can offer this which is maybe they can do the same thing we are doing in my industry with SAG (Screen Actors Guild) or AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) where we pay into a fund that puts away money for a retirement.
BB: Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?
Carpediem (Means: the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future). In the last couple of years, I lost my Mother and sister, and one thing I have learned is to seize the day.
Dom wanted to add the following to our interview:
I think boxing is an incredible sport and I would like to see it really become regulated because I think it could bring back a lot of the past. Being a sports junkie, I respect the art of the sport and I truly want to see it flourish as I know it can.