by Ryan Meehan
Carmen Ciricillo has been touring nationally since 1990 and has created a humorous routine about life as a contractor which everyone can understand. In 1991, after an appearance at the Laugh Factory near Chicago, Carmen was asked to perform for the Northern Illinois Home Builder’s Association. That’s when the word spread about The Construction Comic. Since that day Ciricillo has performed for thousands of construction groups including The National Association of Home Builders, National Underground Utility Contractors, and The American Subcontractors Association, just to name a few. In 1999 Carmen portrayed the humorous tool man on The Discovery Channel’s “Your New House” television show and by 2000 he was a regular. Carmen wrote and performed almost 60 segments which aired daily until 2001. He went on to travel with NASCAR that season for The Michael Holigan Racing Team doing driver interviews and entertaining at the hospitality events. In 2003 Ciricillo received rave reviews after performing with Richard Lewis at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts for the Gilda Radner charity Gilda’s Club, and XM and Sirius Satellite Radio have been playing Carmen’s Construction Comedy CD to their audiences of over 10 million subscribers since 2005. Ciricillo’s act plays well for all groups because anyone can relate to it, but his core groups are those affiliated with the construction industry. He’ll be in the Quad Cities at Boozie’s Bar and Grill in Davenport on Thursday, July 9th. I’m assuming he’ll ask me to fetch him a left-handed pipe wrench from Menards and that I’ll totally fall for it, but at least I still have him as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: How would you best describe your first five years doing stand-up comedy? Were there any points where you felt discouraged enough to consider quitting; and if so what did you have to do in order to mentally pull yourself out of that rut and get back up on stage?
CC: Awesome. Really I had a great time going to the Cleveland Comedy Club every Sunday night for their contest. I won $50 the first time I ever performed and got hooked. I got booked professionally very quickly, and developed my first 45 minutes within a couple years. Comedy was very hot and bookers needed you. I moved up for the first five years, it wasn’t until year 10 that I got seriously discouraged enough to take a job – which lasted 4 hours – thank God!
RM: What’s the most rewarding feeling you’ve ever gotten from someone coming up to you after the show and telling you how much they loved it? Why do you think that specific interaction meant so much to you at the time; and how often do you replay that memory in your head?
CC: I don’t remember one specific person or time but when people will come up to me and say “You are so funny” – that’s really what it’s about. I also know how much they’ve enjoyed my act when they repeat a joke to me. The first time that happened it stuck with me.
RM: How do you go about taking terminology that only construction workers will understand and converting it into layman’s terms when you are performing at a comedy club where very few of the audience members are aware of what those words really mean? Has your approach to that process changed at all for you over the past twenty-five years, or did you realize pretty early on that you were going to have to find a way to convert that nomenclature into something that the casual comedy fan can still comprehend?
CC: I don’t use any technical terms in my construction act – 2 x 4 is about as technical as it gets. I actually have stopped doing my construction routine for public events, comedy clubs etc. My new show has zero construction and I don’t call myself the Construction Comic much anymore. Everything now is about my personal life and those around me, no holds barred.
RM: How did you end up opening for Michael Bolton? In what ways is warming up an audience for a musical headliner different than featuring for another comic?
CC: I got a call from the Theater. They had used me on a recommendation from another comic and it happened quickly. I didn’t treat the show any differently. I do a lot of shows where I am the only act or the only comic, so this was something I was used to.
RM: Given your primary and secondary professions, I would assume that you’ve watched “To Catch a Contractor” on more than one occasion…What do you like most about that show; and how does one go about using humor to lighten the mood in a situation where someone is paying you thousands of dollars to do what amounts to being very serious work?
CC: I don’t really watch Catch a lot. I am a big fan of Adam Carolla though. He is one of the smartest guys out there and he’s really funny. Catch is doing a great service. There are a ton of unlicensed individuals scamming homeowners that need to be stopped. Using humor to lighten a mood works – whether it’s thousands of dollars in wood or when the surgeon is about to put you out so he can chop out your appendix. You find out what’s funny in those situations and create a mini routine. You’ve seen this everywhere including Southwest Airlines – using humor to alleviate the fear of flying works – just got to be willing and interested in helping people reduce anxiety, fear, sadness whatever with wit.
RM: You’ve been in this business for quite some time now, long enough to remember what comedy was like before the internet became such an integral part of the industry…If you were to take the internet and comedy blogs out of the equation completely, do you think that the way the gatekeepers of political correctness who seem to review questionable material at every turn would have remained as quiet as they seemed to be in the early nineties?
CC: Yes, people don’t say much person to person. It’s easy to Tweet and make comments when you feel anonymous. I have one video on Youtube that people never watch, they just argue about the title Italian vs. Spanish which is not about any type of competition. It’s about whether I should learn these languages. People get very nasty. People who express their opinion about material they don’t like don’t bother me, it’s when they start asking for someone’s head or job because of that material -that’s bullshit. When I do write something that I know people might not like it takes a little extra strength to have the balls to do it. When I see someone take offense to some comment online I will sometimes get pissed, type out a response then delete the whole thing – it’s stupid to argue with those I don’t give a shit about.
RM: How did the project of “Real Construction Rock” come to fruition? What has the outlet of playing and writing humorous music been able to provide for you that you can’t get from doing stand-up comedy?
CC: Just a whim. I was writing a musical based on the life of Shaun T from the Insanity workouts and just said to my partner that we should write songs about the construction industry. Way too much time on my hands led to a full album which is actually pretty good. I like to do unique projects and have tons of ideas – I just met the right guy that is amazingly musical and we whipped it out. I thought we could sell it at Home Depot but we never really pushed it.
RM: You head up this Contractors Educational Services program which provides continuing education for Florida’s Licensed contractors…What have you learned about yourself as a leader and a teacher while helping those individuals forward their own skills at those positions? Do you start with the comedic material right away to kind of initially loosen up the room, or do you gradually work it in there as the seminars progress?
CC: I always start out with humor. It’s easier to teach subjects that people find boring if you’re funny or interesting. My job is to teach the required curriculum but my goal is to do it with the most relevant, up to date information and give them more than they expected. I hope to motivate and teach them. Comedy is huge but it’s not stand up that I rely on when I’m teaching. I would say I’m more personable and positive than actually being hilarious which makes for a solid upbeat day.
RM: Which stereotype of professional stand-up comedians bothers you the most and why? Do you think that inaccurate categorization regarding your line of work will ever change? Why or why not?
CC: None, I don’t have any problems with that. I know this exists but crowds don’t care as long as they laugh. I never hear at the end of the show people saying “Oh he was the typical hack comic doing jokes about Obama” I just hear he was funny or he sucked.
RM: How do you go about transitioning into crowd work within the context of your act? Do you set aside a certain portion of your set for that, or do you just kind of seamlessly transition into that type of banter as it happens?
CC: If someone is wearing a large black cowboy hat up front, crowd work will ensue. If someone is heckling the comic before me I will spend time making him realize he better shut up. If I’m in the middle of my routine I might ask a question relating to my act that could turn into crowd work. If the show is not monitored properly and the crowd is unruly then I have to use crowd work to get them to listen – then once they like me they usually police themselves. When I first started out I did a lot of crowd work because didn’t have enough material for the position. Lately I’ve been trying just to do just my show and avoid talking to the crowd because that’s more challenging to me.
RM: Which portion of the writing process do you struggle most with and why? Conversely, which aspect of the procedure would you consider to be your specialty, and why do you think you excel at that particular facet of your craft?
CC: I struggle with all of it, but that’s just the way it is. The hardest part is getting myself to Starbucks to write. Once I am there I look at previous premises and then write everything I can think of which leads to a new bit. I like to create a brief outline then try it out. If it works I spend more time expanding it. I don’t think I’m a specialist at any part but I am happy that I am becoming a more disciplined writer.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
CC: I am not pushing too hard to do anything that will take me away from my family. I am putting together weekly and monthly comedy events in Florida and have been working with someone in the Quad Cities to do a large theater show here. My Youtube page is starting to gain traction – I’ve been making videos that I call Carmenooch Life Lessons that give me a chance to rant and be humorous. Love the Internet because of this. I am writing another 30-40 minutes and just trying to become a better comic.
Official Website: http://www.constructioncomic.com/
Carmen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carmen.ciricillo
Carmen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bigcarmen
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