He spends his days at Sirius radio, his nights at The Colbert Report and New York City’s comedy clubs and his weekends headlining across the nation or opening for the legendary Artie Lange. For comedian Pete Dominick, there’s no rest for the funny.
Photos By Kevin Duffy
Pete Dominick has a big head– literally. It’s ok. He jokes about it onstage, which, some analysts would posit, is a comic’s way of dealing with insecurities. Regardless, it’s better than boasting showbiz’s version of a big head: all ego, no skills.
The thing is, despite the 31-year-old comedian’s impressive list of current gigs, there’s nary a pompous bone in his body.
A nationally headlining comedian, Dominick hosts two daily Sirius satellite radio shows, both on Raw Dog 104: the one-hour Comedy by Request (a live request show where Dominick chats with listeners, busts the balls of his producer Steve and welcomes in-studio guests) and Getting Late, a recorded late-night show where the New York City-based comic gets to air out with extended interviews with comedians, industry folk and the occasional actor type.
After his day on radio, he heads out to the The Colbert Show studios on Manhattan’s West Side where he’s the warm-up comic. At night, he hones his set at city clubs like the Comedy Cellar and Comic Strip Live.
Then it’s home, where he lives with his wife and two young daughters; the youngest one’s godfather, Dominick often jokes, is the Howard Stern Show’s Artie Lange, his friend and fellow Sirius co-worker.
After watching Dominick on stage, it’s easy to see why audiences and comics alike, respect the work he’s doing. He’s got a utilitarian-like joke writing process; he’s able to grab a lot of laughs from a lot of different types of people.
He’s got the consistency of a Tom Papa; on stage, he’s almost — almost! — as likeable as Brian Regan but he’s got enough cringe-worthy material to hang comfortably with the likes of Doug Stanhope, Greg Giraldo and Lange, for whom he frequently opens.
PunchlineMagazine.com recently sat down — seriously, on a hallway floor inside the Sirius studios in Midtown — with Dominick and chatted about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not really.
You were never really involved with radio. So what was that transition like– going from onstage to behind a radio mic?
I think that’s what Sirius liked, that I wasn’t a radio guy and I didn’t have any radio skills. They could kind of raise me the way they wanted to. But I’ve broken out into my own style, I think.
But it’s definitely strange. You feel like when you say something funny, you have no idea if anybody’s laughing. And yet there could be 200,000 people laughing. So I miss the feedback; that’s the main difference.
But the idea is not only to be funny, but to also be interesting so you keep people from changing the channel. You don’t have to be constantly funny on the radio. With stand-up, you’ve got to have laughs every few seconds, or else the audience loses interest.
The great thing about satellite radio is you have an audience throughout the whole country plus Canada. So you have a whole mix of values, preferences, certainly on comedy, but also on politics, religion, family, whatever. So it’s fun to think that all those people from every walk of life are interested in the show, hopefully.
Right. Whereas in a comedy club you’re obviously playing to a certain city; you’re going to get a more homogeneous group of people.
And no matter what, you can look at the audience and judge what you think they’ll find funny. If it’s all black people, you know what to expect. If it’s all white people, if it’s a mix, if it’s old, if it’s young. I can’t look at my radio audience and know what they’re going to be interested in. But my show is on Raw Dog, so they’re not going to be offended by anything. That’s about as much information as I get.
Since you don’t get that kind of immediate response like when you’re doing stand-up, how do you gauge the success of Comedy By Request?
One way to gauge it is by reminding people of my e-mail address. And that’s one of the main reasons I took the job– to promote myself, obviously.
So as annoying as that gets, you have to understand that people may be listening to the show for the first time each day you broadcast. So I always try to put my e-mail address out there.
I really get a lot of information from the e-mails I get. I take a lot from my program director and my producer. And, then, of course, the callers.
Do you get a lot of negative e-mails?
I’ve gotten like three bad e-mails. I’ve responded to them and tried to make them like me. ‘What don’t you like? Why don’t you like me?’ But I’ve really only gotten like three negative e-mails. So to me, that’s pretty good. Maybe people don’t write negative e-mails like they would to a person at Nabisco or Nike or something.
Right. It’s radio. If they don’t like what you’re doing, they could just switch the channel.
Yeah, I think people are much less apt to write– unless they’re going to get something free out of it. You know, I’ve got a friend who writes the airline after every flight, no matter how good it was. And then he’ll get a couple miles, or if he’s lucky, a ticket.
Wow. I’ll have to remember that.
Yeah. But he’s a Jew, so…
I see, so that’s…
To be expected.
That’s to be expected, right.
Don’t print that. No, do print it. I stand by it. [laughs]. I sometimes I forget, this is for Punchline Magazine.
That’s right. The printed word is forever.
The first few times I listened to Comedy By Request I was kind of surprised that you actually don’t play as much comedy as I thought you would. How do strike the balance between playing comedy bits and talking?
I don’t know what the balance is. I want to talk as much as possible in that hour. I want to get as much as me and the callers in there, so I could show my skills and grow in this business. I think that’s why they hired me– because they thought I’d be the best with the callers. For an hour a day, the listeners get to program the channel. On a pretty good day, it’s like 2,000 calls an hour, and only about 10 get through.
The whole channel is comedy bits all day. You got Breuer Unleashed for two hours every day. You got another show called The Wise Guy Show, so I think there’s nothing wrong with me talking for that hour. When you hear live radio it makes you feel less lonely. There’s someone talking to you. There’s a guy and he’s live. He’ll take your requests; he’ll bust your balls a little bit.
Where do you see the show going in the next, say, six months to a year?
Well, I’ve been pushing for the show to be two hours for a long time. And the first hour I’d like to be like The Pete Dominick Show. I mean, there’s no comedian, or person in show business, that doesn’t want a show with their name in the title. So I don’t think that makes me any more egotistical than someone else.
I would like to do more live interviews. And I would definitely do some bits. But most of it would be call driven. And then, of course, one other part that I think would be unique, with Raw Dog, and with all the comedy channels here at Sirius, is there’s not enough of the unknowns being played. They do a pretty good job at comedy.
But since I’m a comedian, I’ll play all the guys that I know. You wouldn’t hear Richard Pryor and George Carlin and Dane Cook. You would hear more from Kevin Brennan and Gregg Rogell, Ted Alexandro, Todd Barry, Joe Matarese, and people that are great in the clubs, and have a pretty good following.
To me, the Bill Burrs are way better than Sam Kinison. Greg Giraldo is better than Eddie Murphy, because we’ve heard Eddie Murphy. Let’s hear Greg Giraldo. You haven’t heard him. So, I would play those myself. And I would put my own spin on it, my own opinion.
I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the most recent season of Last Comic Standing. You were voted to stay on but you didn’t. What happened?
I never should have auditioned for it, because if I had thought it through, I would have realized I couldn’t really do it in terms of what’s going on with my career right now.
But, I did audition, and they passed me on to the next stage right away. And then that night they brought back 40 comedians. And I was the first one selected for the top 10 to go to the semi finals. But what happened in the period of time between the taping and the show premiering, is that they said if you want to do the semi finals you can’t really do your radio show during that time. Because you could be asking for votes every day on the air, live. And I was fine with that. I don’t blame them. I was actually going to plan on doing that [laughs].
Let’s talk about your stand-up. When I listen to your stuff, I can’t help but think, ‘This is a pretty well-adjusted guy.’ You’re not fighting off too many demons. That’s something I can’t say for most comics.
My demon level is low. I don’t think I have too many hauntings. I have anger issues, but my psychology is not much different than the norm. Sometimes I fear I won’t be a great comedian some day because I’m not messed up.
But I don’t really get caught up in that stuff anymore. I’m really lucky. But at the same time, I work really hard. And I don’t make excuses for my success or my failures. And if an audience doesn’t love me, it’s my fault. Totally my fault. You don’t blame it on them, and everything I’ve gotten in my career, every credit, every job, every gig, has been because of what I do on stage. But, there’s just something to be said for being a good guy and not having too much of an ego.
We all have egos, but coming up as a comedian, so many people treated me like shit, and didn’t talk to me because I was nobody, or I couldn’t help them. So now, I make a real effort to acknowledge every single guy who’s doing comedy for the first time. Comics think you’ve got to haze guys. And to some extent you do. I abuse young guys. You got to have a tough skin. There’s so many personal attacks. I’m a super sensitive guy, but I think I have a pretty thick skin at this point. There’s no insult on me I haven’t heard.
Really? Are you giving me a challenge?
Yeah, bring it.
How about we challenge our readers to…
Sure, tell me I’m a hack. I’m certainly not a thief. No one can ever say that. I can’t steal a pack of gum.
I believe you. So what inspires you to write jokes?
There’s nothing specific. I’m really trying to make an effort not to become a comic who talks about one thing. I always break my act into three parts, whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour. I talk about my family and my personal life, and my personal insecurities and appearance.
But then I like to talk about social issues and politics. I wish I were smarter with a lot of that stuff. And then I do observational stuff that anybody can relate to. But I want those three parts– especially when I’m out there for an hour.
I think the best comics are both relatable and innovative. Which of those things are more important?
I think being relatable is most important in comedy. Chris Rock said if you see something that you think other people have seen, or hear something that you think other people have heard, or do something that you think other people have done, there’s the comedy, there’s the joke. Everybody has had sex, hopefully. Or have been in a relationship, or knows who President Bush is. So relatable is important.
And if you can be innovative with relatable material, it’s a plus?
If by innovative you mean original and provocative–
You always want to be original. But sometimes a guy is trying to be too original, and nobody even gets the joke.
It’s funny. I’ve got a joke where the premise is, ‘Here are some things Dick Cheney has never said.’ It kills when I warm up The Colbert Report audience, because they’re so smart about politics. But if I do a club in Cleveland, I get nothing– just crickets. Within the joke I refer to the Geneva Conventions, which I thought everybody kind of knew about. But people don’t. And that’s a problem
Let’s say you got this crazy lucrative radio deal that kind of prevented you from doing stand-up consistently. Would you leave stand-up?
It’s not really a fair question, because I don’t think they’ll ever be a choice. Look at Artie Lange. He works unbelievably hard on the Howard Stern Show, and he still gets out and does stand-up. But stand-up takes you out of town a lot. And I’d have to go out of town more if I wasn’t doing radio to make money.
The most important thing in my life are my daughters. I’m not very happy when I’m out of town anymore. I’m really obsessed with my kids and my relationship and maintaining that. But I don’t think I could ever get the stand-up out of me. That’s why you look at Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Robin Williams– these guys have all the money in the world, but they still get on stage because they love it.