After a disastrous open mic debut at Laffs Comedy Caffe in the early ’90s, former Tucsonan Craig Gass almost gave up on his dream of becoming a comic. He never forgot those meanies who mocked his stage fright that night. Now with a promising career in comedy and voice work, he’s having the last laugh. In a recent e-mail interview Gass, 39, tells us about the taping of a live comedy CD at the Rialto, growing up in a deaf household and why Steve-O was thrown out of the Gene Simmons’ roast.
Question: Tell me about your childhood and how your family situation helped prepare you for your current job?
Answer: Well, I grew up in a family that was deaf. Everyone – my mom, dad and sister are all completely deaf. I couldn’t learn how to talk from my own family, (so) I learned how to talk by watching TV and copying all the voices I heard. I emulated most of the unusual voices I heard on TV, which to this day I still do – from Christopher Walken to Adam Sandler to Tracy Morgan to Sam Kinison. The weirder the voice, the easier it is for me to do it. And I never got an accent from the Bronx, which was next door to where I grew up before I moved to Tucson in 1979.
What did you do before becoming a stand-up comic in 1993?
I got fired from every Wherehouse Records store in town. I managed local bands from the time I was 15 (1985) until I was 23 (1993). Bands like Treachary, Cosmic Boogie Tribe. I loved music, but I had no talent. The one thing I was good at was picking up the phone and helping bands get gigs.
From what shows or movies would people recognize your work?
The celebrity voice impersonator from “The Howard Stern Show”; Miranda’s “Weight Watchers boyfriend” on HBO’s “Sex and The City”; “The new guy” at Kevin James’ work on CBS’ “King of Queens”; The Roast of (KISS’) Gene Simmons, with Jeff Ross, Andrew “Dice” Clay, Lisa Lampanelli, Jim Norton, etc. I’ll make my debut on FOX’s “Family Guy” this fall, doing celebrity voices (I’ve only done one episode so far, but they say they’ll use me more, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed).
What’s been the coolest or most memorable project you’ve worked on and why?
Either “Sex and the City,” because it was so graphic, or “The Roast of Gene Simmons,” because the roasts are so much fun, and so many comedians are trying to get those spots to perform. It’s hard to get on.
Also, something weird happened at the roast that was never explained, and I’m the only one with the evidence of what happened. During the show, you see Steve-O from “Jackass” getting thrown out of the event, but they never explain why. And the reason for that is, it happened during a break in filming. But it happened RIGHT NEXT to me, so I flipped open my camera phone and snapped an amazing photo, which you can see at myspace.com/craiggass. Go to that page, click on the photos, then the “Gene Simmons Roast” photos, and you will see an amazing picture of Steve-O From “Jackass,” relieving himself on Danny Bonaduce. Check it out. And you’re welcome.
Why did you decide to tape your live album in Tucson?
Because last year I did a show at the Rialto, which was the first time my mom and my sister ever came out to see me, so I had to hire deaf interpreters to sign the entire show. (I still have) the visual of the interpreters having to act out every filthy thing I did onstage. One interpreter was really into acting out all the raunchy stuff, and the other one was clearly uncomfortable. It was a comedy show within a comedy show. I realized at that moment, “I gotta film this.” And it’s perfect, because most of my material is about experiences I had growing up in Tucson, so it’ll sound way more familiar to certain people.
Which schools did you attend here and what kind of student were you?
Walker Elementary (You always have to leave out the Lulu part if you’re a guy), where I may have given Ms. Burkle a full-blown coronary. I also went to Amphi Jr. High, and (had) a loooong career at Amphi High School. I had TWO senior years, and I STILL don’t have my diploma. But, I got to go on TWO different senior trips to Mazatlan, which was cool. I attended TWO different 10-year reunions, and this year I’m planning on attending my SECOND 20-year reunion, for my second senior year, which I’m excited about. That’s how easily I get excited.
Do your parents still live in the Old Pueblo?
Yes, my mom is still in Tucson. She lives right down the street from an eegee’s, thank God, or I wouldn’t visit as often.
Is Gass your real last name? I bet you got teased a lot in school.
Yes, believe it or not. And, yes, I got teased ALL the time! I even remember Ms. Emery and Ms. Festger in fifth-grade reading class after one of my outbursts, saying, “Ohhhhh, Craig . . .You’re such a Gass. . .”
You played Miranda’s “glazed doughnut boyfriend” on “Sex and the City.” What was that like and how did you prepare for the role?
HBO told me, essentially, that they can’t actually ask me to put on weight (so I would look like I belonged in Weight Watchers), but if I didn’t fatten up they would probably have to change the material around to fit the script better. I ended up putting on over 35 pounds for the role. My first day on the set I actually had to perform that sex act with Cynthia Nixon for 19 hours, from 6 in the morning until 1 a.m. the next morning. It was, in a word, awesome.
Which famous people did you like imitating as a kid and why?
For no good reason, that guy from the Gordo’s commercials. I was a really, really weird kid.
What is your dream job?
I’m doing it. And I can’t believe it. After doing an open mic night at Laffs in 1990, being so awful and nervous that I barely got out the words, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” and bailed out after 30 seconds. My hands were shaking so bad I couldn’t even get the microphone to fit back in the stand. Then, the single most terrifying moment in my life happened: I went back to my 30 friends who I had invited to come out, and we watched as almost every single performer on the open mic said how horrible I was. No jokes, just, “Where is that guy? That was AWFUL.” Very painful, and it stuck with me for years. I finally decided, with the nudging of a friend named DC Collins (who was a DJ at KLPX at the time), to go back and really get revenge on all the comedians who ripped on me that night. And I got lucky. Really, really lucky. I get to perform with all my favorite comedians, from Dave Attell to Dave Chappelle to Chris Rock. I get to watch the best of the best for free before and after I get off stage.
What does your show consist of?
A LOT of dirty jokes, but I am a good person. Impressions of celebrities doing really graphic acts, and stories about growing up in Tucson: cruising Speedway, desert parties, that weird hat on Bob from Bookmans.
IF YOU GO
What: Comedian Craig Gass’ stand-up show
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.
Price: $21, $23
Info: 740-1000, www.rialtotheatre.com