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What's it like for a comedian to bomb? Glen Anthony has to sit down to talk about the trauma of stand-up. "OK, you ready?" he says. "You fall asleep somewhere. You wake up. You forget where you are. And you have no clothes on. Then you stumble through a door stark-naked. A spotlight hits you, and there's five hundred people staring at you. And you have to stand there for 45 minutes. Does that give you a feel for it?"
Think of Dudley Moore on his worst day. Add a marble-mouthed riff with echoes of Brooklyn, a black-and-white jumpsuit, sneakers, a particularly aggressive cologne. Ladies and germs: Glen Anthony, professional comedian, at home.
Sitting in a small alcove off the dining room of his spotless Smithtown house, dead-center on a brocade couch, dwarfed by its enormous pillows, Anthony says, "If I knew how painful it was going to be, I never would've done it. You have to go out there and take the arrows." Is he talking about the fake ones you put on your head to try to make people laugh? Maybe.
To dodge the barbs, Glen Anthony, 45, retreats to a home that is like a haute bourgeois fantasy in overdrive. The dining room has a baronial-manor theme with a two-ton table and high-backed chairs. He has earned this abode by being, not Long Island's best comedian, certainly not its worst, but perhaps its busiest.
"The thing," he says, "is to do everything. Senior shows, comedy clubs, conventions, firehouses, stags. Every kind of audience you can get your hands on. Some comedians make a mistake by only doing their act. That's stupid. The only time you can just do your act is when you're famous." Which Anthony is not. He adds, wistfully, "Then, you don't have to go looking for them."
Before he was Glen Anthony, he was Enrico Ponzini of Bay Ridge, a kid who sang lead in the church choir and was able to wail on guitar, piano, bass, drums, sax and harmonica by his early teens. When he decided to sing professionally, he was warned by an agent, "If I say I got a singer here named Enrico Ponzini, it's strictly Sons of Italy shows." It was time to find a new handle. "I always wanted a short name. Brad? Cliff? Derek? Scott? I picked Glen. Anthony was my father's name. I know, very mayonnaise, you know what I'm saying? But I use another name in the comedy clubs. You ready? I just developed it, great name, greatest you'll ever hear. You ready? Eric " He pauses. " Moneynipple."
Glen Anthony describes the day he left singing to become a stand-up comic as a huge moment, Saul blinded by grace on the road to Damascus. "I was at a place called Kutsher's, upstate, I'm rehearsing a band, it's awful, getting worse and worse," he recalls. "Opening for a comedian. I watched his act. I'll never forget it." His voice becomes a hush. "A tall resplendent guy in a tuxedo. I thought, 'What command! What majesty on that stage! Just one man in a spotlight.' And I said,"he's whispering now" 'Jesus Christ, that's what I want to do.' " Silence.
Who was the comedian?
Back to the rat-a-tat-tat delivery. "I always forget his name. I'll think of it. I want you to write it down when I remember it. Bob Nelson! No, no, Bob I'll think of it."
Since that Catskills epiphany, he hasn't had time to look back. He's a pro and he rarely bombs. If one block of material isn't working, he switches to another. The absurdity-of-life block: "How come nowadays when a man talks to a woman about sex it's harassment. But when a woman talks to a man about sex it's three dollars a minute?" The nothing-works-for-me block. "I saw an ad in the paper: If you have a drinking problem, call this number. I called, it was a liquor store." The my-father block. "My father goes to the doctor. Doc says, 'Do you have mutual satisfaction with your wife?' My father says, 'We don't need it. We got Allstate.' "
After talking about something called the collective comedic intelligence ("I should write a book!"), Anthony gets practical, describing his "train-wreck theory of comedy." An example: "Old man takes his girlfriend, an old lady, home to his apartment. He's performing oral sex on the living room floor and says, 'You're very dry tonight.' She says, 'You're licking the rug.' "
He waits for his guests to finish laughing. "Now, why did that happen?" he says. "I led you down a track. Three people involved. He's licking the rug, she wants sex, and you're wondering where's this going, what the hell's going on? And it all hits at once. Train wreck."
Some of his best wrecks are preserved on videotape. In one, you see Glen Anthony, gorgeous in a tux, pinkie ring, big watch, working 750 people in Jersey. He's slaying them. "See that tux," he says quietly, always the analyst. "You wear that thing, you can say shit and make it sound clean."