“I’m married to a PhD in psychology. She got fourteen ninety on her SATs. I got seven forty. She mentally lapped me. I have a friend who weighs four hundred fifty pounds. He says me marrying my wife is like him dating his nutritionist.”
At 13, New Rochelle’s Joe Matarese would retreat to his basement when he wasn’t getting along with his parents, which was most of the time. He’d throw on an album and shake his introverted, adolescent angst—but not with the help of Springsteen or the Stones. Instead, it was the comedy of Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and Richard Pryor.
It was a much later personal interaction with another one of his favorites that had a lasting impact on him.
“A friend and I went to see Bill Cosby at The Apollo,” Matarese recalls. “After the show, we got a chance to talk with him. He heard we were comedians and, the next thing I know, he asked his assistant to grab a few stools and he invited us to sit down there on the stage of The Apollo. He talked to us like a mentor and spoke a lot about dealing with insecurity.”
Now that Matarese has 26 years in the business and a résumé that includes a regular spot on Chelsea Lately, a Comedy Central special, and appearances on Letterman, MTV, and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, you might think that he’d have no use for Cosby’s advice on insecurity. Not so. Not even close.
“I’m one of those comedians with problems. It’s not a gag. It’s definitely true. That’s the hook in my act and I talk about things like my antidepressants, ADHD, my insecurities, and anger problems. My anger problems are bad enough that I’ve got a whole CD of just me yelling at hecklers.”
Oh, and did I mention Joe’s wife’s line of work? She’s a psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
Working one’s neurosis into the act isn’t exactly a new angle. Combining it with technology? That’s different. “Every comedian has a podcast these days. Mine is called ‘Fixing Joe.’ I invite guests on and, every week, I talk about my problems and they try to fix them.”
A couple of years ago, when Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange attempted suicide, his first stop back in public was on “Fixing Joe.” The podcast had more than 120,000 downloads in the first day.
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Matarese has been developing his act for nearly 20 years. It was six and a half years into comedy that MTV featured him on Spring Break with other comics, including Margaret Cho and Andy Dick. He also chased the comedy brass ring all the way to Hollywood.
“In the nineties, I saw a lot of friends getting lucrative television development deals. It was the time when everyone was looking for the next Ray Romano or Jerry Seinfeld. It seemed to make sense for me because my act was very autobiographical.”
He got the development deal, signed on with Will Smith’s production company, and the show got bought by NBC. Matarese teamed up with a big-time sitcom writer and things were looking good. At least, that is, until he had to read for the NBC executives.
“I was so nervous, I swear you could see my shirt move from the pounding in my chest. I read so fast and I don’t think I got any laughs. That is, until I walked off the sound stage and thought I closed the door behind me. I let out this huge breath and doubled over letting out all my anxiety. That broke them up.”
The show, however, wasn’t picked up and Matarese returned to the Northeast and his first love of standup.