The inaugural Martha’s Vineyard Comedy Festival will present three comedy shows on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, Aug. 14 through 16. Events include a tribute to comedy pioneer John Belushi, which features a presentation of the Boston Comedy Club’s first John Belushi Larger Than Life award to Judy Belushi-Pisano, Island resident and widow of the famed comic.
An Evening With John Belushi features The Blues Brothers film and classic Saturday Night Live skits, culminating with a ceremony presenting an award to Ms. Belushi-Pisano in honor of Mr. Belushi’s contributions to comedy as well as introductions of attending celebrities and special guests.
The award will be presented next Monday evening at The Strand Theatre in Oak Bluffs during a free admission tribute event, said Jim Mr. McCue, comedian and organizer of the Island event. Doors open at 6:30 pm and seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Island comedy festival is produced by the Boston Comedy Club. In a telephone interview this week, Mr. McCue explained the award.
“John Belushi changed everything in comedy. His work on Saturday Night Live broke all the barriers. Remember, at that time, only Johnny Carson was doing character skits regularly on live TV. John challenged everybody and everything. You can’t measure how he and that cast changed comedy. He lived on the Island so this is a night to celebrate him and the award in his memory,” Mr. McCue said.
“Honoring Judy seems right for the first John Belushi Larger Than Life award. We plan to present it every year to a comedian who embodies the humor and style of John Belushi,” he said. Mr. McCue said the 12-year-old Boston Comedy Club has national impact through its touring comedy troupes and a show on Sirius Radio. “And it’s also a local event because Judy is such a strong presence in the Island community and a supporter of Island arts,” he said.
“I am delighted that the Martha’s Vineyard Festival has chosen to honor John’s work and to establish an award in his name. He himself was awarded the UCLA Jack Benny 11th Annual Award, of which he was extremely proud,” Ms. Belushi-Pisano said this week.
“The plaque he received reads: ‘…in recognition of his outstanding contribution in the field of entertainment, thereby enriching the lives of people all over the world.’ There is no doubt in my mind that laughter is not only good for your belly, but for your spirit. I am forever grateful to those laugh-crafters who better our well-being — wisecracker, jokester, prankster, clown — those brave souls we call the comedians,” she said.
The laughs begin Sunday night up-Island at Nectar’s on Airport Road when Nick Di Paolo takes the stage at 9 pm. Tickets are $20, available at the door or on ticketsmv.com. A national comedy headliner in clubs, he has performed on major TV comedy networks and late shows, Mr. Di Paolo also has several film and television acting credits in “Beer League” and “The Sopranos.”
Mr. Di Paolo’s brutally honest performances remind us of what great standup should be: funny, socially relevant, and a little bit reckless. He began his career in his hometown of Boston and two years later made the jump to New York, where he found his seething, sarcastic style was welcomed with open arms by New York audiences.
A critic has described his work as “Gentle as a starved wolverine and as predictable as a tipsy-hop through a minefield, Nick Di Paolo is an experience constrained only slightly by the demands of standup comedy.”
On Tuesday night, Aug. 16, the festival moves to Sharky’s Cantina in Edgartown for a 9 pm show featuring Steve Sweeney, “The King of Boston Comedy” joined by Mr. McCue. “I”m the new guy,” Mr. McCue told The Times this week. “I’ve only been doing this for 20 years.”
Mr. Sweeney’s Charlestown “nay-ba-hood” accent belies an advanced degree — an MFA from University of Southern California — and a strong sense of the social and political verities of tribal Boston. Mr. Sweeney assumed the regal comic mantle from best friend Dick Doherty whose continuing comedy career spans five decades.
Mr. Sweeney was part of a group of unknown comics, including the Island’s Lenny Clarke, Jay Leno, Steven Wright, Bob Goldthwait, and Kevin Meaney, who came out of the comedy clubs in Boston in the 1970s to become headliners in several entertainment media. Mr. Sweeney was the first of the group to cross over from standup comedy to film and television, appearing in “Park Street Under,” a sitcom which preceded “Cheers.”
Mr. McCue features thought-provoking material and improv skills with a style that encourages audience participation. He has been featured on Comedy Central, Comcast Comedy Spotlight, NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” and “Roughing It” on NESN in his native New England. He also founded and currently runs The Boston Comedy Festival, New York Comedy Competition, and Cheers Comedy Club. He works in top comedy clubs in Boston, Las Vegas, New York, Dublin, Montreal, Sydney, and Edinburgh.
Since 1999 he has also entertained U.S. troops at more than 100 bases around the world. An account of his experiences performing for the troops has recently been published in “Embedded Comedian,” which he describes as a “field manual for comedians in a war zone.”
Martha’s Vineyard Comedy Festival: Sunday, Aug. 14, Nick Di Paolo, 9 pm, Nectar’s. nectarsmv.com.
Monday, Aug. 15, An Evening with John Belushi, 6:30–9 pm, Strand Theatre, Oak Bluffs.
Tuesday, Aug. 16, Steve Sweeney & Jim McCue, 9 pm, Sharky’s Cantina, Edgartown. marthasvineyardcomedyfestival.com.