Exit Interview: Dom Irrera
South Philly’s funniest comic comes home for the holidays.
Here’s the unfunny thing about comedy — sometimes the guys who get the biggest laughs don’t get the glory they deserve. Case in point: Dom Irrera. He’s a comic’s comic who’s worked every club, late-night chatfest and TV show imaginable. Then he comes home and gets booed at a gig in Camden. Irrera cleared the air about that, as well as his teaching career and a little sitcom he did as a favor to his pal, Jerry Seinfeld. Fair warning: In this column, he’s working blue.
What’s this private show you’re doing in Atlantic City on New Year’s Eve? I’m not allowed to talk about it.
Is it top secret? No, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was? It’s a high-rollers thing.
I thought you might be running for mayor there. Yeah, right. I’m too honest. I’d bring justice for all or whatever. I’d tell high- school kids not to go to college. The money’s in the casinos.
Are you friendly with other Philly-bred comics? Yeah, [Bob] Saget’s a friend of mine. I was busting his balls one night at the Laugh Factory. I went on after him and said, “Bob Saget. Here’s something you’ll never hear anybody say: ‘Hey guys, what time is it? I gotta get home and catch Full House.’”
Is it true that you were a teacher? Yeah, I taught at Most Blessed Sacrament at 56th and Chester, fourth grade. I taught the dumb kids in math because I was one of them. I could relate. Once we got to fractions — you’re on your own, kids.
I guess with fourth-graders you weren’t workshopping material for your act. Well, if the kids were good, every Friday afternoon we’d have music and art and I’d teach them some Beatles songs. I told the kids, look, if you think I want to be diagramming sentences, you’re out of your mind.
What happened last year at the Tweeter Center during the Opie & Anthony comedy show? I heard you were booed off the stage. No, not really. That’s what cracks me up about rumors. Someone else just asked me about this. Here’s what happened. [The crowd] started tailgating — imagine these fuckin’ guys drinking at 11 o’clock in the morning. It was just a couple hundred renegade losers who live in their mothers’ basements. In the middle of my set I hear these boos from the back. I said, “Look, you’re not going to intimidate me. I’m making $12,000 in 10 minutes, so blow me.”
You’d think that comeback would play well in this town. They started cheering. I did the rest of my set, and basically that was the end of it. I wasn’t booed off the stage. So the kid after me, Bill Burr — this is what made it famous. He goes, “You booed Dom Irrera? Fuck you!” The fact that he stuck up for me made it seem worse than it was. He’s berating them: “Fuck the Liberty Bell. I hope Donovan McNabb breaks his leg. You’re such racists you have a statue of a fictitious boxer and you haven’t honored Joe Frazier.” When you’re that drunk, comedy is not what you want to hear. You want to hear some girl say, “Yeah, I’ll go back to your place.”
Is it true that you coined the term “Joey Bagadonuts,” which is now popular shorthand for any average Italian guy? It was something we’d heard as kids. It’s like “Bada boom, bada bing!” I did a bit about how Italian guys use it: “I come home from work, my wife’s lookin’ good, bada boom, bada bing, I’m smokin’ a cigarette.” When The Sopranos started doing it, I stopped. I didn’t want to look like I was stealing from the show, or look like some bitter guy — “That’s my bada boom!”
Do you still get recognized for your role as a prop comic in an episode of Seinfeld? Every day.
Is that more of a curse than a blessing? No, because it was a great show. When I did Seinfeld, I had no idea it was that good of a show or that it was that popular. I never watched it. Since then, I’ve seen every episode. It’s the best show of my generation.
So you were like, “Hey, I’ll do my buddy Jerry a favor and drop by his little TV show”? It wasn’t even Jerry. Larry David asked me to do three episodes, and I was always out of town. Finally he says, “Dom, you ever watch the show? It’s pretty good.” So I said, let me do this, these guys are old friends of mine and who knows how long this will stay on the air. I had no idea I was doing myself a favor.
Ever think, “I really should have found time to do some more episodes”? Remember the one with the barber who found Jerry’s hair? He wanted me to do that, but I had to cancel some gig for it. Hey, I’m not canceling my gig at Slappy Banana’s for some hack TV show!
Yeah, in retrospect, good choice. I would say so.