WINNER OF 2019 BEST OF THE MIDWEST AT GILDA’S LAUGH-FEST
Vince Carone who has been described as “A ranting blue-collar rep for America’s true voice” is fresh off his 4th release “I Plead the First”. Since 2001, Vince has become known for his fast-talking, quick-witted, over-the-top rants, combined with a dominating stage presence. His ability to rattle off more material in one show than most could in a weekend is what keeps the crowd engaged during his verbal assault.
For the past 18-years he has made an underground name for himself in this business while building a cult following. With 4-current albums under his belt and a drive to continually deliver new material,Vince Carone has become a must see. The 36-year-old comedian is heating up and shows no signs of slowing down. His chaotic, cathartic, complaints are summed up by his own public service announcement: “Better check the Doppler, there’s a shit-storm coming your way!”
And now, let’s stop pretending like I didn’t write the above part about myself in third person. I promise you, my full bio and background aren’t all that interesting, but for those of you who can’t live without knowing every last detail about my career (nobody), here is a timeline from when I started my comedy journey back in 2000.
In December of 1999, I started writing jokes and comedy material (or what I would consider comedy material at that time) at my computer each night. For the next 6-months I would watch as much stand-up as I possibly could and also became obsessed with “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” In this same time frame, I started recording myself performing my material that I had written, in my room, as well as telling others in my class that I was going to be a stand-up comedian after graduation. I graduated high school in June of 2000 and had no plans of entering college of any kind, so I decided to pursue my plan of comedy. I signed up for classes at Second City at their suburban Arlington Heights, IL location. In July of 2000, I walked into my first class at Second City with my buddy Nick who had aspirations of comedy as well. Our teacher for the first few months was none other than Jason Sudeikis. Over the last 6-months of 2000 I learned the art of Improv and fell in love with the thrill of performing, getting laughs, and being able to use my skill of being quick on my feet. Finally, all the years of being a smart-ass, getting detentions, suspensions, grounded for weeks, and punched in the face were able to be met with “I was preparing for comedy”.
In February of 2001, I took the stage for the first time in my comedy career at a place called Improv Olympic in the Wrigleyville area of Chicago. On Saturday nights at midnight, Improv Olympic would host a midnight jam where they’d invite volunteers from the audience up to the stage to participate in Improv games. I was 18-years old and ignorantly volunteered to be a part of an Improv song. This game would involve 4-individuals who would get a topic from the audience. While 3 of the individuals would sing a “hook” that we would make up on the spot, 1-individual at a time would step forward and sing an improvised verse about their “hook”. The topic chosen while I was up there was “Goat”. I can’t remember all of the specifics about how this went down and it wouldn’t be funny in writing (or in person) even if I did, but what I do remember is that my hook was “Billy Goat” and when I stepped forward to sing, the final line of my song was something to the effect of “that goat sure ate a lot of grass, so I bent him right over and I fucked him in the ass”. Of course, fucking a goat made the drunks in the audience laugh and while it certainly wasn’t creative, it pumped me full of the drug of “laughter” that I felt like a star, even if only for a moment. A few months later I returned to the Improv Olympic stage where I volunteered again for the same game, only this time the audience suggestion was “Mr. Belvidere”. Once again, thankfully, I don’t remember all the details of what I sang, but I started showing signs of me being a one-trick-pony when my punchline once again involved anal-sex, only with Mr. Belvidere this time. I got laughs, but certainly not as many as I did when I talked about goat-fucking, and this filled me full of the drug of “dissatisfaction”, which turns out to be a major driving force in pursuing comedy constantly. If the laughs came the same way, every single time, then there would be no excitement, no thrill, no gamble, and no need to chase. Having to constantly chase after that validation is what makes you better, what makes you appreciate it, and coincidentally, what makes you never feel good enough. It’s the difference between a one-night stand and having to pursue someone for 10-months before you hook-up. Immediate gratification is a confidence booster, but an appreciation killer. And long, hard, work makes you appreciate the victory more, but kills your confidence in that “it took me so long”, “it was so hard”, or “maybe I’m not a natural”. Anyway, my point is - I kept pursuing that validation.
In May, with two killer (debatable) Improv sets under my belt, I took that stand-up material that I had been writing for the past year and a half and put it to use. I don’t remember the exact date, but I believe it was the second Thursday of May that year (which would put it at 5/10/01), I made my stand-up comedy debut. My friend Andrew Waple (from Second City) and I drove down to the Red Lion Pub in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago to perform our 5-minute sets. I had come to watch comedy here once before, so I could understand the layout of how this works. Andrew and I were both under 21, so we had to do our comedy and then leave. Being that we lived in the suburbs and had to drive downtown after work, we barely made it in time to sign-up on the open-mic comedy list (which is usually compromised of anywhere from 20-40 comedians). I dropped Andrew off at the door while I went to park the car. When I walked into the room, he said to me “There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, we made it on the list. The bad news is, nobody wanted the first or second spot, so that’s where you and I are going. Since you parked the car, I’ll go first and you can go second”. And with that, the host said “Ladies & Gentleman, Andrew Waple”. Andrew turned and took the stage, which was about 2-feet away from me and the other comedians that were jam-packed in this room looking to fake laughter until it was their turn to get fake laughs. Andrew went up and did some bit about firemen and some other stuff that I can’t remember. It’s not an insult, none of our stuff was memorable. I went up and did a joke about Afghanistan in which I called them “African Americans”, not as a joke, but due to my Geographical ignorance. From there I did a joke where I memorized an acronym of 26-letters that got a tepid applause for the sheer memory factor of it. Then I played a comedy song on guitar that I wrote called “Valentine’s Day”. It was a 4-minute song that dragged on, where the only real punch was a list of 50 rhyming masturbation terms at the end of it. Retrospectively, I definitely went over the allotted 5-minutes, which I wasn’t aware of at the time, but is really shitty to do as there are 38-comics after me waiting to do their time. Andrew and I did our sets and immediately left and got back in the car to go home. On the way home we asked ourselves “Did we just bomb?” To which, we were honest with ourselves and agreed that we did in fact, bomb. However, this wasn’t a deterrent for us as based on all of the research and books we read on comedy, all of the successful comedians stated “you have to bomb” or “you’re going to bomb for years”. So, we just believed that this was something we had to do to get better, we ignorantly didn’t view it as us being “bad”, we thought “this is the initiation”, “this is the right of passage”, “we are on the right track to getting good”. Young and Ignorant are great factors for comedy - without as much life experience and success, you don’t know what you don’t have and you can accept these kinds of harsh truths without ego getting in the way. A few weeks later, we went back to the Red Lion Pub and did another 5-minute set. I don’t remember much of this second time, except that I brought a few friends out to see me. I’m not sure why I did that, but apparently I wanted a third-party perspective on how much I sucked. I do remember that I ended my set with the same “Valentine’s Day” song, only this time, the host who was running the show set a 5-minute timer on the stage for every performer and when the timer went off, he came up and you were done. I remember the timer went off in the middle of my song, before I got to my amazing ending of “rhyming jack-off terms”. So, I basically played a 3-minute set-up with no punchline. Oh well, the joys of learning.
In July, my Second City training class got to perform at the main venue downtown for friends & family. My big highlight was showcased in a scene with a very funny female whose name I can’t remember at the moment. She was a great improviser and really knew how to carry the scene, where as I was just quick witted and would make sure to have a joke. The catch of the scene was that the stage was divided into three sections, each section would elicit a different emotion from us, the performers. So, section 1 was anger, section 2 was sexy, and section 3 was nervous. The audience would give a suggestion for the location of our scene and then we would go to work walking around the stage into the different emotion sections and getting laughs along the way for changing emotions. Our scene was set in a Burger King and I drew a big laugh when at the peak of our scene, I walked through all three emotional sections in the same sentence, changing my tone and demeanor through each one. The laughter drug was deep in my veins. The next month, a few friends fro my Second City class and myself signed up for a Friday night Improv show at the Improv Olympic again in Chicago. The Friday nights were different than the Saturday volunteer jams. The Friday night shows were called a “Cage Match” that pitted one team against another. Your team could do sketch comedy or Improv comedy. We were a group of 18-year old (or younger) improvisors that chose to improv our entire 20-minutes on stage. We went against a sketch comedy team of some 20-30 year olds that had their entire 20-minutes mapped out and full of laughs. Our team which we called ourselves “Age Against The Machine” asked for a word from the audience that we would build our next 20-minutes out of. The word was “betrayal” and from there, our team sprung into action. I was never a great character improvisor, I was much better suited for quick-witted remarks. In this 20-minutes, our team got a lot of laughs, but it was due to the work of the other performers on my team. I snuck in a few funny quips, but for the most part, my lack of character work actually dragged our team down. When all the smoke cleared, we lost the Cage Match to the other team by a few votes, which meant that they would perform as the reigning champs the following week, while we went back to do whatever kids under 20-years old do. Around this same time, I was playing bass in a punk-rock band with my buddies and we were having a great time writing and recording music. This exciting phase of my life really drew my attention in heavily. A few months later, in October, my Second City class performed downtown at the main stage again and got some great laughs. The success of the band and my greater love of stand-up comedy started drawing my interest away from doing Improv. I also realized through the lack of character work I could do, that I was better suited for stand-up where I was responsible for myself and could lean on my own wit to carry me through. The rest of the year was playing shows with the band while winding down my time at Second City. I would stop the improv classes at the end of the year.
This year kicked off with my band planning a cross-country spring tour. We booked a ton of shows and spent the early part of the year recording our first (and only) album called “Pick Up the Pieces”. When I look back, I wonder how much I “loved” the band versus how much the band was a safer way for me to be on stage. I was hidden behind an instrument and once again (just like improv), I had an ensemble around me. It didn’t matter at the time, because I was having so much fun in the band…but little did I know that the band was actually teaching me how to be a performer.
The underlying desire was to always be a front-man…and since I sucked at singing, I think that’s what drove me more into comedy. The itch for stand-up came back in early 2002. I remember I was working a day-job in the cell phone tower industry and I went downstairs on a print out of all the “comedy” places that I could find in the Chicagoland area. I found one that was about 15-minutes from my house at a place called “The Prairie Rock”. In the basement of The Prairie Rock was a weekend comedy room called “The Comedy Spot”. I reached out to the gentleman who booked it and was told that they didn’t do an open mic night, but that he would give me 5-minutes on a Saturday night, which I would find out later is called a “Guest Spot”. I was stoked to be able to scratch this itch known as stand-up comedy. I knew that I would be playing my Valentine’s Day song, but what I didn’t know was how I was going to lead into that song. The show was in early March of 2002 and I remember that my parents and grandparents came out to the show to see me perform. I’ve always been lucky to have such a great support system. It’s so necessary in those early days when you’re sucking and shitting the bed every time you’re on stage that somebody is there to say “you did great!”. You don’t believe them, but you accept the compliment in lieu of sucking on a tailpipe. I got to the show an hour early and walked around thinking of a few opening lines I could use that would lead me into my song. It’s baffling to me now how unprepared I was for this then. I went out on stage and nervously did my few jokes that would lead to my song and then launched into my song. Being that this was a paid audience on a Saturday night versus an open mic night with a room full of comics, I actually got some really big laughs during the song. The end of the song got a HUGE (relative) applause and laugh. I went well over my 5-minutes, but never heard a word about it. Instead, I left the stage on cloud nine feeling like I was living my dream. I then sat in the crowd to watch the rest of the show with my family. I don’t remember the features name but I remember he did a joke about seeing his girlfriend’s used tampon in the toilet and thinking it was a dead rat. I don’t remember it for it’s funniness, but rather my dad commenting on it later and saying it was gross. My dad has a great sense of humor and so if he said it was gross, then I knew it was. After the feature performer, they brought up the headliner “Jim Wiggins”. Jim was a legend in comedy circles who had the moniker “The Last Hippie In America”. Now, let’s bounce back a little bit. When I was growing up, my parents would take my sister and I on vacation to Las Vegas with them frequently (foreshadowing to my gambling addiction in later years). Well, due to the fact that we had to do family friendly stuff out there for my sister and I, we always went to see comedians. I remember seeing Gallagher out there when I was 13 and got a piece of a pear smashed into my mouth during his finale. Well, one time when I was 13 or 14, my parents took us to The Riviera (RIP), and into The Riviera Comedy Club. The host that night was Jim Wiggins, which I never would’ve remember all those years later if he didn’t have such a distinct look to him. So, you can imagine now that as a 19-year old, how excited I was to be performing with a comic that we paid to see in Vegas 5 or 6 years prior. I felt like I was making it to the big-time. Jim couldn’t have been nicer to me before, during, and after the show. He used me as a reference for many of his jokes in his act, most notably when he mentioned “semen” on stage and said “Vince, you know what I’m talking about, I heard your song, you have a whole jar full of that shit at home!”. He was a class-act all the way. I would have another encounter with Jim Wiggins at a later time, but let’s stick with 2002 for now.
Right after I did this performance in March, I decided I wanted to lean into comedy a little more. In my internet searches, I stumbled across a stand-up comedy class in Ohio. It was once a week for 4-weeks with a graduation show at the end of the 4-weeks. I don’t remember how much it cost, but it seemed reasonable for me. I never heard of a stand-up comedy class before, so I thought this was great…a place to go and learn the art of comedy. I called up whomever ran the class in Ohio and explained that I was going to commute once a week out to Ohio and take the class. He appreciated my determination, but informed me that a gentleman named Dobie Maxwell actually ran a similar class in Chicago and that I should take that to make it more reasonable for me. I don’t remember if I signed up online or called Zanies in Old Town Chicago and signed up, but the next thing I knew, I was going to be starting stand-up comedy classes in mid-April of 2002. The 4-weeks of the class went by rather quickly and all these years later, I don’t remember vivid detail of it. What I do remember is going through some worksheets on joke-writing structure, going over on-stage/off-stage etiquette, and getting up on stage in front of the rest of the class each week and getting some comfortability behind the mic. At the end of the 4-weeks, there was to be a graduated show where we would invite all of our friends and family to pack the club and then Dobie would tee us up to have a great set. He talked about this moment throughout the weeks leading up to it and promised us it would be a night we would remember. We were to get to the club a few hours before the show to do a practice run through of our sets. Dobie mentioned that we would have about an hour off before the show to go get our minds right and he also mentioned that there’s always one person who doesn’t come back between rehearsal and the live show due to feat…but really encouraged all of us to do so. I had a few friends coming down to the show that night, but even knowing that, I thought that I was going to be the one to bail on the show between rehearsal and performance. I was so nervous as this was going to be my first true-time doing stand-up comedy without having a guitar with me. Somehow I managed to swallow my nerves and hang in there for the show. I don’t remember where in the line-up I went, but I know that I wasn’t first or last. I went on-stage with mostly one-liners for my jokes such as “I was born in September of ‘82 which means my parents had sex in December of ‘81, it’s not pleasant to know that you were the result of a holiday sympathy hump”. Not gold…or even tin by any standards. However, these were the jokes at the time and the crowd (bless their hearts) laughed and we walked away that night riding the highs of comedy.
Two weeks after this show, my band loaded up the conversion van we just bought and headed out on our first tour with stops in Peoria, IL, Warrensburg, MO, Colorado Springs, CO, Mesa, AZ, and Las Vegas, NV. Back then, I wrote a tour diary about our experience, which you can read here if you want to see how lame it was to be 19 and in a band. The remainder of 2002 involved the following: playing more shows in my band, getting laid off my corporate day job and collecting unemployment/temping for the remainder of the year, going on another band tour out East, and having our band break-up in December of that year. For those of you wanting to know what our band sounded like - it was shitty pop-punk music and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. Here are a few songs we did: