'Green Room' lets comics be themselves
By Luaine Lee
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
When he was a little boy no one would listen to him, says standup comic Paul Provenza. He found laughter a way to cut through the white noise.
Though he came from an extended and loving Italian family, his parents were by-the-book disciplinarians.
"My father was very stern, strict, so the idea that, wow, doing standup comedy means people are actually letting you say something you want to say — that they'll sit and listen to what you have to say, regardless of what it is — just that fact alone I zeroed in on that. 'Wow, that's cool,' " he says.
While other youths plastered their walls with rock musician posters, Provenza displayed a gallery of comics like the Marx Brothers, Monty Python and Robert Klein. "When I discovered George Carlin, he was for me like friends who played the guitar who heard Hendrix for the first time. He taught me that I'm not necessarily crazy — I might be," he shrugs.
He's done standup comedy since he was 16.
Provenza's new show, "The Green Room with Paul Provenza," premieres Thursday on Showtime.
He assembles a group of comics into a sort of salon setting and lets them go. He got the idea in Europe.
"I lived in London for a year and worked out the format for 'The Green Room.' As intimate as comedy can be there are still layers of distance — of craft and technique. Their work is different from who they are. It's a huge expression of who they are, but I thought, 'What if you could take those layers away and you could really see what I see?' The viewer could have the experience that changed my life when I started going to the Improv in New York and found I'm not alone. There are other people who appreciate which Marx Brothers movie has the money being thrown back and forth behind this guy's back," he says.
"As different as we (com-ics) are from one another the thing we all had in common is we weren't like everybody else. And I felt for the first time part of a real community. Whatever was wrong with me, they accepted me if I was funny about it."
Provenza, 52, has also done writing and acting. He co-starred in "Beggars and Choosers," did a few episodes of "The West Wing" and "Northern Exposure." But the acting ranked second, he says.
Still, he went through a fallow period when he wasn't sure he wanted to be funny anymore. "What I did was I took a little time off from standup and realized I wanted to perform again. I'm now very much in the moment, and it's not about furthering my career. ... I think of myself in a very romantic way as some artist in a garret in Paris where maybe I paint a painting someone likes, or a sculpture that nobody likes — it's just project-by-project."