When you think of comedy in Western Mass, Chicopee has become a flagship in recent years.
Visions of The Hu ke lau are some of the first to pop into my mind when I consider where to pick up my laughs locally. In the past 50 years comedians like Johnny Carson, Steve Martin, Jay Leno, Jaime Foxx, Tracy Morgan, Jerry Seinfeld, Jaime Kennedy, and many more have made stops in this area. In addition to comedy finding its way here, great comedians have also grown and bloomed from Western Massachusetts.
Chicopee native, Mike Lemme, is returning to home base and bringing the laughs with him next month on June 29th. Lemme has been performing since he was a teenager, and cites Chicopee as an influence for his passion. Now Brooklyn based, he has recently debuted his first play at the 2018 FRIGID New York Festival, titled 50th & 4th, receiving great reviews. His show Help Wanted came to be Lemme's first stand up film that resulted from his self-funded 15-night Off-Off-Broadway residency that took place at the Under St. Marks Theater in 2016. Now, Mike has set off on a summer tour with comedian TK Kelly (Tosh.0) and will be stopping by Gateway City Arts for a night of great comedy presented by our friends at DSP Shows.
Hi Mike, Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions and give our audience a chance to get to know you a bit better. Why don’t we start with what brought you to comedy?
I started doing stand-up at my 8th grade talent show and have been piecing together a career ever since. My first experience with any kind of stand-up was watching Conan O’Brien deliver his monologue on reruns of Late Night. I remember how cool it was to see him break from the routine and acknowledge when a joke didn’t go well. He found a way to be in the moment, which would always result in something funnier than what he had prepared.
I don’t know why, but I wanted to do that. Performing has helped me express myself in ways I still have trouble doing without an audience.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career, I know you wrote and produced the off-Broadway play 50th & 4th and you worked on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ as well as CONAN and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
In college, I was lucky enough to intern for both Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien. I loved every second of those two semesters. Being able to work in 30 Rock every day then getting to be in the same building as Conan was surreal and well worth the insane amount of student loan debt I may never be able to pay off. (Get your tickets now!)
After college, I moved to New York City to pursue comedy and was once again lucky enough to land a gig at ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’. I was basically an assistant but told everyone I did stand-up, which led to me filling in for the studio audience warm-up comedian a few times. Once when my dad was at the taping. That was awesome.
Now, I’ll skip over years of odd-jobs, questioning my life decisions and that one time I used all my credit cards to rent a theater in NYC for 15 nights to tape my last hour, Help Wanted and get to the most recent past...
In 2017, I started writing a play called 50th & 4th, inspired by my first roommates in NYC, a married couple I found on Craigslist. The show went up for five nights as part the 2018 FRIGID Festival at the Under St. Marks Theater in the East Village, the same theater I rented for 15 nights.
I was able to pay the cast and director for the show by launching a successful kickstarter campaign. The show received some really good reviews and the whole experience was a big life lesson in learning how to work as a team and shut up instead of responding to emails right away.
Mistakes lead to better decisions next time, hopefully!!
Do you have a preference between writing or performing?
I loved writing the play and working as a group to create the best script possible, but I was only able to listen to everyone’s notes because of my stand-up background. You want the show to do well so you’ll keep working on it until you don’t bomb up there.
While working as a team was fun, I love performing more. The immediacy and solo aspect of performing is more comfortable to me, right now.
I know you’re originally from Chicopee, were you exposed to a lot of comedy growing up out here? Can we expect to see any local themes in your stories or humor?
The Chicopee comedy scene is thriving right now thanks to Marty Caproni and Jermey Goff. There wasn’t much of a scene when I was starting out, but I would bounce around to different showcases and open mics featuring hilarious comedians like John Moses, Jennifer Myszkowski, Artie Rob, Dan Paquette, Kim DeShields, Steve Nagle, Ann Podolske and many more.
All my friends in high school were hilarious and I wanted to be as funny as them. I just needed a microphone, stage and them to not respond unless it was silence or laughter.
Everything I do is influenced by growing up in Chicopee. I’ve grown to really love Western Massachusetts.
Now you’re out in NYC, primarily, how has that transition been and how has it influenced your comedy?
Chicopee raised me but New York will always feel like home. I love everything about the city. I feel like I’ve gone from being a lost kid to an adult trying to create his own path in only six years. I only moved here six years ago, but it feels like I’ve lived a number of different lives out here just to pay rent.
New York has made my comedy more about the present instead of the past or hopeful projections for the future.
I’ve read a bit about how you address a lot of dark topics in your shows, which I think is prevalent in a lot of great art and comedy as a whole. Do you consider it to be a survival tactic or coping mechanism by any means?
That’s a great question. At first talking about the darkness was a coping mechanism but it slowly started to feel like a survival tactic or a crutch. Therapy (and writing the play) has made my comedy a lot less dark. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to ditch that crutch. How can I perform when things are going well and still be interesting? That’s what the new show is about. Being present instead of deep in old darkness that can’t be changed.
Do you have any funny tour stories that you don’t mind sharing with us?
I was in Glasgow doing three shows one night. For the last show, the closer had to leave early so we switched spots. My material started off bombing (lots of references that didn’t translate well) so I dropped the prepared material and basically had a 20 minute conversation with a bunch of people in the basement of a bar in Scotland. It was beautiful.
I think comedy has the ability to reach people in a totally different way than a lot of other art forms or performance arts. What do you hope people who come to your show get from it?
I just want people to have fun and enjoy the moment. Being present instead of on your phone. Maybe realizing your problems aren’t so bad because you have this weirdo onstage making fun of whatever’s going on in his life. Hi, I’m that weirdo. Did you get your ticket yet?
What should people be prepared for when they come to this show? How is this show different from your prior work?
Hahaha I love this question. It’s like my shows should have a warning label on them. It’s going to be fun. Probably the most fun show I’ve done in a while.
I’ve been getting obsessed with Bowie and Jack White lately.
Jack White did an interview with Conan once where they talked about how you prepare so much for the show that when you get out there, you need to know you already put the work in, get out of your way and just play.
Get out of your way and appreciate the moment. I’m going to play and have fun. That’s the plan.
Learn more about Mike Lemme by visiting his website.
Read what people are saying about his recent show, 50th & 4th here.
Buy Tickets for Mike Lemme and TK Kelly at Gateway City Arts 6/29 here.
Visit gatewaycityarts.com to see what great events we have coming up this summer.
Check out our friends DSP Shows to see what diverse acts they are bringing to the area!