Mario Cantone, whose rapid-fire, over-the-top humor entertained audiences at the first Woodstock Comedy Festival, returns on Saturday, September 16, to headline this year’s event, the fifth annual comedy fundraiser for Family of Woodstock and the Polaris Project against human trafficking. New York comic Caroline Rhea will lead the Friday night Laughingstock! program, which highlights cutting-edge young comedians Aparna Nancherla, Gina Brillon, Maeve Higgins, and the winner of the festival’s “5 Minutes of Fame” stand-up contest, Erin Maguire. Following the 8 p.m. performance at the Bearsville Theater on Friday, an after party will be held at Cucina on Mill Hill Road.
Saturday (September 16) afternoon’s events at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts include a 1 p.m. live table reading of “The Funniest Scenes in Movies,” as actors and comics reenact immortal film moments. A 3 p.m. panel discussion on “Comedy in the Age of T***P” attempts to answer such questions as: What role does comedy play with the current climate in the White House and around the country? Can you outdo the absurdity? Is it okay to laugh when the world seems to be ending? Reflecting the humanitarian goal of the festival, at 5 p.m. at the Woodstock Library, the Woodstock Library Forum and the Golden Notebook Bookstore present Chong Kim, survivor of human trafficking, speaking about her experiences and her memoir, Broken Silence: A Triumphant Journey of a Human Trafficking Victim to an Inspirational Advocate.
Cantone takes the stage at the Bearsville Theater on Saturday night at 8 p.m., with a following party at Commune Saloon. Two movies will be shown at Upstate Films on Sunday. At 1 p.m., Where Have You Gone, Lou DiMaggio? highlights a screenwriter’s attempt return to stand-up, with coaching from his former cohorts Larry David, Colin Quinn, Suzie Essman, Joy Behar, Jeff Garlin, Chris Rock, and others. Let Yourself Go is an Italian feature film with English subtitles, winner of the Golden Globe (Italy) for Best Comedy, about a psychoanalyst and a personal trainer, presented at 3 p.m.
Cantone has long been a presence on Comedy Central and is also an actor, perhaps best-known for his role as Anthony in Sex and the City. He has appeared on Broadway in such shows as Love! Valour! Compassion! and The Tempest. His resemblance to a fellow Italian-American, Anthony Scaramucci, led to recent sketches on Comedy Central’s The President Show, in which Cantone impersonated Trump’s foul-mouthed communications director who was fired after ten days of service.
We spoke to Cantone by phone, a week before his Woodstock performance.
You grew up in a suburb of Boston. Why don’t you have a Boston accent?
I’m an actor. I was a theater major at Emerson College in Boston. They drummed the accent out of you in speech training.
How did you get started in comedy?
I was short, gay, and Italian, so of course I did comedy. I got into stand-up in high school, doing talent shows. I listened to Robert Klein, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor. At Emerson, I joined a comedy group. Dennis Leary was the leader, and it was the hottest thing on campus. I went on to do comedy clubs in Boston. Later I went to L.A. because I wanted to act, and in 1983, I moved to New York City.
Your stand-up show is so intense and relentless. How do you get the energy to do it?
When I was younger I was just like that. The older you get, the harder it is — you have to rev it up. But I love doing it, I love that form, in a theater, with a band, I get to sing and do impressions, and I’m doing it the way I love doing it. That’s what gives me the energy. On Broadway, doing seven shows a week was really tough. I worried about my voice all the time.
Do you sing professionally or just as part of your stand-up show?
No, I wish I did. I love singing. My husband, Jerry Dixon, and I have been together 27 years, and we do a show together in the Lincoln Center Songbook Series. He’s a Broadway actor and director, and the show is about our relationship. There’s some talking, but it’s mostly music.
What’s your method for creating impressions of celebrities?
I pick someone I like — or hate — and I just try on the voice. If it feels right and works, I do it. Some you have to work on more, and others come right away. Some people I have to study and watch.
Do you get much flak for your ethnic humor, or do people take it in stride?
No, most of it’s Italian, about people from my family. People don’t have a problem with it. And if they do, let ‘em come get me, I don’t give a shit.
What can people expect from your show in Woodstock?
It’s in the same style as the last show I did there but all new. I have a new Liza Minelli number, a new opening number. I tear up reality shows, which I hate. There’s some political stuff and how reality shows have affected our government. TV, pop culture, the experience of flying, travel, people I’ve met. I had a great time when I was in Woodstock before, I remember it strongly — and it’s for a good cause. When I’m there, I feel like Micky and Judy: “C’mon, let’s put on a show!”
The Woodstock Comedy Festival will be held Friday, September 15, through Sunday, September 17. For schedules and tickets, see http://www.woodstockcomedyfestival.org.