Fellow comedian, producer, host, filmmaker and awesome dude, Manoli Vozos is our feature spotlight this week. Manoli Vozos is from Union, NJ. He trained at New York’s Peoples Improv Theater, where he frequently performs – most recently with the sketch team The Foolhardy Manor and on the PITtv House Team Arthur Warburton. He studied Communication at Seton Hall University and has worked in Film and TV since graduating, on projects like Law & Order, The Good Wife and HBO’s Bored to Death. For three years, he has produced a monthly stand-up/variety show called Get Up, Stand-Ups, welcoming the talented NYC comedy scene to suburban NJ, bringing comedians from NYC and NJ a place to show their wit in the good ol’ Garden State, where the drinks are cheaper, the food is better and people laugh harder (There’s also no tunnel fees and two drink minimums). He recently produced a dramatic short film, Old Time Radio, for the TropFest, and is preparing a new hour of sketches with The Foolhardy Manor for a June run at the PIT. This is a guy who will always help friends with stage time and camera time, as well as giving other comedians, that sometimes get referred to him by other comics like myself and others the thing they love the most, stage time. Let’s give a hand to the friendly giant, Manoli Vozos.
Q. Do you think living in New Jersey made you want to become a comedian?
I would like to think that wherever I lived, I would still want to make a job out of making people laugh. Living in NJ has definitely influenced my comedy though, that’s for sure.
Q. Do you have any jokes based on New Jersey?
As the saying goes, “the truth is funny,” so when I tell stories about growing up as a Greek-American from NJ, there’s a whole lot of context that comes from just the setting of the story. I find that a lot of my material about being the son of an immigrant father and first generation mother are relatable beyond the specifics of our culture, but the NJ element makes it even more relatable (in this area). I do Diner jokes, which is about as NJ-specific as I get.
Q. Is there a difference between a New Jersey and New York audiences?
I think big picture the two groups have a lot in common, but when you’re starting out, you can feel some differences. I think NJ audiences are more open, they laugh more. A lot of times, in the low level shows, you’re performing for other comics who are hesitant to laugh because they’re either worried about their own set, feeling competitive against you or re-writing your jokes in their head as they listen.
Q. What made you want to do Stand Up comedy?
I did sketch & improv during & after college and I always enjoyed watching stand-up. I admired stand-ups for being in control of their performance. There are many rewards to working collaboratively, as you do in sketch and improv, but being responsible for honing your set and “directing” your own performance is rewarding in an individual way.
When an opportunity came to organize a show in NJ, I jumped at it, even though at that time most of my experience was not in stand-up. That show became Get Up, Stand-Ups and we’ve been doing it for about three years now.
Q. Do you have a preference? Stand-up or improv?
I enjoy both of them, though I haven’t done any improv shows in a while. I do use improv when I write though, to work stuff out. Especially when you get to the point where you’re saying things out loud, improvising out loud is so much better than brainstorming on paper. You have to hear the words together to know if it works.
Q. You perform both improv and stand-up comedy. What would you say is the most difficult to get comfortable with?
Improv is about trusting your scene-partners, so that relationship has to be strong. You have to be willing to go out on a limb and trust that someone is going to be out there with you. Often you’ll see people really extend in an improv show, personally, and when the other person in the scene grabs that and matches with something else true, it can be really touching as well as hysterical. So that trust is the most difficult thing. It takes time.
For stand-up, I think the most difficult thing is getting over yourself and being able to judge your work objectively, seeing how to hone your jokes, rewriting, economy of language, all that. Just knowing where your beats are and when to move on. This is a vast generalization, but I would say at least 75% of all comedy is too long.
Q. Who are your comedic influences?
My uncles are pretty funny and, as a kid, making my mom laugh was a good benchmark. Like getting someone to crack up to the point where dinner or whatever has to stop. That was always like a touchdown.
My grandmother is a big fan of I Love Lucy, so I watched a LOT of that as a kid.
Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy. I’m a big SNL guy and I also love classic stuff like the Dean Martin Show or Carol Burnett. Woody Allen. Louis CK.
Q. What would be your super power?
I’ve always wanted to fly. I think that would be fun to do. As long as I wasn’t too cold or too hot while flying. If I’m sweating it’s not worth it.
Q. Any advice for people wanting to get into comedy?
The more you practice the better you get. And put yourself in a position to meet people and get opportunities. Go to where the people are.
Manoli produces “The Get Up, Stand-Ups Comedy Show” monthly at 10th Street Live in Kenilworth, NJ. And can be seen Saturdays this June at The Peoples Improv Theater with his sketch team, The Foolhardy Manor.