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First Night of Funny: 4 comics stick a fork in 2018

December 18, 2018 GMT

“First Night of Funny,” a four-comics show being held in New Haven and six other Northeast cities on New Year’s Eve, allows folks to have some laughs for a reasonable price, and often after a dinner nearby, as another year ends.

Comic Max Dolcelli, who lives upstate in Coventry these days, was a New York comic for 25 years, he says in a phone chat. He worked a lot on cruise ships over the years, but he’s cut back on that at 65 and this month will perform in the Poconos, Oregon, Virginia and in New Haven at the Shubert on New Year’s Eve in its sixth year of “First Night of Funny.”

His routine has changed with the times, he says.

“The stuff I used to do 20 years ago I can’t do anymore. You have to make fun of yourself; you have to make fun of your situations and make fun of stuff in general, like stores and flying, relationships.” No fat or handicapped references, or things remotely ethnic.

“Nowadays, everyone gets offended over everything,” he says. And most comics don’t have the name recognition of the late Don Rickles.

“When you’re a comic like me that never really ‘made it’ in this business — but we’ve been working for years and we’re very funny — we’ve got to prove ourselves every single time we hit that stage. (Although) people... audition us on YouTube.”

Born in Italy, Dolcelli was raised on “proper Italian” instead of the bastardized Neopolitan pronounciation of New Haven and some other tri-state areas. He studied acting in the 1970s before turning to comedy.

His long career led him to colleagues such as hippie comic Uncle Dirty (who inspired George Carlin), a Johnny Carson favorite named Ronnie Shakes (who died young), Jerry Seinfeld, Larry Miller and the late Sam Kinison, whom Dolcelli saw in Los Angeles and invited to New York to perform. Kinison said he didn’t know anyone in New York and Dolcelli told him he could stay with him.

“I just said it to be nice. I gave him my phone number; I fly back home and two days later, I get a phone call. (As Kinison) ‘Hey Max, this is Sam! ... I’m in Kansas City.’ I said, ‘Oh, you got a gig?’ He said, ‘No, I’m on my way!’ Kinison showed up with his girlfriend and his brother. “And they stayed in my house for almost two months.”

Dolcelli says the four-comic setup for New Year’s at the Shubert is as good as any.

“I’m not one of those comics where I have to be the headliner; I don’t really care,” says Dolcelli. “ I just care about the show. The better the show, the more people will like it.”

He says you don’t go into a show like this as a middle guy “and try to bury the headliner by getting really dirty and going long. That’s not really good for the show or even for anybody. I don’t hold back though; I go up there and I bang ’em pretty hard.”

He says this show’s booker, Tommy Nicchi of Comedy Works in Saratoga, N.Y., puts together a good show, and he knows one of the other comics in the show, Jaye McBride. The other two to perform at the Shubert will be Steve Caouette from Maine and Warren B. Hall from Chicago.

Dolcelli works occasionally at the Brew HaHa Comedy Club at City Steam Brewery in Hartford; he has also performed at defunct New Haven comedy club Joker’s Wild.

Asked if he jokes about his large family, Dolcelli says, “I do. I talk about my wife, relationships, my kids a little bit. Mostly observational stuff; I see things and I make fun of them later... Whatever you do that day, you could go onstage and make it funny, just talk about it. People could relate to it. There’s funny in almost everything.”

jamarante@nhregister.com; @Joeammo on Twitter