Jim Florentine’s comic success was born out of another vocation aimed mainly at heavy-metal music, and he has his two older brothers to thank for that.
Raised in a Catholic family of seven kids — which by itself provides a wealth of laughable material — Florentine literally had heavy metal blasted into his brain by his siblings when the three were in their formative years in central New Jersey.
“I grew up in Monmouth County with two older brothers, and I’d be in the back seat of the car when they’d blast heavy metal constantly,” says Florentine, who performs 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23, at the Showboat, and 10 p.m. that same day at The Playground Pier, in a gig that show producer Matt Bridgestone will open. “So I had no choice but to like it.
“And of course, back in the day it was considered rebellious and taboo to like heavy metal. So the fact that my parents hated it made me love it even more. My mom would be like ‘I don’t want an Ozzy Osbourne album in this house.’ He was like the devil back then. Now he’s doing Verizon commercials.”
Florentine, 53, started in show-biz as a DJ, and for eight years — 2008 to 2015 — hosted a heavy-metal talk-show series called “That Metal Show” on VH1. He continues to produce a popular comedy podcast on iTunes called “Comedy, Metal, Midgets” in which he rants on everyday observations. In February he will release a book called “Everybody Is Awful (Except You!)” that consists of podcast-episode snippets.
“The book’s basically transcripts from my podcasts with me riffing about things like social media, dating sites and other stuff, and I just pick them apart, basically,” he says.
Florentine produced a string of hit CDs called “Terrorizing Telemarketers” that, through a connection to comedy potentate Howard Stern, led to Florentine’s voicing two of the best-known recurring characters on a hysterical Comedy Central show called “Crank Yankers.” The show was based on recorded crank phone calls and staged visually using puppets.
“When I put those CDs out, Howard Stern starting playing them on his radio show, and Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla, who were big Stern fans, heard it,” Florentine says. “They were just getting ‘Crank Yankers’ together and they tracked me down, and the next thing I know I’m on this TV show.
“That was a huge boost to my (comedy) career,” Florentine says. “At first I thought ‘Who’s going to care about this?’ I figured the show would last like one episode, and it was on for four seasons.”
While the podcasts tend to lampoon general topics, Florentine’s standup routine is usually more personal.
“They’re more about what’s going on in my life, what it’s like raising my kid as a single dad (of a 7-year-old son),” he says, noting that a lot of the comedic ammo he gathered stemmed from that large Catholic family.
“Being in Catholic schools your whole life, and with seven kids in the family, you’ve got to have a good sense of humor,” he says. “All of my family are wise asses, including my mom and dad, so that certainly helped shape me. You’re always sort of competing, and then, of course, there’s plenty of material that comes out of the Catholic religion and going to Catholic school.”
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When he is not touring, Florentine hones his comedy craft in the New York City comedy clubs where he got his start in the mid-1990s. He said that brash comics such as Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay were big influences for him, and for several years Florentine and fellow New York City comic standout Jim Norton were Clay’s opening acts.
“When I was younger I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but having always worked the s***tiest jobs you can imagine, I was at least able to identify what I didn’t want to be doing the rest of my life,” Florentine says. “I had to find something that motivated me.
“I was a big music guy and wanted to be up on stage, I just didn’t have a talent for music,” Florentine adds. “I used to DJ and had a reputation for being funny, and when I saw (Clay) come out on a Rodney Dangerfield special — wearing that leather jacket, smoking a cigarette — I thought, man, he’s like a rock star up there! It was the same with Sam Kinison. They were like rock star comedians, and that lit the fuse for me. They helped me know that comedy was the avenue I was going to take. And once I got on stage and got that first laugh, that was it. I was addicted.”
Florentine said it took about six months to work up the courage to take that first step on stage.
“When you’re DJ-ing in a booth or on the radio, you know there’s people out there but you’re by yourself. You know there’s nobody looking at you,” he says. “In standup it’s different, but once I got over that fear it was like ‘Who cares?’
“It takes a while to get to that point, but once you do, that’s half the battle. The other half is that you have to be funny.”