Comedian Paul Mecurio has a very specific gift list for his upcoming Des Moines shows
Odds are, you're familiar with Paul Mecurio's work. The comedian has won a Peabody and Emmy award for his work on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," he's interviewed Paul McCartney on his podcast, "Inside Out," and in a matter of days, he's bringing his brand of comedy back to central Iowa.
Mecurio brings his stand-up act to West Des Moines with shows at the Funny Bone, 560 S. Prairie View Drive, on Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m., and Dec. 17 at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets for the shows start at $17 and can be purchased at desmoines.funnybone.com.
Prior to his Des Moines stop, Mecurio corresponded with the Des Moines Register via e-mail to talk about his career, recalling his last time in central Iowa, his work on "The Daily Show" and his off-Broadway show, "Permission to Speak," which he plans to bring back and tour down the line.
Q&A with Paul Mecurio
Des Moines Register: I think the last time you were in Des Moines was in January of 2020, about a month before the caucuses and two months before COVID-19 hit the U.S. Do you remember anything from that show or that tour in general?
Paul Mecurio: I remember worrying about getting COVID and thinking, am I going to literally die from doing comedy (not metaphorically) and if so what a stupid way to go — telling jokes to people. I’d rather go having an amazing pizza and chocolate cake for dessert (I don’t have lofty goals). I do remember people saying we are glad you came out and did your shows and didn’t cancel because we are stressed with all the tension in the country AND this COVID thing and that we need to laugh. And of course I thought — “Damn, I should have charged more for tickets to my show.”
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The Register: What should people who may have been at that previous performance expect from this current stand-up set? What are some of the things you hit on? Did anything carry over?
Mecurio: I have new material for this show. Some of it focuses on how politically correct things have gotten and at times maybe too much so. I believe in political correctness but at times it feels the pendulum has swung too far and it needs to get back in the middle. In fact, one thing I hit on is, isn’t it OK to for me to be the guy in the middle, meaning do I have to believe 100% in everything you believe in (whether you are right or left) and if I deviate even one iota from your beliefs, then I am demonized and the enemy? That’s not a healthy place to be in our society. It seems people at times are looking to read nefarious intentions in the actions of others when there is nothing there.
For instance, my wife and I were walking our dog in the park and the law where we live requires one’s dog be on a leash. Our dog was on a leash but a gentleman’s dog was NOT on a leash and scaring people — it was a big dog and kids were around. My wife nicely pointed out to the man that “his dog should be on a leash” and the man got really aggressive and said, “Why? Because it’s a pit bull?” (Implying we were biased toward pit bulls). I responded, “It should be on a leash because it’s got a baby in it's mouth … because it has tattoos and is smoking Camels.”
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The Register: Since you were part of the original "Daily Show" creative team, what has it been like watch the show persist for the past few decades? What seems to have been the biggest change? Is there an element of the show you've been surprised to see persist?
Mecurio: It’s been great to see it persist. I was there until Jon Stewart left. Honestly when we first started (when Craig Kilborn was the host), I didn’t know how long it would last only because most TV shows don’t last. They get canceled early. I give credit to Comedy Central for letting the show find its audience (or the audience find the show). I think the core of the show has always been the same: parsing the news satirically. That’s been its strength. With different hosts, there have been changes to segments and elements surrounding the headline jokes but those changes never changed the core of the show in my mind. I’m very proud to be part of that show, which I won Emmy and Peabody Awards for.
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The Register: Given you have such a history of performance in film, television and theater, do you have a favorite project that you've worked on? Particularly, anything that you'd like to see talked about more?
Mecurio: Yes, my off-Broadway show, “Paul Mecurio’s Permission to Speak” is something I am VERY VERY excited about. It plays to my strength — improvisationally talking to people and getting them to feel comfortable to tell their own great, funny stories. Frank Oz directed the show. We are planning to take it out on tour and put it on TV or a streamer.
The premise is: we are nameless and faceless to each other but if we talk and take time to hear other people’s stories we connect because we realize we have more in common than we think. Things are incredibly divisive and probably will continue to be so for a while in the world so the timing of the show couldn’t be more perfect.
The stories have been jaw-dropping and fun. Like the guy who broke up with his girlfriend because she got arrested shoplifting at CVS. He wasn’t upset she shoplifted because he taught her how to shoplift. He’s been a low-level thief his whole life. He was upset that she didn’t heed his advice and not shop at CVS. He wanted her to shoplift at high-end department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom.
Or the woman who revealed she got her first name because her father insisted she be named after the woman he was having an affair with (yes, the man was cheating on his wife, who he got pregnant, and gave birth to his child and insisted the child be named after his mistress).
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The Register: As I understand it, you gave up a career in banking to start your stand-up career. Des Moines is mainly known as an insurance hub, but we've got a considerable number of banks based here. I doubt there's a lot of cross-pollination between Des Moines and New York, but have you ever recognized someone or been recognized by someone during one of your stops in the Des Moines area?
Mecurio: Yes, I’ve been to Des Moines a few times now and been fortunate to have a bit of a following so I have run into folks in town who recognized me — at least that’s what I pay them to do — come up and pretend they are big fans. And I have been recognized by the cops for running a red light, so I count that as something! I’ve always wanted to be a fugitive, like in the movies!
And I will look into a new auto and home bundle policy while I am in Des Moines — hoping I can get a discount since I will be at the Funny Bone and making Des Moinians (is that a word? ) laugh.
Also let me add if anyone coming to my shows wants to bring me a Christmas gift, I won’t turn it down. Here’s what I need:
Mint Dental Floss
Leather Wallet (with $1,000)
Lou Malinati’s Pizza from Chicago
Any car — 2015 or newer
Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Des Moines Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-600-2124, or follow him on Twitter at @IsaacHamlet.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Q&A with comedian Paul Mecurio of 'The Daily Show' before his Des Moines show