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  Rick Shapiro



Rick Shapiro: The Anti-Seinfeld

by Gordon Polatnick 5.15.98

I  was in the East Village last night and saw a comedian (sic) at The Fort behind the Sidewalk Café on Avenue A.  He calls himself Rick Shapiro but you can call him a doctor.  His show consists of a blood and guts hour and a half of manic characterizations bouncing off each other as pinballs.  My initial response to this onslaught was akin to watching a runaway Dodge Dart smashing its way through Times Square after the theaters let out.  Innocent victims seemed to be hurled about in violent death throes  with the driver gaining more speed and accuracy as he zeroed in on his targets-- feeding his frenzy.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of Rick, waiting for him to finally crash and burn.  And wondering what fueled this rampage.

Although he never slowed down, he did roll down the window and invite us to jump in and join him on this race through his personal hell.  This hell is very deceptive though, because on the surface it looks like everyday life which values book stores, coffee joints, yoga, fruit smoothies and centers for detox in New York.  The problem seems to be that it doesn’t value Rick’s ability to really eat pussy well.  And it doesn’t value his penis and everywhere it wants to go. 

After I got this theme I was able to ignore the invitation to jump in and chose instead to detach myself from his vision enough to watch and enjoy his genius at work.  I started to see that it was pure work.  Rick was running a performance marathon of his own design, and his goal was to cross the finish line after an hour and a half of searing stream of consciousness with the throbbing audience in tact and applauding.  And every Wednesday night starting at 10:30 Rick uncages his crippled cast of characters to help propel him toward that end.

To get a clearer picture of his mindset you’d have to sit down in Barnes and Noble and read Steppenwolf and Catcher in the Rye at the same time on twenty cups of espresso from Starbucks, while stunning objects of desire parade around you singing You Can Look But You Better Not Touch.  If you did that within the subtext of having arrived in New York from South Jersey to pursue an acting career and ended up enduring years of sucking cock for heroin and many more years of AA meetings to finally becoming clean and sober then finding yourself Rip Van Winkeled into Gapland, USA, you’d get the picture.

Or at least you’d start to get the picture.  During the hour and a half show he had only one one-liner.  Rattling some anti-depressant pills in his jacket pocket he realized, “I’m on more drugs now than when I was on drugs.”

Rick, as a comedian, eschews punch lines and bits preferring to work with the moment. Even when he’d begin a bit from his recent live CD, (Unconditional Love on Fortified Records) his brain would sidetrack him with a more pertinent observation and that would be that.  Next thing you know he’d be careening down a whole new path sometimes fighting his way back to the bit, sometimes leaving it in his dust. 

Ultimately, it’s his audience that is his prey and his muse.  He has the ability to see through everyone’s mask including his own, letting his characters give voice to the audience members experiencing his artless art.  Beginning to absorb him, I was able to marvel at Rick’s bare synapses popping as he fixed on every nuance in the room and attempted to address each one.  His frames of reference seemed unlimited.  I got the feeling that whatever your background and livelihood, Rick would have a way of reeling you in to what initially seemed to be his cloistered and narrowly defined world of pussy and pussy.

As the show blammed onward passed the hour mark, I found that I was no longer detached.  I was involved, I was indicted, I was inspired and I was becoming exhausted—for Rick as well as myself.  There was a strong sense of relief and release in the room when Lach, Rick’s producer/soundman and manager of the Fort, broke up the show to pass around the tip jar, announcing, “It’s free to get in, but it costs to get out.”  As the jar got stuffed and the CD’s got sold, Rick continued onstage for his closing fifteen minutes.  He once again tried to cater to a linear-minded world, by performing one of his best bits, The Irish Bartender, from beginning to end.  He pulled it off magnificently, showing a great talent for comic writing. 

Exhausted but amped up, Rick Shapiro grudgingly left the stage to galloping applause.  I left with the feeling that I had finally witnessed a performance and entertainer worthy of being touted as the man to fill Richard Pryor’s shoes.   Fearless and funny.  Experiencing his genius is just what I needed to give me faith in the post-Seinfeld world.  There is a lot more to laugh at than Seinfeld ever imagined.

~ Gordon Polatnick 5.15.1998


 Jim Donovan's Fool's Film Guide

Sometimes the reviewer gets lucky. I walked past a coffee shop on the Upper West Side and spotted old friend Rick Shapiro, sitting in the window like Chaplin, working on a routine with a couple of comic actors. I asked where I could find him performing, knowing that I'd be in on a surprise that would delight. He told me where and when, and so I went, as you will after reading this.

He's currently 'workshopping' short skit routines along with his talented, experienced (both have worked in films, on television, and performed stand-up) brother Rob Shapiro and girlfriend Rachel Moriello, who does a routine as a straight 'man' at times and slips in and out of characters and voices as well as anyone.

1) Gerard and Vanessa at the Community Recreation Center. Begins as ping-pongers are forced to move out to hold a meeting. Gerard tells of a building of a lovely new Home Depot, and many needless depots on their way.

This scene rings true when Vanessa tries hard to save a building that has already been demolished, showing how most of these community do-gooders are merely wasting time beating their own chest to 'save the world.' In New York, it's okay to be the hero, as long as you never leave your building.

2) The Karate Class with a male and female student and a warped instructor who turns out to be a phony loon. Physical comedy at its best shows various idiocies of a self-defense class. Hilarious!

3) Faces under the hat. Brother Rob steals the spotlight for a moment, twisting a ragged hat and a rugged face into distorted levels of fun. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton would be proud, as this is where and how they started, in the silent age.

4) The Irish Bar - Welcome to Kenny's. An quick (blazing) speaking angry Irish bar owner abuses patrons with a brogue as he first talks to the crowd, then gets interrupted by a drunken male, an inquisitive visitor, a European female, then a man that needs a glass of milk, a European couple that wants a soda, and a guy that wants to use the phone.

None of these fools want to buy drinks, which gives the owner ample ammunition to blast off on them one after the next. He attacks with machine gun speed and never runs out of insults, all done with such truthful Irish imitations of a common sight in New York, an angry Irish bartender with no time for requests other than a shot and a brew. The rest of the night spent knee deep in delivering self-contained prophesies… Don't dare ask for change for the phone here.

5) The two I-I-I guys … contain dramatic genius one week and comic masterpiece the next. It's quite likely that this is only possible between two extreme talents who are brothers, as the timing and technique needed to master such a forte can only be born, raised, and nurtured together for a few decades at least.

Two men sit opposite each other, faces inches apart. Great angst is felt, expressed, studied, recognized, and related to at the very highest of pitch levels, without anything other than one word expressed over and over, first by one, than the other, then in harmony together. Obviously not the dialogue, but the acting abilities to show angst are what makes this utterly fascinating.

Simply the kind of scene Robin Williams could only do with Jonathan Winters! This kind of brilliance is indeed that kind of rare. Sheer comic and dramatic genius! The writing and performing here combine to provide the kind that gets a television series or wins an Emmy Award.

6) Talk show with The Cornchips as guest musical fools. The music scene takes a few Bon Jovi direct hits. A man writes and smokes and ignores all over coffee and cigarettes. He takes the stage on open mic night and steals their song from the week before. The female singer from The Cornchips sings her version as a duet with a male, the writer admits to it 'inspiring' his song. It's the same song. While this skit works well, it lacks a follow-through ending to make it explode.

7) Disco dance couple. I'm still trying to decipher what was attempted here. Give this trio a couple of weeks to improve, and this will probably be given at a higher level. Or cut and replaced. These talents have so very much material that hours can be covered. It's hard to keep the talent level at the top with every skit, but they will demand it from themselves.

8) Two boys suck their thumbs as their mother talks to them. The brother discuss how much they love to indulge in narcotic drug abuse and sexual abuse as their mother (off-stage) babies them and praises them both lovingly. This satirical scream at how mothers have no idea what their children become, or already are, is quite priceless.

9) Margerie Salsa talk show with co-host Aunt Edna who wears a fancy enema bag as a hat and uses diabetes as an excuse to eat snacks onstage throughout. They welcome guest singer/actor/author Agnes Diamond, who's convinced they're right when she's described as a very handsome woman. She sings with a Jewish accent that underlines a lack of talent continuously portrayed on the old Joey Franklin horror hour. "It doesn't matter, do what you gotta do. As long as you love each other and care about each other and you shop for macaroni in the cheap section and struggle together." This will end up a gem, as dialogue gets sharpened.

10) Two actors meet after an audition. A woman joins them. They discuss the difficulties of acting auditions. She's a "cool" type from LA, and Rob is a "totally" trained actor. This one goes to another level and turns to genius as the pissed-off guy makes believe he's casting a film of his own and manipulates the two to star in their own audition to prove their own idiocy as actors often never manage to realize. Absolute hysterics follow.

The dialogue reads like actors' "how to Meisner yourself to methodical encyclopedically entrenched learning technique guidebooks." Rob's physical face shifting and voices from beyond normal brings a whole other aspect to how well this works. This is the skit that actors used to fill rooms to see and howl at themselves. It is priceless, and it could end up a killer finale scene to a film about such a theme/topic "lifestyle of the acting game" comedy starring any such type SAG card carrying fool. This is clearly comedic actors' self parody at its ultimate best! BRAVO and BRAVA!

These comedians offer this show for free every Wednesday night at 11 p.m. at Sidewalk Café on Avenue A at 6th St. Free has never been so valuable! Tip them well, as they deserve big pay for the fun they give away, fa nuttin'!

Rick Shapiro also performs an hour stand-up routine Sunday nights at the same venue. There's a reason Penthouse magazine called Rick "New York's funniest comic" two years ago. He and his brother Rob Shapiro also do stand-up all over Manhattan's finest comic (Caroline's, Boston Comedy Club, etc.) clubs. They bring more characters, talent, and energy to the stage than anyone else in this city. Together with Rachel Moriello, they are quietly forming an unbeatable, formidable weapon, like the Yankees did a few years back.

You better run to these shows, because they will be expensive soon. Like I said, sometimes in New York you just get lucky. - Jim Donovan

© 2002 Delusions of Adequacy


 Adam Quest

A far raunchier, more manic original in the style of Lenny Bruce; to call what he does comedy is to trivialize his blazing originality and depth of self-expression and verbal/physical artistry; to call it "performance art" would do it a further disservice; it's inconceivable that anything is scripted or rehearsed, it just happens in real time, feeding off the audience and his own inner demons, his raging id, which, maybe more than I've ever seen, are completely externalized; he puts the rage in outrageous; hyper-vulgar, barbed like concertina, painfully honest, achingly personal, yet not narcissistic, not prone to self-confessional twaddle; a relentlessly caustic, or as he would say "caustic," (apparently a common description),  sex-obsessed, possessed soul blazing truth through wicked, contemptuous, hilarious skewering--no, mutilation, of all that is tepid, fake, piddling and irrelevant; a thick air of unwholesomeness, seedy,
rabid knowingness pervaded the intimate space: a man, his demons, his obsessions, his jaundiced joy, and an audience commune; this performance, this possessed slinger of bile made me want to do something, maybe something unwholesome, maybe something a little self-destructive and/or self-loathing, but SOMETHING--action seemed to be what these non-stop sheets of bile and verbiage called for; I laughed so fucking hard for so fucking long, I had no more in me, even though the material barely flagged; my throat hurt, I was numb to any more paroxysms of laughter; laughter not of joy or appreciation at some clever riff on culture or humanity, but a laughter from familiarity, a laughter of agreement; a view of the edge, a guy who goes home alone to a little room--or doesn't--a man alone with such a torrent, who could really understand? Who could hang? His themes: Jersey, drugs, debauchery, sex, poseurs, wretched Hollywood obscene nonsense, sex--no, fucking, cunnilingus, 12-step mockery and disgust, dick-sucking, the festering dishonesty, tension, and cruelty between the sexes, the demimonde, media brutalization of soul and spirit; technique, mannerisms so much like Bruce: the mumbled aside, the vaguely accurate mimiced voices coming in and out, tiny shards of characters in and out, almost fully developed snippets, the constant experimentation, the heroic failures, the tangents, the torrent, the relentlessness, the sense of purpose built into the natural momentum; struggle, the indifference of cultural mediators, the contempt intertwined with envy and longing for the kingmakers, the certainty of their bankruptcy, yet the torturous knowledge that they matter and have the power to transform and alleviate, amplify and enrich; a sense of control--of his body, his face (such contorted masks of mockery), yet the feeling it could fall apart, erupt, explode any time; politics, comedy, psychology, confession, therapy, performance, literature--continuously collapsing boundaries, evading simple categorization; no simple dichotomies--haves/have nots, head/heart, intellect/libido, artist/average joe, comedy/performance, art/life, art/comedy--really apply, except maybe mainstream/underground (this could change easily); it may be a cliche, but it occurred to me throughout the set--descriptive, journalistic, critic words barely do justice to the experience I had, the verbal/emotional/artistic display I  witnessed.

- Adam Quest


 Click Here to order the CD 

 Tender Loathing Care  

by Jason Anderson from Toronto

Midway through his CD, Unconditional Love, New York stand-up Rick Shapiro concocts a review of his own act. "He takes his anger out on the audience," he says mock-pompously. "His mellifluous bellowing was very Kant-esque, and there was a touch of Hegel. He's not a comedian and he's not a performance artist. He is... a loser. He is avant-loser."

In a culture where the concept of "edge" is used to market everything from sports utility vehicles to breath mints, Shapiro rates as a danger to himself and others. Unconditional Love is a portrait of the artist as street philosopher and supreme asshole, spewing out torrents of anger and misery. And you're gonna sit there and like it.

N.Y. Press named him the city's best comic last year, and his cuss-laden rant-a-thons have garnered him the usual "new Lenny Bruce" kudos. Regardless of whether anyone could ever live up to that billing (or would ever want to), Shapiro is a comic with a rare level of intensity -- he can be as pointed in his social satire as Bill Hicks, though he's more manic than laconic, or as lewd and outraged as Sam Kinison, though he doesn't mistake his audience for morons. And not even one of those angry dead guys would do a routine called "I Sucked Dick for Heroin."

For years, Shapiro was in and out of acting classes and comedy clubs in New York and L.A. He had a doomed act with his twin brother and was even groomed as the next Robin Williams at the Comic Strip. But he was a reluctant stand-up.

"I was crazy," he says in a phone interview from some "cheap-shit hotel room" in New York. "I had ideas in my head all the time. And a friend of mine kept telling me I was funny, because I would imitate everyone at AA meetings. I'd imitate how everyone shared. Some people would get mad and stuff, but then there'd be a hundred people standing outside [watching]. That's when I realized, 'Oh fuck, I'm a comedian.' "

Eventually Shapiro dropped the characters and found his voice. His current style evolved in a music club, the Fort at the Sidewalk Cafe in New York's East Village, where he met anti-folk singer and Unconditional Love's producer, Lach (who plays Grafitti's and Holy Joe's this weekend).

The nasty "performance artist" tag derives from Shapiro's honesty about his past as a thief, hooker and junkie -- but his act's not some lame-ass confessional trip. "People are always saying, 'Rick, you don't have to go for the laugh because you're interesting without it.' But I like working harder to get laughs. I don't like doing it easy."

He also says that Unconditional Love no longer represents what he's doing onstage, which is now almost entirely improvised. "Now the anger's really getting pure," he says. "Before it was this wild rage, now it's pure anger, and it's weird that there's humor coming out of that. It's not like a spin -- not like 'I'm just angry!' It's who I am."

Still, he worries that the Canucks of Yuk Yuk's may not be ready for him. "I think they'll get mad," he says, "because last week I really started to do some stuff. I was calling people names... and they enjoyed it. I thought, 'Man, I'm really being abusive.' "

What Shapiro would consider excessively abusive is hard to fathom considering the ferocity he displays on disc, but he insists he's not entirely merciless. Says Shapiro of a recent incident: "One guy walked up because I'd abused him so much and he wanted to look cool when he had to leave. He put his hand out to me to shake. I said, 'You're actually all right, that's what's weird....' I shook his hand, then when he was two steps from the door, I said, '...shithead.'

"The audience knows I'm kidding because they're smart. People know I'm just getting shit out. I don't wanna narrow it down to 'just getting shit out' -- but I'm playing with the fact that we can call each other names. I hope they see that at Yuk Yuk's, and if they don't, they fuckiing don't. I'll probably get beat up there. But because of what I do onstage, guys figure I'm wild, that I'll throw a wild left or bite their Adam's apple off.

- Jason Anderson



Stand-up Comic Rages Through the Pain
Rick Shapiro comes back swinging from drug addiction

By Leatrice Spevak


If, as Oscar Wilde said, nothing succeeds like excess, then comic Rick Shapiro is bound for glory.

``You can look at me and know I survived a lot of s---,'' says Shapiro, a comic in his mid-30s, from his Manhattan apartment.

After hustling old men to support his cocaine and heroin habits and living in skid row hotels, he's been clean for the past 10 years and is an advocate of psychotherapy: ``I'm on more drugs now than when I was on drugs. I heed to the side effects because the side effects of heroin were prostitution and a 20-year downslide.''

It has been said that the best comedy by far comes from pain. Pain and anger. Shapiro exposes his personal hell on stage loudly and in lurid detail. He is vulgar. He is menacing. But above all else, he is honest. Shapiro is the real thing.

Penthouse magazine has positioned Shapiro as ``poised for the big leagues.'' Cups describes him as ``equal parts Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Lou Reed,'' while New York's Paper magazine dubs him the ``James Joyce of Stand-Up.''

Yet referring to Shapiro as a stand-up is misleading for those accustomed to the ``I just broke up with my girlfriend . . .'' routines on TV and in the clubs.

He is a dramatist who, through the interplay of characterizations, parades out Gap salespeople, goth girls and AA "spritzer-holics," snaps frantic rat-a-tat asides and manages to merge it all into a dizzying stream-of-consciousness dialogue that takes his audience on a collision course with social convention.

Horrified by yuppie excess, Gen-X poseurs (``flannel-shirted Raggedy Ann prostitutes drinking Samuel Adams'') and the hypocrisy of society, this outlaw takes no prisoners.

He takes aim at everything that smacks of the status quo, from special education teachers (``Take one of these extra-long crayons and draw for the next 20 years'') to Stomp (``You know how they created Stomp? They hired all the guys in Cats and they went `S---! Brad, Tad, Chad, come here! Let the busboys wait the tables. Everything makes a noise I think we have a show! Those f---ing heteros in Connecticut are so stupid they'll buy into anything.' '').

Ripping into the social fabric may seem easy pickin's for this fringe dweller, but Shapiro doesn't shrink from pointing the barrel at himself as he details his struggles with 12-step programs, substance abuse and a once-aberrant lifestyle. He delivers an onslaught of ideas at breakneck pace that will leave your synapses spinning.

For a kid from New Jersey who went to school drunk every day and was told he ``didn't have a brain,'' Shapiro accidentally fell into acting class while studying business law and sciences at New York University. ``Something clicked. I learned to give a s---,'' he says.

Taking the inevitable comedy exodus to L.A., Shapiro ran the gamut of clubs, where ``You get two minutes on a Monday night.'' After an ego-busting evening in the late '80s of following Eddie Murphy on stage, Shapiro threw in the towel for a few years and headed back to New York, where he got straight. ``I was so serious about acting,  my life, that I was a mess,'' he says. ``I would read Beaudelaire in a cafe drinking red wine like an idiot because I was shy, not because I was some profound guy. Who wants to sit drinking red wine when you can meet a girl and get laid?''

`To me, that's the thing that's missing - to be funny about serious stuff'

The '90s were a whirligig of professional ups and downs between coasts. More acting classes, "18-year-old agents'' mis-labelling him as "Bev9" (Beverly Hills 90210) material, Off-Broadway roles (Tony And Tina' s Wedding), film shorts, movies and friends telling him, "You're not Dustin Hoffman.''

It all inevitably led Shapiro toward taking another stab at stand-up, where he was free to call the shots.

As for his life as a comic, ``There's nothing I like about it. I hate it. It breaks my heart.'' Of the comedy industry, he snarls, ``It's a joke. It's a scam. It's a lie. It's ugly. It's disgusting. Guys onstage, they're just trying to be cute, get movie roles. That's 99 per cent of the industry.''

At New York's Comic Strip, after Shapiro took his bows, the next comic would ask the audience what was fast becoming ca ompulsory question: ``Are you okay?''

``I was talking about s--- that I thought mattered, like incest. The word taboo makes my stomach sick. If Lenny Bruce had lived this sort of stuff he would have come out. He had jazz in him. He just played his notes. I wish he'd made it through his drug addiction and could have done more. He would have been funny plus.

``To me, that's the thing that's missing - to be funny about serious stuff. Henny Youngman, Milton Berle, they offend me. Milton Berle was a car salesman. He sold a joke on stage.''

To suggest that someone is the next Lenny Bruce is admittedly an eye-roller of the first order, until you've experienced the brazen and electrifying in-your-face rants of Shapiro.

``I wasn't born to pay homage to Lenny Bruce. I think I'm better than him,'' he says.

Maybe so. Because Shapiro has one thing going for him that Bruce didn't - he's a survivor.

Shapiro appeared at Yuk Yuks Superclub to March 7, 1999.



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