by Ryan Meehan
If laughter is the best medicine, prepare to be heavily medicated. Tom Cotter’s high energy, rapid-fire style of comedy leaves audiences clutching their sides and rolling in the aisles. Recently, Tom became the first comedian to ever reach the finals of NBC’s“America’s Got Talent”. His runner up finish on the show has catapulted him to the comedic stratosphere. Before his historic run on the world’s largest talent competition, Tom won the Seattle International Comedy Competition, the grand prize at The Boston Comedy Festival and was voted “Best Stand-Up” at The Las Vegas Comedy Festival. He has become a familiar face on television shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC’s “Last Comic Standing”, The Today Show and his own series, TWO-FUNNY, on The Women’s Entertainment Network. Other TV credits include CBS’ The Late Late Show, Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend”, Comics Unleashed and a Barbara Walters Prime-Time Special among many others. Since moving to New York City, Tom filmed his very own Comedy Central special, “Comedy Central Presents… Tom Cotter”, and was featured in the Miramax film, “Next Stop Wonderland”. Tom has performed at over 300 colleges and wide variety of venues the world over, from London to Beijing, to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. He has also been featured in dozens of television commercials, for products like McDonald’s, Doritos, Pepsi, and Amstel Lite, just to name a few. Tom’s star is rising quickly, and he’s our guest today in 7 Questions.
RM: You grew up as the youngest of six children where your father was a neurosurgeon…So how did you end up being a political science major?
TC: Not one of my father’s six spawn went into medicine. We all saw how hard he worked, how stressed he was, and how rarely he was around for school plays, lacrosse games, etc, and we all collectively said screw that. The goal was for me to go to Law school. At Denison University, many students with aspirations of Law school were history majors or political science majors. I also interned at a law firm, and I was a summer police officer on Nantucket during college. Once I graduated, I took the LSAT, and told my dad that I would apply to Law schools after I got this “Comedy Thing” out of my system. That was 25 years ago. Comedy has always been in my blood. The Ebola virus is new, but the comedy has always been there.
RM: How often are you asked about the whole “losing to a dog” thing? Do you feel like in a way you will always be associated with the Olate Dogs? Is that something that you’re cool with?
TC: I am extremely cool with it. I have a great deal of respect for the Olate Dogs. People think that coming in 2nd to canines has filled me with bitterness, but on the contrary, I never expected to be in the finals, let alone the runner-up, so anything past the semi-finals was a bonus for me. I was the first comedian to reach the finals in the history of the show, and I like to say that I was the top human that season. Eventually, the truth will come out that they were getting performance enhancing puppy treats from Lance Armstrong, and they will be stripped of their title, making me the champion of season 8.
RM: During “America’s Got Talent”, you did this piece where you had Howie Mandel select a topic to talk about and then you just ran with it…Was that an idea that you had and then discussed with the producers; or was it the other way around? You didn’t seem nervous at all during that segment…How were you able to keep such composure when you knew you were going to be put on the spot like that?
TC: I was at a comedy festival on Nantucket with my wife, and I woke up at 5:00 AM with that epiphany. The original idea was a giant Juke Box on the stage, where a judge could make a selection from the “Joke Box”. The producers and I decided that it might be too confusing for the home audience, and so I went back to the drawing board and came up with a more simplified concept of “Comedy On Demand”. I wanted to show the judges and the millions at home that I had been performing stand-up for a quarter of a century, and had built up a vast arsenal of material. I practiced every night at multiple Manhattan comedy clubs leading up to that night, so I was confident that no matter what topic the judge chose, I could bring the funny. Many of my comedian peers warned me against doing it as it might appear to gimmicky, but I had to raise the bar, and try to distinguish myself from the other acts.
RM: How do you prepare for corporate gigs as opposed to when you are working a club for the weekend? Do you feel obligated to deliver a message with your comedy that is somewhat motivational; or do you just let it fly?
TC: Corporate gigs generally pay the best, but there is a fair amount of stress affiliated with them. They usually prefer you to work very clean, and to avoid ruffling any feathers, so you feel like you are walking on egg shells. People are so politically correct these days, that they are almost looking for a way to be offended, so you have to avoid any material that might set off their PC alarms. Clubs, on the other hand, have a much more Laissez faire attitude, and that freedom to do or say whatever you want on stage is comforting to a stand-up. If my comedy motivates someone, so be it, but that is certainly not my agenda. I don’t preach on stage. My act has no socially redeeming value other than to cause laughter. Laughter is the best medicine, and my act relieves painful itching and swelling. I’m also available without a prescription. Consult your physician before beginning a laughter regimen. (common side effects included teary eyes, facial redness, snorting and loss of bladder control). Laughter,…is it in you?
RM: You’re married to a comedian (Kerri Louise) who was also on a network television talent competition…What’s the best part about being in the same industry that your wife is?
TC: The best part is knowing what your spouse is going through, and being able to assist with knowledge, insight and emotional support. Being a married comedy couple also allows us to diffuse potential arguments with humor or sarcasm. If you can get your betrothed to giggle when he/she is at a boiling point, that is a gift. The down side of marrying a comic is the distinct lack of health insurance and a retirement plan.
RM: It’s been over ten years since you filmed your half-hour Comedy Central half-hour…When was the last time you watched that; and are you the type of guy who just picks every little portion of his performance apart? What was the one thing that stood out to you about your performance on that special when you first watched the final cut?
TC: We are always our own worst critics. Watching that special, like watching any of my past performances, is far less enjoyable and far more analytical. I study my voice inflection, my pace, my gesticulation, my clothing, etc, and pick them apart individually. That’s how you get better. Then I look at the things that were out of my control and pick those apart. The lighting, the sound, editing, all fall under my critical wrath. For that particular special, the editing and my wardrobe were particularly offensive, but all in all, I’m proud of the special.
RM: What’s the biggest mistake that you think younger comedians make that will never go away? Why do you think that’s the case?
TC: The biggest mistake is trying to be something or someone that you are not. We all emulate certain comics, and it’s ok to follow someone’s lead when you are starting off, but you eventually have to find your own persona and character on stage. I was at a club in LA about 5 years ago, and all of the new comics were trying to be Dane Cook. It was one Dane Cook clone after another, and I wanted to slap them all and say “NEWS FLASH: YOU ARE NOT DANE COOK!!” I was also pretty dirty when I started out, and I didn’t realize at the time that it was limiting me. Headliners didn’t want me to open for them, because it’s hard for a clean act to follow a dirty one. Bookers were afraid that I might offend someone, and as a result, I was denied much needed stage time to develop my act. I finally got it through my thick head that I could still be edgy, without being filthy. That was a turning point for me.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
TC: Rehab. We shot a pilot in November, and it is being shopped around as we speak, and this is a very active time of year on the TV side with castings and auditions. We will be shooting a 1 hr special in 2014, and putting together another CD. Another “On-Camera” highlight will be my 2nd colonoscopy in March. I’ll also be touring a lot in 2014.
Official Website: http://www.tomcotter.com/
Tom on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tom.cotter.33?fref=ts
Tom on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TomCotterComic
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