By Keenan Steiner
Comedian Anthony DeVito comes from a loud and opinionated — but often wrong — New Jersey family. The saving grace, for the 35-year-old rising star, is that his family never took themselves too seriously. If he poked fun at them, they laughed along with him. And it’s that jovial, fun-loving spirit — and his eye for calling out bullshit — that’s helping propel Devito’s career. He landed his first Comedy Central Half-Hour Standup Special this fall, just after releasing his first album, and on December 28, he returns to perform at one of the first clubs he ever worked, Levity Live, in nearby Nyack, N.Y. (See Our Winter Comedy Calendar)
Recently, I asked the Queens resident about his comedic influences, the 1990s Knicks, and his grandma finding unexpected love at a nursing home.
Was comedy always something you wanted to do?
I was a huge fan growing up. Whenever it was on TV, I was glued to it. I knew it struck a nerve with me, for some reason, more than it did for other people, so I knew that had to mean something.
Was it SNL that stuck with you?
I watched SNL every Saturday night with my mom and they would rerun on Comedy Central during the day. My mom took me to go see George Carlin when I was in 8th Grade.
That’s interesting. Your mom wasn’t too politically correct obviously.
She thought [Carlin] was just so smart. She thought the way he saw the world was very direct. We would watch his HBO specials, and then she surprised me with Carlin tickets. It was the coolest. I sat there in this huge theater (Bally’s) amongst people way older. He talked about abortion and politics; I didn’t really get what he was saying but the structure of it was there. And he was goofy; he was funny. And then he would talk about farts. And everybody was laughing at the same time, and I thought it was a really cool thing that he was able to do that. I was in 8th Grade and my mom was 60 years old, and we were both laughing at the same thing — that was incredible.
So Carlin was one of your big influences. Who else?
Chris Rock was so funny just because he was such a good writer, and he took such original, smart takes on topics. And then also, at the same time, he was an over-the-top performer. I didn’t really know this at the time, but he had to be: He came up in some tough rooms – you need to be larger than life. I was also a huge “Mr. Show” fan (a cult series in the 90s) so I am a big David Cross fan. I don’t really do that in my standup, but I thought it was this perfect mix of sketch, silliness, and goofiness, along with his real thoughts on religion, Hollywood, and stuff like that. I also loved how he was unwaveringly a dick…I mean, not a dick, but he never budged from his point of view.
You’re from New Jersey. Obviously that’s helpful because it’s full of big characters. Has that been a boon to your comedy?
(Haha) I mainly talk about my family. I think it’s been extremely helpful. They’re very Jersey-Italian. They’re very loud, opinionated, and not right most of the time – not that I’m right most of the time – but they’re not right in a way that’s like “Wow, you really hit the mark on this one.”
But you’re able to laugh at them and not get angry. That’s an impressively unique quality.
That’s why it’s so fun for me to talk about. They’re not bad people. They just have a couple of bad ideas, but it doesn’t mean they’re bad people. It can be celebrated rather than denigrated. My whole family, my mom and grandma especially, have always been able to laugh at themselves for their own bullshit. If I ever would call them out on it, they would think it’s funny rather than get defensive about it.
Is your family mostly conservative?
My grandma is super conservative, and is now going through this change because she’s falling in love with a black guy she met at her nursing home. They want to get married. It’s just a race against the clock.
My grandma had four daughters. They were all pretty conservative – I had one aunt who had a more mixed background and went to Woodstock. Where I’m from in Jersey (Bloomfield), in general, it’s more conservative. Some people are bad people, obviously, but some people are just misguided. They’re okay. And I think that’s what I try to point out. I don’t think I consciously do it but I think just kind of comes out in whatever I do.
You co-host the MSG show, “People Talking About Sports And Other Stuff,” which sounds like a dream job. How happy are you?
It’s unbelievable. We have access to all of these athletes Sam Morril (his comedian co-host) and I grew up idolizing. I had a John Starks ‘The Dunk’ Poster in my room, and now he calls me “Ant” when he comes on set and it’s mind-boggling. Larry Johnson, Allan Houston – I’m a huge basketball fan – I was obsessed with it growing up, so for me sit next to these guys and kind of take shots at them, it’s insane. It’s beyond a dream.
You have a podcast with your two comedian friends. Is there anything you want to share about “The Rad Dudecast?”
We’ve been doing it for about four or five years, basically out of our apartment. We started doing it for ourselves – that was the appeal of it. You bend in comedy pretty much on everything, even in standup. This is something where we can totally be ourselves and, “Who cares if people listen?” It doesn’t have like a big following, but the people who are fan are fans. We did a live show a year ago, and people flew in from places like North Carolina and, there was one guy who got drunk and took a plane from Texas. We’re so accessible to our fans – I think that helps. The first episode, Greg and I gave out our phone numbers because we didn’t think anybody would ever listen to this. Now we get texts once a week, which is nice.
The interview was edited for clarity.