In a year’s time John Caparulo has gone from slightly known touring comedian to one of the most visible up and comers, thanks, in part, to his participation in the wildly popular Blue Collar Comedy: The Next Generation tour.
Then there’s his crucial part in the stand-up tour documentary, Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days and 30 Nights- Hollywood to the Heartland.
And now, the Midwesterner is taking advantage of his career upswing. He’s recording a live hour long special in Cleveland on May 3 for release on DVD.
He’s also currently shooting episodes as the host of Mobile Home Disaster, a CMT reality show wherein a crew renovates trailer park homes.
Punchline Magazine recently caught up with the man to have a little heart to heart.
You’ve had a lot of recent success. How has it changed your career?
Well, people know who you are and just kind of know what they’re getting when they come to see your show. It’s a lot different than it was a year ago when I’d go do a club in, say Dallas or Missouri and people would go ‘who the hell is this guy cussing up a storm?’
It’s a little easier now because people know what they’re getting when they come to see me. It’s really cool to be able to do what I imagined doing when I was a kid. When I was 12 I imagined doing exactly what I’m doing now, and not many people get to say that.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a comedian?
From a very young age, I never saw myself doing anything else besides stand-up. It’s just who I was. Being from a small town in Ohio I was kind of shy and I always kind of thought to myself‚ ‘Well, I’m funny to my friends, but am I funny enough to go out in front of strangers and do this?’
It took me a while to kind of gain that confidence. In college [Kent State] I majored in radio and TV production. I just picked a major on the list basically. I was just kind evading reality because I was kind of shy about actually venturing out and trying stand-up. College was a nice way to hide from what I really wanted to do. But college helped me grow a little bit. So then I was able to get out there and do it. It was a necessary experience. I’m not happy about it now when I get those student loan bills, but it wasn’t a complete waste.
Like you, a lot of comics seem to be really shy. That always surprises people.
Well, the ones that are actually good are shy. There are some guys who suffer from an over abundance of personality and they’re not just like that onstage. They’re just always on. It’s annoying.
Another commonality, it seems, among stand-up comics is that at some point in their life, they were outcasts. If you ever felt that way, what was it that got you to that point?
Now, I’m able to pinpoint exactly what made me want to do it. When I was in the sixth grade I was on my elementary basketball team. I was at practice one night, and long story short, I shit my pants. The other guys on the team obviously noticed and it was just an awful experience. I was 11 years-old at that time and it was embarrassing.
It’s a painful experience for someone at that age to go through. Then after a couple of years, I turned it into my advantage. I turned it into this story I would tell and people would ask me to tell it again. The story just got better and better every time I told it. I realized how fun it was to take something that is potentially painful or hurtful and turn that into laughter. So I started doing that with everything in my life. Things that would happen to me that were bad or painful I would channel them into comedy and make it funny.
I’ve noticed these days in comedy, a lot of comedians feel you have to be overly cerebral or abstract or else you’re selling out or just pandering to your audience. Do you have any opinion on the topic?
There are different kinds of comics. There are ones that go out and perform for the audience, and there are other comics who perform for other comics. There are so many guys who kind of over think it and try to reinvent the wheel and try to do something so off the wall that nobody gets it.
You have to understand the average person coming out to a comedy club is just coming out to laugh and have a good time. There are so many guys who go, ‘Oh God, so-and-so did a bit about that before.’ Oh God, he talked about flying in airplanes.’ The thing is, we all have the same experiences living day to day.
That’s what we do, we fly on airplanes, people get married, they have bad relationships. The only thing that sets one comic apart from the next is what his point of view is about that, and how he makes that funny. Why over think it? These are the things that people relate to because these are the things that everybody goes through.
Personally, the great thing about comedy is not only are you making people laugh but you’re making people relate and you’re making people understand. I mean if some guys want to be nerds and sit in the back of the room and criticize everybody else, then whatever. Why is it so complicated? It’s just comedy.
You’ve mentioned in the past that being a part of the Just For Laughs comedy festival was your big break. How exactly did the fest help?
It enabled me to stop cutting grass for a living. It helped me to actually make my living as a comedian. And it lead to my first of three development deals which got me experience with the networks, the studios, the writers– all that stuff you have to learn.
The thing is none of the three pilot scripts we came up with even got shot. The truth is I was probably too young and not seasoned enough yet to even have a sitcom on the air. It was probably a blessing in disguise that it didn’t come to fruition. Basically, I was being paid to learn and that all started with Montreal.
How did Vince Vaughn end up choosing you for the Wild West Comedy Show movie?
Vince was always out at the comedy clubs. I would always see him at the Comedy Store or just shows around town. When he decided to put this tour together obviously he wanted guys who were funny, but also guys who had different points of view. He also wanted guys who didn’t necessarily just tell jokes, but based their comedy off of real experience.
Vince is a Midwestern guy; he grew up in Chicago and I’m from Ohio. He knew we’d be going through a lot of Midwestern cities so he wanted somebody who fit those sensibilities. Luckily I fit the bill.
Most comedians dream of playing characters in movies. But you played yourself. What was it like seeing yourself on the big screen knowing millions of people were going to see you?
It was horrifying; I couldn’t bear to watch myself. We had to screen the movie several times and I’d seen it enough to make me sick. It was weird– not necessarily the stand-up portions, but the parts where I’m doing interviews and stuff like that. I’m talking to a friend of mine who is the director of the movie, and I’m just telling him a story between two friends then when it turns up on the big screen it’s weird.
Stand-up is one thing, but seeing myself getting out of bed on the big screen is weird. It was a different experience. But it was also kind of cool because in this era of stand-up comedy how many guys get to go on the big screen and do stand-up in a feature film?
Stand-up comedy is obviously a tough business. If two comedians have somewhat equal talent why does one guy make it but not the other?
I just think funny is funny and if you’re really good at this, it’s going to get recognized. It’s kind of like sports You just can’t deny who’s really good at this.
The thing that sets one guy apart from the other is passion. You really have to love doing this. It’s not about results; it’s about doing it because it’s what you love to do.
For more info, check out johncaparulo.com.