Boston: Small town, big laughs

Posted on March 6, 2009 by

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Update: You can now check out Macone’s written work on his website (here). He is currently a contributer to the Boston Phoenix and the Weekly Dig.

By Phil Meagher

At the back of a small, bare nightclub in Harvard Square, Steve Macone waits patiently for a chance at ten, fifteen minutes. It is something that he does often. In order to be good in his line of work, practice is everything.

But even on a night like tonight, when most have chosen to stay at home and watch the vice-presidential debate, Macone is not entirely alone. There are many like him: Stand-up comics on the hunt for stage time.

Despite its relatively small size, Boston is an exceptional town for comedy. While the city often loses its comedic talent to the bigger, perhaps more promising entertainment scenes of Los Angeles and New York, its collegiate and working class communities make it an ideal place for new humor. Boston’s character-rich dive comedy clubs have long been shaping the next generation of comedians.

Boston, once home to names like Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Denis Leary, Steven Wright, Dane Cook, and Louis C.K—an Emmy Award winning stand up comedian and comedy writer who has written for comics like David Letterman and Chris Rock—produces talent. Local comedians like Macone carry the tradition.

Macone, 24, raised in Medford, began his career nearly six years ago in a way similar to his predecessors. He started out as a small-stage act, performing within the largely unnoticeable though highly-appraised comedy clubs of the Boston area. And while being a stand-up comic in Boston means sometimes having to work with a small crowd, for Macone, this is nothing to worry about. Thanks to places like the Comedy Studio—located just above the fun but “best-eaten-when-drunk” Hong Kong restaurant (reviewed at Yelp.com)—even on a slow night, Boston’s intimate and enthusiastic audiences make it a land of opportunity.

Boston has been good to Macone. A graduate of Boston University, Macone began stand up in 2003 at the Comedy Studio in Cambridge. He has since published his journalistic and comedic work in The Boston Globe Magazine, the Boston Phoenix, the Weekly Dig, and the Daily Free Press. He has performed throughout the Northeast, and this past summer his act made it to Europe. When asked if he would ever leave Boston for the “bigger acts” in New York, Macone said that the spectacular quality of Boston’s performers would keep him here for an “unhealthy” amount of time. “In terms of writing and comedy,” he says, “Boston is great.”

According to Rick Jenkins, owner, manager, and host of the Comedy Studio, Macone has the work ethic, fresh perspective, and literate sense of humor that symbolizes what is exceptional about Boston’s comedy scene. For Dan Klien, a friend of Macone’s from Boston University who writes for The Onion and performs with New York City’s sketch-comedy, Pangea 3000, Macone’s act is unlike anything Klien has ever seen. “Steve has an older appreciation of comedy,” he says, “He really loves one-liners and genuine jokes, almost in the way that my dad tell jokes—which I normally do not like.” Klien, who says he used toss jokes back-and-forth with Macone while in college, says that Macone is distinctive in his ability tell older-styled jokes from a new angle and with a new twist. “He tells jokes with a certain charm and grace,” he says, “I think that’s why people like him, and I think that’s why he’s seen as such a smart guy.”

When he was in high school, Macone says he used to want to right for The Simpsons. But, he says, “I quickly decided journalism was more interesting. It blew TV writing away.” Nonetheless, Macone pursued his interest in comedy and began performing as a stand-up comic at the Comedy Studio during his Freshman year in college. Around that same time, he landed a weekly public health column with the Daily Free Press. After seven summers working as a plumber, Macone was now publishing articles about stem cells and holding interviews with Deval Patrick at the state house.

People like Macone distinguish Boston’s comedy scene, says Jenkins. For him, it is the combination of the city’s large working-class and collegiate community that make Boston an ideal place for an aspiring comedian. “We’re always getting new blood,” Jenkins explains, “and we’re getting people who understand work ethic. . . . It’s people who work at it and keep showing up [that take off],” he said, “I would not be surprised if Steve made it big.”

Boston has been good to Jenkins too. Though small and frequented by amateur comedians, Senior Segment Producer of Late Night With Conan O’Brien referred to Jenkins’ Comedy Studio as “the greatest comedy club on earth” because of its “rare,” “smart” audience. “You go to the Comedy Studio, and then you come back to New York clubs, and you fall into a depression,” said Smyley.

But for whatever reason, Boston comedy is, at best, only modestly advertised. It is something many out-of-towners, specifically college students, fail to notice. For Macone, this may just be the nature of what Boston has to offer.

The fact that Boston’s comedy scene is so well hidden is frightening, he says, as it only goes to shows how easily talent can be overlooked here. Regardless, for Macone Boston is home to a great deal of talented performers. “You can see people doing a lot of things [here],” he says, “. . . doing some really interesting stuff and, more importantly, doing it well. It’s when I go to different cities and perform that it really sticks out how good it is here in Boston. And of course, there’s a tradition of standup comedians coming out of the Boston area . . . . So when people go to an eight-dollar comedy club around here, there’s a good chance they’re watching the next generation of big name acts.”

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