By Janelle Faignant
This year there’s an easy answer to the quandary New Year’s Eve poses. You can ring in 2018 with a night full of laughs and still be home in time to watch the ball drop. “First Night of Funny,” a New Year’s Eve comedy show, is making its Rutland debut at the Paramount Theatre at 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 31.
Four unique, professional comedians are headlining the show, including Kevin Downey Jr., a semifinalist on “America’s Got Talent;” Jim Mendrinos, who wrote the book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Comedy Writing;” and Chris Coccia from Comedy Central and Sirius XM.
“For New Year’s Eve, people want to be entertained and have a good time, but they just spent a pile of money (on) Christmas,” said Tommy Nicchi, 39, the event’s producer and owner of the Comedy Works. “They also don’t mind being in their sweatpants on the couch by midnight to watch the ball drop.”
The comedy show solves both concerns, offering a couple hours of quality comedy at an affordable price. It’s been produced for the last 10 years in venues around New England, but this is its first stop in Rutland.
“The audience in Rutland historically is not looking for angry, aggressive foul-mouthed comedy, and for the most part we don’t deal with that,” Nicchi said. “We (made) sure we had comedians who are similar to people who live in Rutland. Two are suburban comics who talk about their lives, work and family.”
Coccia, the headliner, has appeared on Comedy Central, The Game Show Network, and is a frequent guest on several Philadelphia-based radio shows.
“I talk a lot about myself, about being married, my daughter, stuff that annoys me,” Coccia said in a recent interview. “It’s very me-centric, but it’s also stuff people can relate to.”
Whether you’re married with kids or not, his down-to-earth stage presence and good-natured attitude about relatable topics make the laughs come easily. His brand of biographical humor came after years of trial and error, and a willingness to go off-script and be in the moment on stage.
“I don’t always know how the show’s going to go,” Coccia said. “I have an outline, but I love to interact with the audience and let them move things around a little bit. If we have to scramble things up, that’s better, it keeps it fresh.”
“What I find myself doing is deciding if something is going to work for me,” he said about his creative process, which happens in large part on stage. “Every performer develops their own voice, so it’s about: ‘Is this going to work in my voice?’ If I wrote a political joke, even if it was structurally funny, it probably wouldn’t work for me because it wouldn’t sound true to me.”
Coccia said that if he wasn’t doing stand-up, he’d be the “weird dude” by himself at the first show Friday night at the comedy club.
“I just always loved comedy,” he said. “When I was a kid I used to insist on staying up to watch the Carol Burnett Show.”
“Even when I’m at my most miserable on stage I try to find the humor in there,” Coccia added. “I tell people all the time, sometimes the best shows you’ll have are after an argument or if you’re sitting in awful traffic. All that stuff is pent up in you, but you get on stage and connect with the audience and it’s funny, you kind of carry that energy over.”
Nicchi says the performers they book for the series of New Year’s Eve shows headline Las Vegas and Atlantic City shows, but we’re lucky to get them without the big-city price tag.
“We try and give people good reasons to not stay home that night,” he said.
For more information visit www.firstnightoffunny.com.
The Paramount Theatre presents “First Night of Funny” at 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 31, at 30 Center St., Rutland. Tickets are $40, $30-$35 in advance (recommended for ages 16 and older); call 802-775-0570, or go online to www.paramountvt.org.