John Pinette is hungry for the funny
If life is a box of chocolates, you can bet John Pinette will work through them all.
In the world of standup comedy, the plus-size Pinette is known for three things: his act is all about food, he works totally clean, and he’s as nice a guy as they come. I’m not here to dispel any of those notions, but a 20-minute telephone conversation with him proves that none of those descriptions is 100-percent accurate.
Pinette’s Still Hungry tour, which hits Vancouver on Friday (October 26), alludes to his famous love of eating because that’s what he’s best known for. But he says it has another meaning, too: “It’s really about the fact I’ve been doing this 26 years and I can still find new things to talk about and still love doing it more than I ever have.”
Make no mistake, though: while he will steer off-topic on occasion and even riff extemporaneously, he knows where his bread is buttered. When his first album, Show Me the Buffet, hit in 1998, he was criticized for being a one-trick pony. But take a look at today’s landscape. “Now we got the Food Channel, we got Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, Adam Richman, and food, food, and food,” he says from his home in Pennsylvania. “So I kind of consider myself ahead of the curve. Or the curves, if you will. It’s a common ground that people share: everybody eats. And everybody has an opinion about food.”
As to the perception he’s a squeaky-clean, family-friendly act, again, mostly true. But if you’re a total prude, he’s gonna get you. “I try to work clean, but once a show I’m gonna say fuck,” he warns. Why not just eliminate that one instance altogether? He says he’s trying to emulate the funny John at family gatherings or college that got huge laughs, and that real-life John says fuck occasionally.
And the sweetheart tag? While he does rage against the cuisine, his routines aren’t insult-driven. In fact, you won’t ever see him on a Comedy Central roast. It’s not in his DNA. “I watch them once in a while,” he says. “It just seems too easy to get up there and insult people.”
Nor will you see him attacking groups or individuals. “I don’t think that’s what I’m on-stage for.” But express a fascination for Pennsylvania’s famous Amish, whom he sees at the farmers markets near his home, and you learn of his exception. “I don’t like to make fun of people, but I can make fun of the Amish because it doesn’t get back to them.”
That’s about as far as he goes, though. He can’t even hold on to that for long. “But they’re very good people,” he backtracks. “It’s a completely different culture. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of the world, you go, ‘You know what? Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.’ ”
Pinette, like many professional comics, developed his funny bone by warding off any incoming barbs. So in a way, his ample proportions helped hone his meaty act. “Oh, believe me,” he says, “it absolutely started out as a defence mechanism. Without question. Then it turned into much more of a craft and something that I really love to do. I think I’ve worked on that quite hard.”
Even though he’s still a couple years away from the half-century mark, his career has bridged the gap from classic show business. He’s worked with Frank Sinatra, the Pointer Sisters, the Temptations, the Four Tops, and even the Oakridge Boys, “which I do not wish to speak of,” he says. “If I hear ‘Elvira’ one more time, I’m going to kill myself.”
The journey continued with a guest appearance on the last episode of Seinfeld and a star turn on Broadway as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. “I kinda feel like Forrest Gump popping up in different places,” he says.
John Pinette is at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Friday (October 26).