Joe Piscopo on Frank Sinatra and Saturday Night Live
Joe Piscopo joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1980, after honing his stand-up chops at New York's Improv; he stayed with the show until 1985. During his SNL stint, he became known for such original characters as the Sports Guy, as well as celebrity impersonations of David Letterman and Frank Sinatra.
Piscopo will be in Denver this weekend for shows at Lannie's tomorrow, August 10, and Sunday, August 12. We recently caught up with Piscopo to talk about what fans can expect at those shows, as well ssd Sinatra, working on SNL, playing multiple instruments and his forthcoming musical comedy, How Sweet It Is.
Westword: You're going to be doing comedy, impressions and singing at your shows at Lannie's...what else can fans expect?
Joe Piscopo: I got out with a live band, which you don't really see much of anymore when it's a comedy kind of show. We do the music in a big way. It's kind of a retro-style from Vegas that I was kind of brought up on. I've always wanted to do a show like this, so I accidentally reinvented myself and just got into this. I get to work with these really great musicians and do a lot of the Frank Sinatra music.
I do the comedy stuff. I do everybody from Dave Letterman to Rodney Dangerfield and James Brown. We just have a blast on stage. You can pour it all on stage. It's something different at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret that you're not going to see anywhere else. And Lannie's is so intimate. That's what I dig because I'm always playing casinos. We just did a casino out there, The Reserve. That was great up there because they kept that intimate for me because I always prefer those intimate audiences so I can just wail on the instruments, do some jokes and just have a blast.
I knew you were a singer, but I was surprised to find out that you play guitar, tenor sax, keyboards, flute and drums as well.
I know. I'm a frustrated rock-and-roller from the early days. I studied piano formally and then when the Beatles and the Stones came in, a great era of rock and roll came in, I was just totally smitten with that. Of course, I picked up the guitar. And then I listened to the drums and I tried to emulate the classic drummers like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. I also dug the riffs of Mitch Mitchell who played for Jimi Hendrix. There are great drummers now -- Nick Menza's a great drummer from Megadeth -- but Mitch Mitchell just filled in. People don't understand that as brilliant as Hendrix was on guitar, Mitch Mitchell is on the drums. I really heard that. I could hear that when I listened to all those rock tunes. Now I just kind of jump on stage and make a living of living out my fantasies a little bit -- well, not all my fantasies, but almost all of them.
I heard that you were a big Jethro Tull fan in high school, which is one of the reason you started playing the flute.
There it is. Baby, that was it. That's so funny. Ian Anderson... You know what, I listened to that and thought, "How creative is that?" The '60s, man, I'm telling you, they had the greatest music of all time. It was just the base of rock and roll. After Elvis did his thing and all the great rock and rollers did their thing early on, those monster rock groups like Jethro Tull... Flute, a freakin' flute? I said, "What, are you kidding me?" I went down to the music store and said, "Gimme the flute." I learned that Blood, Sweat and Tears did a great song called "Flute Thing," which was based on a classical music piece by Satie. I learned that and I put that on that. We do it in a comedy way. It's always with a comedy riff to it.
I tell you what, man, there was some great stuff out there and I was fortunate enough to be part of a generation that had this great eclectic mix of great rock and roll, but always true to the standards because people want to hear the Frank Sinatra stuff.