From New York, with laughs
NEWPORT NEWS, Jan 21, 2013 (Daily Press (Newport News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Bobby Collins remembers the first time he really thought about this career.
He was a kid in New York City, watching TV with his parents and listening to them laugh.
"I grew up in Queens -- that's the borough where all the poor slobs live," Collins said. "My parents worked hard, and the only thing I remember making them smile was watching Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights and Red Skelton on Tuesdays. It was the comedians -- guys like Slappy White and Richard Pryor.
"I would be watching with them too, and I remember looking back at them and thinking, 'This is what makes them happy. This is what takes them out of the hard world they live in and takes them somewhere else.' The next time the teacher asked us to write about what we wanted to do with our life, I had to ask her how to spell comedian."
Collins has been doing that job for more than a quarter-century now, and at age 58 he still does more than 200 shows a year. He will be performing at Cozzy's in Newport News on Friday and Saturday nights.
He has been playing theaters for many years now, not small clubs like Cozzy's. But he said all it took was one enthusiastic phone call from owner Lorrain Cosgrave to sell him on this gig.
"It's great to play a really cool, old-fashioned club like that," he said. "It reminds you of your roots. You can get close with the audience, get some give-and-take going with them in a way that's harder in a theater or a bigger place. You're right up close with the audience and everyone's laughing with you -- it's a great feeling to be connected like that."
Over the course of his career, he's had regular gigs as the opening act for stars such as Cher, Dolly Parton and Julio Iglesias. He has served as host of VH-1's "Stand-Up Spotlight." He has opened shows for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
In a phone interview with the Daily Press last week, he launched into his topical material before the first question was even asked.
"Can you believe people these days " he asked. "They're talking about arming school teachers. Why don't we just cut out the middle man and strap holsters onto the kids Look, I'm from New York. I know about guns. But there are so many people out there who are just crazy and shouldn't be having guns."
He talks about a couple of ladies he encountered in a convenience store in Arizona recently.
"I asked them if they were police and they said no, but they had the right to carry guns with them," Collins said. "Well, you could just look in the one woman's eyes and see that she wasn't right. I'm from New York. I know crazy. This woman wasn't right."
He gets frustrated today watching younger comedians who seem so angry on stage, and who seem to have no focus or point of view to their material. "Part of the dumbing of America," he says.
He notes with pride that The New York Times described him as "the most natural comedian in America." That's what he wants to be -- a guy who talks to his audiences, converses and communicates with them.
Collins said he aims for a good mix of new material and familiar bits that his fans already know, but he always tries to lead off with the newer staff.
"That's when you can be your most creative," he said. "You do the new material before they start calling out for stuff. That opens them up and gets them laughing, and when I see that, it opens me up, too. By the time you get to the older material, they're ready to go right with you."
WANT TO GO
What: Comedian Bobby Collins
When: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18, and 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19
Where: Cozzy's Comedy Club & Tavern, 9700 Warwick Blvd., Newport News.
Tickets: Admission to the special event shows is $22. Reservations and information by phone at 757-595-2800 or online at cozzys.com.
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