By- Tom Kubrak
The people have come to take a break from their busy lives. It’s Wednesday and it has already been a tiring week for the hump day crowd. Maybe a night of laughter will give them that boost of energy they need to get them through the rest of the week.
The scene at the venue, where the show is going to ensue for the evening, is one of organized chaos. The chef arrives first to finalize the menu for the night and begin prepping the food, the owner of the venue is there next to make sure his place is set for the event, the head bartender comes in close behind to set up her bar, the DJ is in next and begins bringing in his mixer table, vinyl records, slipmats, headphones and computer. Some of the early birds and usuals at the venue arrive shortly before the doors are supposed to open to get their favorite seats and play a few rounds of pool before the show begins.
As the rest of the people start to arrive on the scene, and the Dj turns up the beat, you start to feel the energy change in the room. Some bought their tickets early but some didn’t, and have to pay a little extra for the event. They don’t mind though, because they’re here for a night of comedy and a few extra dollars won’t break the bank tonight. They need this.
The specials for the night and the appetizers start to permeate the air of the room that has had hundreds of entertainers perform on it’s historic stage. Some first timers of the venue, naturally, start to become aware of their surroundings. Their eyes begin to hit all of the artwork, pictures, and legendary stage that has been beaten and worn down from all the shows that have taken place on it.
Already a few drinks in, the new comers hit the bathroom and see all of the band stickers lining the bathroom walls. They then take a closer look on the stage and see all of the dents, scratches, and fading colors on the stage that has had some of the best performers bless it with their presence. You can feel the history oozing from every corner of the place.
There’s a great lineup for the night too of some of the best comedians in the area. There’s also a few getting their first ever opportunity on stage. The people are beginning to get excited and are ready for a night of comedy. At the same time, they’re a little nervous with the new faces in the lineup.
The people scan through the poster again of the lineup for the night. After looking through it there’s one comic that sets himself apart from the rest. One that is known throughout the comedy community and is known in this venue. They recognize him with his signature ties, long curly hair, and a smile as bright as an old lighthouse scanning the Atlantic Ocean over the Jersey Shore.
As the bartender is running around taking the rest of the orders for the hungry, thirsty and exhausted crowd, his well known laugh can be heard throughout the place as he’s the first comic to arrive. He makes his rounds to the tables, introduces himself, cracks a few jokes and puts them at ease as they continue to wait for the show to begin.
The other comics begin to arrive in time for the show. Some run in a few minutes late but their here to do what they do best. Make people laugh. Once they get in they’re greeted with a big hug from the guy with the ties. It’s just a different vibe from other gigs that comedians are used to going to.
Some of the gigs the comedians come to they’re often rushed and have no time to even think. Not at this gig though. This gig is different. There’s nothing but love on the scene. The guy who booked them for this show is so thankful you’re there performing at his gig. He understands that without you, there wouldn’t be a show.
The night is about to begin though, and the crowd is restless. It’s a few minutes behind schedule and the people want what they came for. It’s time for the big guy with a big heart to get the crowd going for a night of comedy…
10 years prior, in the middle of the winter, on one of those freezing winter nights in a small mountain town in North Jersey, the evening sounds are disrupted by a sudden and immense explosion which is heard throughout the town as it echoes across the mountain tops.
A propane tank just exploded in a home, rattling the ears of the town’s residents. The explosion immediately ignites a fire in the two story residence.
Later, people that heard the explosion said it was so loud it could have caused a heart attack. With an explosion like that someone had to be hurt or maybe killed.
As the fire department and authorities arrive on the scene, they’re greeted by a house engulfed in flames. There’s not much they can do but do their best to control the blaze so it doesn’t spread into the forest and neighboring homes.
The house is gone in just a few hours.
According to statistics, “propane tanks are the cause of the bulk of fires in the United States.”
When the fire finally settles down and investigators begin to piece through the rubble they find that no one was hurt.
It’s now time to get some questions answered.
How did the fire start and where is the owner?
Did he start the fire?
What was his agenda?
…where is he though?
It’s pretty clear the fire department and other authorities take these matters seriously. Not only can the residents or neighbors be hurt from home fires but the men and women who risk their lives to put out these fires and serve their communities could be seriously injured as well.
The priority now, to get some solitude in this horrible situation, is to find the owner and get him down to the station immediately. ‘We have some questions we want to ask him.’
About an hour away from the fire the owner of the home, who is sometimes known as The GodFather of Underground Comedy Scene in New Jersey and New York, is oblivious to what has just occurred.
“To me he’s like the Godfather, if you don’t know him he’s very hard to find.” said Kojo Prince
The night before, he was over his mother’s house helping her out.
The following day, A phone rings … a man begins to speak, ‘Hi this is ____ from _____ insurance company, can I speak to Mr. Gonzo?’ With his contagious enthusiasm, “Yes this is him! How are you!” Insurance guy- ‘I’m sorry to inform you of this news sir but your house burned to the ground yesterday.’
“I don’t believe it. I was like no this has to be a wrong number.”
This would be the second home that Gonzo lost in the last 20 years to a fire.
Two days go by until he comes back to his home.
“I just thought if it’s gone it’s gone. There’s nothing I can do about it, but I still have to help my mom.”
Trying to look over the hill where his house lies on top of in the mountains in North Jersey he begins to ask himself, “Did it really burn down?
Another 10 years back, with his other house burning to the ground vivid in his memory, he begins to think the call was a ‘sham’ from the previous day and expect to see his home standing and well… not burned to the ground.
“And as I’m driving up, just like in a movie, you get this feeling like a really bad feeling… I lived up on a mountain and all of a sudden there it is… just yellow tape around the yard.”
It seemed as if the police were waiting for him when he pulled up to his driveway.
They had some questions too…
“They were talking to me and they started treating me like a criminal at first and started grilling me you know… Do you have money problems do you have this do you have that?”
After a long session being interrogated by the police down at the station and his family coming to vouch for his alibi, one of the cops realized something that the others just couldn’t see at the time… he didn’t do it.
“In a business that can sometimes be frustrating I’ve never heard anybody utter a bad thing about him. They always follow it up with he’s a great guy, he’s a great comic.” said Gene Trifilo
A man who couldn’t stop smiling when he was younger and who was given the nickname Smiley.
“I’ve never seen him not smiling.” said Gary Delena
To the cops, who didn’t know who this man was, it was a little strange to have someone lose their home and not be in some state of sadness. To say the least, it made them a little suspicious.
The police commissioner then came in to the room to start talking to him about what some of the next steps will be and walk him through ‘the counseling process’ after you lose a home. Before he could even start his spiel Gonzo stopped him. There was only one thing he was worried about.
“I’m just glad it didn’t happen to my family.”
The suspicions of the officers soon faded away after continued conversation and the investigators report coming back that the fire was caused by a telephone wire that fell because of a squirrel.
He was released later that evening.
As he started to put together the pieces and begin to rebuild everything that he lost, his mission never changed…
“He believes his purpose on this planet and in this life is to bring happiness to the hearts of people and I think audiences sense that, that’s why they like him.” said “Uncle Floyd” Vivino
In the days, weeks, months, and years after the fire, Gonzo made it clear that the comedy community was not to know about this. The goal was to stay the same and to continue bringing smiles to the people who are in his audiences. So, he remained silent about what happened to his beloved home.
Everything didn’t go as planned of course though. As a comic, booker, manager, producer, and agent you never know what’s going to happen next in the unpredictable world of comedy. Your work hours are in the evening usually and you often times work 6-7 day weeks with people that don’t have the same mindset as you and are in the business for well… other reasons.
The insurance company who gave him the call were in it for the money. The company was going to get every last penny out of the ordeal and they did just that.
“I had to pay him and he didn’t fight for me or get me the money that was my value of the house or the properties in it. He said what it costed and I never saw him again.”
In the comedy scene it’s common to get cheated, scammed, and run into people who are just in it for the money. For Gonzo it’s always been clear where he stands with that and that’s why he’s been able to do it for over 35 years.
“It’s kind of a cut throat business where a lot of bookers are not that way.” said Chris Johnson
Gonzo’s principles never swayed through all of the pain and loss. He stayed true to his character. A lot of Gonzo’s gigs are for charities and Gonzo just isn’t worried about the money. At the end of the day, if you’re in the comedy business and doing it for a living you need to get paid or you’ll miss some bills, get behind on rent, or whatever it may be. When the money just isn’t there though, tough decisions need to be made or… someone’s not going to be very happy.
“He’s done show’s where they weren’t supposed to get paid. It was a charity but some of the comedians were mad that they didn’t get paid and he paid out of his own pocket.” said Mike Marino
Of course, that’s never easy. There’s just an element of trust that Gonzo exhibits for people and situations. Unfortunately, just like the insurance company, people have taken advantage of it. Someone that he was managing at the time sometimes had other plans than show up to the gig that Gonzo booked him for.
“Then he doesn’t show up… “My grandmother died…” he tells me. I’m like alright everyone has 2 grandmothers and grandfathers…”
15 grandmothers and 14 grandfathers later… he finds out a few months later, the comedian he trusted with some of his biggest venues, was caught selling drugs to young kids in the area. It was all over the local newspapers.
“Because one reason he thought I was dopey. I’ll believe anything you say and whatever goes goes. I don’t care. … but I got burned really bad by that guy.”
Through these times of lying, deceit and misfortune, Gonzo goes back to when comedy essentially appeared in his life at the young age of twenty years old after a trip into New York City with his friends. They anonymously signed him up to perform at the comedy clubs weekly open mic night. He didn’t believe it when the host said his name calling him up to perform next… He got signed that night by an agent who was in the crowd. In the months after getting signed he realized that this was what he definitely wanted for his life and career…to be a comedian.
Never looking back from that point… Gonzo knew he was going to be okay.
It was a process to Gonzo becoming the person he is now. Through his days in the elementary school yard getting picked last for teams because of his lack of athleticism, it would have been easy to give up, but his faith always stayed strong that something would catch on for him.
It wasn’t until he was guided into trying out for the football team in high school did he find what he was truly capable of in life. With no prior athletic experience he developed a love for the game in which he put his heart and soul into over the next 4 years. Soon, he began to excel in the sport. He became the leader and star of his high school team.
Dumb luck? It was Gonzo’s complete obsession with the sport, the hours of training he put into it, that he became the player he was. His girlfriend at the time was missing out on a lot of dates because of his dedication to the sport and hours he put into his training.
“Because I did the work I got bigger and stronger than them.”
When comedy came to him after that trip into the city, he was still holding onto his dream of playing professional football someday. He then made the decision to drop that dream and pursue his new dream… to be a comedian.
Using some of the lessons he learned from sports and in those early life decisions, he was able to move on quickly from the pain of losing his home and keep moving forward with the same mindset.
Still dealing with everything that comes from losing a home, he had to start performing again. The show’s didn’t come back quickly though. They did eventually come back but due to this money was tight. It wasn’t the only thing that was scarce though. Some things like food and clothes weren’t available right away having been lost in the fire.
The same evening after getting through with the police, he was faced with a period of uncertainty. When his stomach began to grumble, he was triggered to ask himself, “What am I going to eat tonight?”
His long term friend Vic Varvetta, who at the time delivered pizza for a local mom and pop shop, pulled up in his old car, opened the trunk and told his friend Gonzo that he had some extra slices that his work gives him at the end of each night. He then asked his friend if he wanted some.
Without a second thought Gonzo said “YYESSSS!”
Pretty good timing on Vic’s part, but not fully understanding the situation, his good friend Vic gave him the whole box of pizza that lasted him the rest of the week.
“It isn’t healthy but that’s what I like. I was like, this is delicious and I’m hungry.”
If you’re from New Jersey or New York you know that you can’t turn a corner without seeing a ‘mom and pop’ pizza shop in town. To have pizza be what saved Gonzo from his hunger is like… how good a slice of pizza tastes.
With what Gonzo has accomplished, being well known throughout his community and the comedy community, he doesn’t have to worry about food anymore.
“I don’t think he can walk on the street without someone saying, Hey come on in I’ll make ya dinner.” – said Morino
Whether it’s experiencing what it’s like to not have any food or maybe just his general love of it, there is never a shortage of it at his gigs. He always makes sure his fellow comedians are well provided for.
“There’s always good food at Gonzo’s gigs. That’s one thing Gonzo doesn’t disappoint in.” said Joey Kola
Just like anything too, it took some time to get everything back on track and when you lose a home you don’t just lose money or business stuff. You lose the personal stuff too. The things that have been collected and passed down for generations.
“So much stuff so much stuff but I said, I can rebuild.”
…and that he did. Gonzo was back.
Having gigs night after night from 6pm-2am usually, he gets that his career is not the same as the people coming to his shows. It’s easy to forget sometimes that most of the members of the audience at comedy shows are just getting off of work and are pretty tired from the workday. Understanding this, he does his best not to forget that the people in his audience are coming because they need a break from their hectic lives, a good laugh, and some new energy.
“Gonzo is excellent when it comes to observation he’s a master at studying the crowd, watching the crowd and he incorporates it in his act brilliantly.” said Trifilo
He keeps his audiences engaged and on their toes. You never know what to expect when you hear Gonzo ask over the microphone, “Can I get a couple of volunteers please?”
“What he does is that he’s the best audience interactor.” said Delena
Going to a gig run by Gonzo is different from a lot of other shows. You can expect a different aura in the air, unique comedians, unpredictable skits, and an energetic atmosphere.
A lot of his gigs are “off the beaten path” too, which brings an element of uncertainty to his gigs. They’re a lot of fun but sometimes can catch the comics off guard who are not used to these type of gigs.
As a comedian you have to prepare for the unexpected. Each venue is different and each audience is different. Sometimes you get some people that might have drank a little too much or just simply didn’t like a joke a comedian said. That in turn might set them off. It can be an industry that is full of love and laughter and then at the ‘snap of a finger’ everything can go wrong. Being yourself, but also understanding your audience, is essential while treading the waters of the ‘Underground Comedy Scene.’
At a comedy show in South Carolina a comic was attacked on stage. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5406907/comedian-steve-brown-attacked-stage-invader-south-carolina/
“Don’t stay on the heckler for too long, you stay on the heckler until it’s funny, but when it starts getting serious you stop. That’s the one thing I tell comics when it starts getting serious.” said Kool Bubba Ice
There’s been a lot of crazy things that have happened at Gonzo’s gigs but no comics have been injured fortunately. There definitely has been some moments that have raised some eyebrows though.
A lot of times comics love the gigs so much that they wish they captured some of the moments on camera. Friend and fellow comic Mike Marino said that he wished he brought a camera to one of Gonzo’s shows in Pocono Pennsylvania. The venue is in an old barn and you have to expect the unexpected when you come there.
“It’s a win win for everybody, it’s a fun experience and Bobby’s crowds are always fun.” said Paul Veneer.
The goal of course is that the positives outway the negatives. In an industry known for being unpredictable and for people who do it just to get famous, Gonzo hasn’t forgot about the people and the communities he serves.
“I want them to wake up the next day and go wow that was a great time and then hopefully they have a better day or week.”
No matter where he got his talent of comedy from he learned somewhere that you need to remember the people that helped you out. Gonzo never forgot what his friend Vic did for him..
“You know in return what I did for him is I taught him comedy.”
As he started to recover from his loss, get enough money for food and clothes he went to his friend Vic and asked, “Hey Vic why don’t you take my comedy class for free.”
There’s been countless others that have had the opportunity to learn comedy from him too.
“I took Gonzo’s class at the Whisky Cafe in Lyndhurst New Jersey. He would ask to hear some new stuff that you wrote. He would give you an honest evaluation. He would help tune up your act. I benefited tremendously and the stage time that came afterwards was extremely valuable.” said Trifilo
Through his comedy class he has taught what he deems, the essential skills for all comedians to have. He’s not just teaching these comics and future comics the techniques and what he deems is important for you to know in comedy. If you take his course, you’ll learn more than just comedy.
“He helps you find your own voice and then cultivates it and nurtures it and the next thing you know you’re under his wing forever.” said Prince
If it wasn’t for legends in the comedy industry like Richard Pryor, Jack Benny, Rodney Dangerfield, and Robin Williams he might not have been inspired to pursue comedy and start his comedy class.
In comedy, life, and whatever career you’re in, it’s important to have a mentor that can guide you through the trials and tribulations that lie ahead. No matter how good things are going for you there’s bound to be something bad that happens. There’s not a big enough price you can name if you find someone that will be there with you through the tough times and guide you through one of the toughest industry’s in the world.
“He has helped my family through terrible times. I could go on for hours about all he’s done for me but not just me, for everybody.” said Tim Belford
It’s one of Gonzo’s passions, to help people getting started in the comedy business. That’s not his only passion though. He helps the people that are seasoned and well nurtured in the industry. Some people sometimes forget about the old comics after they hit their peak in their careers as they continue to look for work.
“His tremendous respect for the old timers and his encouragement and nurturing of young people, you don’t see that in many people.” said Floyd
It’s something that Gonzo has made a commitment to a long time ago. Ever since seeing comics struggle on stage and witnessing the aftermath of a comic who was being made fun of while they were performing. Also, seeing comics get ripped off by other bookers. Gonzo sought out to change that. With his class he can limit the people dropping out of this career by maybe just changing a few things they’re doing or inspiring them to try something different.
“Gonzo is without a doubt the reason that I have stuck with and been really successful.” -said Trifilo
It’s no accident that Gonzo remains a crowd favorite and the communities he serves look forward to seeing him at their yearly events. Whether it’s a fundraiser or another event, Gonzo always seems to bring his audiences together.
“It’s a testament to his shows that they have him back year after year.” said Johnson
Throughout the comedy community his kindness and generosity has stretched far and wide. He’s given comics second, third and fourth chances when other people have kicked them to the curb and given up on them and their careers.
His late friend and fellow comedian Willie Asbury was one of those people that Gonzo never gave up on. When Asbury got sick and wasn’t able to perform at Roxy and Dukes in Dunellen New Jersey, Gonzo stepped up along with Willie’s partner Lewis Gorden, to the challenge. In his absence they made sure that Hump Night Comedy would continue.
Once he stepped in for Asbury, Gonzo never lost faith in his old friend that he would come back and Asbury never lost his love for doing comedy. Battling his sickness, it was tough for him to get stage time. As any full time comedian knows, if you’re not performing you’re dying.
“Gonzo is a guy who makes sure that you’re calendar is booked and that means the world to a comedian. Without guys like him comedians can’t work.” said Kola
Most of Asbury’s calendar was booked with doctors appointments, so it was nearly impossible to get on stage. One night finally came where Gonzo got a call from Asbury saying that he was ready to start performing again. Gonzo knew he was in bad shape but gave him an opportunity to get back on the stage in which he dedicated his life to.
When Asbury arrived at the Mountainside Elks it was clear how bad Asbury wanted to perform under the circumstances he was in.
He went to the back of the club, having arrived a few minutes early, quickly plugged in his oxygen tank trying to breathe to get prepared for the show. Gonzo went back and informed him that he had 5 minutes until he had to perform. Mustering the strength, he got on stage and performed his set in front of a packed house.
Afterwards, people came back to see him and congratulate him for the performance only to witness him slumped over with his oxygen tank.
“That’s how you know a true comic, the most important thing is getting on stage and making people laugh. They need that drug, that boost, that energy, that hit that they get on stage.”
Moments like those are important because when a comic starts struggling they often times don’t get the extra chances that they may deserve. For a guy like Asbury who was suffering from a debilitating illness, Gonzo gave him the medicine that the doctors couldn’t… Stage time.
Now knowing what it feels like to lose everything and having others count you out, after his 2nd house fire in 20 years, is that you need help. No matter who you are and where you’re at in your life… you need help.
In the months following the fire, he had a network of people that he stayed with while his house was being rebuilt. He bounced around from family and friends houses. In trouble financially, he refused any financial support. All he asked was a temporary place to lay his head until his house was rebuilt.
It wasn’t as if this was the first time Gonzo was in a tough situation either. Growing up in the small town of Haskell New Jersey, he was constantly faced with negativity in the town that was once ridden with numerous bars which were infamous for their fights, long drawn drunken nights, and the sirens that could be heard throughout the evenings.
“There was a place called The Eight House that they had to close down, because every Friday night they would throw someone through a picture window.”
Gonzo easily could have fell into that life. Later finding his career in an industry known for drugs and alcohol, Gonzo chose not to pick up a single drink or do any drugs right from the beginning.
Crediting his parents that let him explore and become who he is now, he saw too many of his closest friends not have the right people in their lives and go down bad paths. It became important for Gonzo to be there for the ones who didn’t have anyone to turn to in their times of need. He’s seen many of his closest friends pass away too early after not getting the support they could have received if they hadn’t said no to the help that was offered.
Doing over 90 charities a year, people now go to him in their times of need and when they come to him out of the blue and want him to put a show together…
“A hundred percent of the time, not 98% a hundred percent of the time, he’s going to say yup I’ll put together a show. We’ll raise some money and we’ll help you with those bills. The comfort of having someone like that in your life is immeasurable.” said Kola
There’s no secret to Gonzo’s success. Just that he cares. He cares about these organizations that he helps. Since getting into comedy over 35 years ago he’s never looked back.
“He’s raised millions of dollars over the years to help people with cancer, cystic fibrosis and diabetes and the list goes on and on.” said Kola.
Continuing to see the impact he can have with comedy, he’s even started his own charity called Laughs for Lea. It’s a charity that helps out kids who went in for minor surgeries but came out handicapped.
Because of his willingness and reputation of doing charity work, people throughout the community search for him diligently in their times of need.
“There’s so many people out there struggling. He’s always there for them. He takes time out of his day because that’s what he’s supposed to do.” said Margaret D.
It’s those shows that Gonzo continues to put together, the people that he’s helped year after year and the stories they keep hearing, that has many people asking, “Does this guy actually exist? This can’t be true.” Unlike, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or UFO’s. Gonzo has been confirmed. For the ones that don’t know him and are looking for him, the ones that do know him, try their best to keep it that way.
“If I told you who Gonzo was and I told you how great he was you’d seek him out, but if I tell you ahh Gonzo doesn’t exist it’s just a myth, then I have more time to spend with Bobby and get more information.”- said Prince
As a comedian just starting out, it’s your job to find someone who will help guide you and answer the many questions that will arise during your journey through your comedy career. If you somehow figure out that the “Urban Legend of Comedy” does exist and you do meet him you’re in for a treat and a life long relationship of learning, laughter, and love. No matter where it’s at too, if you get some time with Gonzo, it will be fruitful.
“He was very freeing with his time. I’d be sitting at the edge of a bar and he would just spend hours talking to me.” said Davin Rosenblatt
Through Gonzo’s career you could say he’s seen it all and done it all. He’s been able to travel the world, work with some of the best comedians and develop relationships that will last a lifetime. Gonzo’s career could have gone in many directions though. Just like in most people’s journeys, there have been some regrets.
Being involved with comedy since the 1970’s he had an opportunity to become the booker for Russell Simmons’ “Def Comedy Jam” which was not big at the time, but he turned it down.
Another instance was when he got chosen to do a part in a mafia movie and got fired because he refused to say some of the lines that were in the script.
“I would say do exactly what you did in those circumstances but go find that same circumstance somewhere else where I didn’t have to swear or I didn’t have to you know…”
Still not looking back, he became the manager for Otto from Otto and George and Charlie Barnett. He also was the booker for some of the most well known bars and restaurants on the Jersey Shore. Some of the biggest names in comedy were able to partake in what is now coined “The Gonzo Shore Tour.”
People who did the week long tour include, Joe Rogan, Mike Marino, Billy Gardell, Joey Kola, Kevin James, Vic Varvetta, and the list goes on.
Some of those venues include Jenkinsons, Yachty Yaks, Freds in Stone Harbor, Club Hollywood, and Club Excess.
He gives people opportunities to showcase their talent and the “Gonzo Shore Tour” was one of the many things in the 80’s and 90’s that allowed comics to work on and perfect their crafts.
It was also a blast for all of the comedians to do the week long marathon of performing at night and laying on the beach during the day, but the rooms they played in were far from any casual ‘stroll on the boardwalk.’
“We’d do all the crazy rooms along the Jersey Shore which were fun and crazy because some of them got a little rowdy and loud.” said Kola
Teaching comedy in a classroom is one thing but applying what you learn on a stage, in a room full of people, is an entirely different beast. Sometimes up and coming comics only picture the glamour of the profession, but look past the dusty old rooms where the stage is about to fall through if one more person stands on it. Where you’re in front of tough crowds forgetting your jokes. It can bring you down to a depressive state of mind. You want to give up. It would be to easy too… if you’re by yourself. Having someone like Gonzo though, your circumstances could be different.
“He used to give me so many opportunities when I first started stand up comedy and I would drive all over the globe just to show up and see if I could master stand up.” said Marino
Through HBO’s The Crashing you see a depiction of a comic experiencing the struggles of trying to make it in the Underground Comedy World of New York City and experiencing what happens a lot of times in the comedy business.
Looking at Gonzo’s career and where he started in that small club of New York City and then performing comedy on the streets, subways, restaurants, cafes, dive bars, biker bars, go-go bars, Quiznos, and sometimes even buses he knows what it’s like for a comic just starting out.
His TV show called Comedy Mondays, which evolved into many things, including his youtube channel The Bob Gonzo Show and Comics of The Round Table was another thing that has given comics and performers the opportunity to showcase and hone their crafts.
“It was fun playing characters, writing and acting. It was a great training ground for acting and writing skits.” said Paul Venier
Some people would say he’s just doing his job, but to Gonzo this isn’t a job, this is his mission in life. Each day he wakes up with an energy to take on the challenges and help the people in his community.
“I can’t sleep because I’m too excited about what I’m going to do.”
How does this guy that is deemed a Myth and the GodFather do it though? There has to be a secret to lasting over 35 years in an industry and doing over 90 charities a year, that usually takes comedians out between 3-10 years?
“Because he’s not dishonest that’s why. The only thing you have in this business that’s worth anything is your name and once you lose that you’re nothing. He’s never ruined his name. He’s always been a good guy.” said Venier
As a comedian, you need a strong tight knit group of fellow comedians, that will love and support you throughout the many tough times that will arise in the industry.
“The reason I’m able to do all of these things is because I have the comedy community.”
What about the community you live in or the community that you’re thinking about moving to?
“It’s super important. Whether you’re talking about the community of your family, the community of comedy, or the community of just your town. Without community your alone and you can’t do things.”
What separates these very different and unique communities apart? What oftentimes is the deciding factor whether or not you should move to a community or not?
“Look for a town that has good community because they have people that help and support each other.”
The people are who build these communities. The people in your communities can also bring you down and take you away from what you want in life .
“I don’t know how many people said you can’t be a comic, you’re not funny you’re not funny, you’re not… and I walked away from them and it was one of the best things I ever did.”
There’s tons of people out in this world that can do it. Gonzo made the choice at a young age that he was going to stick with it. Of course, he has his share of mistakes and regrets but he hasn’t looked back. He’s made the tough but necessary decisions to drop the negativity from his life and surround himself with the people who will support him on his quest.
Remembering the people that inspired him, helped him and the ones who never gave up on him, Gonzo is there for anyone who is ready to take on the challenge of becoming a comedian.
“He gives people opportunities to follow their dream, he supports people in taking action in this business.” said Kevin Israel.
There are comics who are out in the world who are craving an opportunity and ready to take the next step in comedy, but they have no idea where to start. Finding someone that knows the path is one of the first steps. If you’re fortunate enough, maybe you’ll find Gonzo. He’s been that start for countless amounts of people.
It’s about showing up. Gonzo, who in the 80’s and 90’s, ran Rascals in West Orange New Jersey, one of the most infamous comedy clubs in the country, was well known throughout the comedy scene in North Jersey. People knew him in that community. They saw him there every week. Comics came from all over the country to get their start at the Rascals Comedy Clubs in New Jersey.
“That was the room you aimed to do. Rascals and East side Comedy on Long Island. When you get to Jersey, it’s Rascals. That’s it. You knew you made it.” said Paul Bond
Some of the best comics in New Jersey, New York, and the upper East Coast have come out of that comedy club. Comics like Tim Allen, Jim Brewer, Jane More, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Sam Kinison, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, the club has since been shut down, but the impact it has had on the community is still felt and understood. You could say the comedy scene in New Jersey started at Rascals. Without all the bookers and guys like Gonzo bringing in the talent to the club things could have been different for the now comedy crazed community in North Jersey.
Kool Bubba Ice, remembers just starting to learn about comedy and seeing Gonzo on Rascals hit tv show called Rascals Comedy Hour.
“It was like 86-87, it was wild, I was still in high school watching Rascals Comedy Hour. I remember seeing Gonzo and Dice Clay for the first time, you name it. He was different his look his hair you know everything. As comedians that’s what you want.”
There are too many stories, too many things to admire and without getting to know him and having the opportunity to see one of his shows, it’s hard to understand what he does every day in a profession that he calls, “God’s favorite business.”
“I admire that he puts himself out on the line every time.” said DeLena
There has to be something else. What is it that keeps the guy going for 35 years? What gets him on that stage every night to perform in front of those people night in and night out?
“My ritual…” With a little chuckle as he told me over the phone.
“…to just start to think about what this is for. You know… Why am I here?”
Comedy runs through Gonzo’s veins much like the mighty Hudson River cutting through the state of New York. He believes in the power of it and there’s nothing that can tell him different.
From New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and almost anywhere around the country people know the name.
“Whether I’ve worked in Hartford Connecticut, Tampa Florida or as far west as Arizona, people in comedy know who Gonzo is and there’s a great amount of people that have been blessed to work with him.” said Trifilo
Gonzo has since moved on from the fire and it’s become a distant memory. His house has been rebuilt but there’s more he’s trying to build
For a person who has dedicated his life to this craft, that is oftentimes misunderstood and under appreciated, I’m sure you want to ask, “What’s next Gonzo? Is there anything else that you want to do?”
“You know what…
Before answering, there was a little pause on the other end of the phone.
…to do movies about comedy. When you watch them do a movie, they have to do it so it’s entertaining, but it’s not true. The truth is always more exciting to me more than anything else.”
Including his desire to start doing comedy movies, he has other desires of writing a book about everything that he’s learned in comedy, doing bigger venues, getting a collection of comics to manage again, and of course doing what he does best and that’s putting on more shows for charities and organizations.
From finding his career on a bus trip to the Underground World of New York City Comedy, to losing a few homes, Gonzo has been through a lot. At the end of the day…
Bobby’s going to be okay.
The show will go on.
“The intensity and love of this skill is in my heart. The belief that who knows, someday I’ll be able to help and be able to keep giving back.” said Bobby Gonzo
Charities/Organizations/Causes that Gonzo supports
Laughs for Lea– A charity that helps out kids who went in for minor surgeries but came out handicapped.
Lost in the Field– Children who have been abused are in foster homes and are looking to be adopted. Ran by Keith Brown
Let Them Be Little– https://www.facebook.com/Let-Them-Be-Little-X2-Foundation-664927993542522/
Take Gonzo’s Comedy Course- “Bob Gonzo’s School of Comedy”
“Uncle Floyd” Vivino- https://www.facebook.com/Uncle-Floyd-Vivino-249228882101247/
Gary DeLena- http://garydelena.com/gary_delena/HOME.html
Gene Trifilo – http://www.genetrifilo.com/crazy/
Chris Johnson– @chrisjcomedy
Paul Bond- https://www.paulbondcomedy.com/
Kojo Prince- http://www.kojoprince.com/ @kojomprince
Davin Rosenblatt- http://davincomedy.com/ @davincomedy
Margaret D “Jersey Girl”
Kool Bubba Ice- https://comedyhouse.us/kool-bubba-ice/
Joey Kola- http://www.joeykola.com/ @thejoeykola
Kevin Israel- https://www.kevinisrael.com/ @kevin_israel_comedy
Mike Marino- http://mikemarino.net/ @mikemarinolive
Paul Venier- http://www.comedytornado.com/
Gonzo’s Favorite Venues:
Roxy and Dukes– Dunellen, NJ
Pocono Barn– Pocono Pennsylvania
Firehouses– Poppin Lakes Firehouse, The Hawthorn Firehouse, The Skyline Lake Firehouse
Wallies– Surf City, NJ http://www.wallyslbi.com/
Sylvia’s Villa– New York, New York http://sylviasrestaurant.com/
Pocono Vacation Park– Pocono Pennsylvania
RASCALS Comedy Club– West Orange New Jersey
Elks Lodge– all around New Jersey and the Country- https://www.elks.org/
Tracks– Boonton, New Jersey
Austin Morris @theo_vangogh
By- Tom Kubrak
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