PASADENA, Calif. — When he was a little boy no one would listen to him, says standup comic Paul Provenza. But he found laughter a way to cut through the white noise.
Though he came from an extended and loving Italian family, his parents were by-the-book disciplinarians.
“My father was very stern, strict, so the idea that, wow, doing standup comedy means people are actually letting you say something you want to say — that they’ll sit and listen to what you have to say, regardless of what it is — just that fact alone I zeroed in on that,” he says seated in the vinyl booth of a coffee shop here.
Comedy served not only as a communicator but a leveler, says Provenza. When he was small, he suffered from amblyopia, a condition known as “lazy eye.” Because of that he lacked depth perception.
“My depth perception was experiential rather than visual so I would just know by experience, so consequently I was always knocking things over. I would trip and fall and all that sort of stuff, and break my glasses and have a good hunk of scotch tape on them,” he says.
“And then I went to the movies and saw Jerry Lewis … So every time something would happen — I would knock into something or spill something or bump into things — I would just do Jerry Lewis. I learned very early on if you can take this thing which was the bane of my existence and at least try and have some fun with it, make people laugh from it, I learned early on if you make people laugh it changes things.”
He’s done standup comedy since he was 16 and, as a result, has a high regard for others who do the same thing. Provenza has parlayed his interest in comics into a new show, “The Green Room with Paul Provenza,” premiering June 10 on Showtime.
He assembles a group of comics into a sort of salon setting and lets them go. He got the idea in Europe, he says.
“As intimate as comedy can be there are still layers of distance — of craft and technique. Their work is different from who they are. It’s a huge expression of who they are, but I thought, ‘What if you could take those layers away and you could really see what I see?’ The viewer could have the experience that changed my life when I started going to the Improv in New York and found I’m not alone.”