On Stage: Adam Ferrara was ‘driven’ into comedy

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Adam Ferrara

Adam Ferrara, who will be headlining the Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com) from February 25-27, is currently one of the top comics in America.

His career as a top-flight standup comedian might never have happened had it not been for a pair of prescient activities by his mother and him in New York – his mother’s actions as a precursor of Twitter and his activities as a preview of Uber.

“I got started as a comic years ago when I went on an open mic,” said Ferrara, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home in Santa Monica, California.

“I made the mistake of telling my mom. She was the original Twitter. She told the whole neighborhood, and they all came to the show.

“I had prepared material that I was going to use. Then, I got on stage and knew everyone there. So, I heckled them instead.”

Before long, Ferrara was opening for other comedians in the New York City area.

“I lied and said I had enough material to open for comics,” said Ferrara, who grew up on Long Island in Huntington Station, a community in the Town of Huntington that was named for its railroad station.

“I started at the East Side Comedy Club in Long Island on July 13,1988. It is now the Pomodoro Restaurant. After that, I began performing in Manhattan.

“I would open for comics. I would meet them at The Improv. I had a car, so I’d pick them up and we went to gigs. When we’d return, instead of dropping them off back at the theater, I’d drive them home. I gave them door-to-door service.”

It was just like Uber without having to use an app.

“At that point, those comics were like big stars to me,” said Ferrara. “I started working more in New York at clubs like the Comedy Cellar and the Gotham Comedy Club.

“I played the Helium Comedy Club for the first time early in my career. I wish I were going to Philly every year. I love that town.”

After a few years in the Northeast, Ferrara succumbed to the lure of the West Coast.

“I moved to L.A. in 1992,” said Ferrara. “I got a TV deal.”

Ferrara’s career as an actor took off. His initial acting credit was on “Flying Blind” in 1993 followed by “Caroline in the City” from 1996-1998, “The Love Boat: The Next Wave” in 1999 and “The Job in 2001 and 2002.

Some of the other shows in his resume are “Ash Tuesday,” “Law & Order,” “The King of Queens,” “Definitely, Maybe,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Ugly Betty,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Kevin Can Wait,” “Criminal Minds” and “Rescue Me.”

For six seasons, Ferrara co-hosted the critically acclaimed BBC sensation, “Top Gear US.” He played Chief Needles Nelson on the Emmy® nominated FX drama “Rescue Me” and co-starred with Emmy® Award winner Edie Falco on Showtime’s hit series “Nurse Jackie.” He has also co-starred alongside Kevin James in the hit movie “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Definitely Maybe” with Ryan Reynolds.

Ferrara, who Entertainment Weekly dubbed “Hilarious,” is currently starring on the CBS All Access show, “Why Women Kill,” with Ginnifer Goodwin, Lucy Liu and an all-star cast. His new comedy album, “It’s Scary in Here,” debuted Number One on iTunes,

“Lately, I’ve done ‘Why Women Kill’ and I’m guest starring on the March 9 episode of ‘NCIS’,” said Ferrara. “We just started shooting the NCIS episode a few weeks ago. It took a couple days and we had COVID testing every day. That made me really nervous.”

When asked if he sees himself as a comedian who acts or an actor who is also a comedian, Ferrara replied, “I started as a comic. I’m fortunate that I am also doing acting. I get to do drama too.

“A big part of my stage show as a comic is improv. It puts an immediacy there. The audience and I are both part of the experience. But I’m not a social critic. I’m more a student of the human condition.”

Ferrara has found a good way to keep performing during the pandemic. His new podcast is a breakout hit.

“I’m doing my podcast every week,” said Ferrara, who still keeps an apartment in New York. “It’s called ‘The Adam Ferrara Podcast – 30 Minutes You’ll Never Get Back.’ I built a studio in my garage. It’s just me, my wife, my best friend Phil Tag and my producer Mark Stern. We talk to a different guest every week. The podcast has been my saving grace.”

Fortunately for Ferrara, options for performing live have started to open up.

“I’m playing Philly this weekend,” said Ferrara. “In March, I’m playing the Helium Comedy Club in St. Louis and Tempe Improv in Arizona. I’m looking forward to it – especially the shows in Philly.”

Video link for Adam Ferrara — https://youtu.be/jqrSlJ3Zvcc.

The shows at the Helium Comedy Club are scheduled for February 25 at 8 p.m. and February 26 and 27 at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m.

Tickets, which are not sold individually because of capacity restrictions and social distancing, are $44 for a two-person table or $88 for a four-person table.

Anthony DeVito

Many of America’s highly respected comedians come from the New York/North Jersey area. Ferrara is one of them and so is another comedian headed to the Helium Comedy Club over the next week – Anthony DeVito.

On March 3, Helium will present a performance by DeVito, who hails from Bloomfield, New Jersey and now lives in the Astoria section of New York City’s Queens Borough.

“I’ve been doing standup in New York for 11-12 years,” said DeVito, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon while staying with friends in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.

“I got into comedy because it was always something I wanted to do. I was a shy kid, but I was attracted to comedy.”

DeVito’s traveled a frequently used path to a career in comedy – going to college in Florida to study architecture.

“I graduated from the University of Miami in 2005 with a degree in architecture,” said DeVito. “I had never been to Miami, but it seemed like a good thing to do.”

Not surprisingly, DeVito has never worked as an architect – choosing a career in comedy instead.

“I started by doing open mics in New York,” said DeVito. “At first, I didn’t know about the mechanics of performing on stage. I started with improv and then did standup. Most of all, I like writing jokes.

“With open mics, the audience is just a few other comedians and it’s hard to get laughs from them. So, I never knew that any of my jokes were any good. Then, one night a fellow comedian who was a little above me told me that I was funny.

“My first real show was at the EastVille Comedy Club in New York. A friend of mine was booking the show and asked me to be in it. I was a little nervous because I had never done a show like that before.

“Within a couple years, things progressed quickly. It was fast right away and then slowed down and then picked up again. I did Stephen Colbert’s show and had a half-hour special on Comedy Central.”

DeVito made his television debut on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” He was named one of JFL’s New Faces in 2012 and has performed at Boston Comedy Festival, Laugh Your Asheville Off, Limestone Comedy Fest, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and SF Sketchfest.

DeVito’s standup has been featured on Comedy Central’s “Adam Devine’s House Party,” AXS TV’s “Gotham Comedy Live,” Seeso’s “New York’s Funniest,” and Comedy Central’s “The Half Hour.”

He can be seen regularly on MSG’s “People Talking Sports and Other Stuff” with Sam Morril and can be heard on NPR’s “This American Life,” Sirius XM’s “Bennington Show,” and “The Bonfire” — and on his highly rated weekly podcast, the “Rad Dude Cast.” DeVito released his debut-comedy album, “Dream Occupation,” in 2017. He also was a staff writer for Netflix’s “The Break with Michelle Wolf.”

“My comfort level as a performing comedian grew in spurts,” said DeVito. “The more I did it, the longer the growth spurts.

“My comedy has always been joke-based rather than audience interaction. I’m setting out to just do my jokes – but I’m not a robot out there. If something odd happens during the show, I’ll play around with that weirdness.

“For me, my comedy is personal – stuff that has happened in my life. But it’s still pretty broad. People all over the country can relate to it.”

DeVito’s show at Helium next week will be a return engagement.

“I’ve played Helium several times,” said DeVito. “I love the club and this will be my first time to headline there.”

Video link for Anthony DeVito — https://youtu.be/-ihMW2AURuQ.

DeVito’s show at the Helium Comedy Club on March 3 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets, which are not sold individually because of capacity restrictions and social distancing, are $40 for a two-person table or $80 for a four-person table.

King Solomon Hicks

Several of the all-time great blues guitarists have names that end in King – B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King. Now, there is a rising young blues guitarist whose name begins with King – King Solomon Hicks.

On February 26, Hicks will headline a show at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

Hicks is a 24-year-old guitarist/singer/composer whose specialty is the blues with some jazz thrown in the mix.

“I began playing guitar when I was really young,” said Hicks, during a phone interview Tuesday night from his home in New York’s Harlem. “My mom started me with guitar lessons when I was six.”

His mother Holly Hicks was his first tutor and taught him the history of African American music. He started learning soul music, blues, and then Jimi Hendrix. He was playing music before he learned to read music.

His father and mother played music at home constantly. When Hicks was a youngster, his mother took him to local nightspots such as the Lennox Lounge, Saint Nick’s and the Cotton Club, where he witnessed performances that made a significant impact on his outlet and ambitions.

According to Hicks, “When you’re around good musicians, it gives you that spark — ‘I want to do what you do. I want to hold my own.’

“But being around those types of musicians also taught me to not be the fastest guitar player. I wanted to be the one who knew the most riffs and drew on a lot of knowledge so I could play anything, and with anyone.”

He attended the Harlem School of Arts and the Jazzmobile training program. He graduated from Talent Unlimited High School as a music major in 2012.

“At age 13, I started playing guitar with the Cotton Club in the big band there,” said Hicks. “I was doing a lot of different gigs all through high school. I started touring Denmark when I was 18. Copenhagen was a big blues town. I also played Germany and Spain and opened for Robert Cray.”

Hicks has performed at the KISS Kruise V, the Joe Bonamassa Blues Cruise in 2017, the Festival De Blues De Bejar-Blues Cazorla-San Javier in Spain, in France at the Jazz Marciac, and the Cotton Club in Tokyo. He has performed at music festivals in Spain, Germany, France, Japan, Denmark, Mexico, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Barbados, and United States.

“The KISSKruise was a good experience,” said Hicks. “So was Joe Bonamassa Blues Alive at Sea Cruise.

“My early mentor was Melvin Sparks. I learned a lot about jazz and blues from him. Another main mentor was Junior Mack. When I was 21, I was playing with his band every Tuesday at B.B. King’s in New York.”

Melvin Sparks, who passed away in 2011, was an American soul jazz, hard bop and jazz blues guitarist who recorded several albums for Prestige Records and Savant Records. He appeared on many recordings with musicians including Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt, Leon Spencer and Johnny Hammond Smith. Junior Mack is a veteran guitarist who played in Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band with Allman Brothers Band drummer Jaimoe.

Hicks released his debut album, “HARLEM,” on March 13, 2020 on Provogue Records, a Dutch label that label specializes in rock and blues. Provogue’s catalog includes Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Eric Johnson, Robert Cray, Gov’t Mule, Philip Sayce, and Warren Haynes.

“Kirk Yano produced the album,” said Hicks. “My show at Sellersville will be a trio with Kirk on bass, Mike Rodbard on drums and me on guitar. I also did a Livestream show there back in July with Kirk on bass and Mikey Jr. on drums.”

Yano is a multiple Grammy-winning recording engineer with several Platinum and Gold RIAA Awards, who has worked with acts such as Miles Davis, Public Enemy, Phoebe Snow and Savoy Brown.

“HARLEM” features originals such as the roadhouse ready “421 South Main,” the gospel shuffle of “Have Mercy on Me” and the aching instrumental “Riverside Drive” along with classics such as “Every Day I Sing the Blues” and “It’s Alright.” The LP also features Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know,” Gary Wright’s “Love is Alive” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.”

“We recorded the album over two years at Kirk’s studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn,” said Hicks. “It’s not a traditional blues album. I have one leg in blues and on the other leg, I’m trying to throw in different genres.

“I’ve worked hard on developing my sound. What keeps me going is when I see people get up and dance.”

Video link for King Solomon Hicks — https://youtu.be/TWOY8ypiJec.

The King Solomon Hicks show at Sellersville is scheduled for February 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $21.50 in person and $10 for Livestream.

More live music can be heard at the Bridgeport Ribhouse (1049 Ford Street, Bridgeport, www.ribhouse.net) which is presenting Montoj on February 27 and Brian Quinn & Danny Beissel on March 3.

Alyssa Dodge

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will host Alyssa Dodge on February 25, Mr. Mody on February 26, and Vinyl Side B on February 27.

Creekside Sports Bar & Grille (765 N Lewis Road, Royersford, http://www.creeksidesportsbar.com/) will present The Whitewalls on February 26, Uptown Band on February 27, and Michael Kropp on February 28.

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