Surflight’s Comedy Series Opens June 17

By RICK MELLERUP | Jun 10, 2019
Gary Delena

Beach Haven, NJ — Surflight Theatre’s first Comedy Night of 2019 is set for 8:30 p.m. on Monday, June 17. It’s appropriate that Gary Delena will be the show’s headliner. One of the highest compliments you can pay to a musical theater performer is to call him or her a “triple threat,” somebody who is equally accomplished as an actor, singer and dancer. Delena will fit right in on Surflight’s stage because he has been described as a triple threat of comedy, thanks to the fact he is not only a comedian but a singing impressionist and an accomplished musician.

Breaking into the comedy club scene in the Big Apple a few decades ago was a trying and sometimes breaking process (believe me, I attempted it, performing at amateur nights at the Comic Strip, and 40 years later still suffer from psychic bruises). But the comedy gods smiled on Delena – he auditioned at Dangerfield’s and was so good he opened for Jackie Mason the very next night.

He became a regular in all of New York’s comedy clubs in that golden age of stand-up – Catch a Rising Star, the Comedy Cellar, Caroline’s and the Comic Strip. Then he tackled L.A. and the Comedy Store, the Laugh Factory and the Improv. Delena then took his brand of comedy on the road across the country, sharing stages with the likes of Adam Sandler, Ray Romano, Chris Rock, Sam Kinnison and Louis CK. Radio, too, was a natural medium for Delena thanks to his musical song parodies and impressions, and he was a regular guest on WNEW-FM, visiting the shows of legendary DJs such as Dennis Elsas, Peter Fornatele, Mark McEwen and Scott Muny, who happened to be a neighbor in Bay Head.

“Mr. Delena, who resembles Burt Lahr (the Cowardly Lion), but has the rubbery limbs of Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow), danced, played the guitar, and charmed with his parodies of rock songs and pop singers,” wrote a reviewer for The New York Times. “Gary Delena is one of any three people on stage at any given time,” said a Philadelphia Inquirer scribe.

His hilarious spoof of the classic pop song “Side by Side” starts like this:

We got married last Friday

My girl was right there beside me

Our friends were all gone

We were alone

Side by side

 

We were so happily wed, when

She got ready for bed, then

Her teeth and her hair

She placed on a chair

Side by side

Delena talked of a boy one of his daughters had brought home.

I couldn’t believe this, he had a Mohawk haircut. You know one of those Mohawks, sticks straight up. But the thing was red, blue, green, yellow, purple, orange. My jaw must have hit the floor when I saw this boy hit the door. He looks at me, and goes ‘What’s the matter, old man! Didn’t you ever do anything crazy when you were younger?’

I didn’t know what to say. I said, ‘Yeah, once I got drunk and I made love to a parrot. I just wondered if you were my son.’”

The evening’s featured performer is Anita Wise, another comedy vet. If you were a “Seinfeld” fan you have seen her – she appeared in “Robbery,” the third episode of the first season of the show.

Wise also has “Tonight Show” bookings on her resume, appearing with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno.

Her most impressive performance ever, though, may have been one she turned in in Montreal. The Los Angeles Times ran a series called “Faces to Watch in ’92” about “the people Calendar’s critics and writers think you’ll be hearing about in 1992. In some cases, they’re familiar people who will experience a transitional year. Some are newcomers who could have a breakthrough year.”

On New Year’s Day, Lawrence Christon wrote about Wise.

“Anita Wise was the talk of the 1989 Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal when she performed the first week in French and the second in English and had audiences in the palm of her hand no matter what she did. Wise works in a low-key, small-voiced, even demure manner, the kind of figure easy to overlook in a crowded room until you realize she’s inflicting stinging little paper cuts all around, including, occasionally, on herself.”

An example: “I live in New York. I had to move there for health reasons. I’m very paranoid, and New York is the only place my fears are justified.”

The host/MC for the evening will be Brendan Donegan, a relative newcomer compared to Delena and Wise. According to a publicity blurb, “Brendan Donegan’s self-deprecating humor and boyish charm continue to keep local moms and movie theaters guessing whether he is 16 or 25.”

But Donegan, who is now 26, is breaking out in the world of comedy, recently taking first place at the Northeast Comedy Cabaret Competition and earning a semifinalist spot in Helium’s Philly’s Phunniest competition.

His youthful looks are a font of ample comedy material.

“I’ve got this baby face, man. Then I found a gray hair on my head the other day – that really freaked me out. I told my mom about it, she’s like, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll look more sophisticated, more distinguished, like a George Clooney.’ I’m like, ‘We don’t have the same face, I don’t think I’m gonna look like that.’ If I get a full head of gray hair with this baby face, looking like a wizard’s intern, people are going to go ‘This eighth-grader, why’s he so stressed out?’”

Tickets for what promises to be an amazing evening of comedy are a mere $15. They may be purchased online at surflight.org, by phone at 609-492-9477, at the box office, located at 201 Engleside Ave. in Beach Haven or at the door.

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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