Though standup comedy and incarceration have had their connections (I'm talking to you, Andy Dick), Felon O'Reilly may time on the West Coast when I wasn't in a blackout!”
Your past is anything but funny; how do you find humor in your life?
I think some of my past IS funny! It's not funny when you are in the middle of all that insanity, but I think one of the reasons I survived all the shit I put myself through is I was always able to laugh at a situation. I probably got that from my old man.
How old when you first were arrested?
I was 16 when I got my first pinch, although I was getting brought home by the cops at 14. My first pinch was for fishing without a license. Seems it was all down hill from there.
How many years total have you been in prison?
I guess around 10 years when you add it all up, perhaps a little more when you count all the parole violations. The longest stretch was three years. I was looking at life sentences on more than one occasion. I was indicted by the feds in 1990 as an armed career criminal. That carried a minimum mandatory 15 years . — got lucky on that one too!
What were the charges?
God! Everything but rape and homicide! A lot of assaults, drug charges, and a whole lot of larceny and theft. I think the first incarceration was for assault and battery with a deadly weapon on a police officer. I think I did a year on that. It's not as bad as it sounds, He was trying to bust me for dope and i ran him over. so they considered the vehicle a deadly weapon. I got away with the dope though!
What's the funniest thing that happened to you in prison?
I could tell you funny stories all day about prison! I guess one of my favorites was the time this Vietnamese kid came to me with his Vietnamese to English dictionary. One of the problems he was having was getting to use the shower. There were four single showers for a hundred plus guys. He finally managed to make me understand that he wanted to learn how to say “Can I be next?”So he goes over to one of the showers, nothing but a towel on, and yells to the guy in there. The problem was instead of “Can I be next?” I taught him how to say “Wanna touch it”! All hell broke lose and the guy in the shower was chasing him around the unit. I finally had to intervene so the kid wouldn't get killed. I ran into him years later on my last bid and we laughed our asses off again!
What's the universal truth about comedy?
If you can tell a joke and not offend the person it's directed toward, then it's funny. I was doing an uptown bid (state prison) in Massachusetts my last time in. I went up to two tables in the cafeteria. There were 33 Hispanics, so I stood there and told a Hispanic joke. There was dead silence for about 15 seconds, a very long 15 seconds, then they all cracked up laughing. I knew i had delivered it well when i didn't get stabbed.
What other comics do you admire?
I grew up watching Jackie Gleason, and Rodney Dangerfield; they had a huge impact. Lenny Clarke, another Bostonian, was a real role model. In fact it was Lenny who convinced me to try comedy. I think Margaret Cho is a genius. The funniest guy I ever worked with is George Hamm out of Portland, Maine. There are a ton of them — but they never did any prison time. Not yet anyway.
Mon., Jan. 26, 9 p.m., 2009