Mario Cantone preps for 'rare' standup show in West Nyack
"Sex and the City" star Mario Cantone is tweaking the sequel to his Tony-nominated "Laugh Whore," and fans who catch the comedian's stand-up sets at Levity Live this weekend may see glimpses of his new one-man show.
Cantone presented a work-in-progress version of the follow-up with five performances at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal last month. And because the new one-man show is his primary focus these days, Cantone says his live stand-up appearances will be fewer and farther between.
"I don't like playing clubs; this is a rare thing for me," Cantone said about appearing at Levity Live, citing loyalty to the comedy venues owned by Chris and Steve Mazzilli, and the occasional gig at Tarrytown Music Hall. "I really love [the Mazzilli brothers], and that's the only reason why I'm doing it. But the audience will be great, so I'm looking forward to it. It's something I'm forcing myself to do, because I need to refine the material here and there."
Like "Laugh Whore," Cantone's next one-man show already incorporates his requisite Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland impersonations, and introduces at least one addition in Bruce Springsteen. And although Cantone performed audience-suggested impersonations on the fly for "Laugh Whore," he doesn't see himself expanding his improv comfort zone.
"I used to be really good at [improv] when I was in college," Cantone said. "There was a group called the Emerson Comedy Workshop, with Denis Leary and [the late 'MadTV' producer] Lauren Dombrowski, and we used to do stuff like that -- create sketches out of that, but I haven't kept that up. That's a real art."
One thing Cantone has kept up is his friendship with the "Rescue Me" star.
"He was a real champion, Denis, and he still is," Cantone said. "He's a good guy, I adore him and he's so talented."
Many comedy fans learned about their friendship through Leary's Comedy Central roast, which featured Cantone on the dais. Cantone said he participated in that roast, and another one for Joan Rivers, because they're his friends, but has since opted out of future roasts.
"I didn't want to sit there and be the gay punching bag for two hours," he said. "The Denis roast was funny, because all those guys, I have a history with, and he had a history with. That's why that was such a good roast: We all knew each other. It was, like, old-school. With the new roast [format], you don't know anybody [personally]."
Since leaving the dais, Cantone has thrived in other comedy platforms. He's big on the talk-show circuit, both by night, whether the host be North Salem resident David Letterman or former Saugerties resident Jimmy Fallon, and by day, as a frequent guest on "The View."
One of the reasons he makes such memorable appearances: He seems to have an emphatic, hilarious opinion about everything. For proof, ask him three questions about his tiny cameo harassing Ralph Fiennes' character in the Academy Award-nominated movie "Quiz Show."
Ask him what he now thinks about his performance in the movie that was released in 1994: "I watch it and say, 'I was beautiful then. I look like a young Desi Arnaz Jr.'"
Ask him about working with the movie's director, a Hollywood legend, and he'll say, "It was great working with Robert Redford. It was wild, because he put his arm around me and walked me down the street. He let me improvise and do anything I want. And all I could think was, 'I used to fantasize about you when I was a kid.'"
But don't get him started about how "Quiz Show," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Pulp Fiction" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" lost the best-picture trophy to "Forrest Gump" at the Oscars: "I saw [Forrest Gump] the day it came out and said, 'This is awful! This is the worst movie! Are you kidding me? I can't wait to read these reviews.' And then the reviews came out and they were, like, all raves. And then I was like, 'OK, is there something wrong with me?' Horrible. Sorry."
Long before Cantone appeared on "Sex and the City," many TV viewers in the tristate area discovered him as the host of "Steampipe Alley," a variety show that ran on WWOR-TV from 1988 to 1993. The Sunday-morning series was supposedly geared toward kids, but his subversive sketches, celebrity impersonations and obscure references made the show equally popular among adults -- earning a "52 percent adult audience," according to Cantone.
"It was probably one of the most creatively freeing experiences of my life, because I basically used those children as props," he said. "I didn't care. I had Judy Katschke, who was the only other writer on the show, and she really wrote most of it. And we just got away with murder. Unbelievable. It was pretty great, because it was like doing 'Saturday Night Live' for kids."
A few years after "Steampipe Alley" ended its run, Cantone captured the eye of a much larger audience, playing wedding planner Anthony Marentino on "Sex and the City."
"It made me international, first of all, which is bizarre," he said. "When you go to France and Italy, and people are flipping out, it's pretty wild. And it also just upped my visibility a lot. But when people just know me through 'Sex and the City,' they don't really know what I do."
What he does -- or most wants to do -- is perform, preferably on stage, whether it be through his one-man shows or others, such as his Broadway roles in Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!" or Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins." The five shows at Levity Live, he said, will be a proving ground for some of the bits for his new one-man show, which he hopes will open this spring or next fall.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "It needs a little more work, but it's good."
IF YOU GO
Who: Mario Cantone
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23; 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24; 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25
Info: Levity Live, 4210 Palisades Center Dr., West Nyack; 845-353-5400; www.levitylive.com; $30, with a two-item minimum per person