Standup Comic John Poveromo on Pursuing His Passion, a.k.a. the Necessity of Being Uncomfortable

By Victoria Ford | Jul 24, 2019
John Poveromo

Ship Bottom, NJ — Everyone should start their day with two hours of belly laughs over fresh coffee. That was a meeting with comedian John Poveromo at The Local in Ship Bottom last week.

“Dynamic and unpredictable” has been said to describe his standup style, and it seems to pertain to his everyday one-on-one personality as well.

The 34-year-old is a nationally touring standup comic who has a lot to say about, well, just about everything. This month his Instagram post mocking President Trump’s July Fourth event got picked up and reposted by comedian D.L. Hughley.

Poveromo is involved with the Stafford-based New Jersey Organizing Project. He headlined a benefit comedy show for NJOP in 2015 to help victims of Superstorm Sandy, which impacted his family personally.

He grew up an only child in Toms River. His mother’s side of the family had storytellers; his dad had the boisterous personality.

When he relocated to a new school in sixth grade after his parents split up, he used comedy as a way to cope with the changes. And he still uses comedy to make sense of himself and the world around him.

“It was a big deal to me to get the teacher to laugh, more than the kids,” he said.

He was always a fan of comedy and studied the work of greats like Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Steven Wright, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Lewis Black, Bill Mahr (he could really relate to him) and Jon Stewart especially.

The same sense of humor that might have been “perceived as not taking stuff seriously” earned him the title of Class Comedian out of 500 students at Toms River East High School. After graduation, he tried a semester at Brookdale Community College but knew he had to pursue his comedy ambitions. He let others say what he could never say about himself: “You’re really funny. You should be a comedian.”

“I just let myself be me,” he said.

He moved to New York and took one comedy course that culminated in delivering five minutes of material onstage at Caroline’s on Broadway. His resume now identifies his skills as improv, standup, cartooning/illustration, animation, video editing, voiceover and impressions.

By age 22 he had linked up with a headliner and went on the road. He spent two years living out in Los Angeles, making a lot of good contacts. He’s done comedy writing for ESPN, CNN, VH1 and other television, some political shows and radio. Poveromo appears monthly on a Sirius XM radio program, “Tell Me Everything” hosted by John Fugelsang, that’s “a bunch of comedians pretending we know shit about shit.” He did open mics and “bringers” (where the comic is responsible for bringing a certain number of audience members) for a few years, but he’s done with those.

“As soon as I step onstage, that’s my time, my area. I don’t pander to audiences, but rather I bring them into my world,” Poveromo said. His workshopping of new material is built into his sets.

His humor also comes out in a two-dimensional medium. His comics are commentaries on life, politics and current events in the news. His published collection is called Drawings From a Nobody.

He explained his confidence on stage was definitely something that developed over time and continues to get stronger as he gains more stage experience.

“Part of that came from taking risks on stage and not being afraid to bomb in the beginning,” he said. “I changed my material constantly for someone who was just starting out, and it forced me to think on my feet. It was a skill I’d always had but definitely wanted to hone more as a standup and is something I pride myself on today. I love leaving room in my set to improvise and, because of it, I’m always in the moment.

“Another part of (gaining confidence) was just realizing the audience wants you to do well. A lot of new guys will make the mistake of seeing it as a battle between themselves and the audience. But it’s more about trust. Once you hit the stage, it’s like being in a cockpit – and they’ll let you take them up to 30,000 feet, but only if they think you can land it at the end.”

Part of being a comedian is having a natural contrariness, a rebellious side; daring to ask the questions and push boundaries.

In public, no one expects you to be funny, he said, and “nobody expects you to tell the truth.” That makes it easy to catch people off guard.

“It’s important to be uncomfortable most of the time,” he said.

Another important aspect of writing and performing comedy is to be a sponge, he said, soaking up all the information and perspectives and challenging all of them.

Is he judging people around him? Constantly. But at the same time, he said, “I’m not quick to demonize.”

Stay tuned for news of another comedy benefit show in the works for NJOP. In the meantime, check Poveromo’s upcoming tour dates at johnpoveromo.net.

— Victoria Ford

victoria@thesandpaper.net

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