Comedian John Iavarone: ‘When do I get to be a jerk?’

Comedian John Iavarone survived a childhood as the only boy in a house with a single mom and four older sisters. “I was 12 years old still waiting to get my period,” Iavarone recalled. This wise-cracking, joke craftsman also brings a physical act (handstands!) that has made him popular at clubs, colleges and casinos all across the country. This week, he makes his first appearance in Kentucky, headlining The Caravan.

LEO: Are you looking forward to your first visit to Kentucky?

John Iavarone: I really am. I’ve heard from friends that the town is very cool, and everyone is really nice. And I’m coming for the whiskey.

So, are you a bourbon guy?

The club owner asked which one I liked. I said, ‘Seriously? I’m a performer. I like the one that’s free.’ I’m an Italian New Yorker. All I can pick out is a good Chianti. But how is it that a kid from the Bronx is as excited as I am to visit Kentucky? I’m really just looking forward to getting us all in one room to laugh together. It’s so important to laugh with each other now more than ever.

Comics have a rich history of speaking truth to power. Is that more essential now?

We talk about it all of the time. As an entertainer, it is my job to have you come in that room and laugh. Not fix anything, or speak my opinion. But to put on my cape, get my silly suit on and think about the funny aspects of life and current events. What do we all have in common? We’re all getting older. We all deal with significant others. A lot of us are raising kids. There’s no need to get into the complicated issues. I don’t care about your take on the history of Israel. Let’s talk about what’s on sale at TJ Maxx.

What was it like growing up the only male in a house with five women?

I told my mom that I didn’t mind wearing pink or purple hand-me-downs, because I knew we didn’t have much. But I’ll be damned if I’m wearing a miniskirt, especially if it doesn’t match my handbag. I was the last one, and mom was classic old-school Italian — she didn’t throw anything away. She’d give me a blanket, and I’d be like, ‘Ma, it’s got hearts and says, ‘I love David Cassidy’ on it.’ She’d say, ‘I don’t care. David Cassidy is keeping you warm tonight.’

I only have one older sister, and that was tough at times. I can’t fathom four of them.
I was 12 years old still waiting to get my period. I was seriously worried. And I was a little jealous, to be honest. Everyone else got an excuse to be in a bad mood. It was like: ‘When do I get to be a jerk for awhile?’

Were you the class clown?
I’ll take a diva step on that. I never did consider myself the class clown. I thought the class clown was a hack. Like: ‘Shut the fuck up — anybody can do that.’ I always wrote and told jokes growing up. But it was prepared stuff. I wasn’t just making fart noises in the back of the classroom. I was being a comedian before I knew what a comedian really was.

Do you remember the first joke you told on stage?
I do. ‘Growing up people told me to save my money for a rainy day. What the fuck? If I save money for a rainy day, all I’m going to buy is an umbrella.’ I look back at that tape and can’t believe it’s the same guy. It’s unbelievable how much more hair I had.

How is performing different now?
It’s a pretty physical show. I might pop a handstand on-stage and something else might pop, if you know what I mean. So these days I have to stretch before shows and mainline Aleve. That’s new.

Have you ever thought about writing a book about your life on the road?
I have. But it will only be 20 or 30 pages max. I promised people they would be able to read it cover to cover in the bathroom. Imagine the feeling of accomplishment if you came out of the bathroom and said, ‘I just read a whole book.’ People would be like, ‘Is your stomach all right?’ I would have to call it ‘The Chicken Cutlet Club.’ And if you see my show, you’ll find out why that has to be the title. •