A Breath of Fresh Air

Sick of political correctness and being told you’re using the wrong pronoun for someone? Spend a few minutes with legendary stand-up and freshly minted Southerner Nick Di Paolo. You’re nowhere near as sick of it as he is.

Perched over a side table at Ordinary Pub, Nick Di Paolo pulls a cigarette out of his pack and nervously taps it on the side of the box. He can’t smoke it in there, but he remembers a time when you could. Not necessarily at Ordinary Pub – he and his wife Andrea only moved South a few months ago – but in smoke-hazed bars across the country where he honed his act as one of the most ruthless comics of his generation.

“I was just in Vegas where I could smoke. I smoked 10 cigarettes a show. I just started smoking and I love it,” he says, playing the cigarette across his fingers. This launches into one of his gut-busting stories, delivered with the cadence and timing of a battle-hardened comic, of trying desperately to find a place to smoke in Charlotte airport.

The story is told in a way that’s so undeniably Di Paolo we won’t bother to go into it here. But if you’ve seen his act live, or caught his latest special, “A Breath of Fresh Air,” free on his website, you’ll know that it was deeply funny in a way that sometimes has you asking yourself, “should I really be laughing at this?”

It’s a decidedly anti-PC style that crosses the line left and right, but mostly left. “In this business if you lean right on two of 50 issues, you’re a Nazi. It’s an ultra-liberal business,” he says. “I don’t know how anyone can be in this business and be a comic or any kind of artist and agree with what’s going on today.”

What’s going on today, according to Di Paolo, is a shift in the culture war that has seen the culture and counterculture slowly trade places. “We’re the counterculture, which is what comedy is supposed to be,” he says. “This country has the mentality of a 12-year-old fat girl with acne. Can you think of anything more sensitive? That’s the zeitgeist right now.”

Even going back to his time on the Comedy Central show, “Tough Crowd,” where Di Paolo traded barbs with comics like Colin Quinn, Jim Norton, Patrice O’Neal and the late Greg Giraldo, he was the right-leaning one. With the culture shifting around him, he leaned hard into his more conservative material and has found a huge and underserved audience for comedy that has had enough of the PC cancel culture. “There are sacred cows everywhere. I’m loving it.”

And that, in turn, brought him South. Away from the liberalism of New York City where you can get fined for using the wrong pronoun.

“That’s what I like about being down here. Guys are guys down here,” he says. “But you got enough lawyers down here? Jesus Christ. Every commercial is a guy saying, ‘Barry Saulman got me $50 million for slipping in a Kroger.’”

That, again, launches an extended riff on Savannah’s fixation with personal injury lawyers that has everyone at the table asking, “Should I really be laughing at this?” But it’s a moot point, because whether they should or not, they’re all rolling.

South: So how did you wind up in Georgia?

Nick Di Paolo: We just like Savannah. We came down here seven or eight years ago for a weekend because my wife loves it. She’s into that book, Garden of Good and Evil, whatever the hell it’s called. She has roots way back in Georgia. There’s only like two nice places in Georgia and this is one of them. No, I’m sure there are plenty of places, but it’s a nice town.

South: How much has comedy changed in recent years?

ND: The culture became the counterculture and vice versa. We’re the counterculture, which is what comedy is supposed to be. Being pro-status quo, pro-political correctness, pro-censorship seems to be the zeitgeist of the moment.

South: Are there any left-leaning comics you like?

ND: Al Franken – I loved him on Letterman. I wanna punch him in the face, but I found him funny because he was kind of mean. Anybody who was funny…George Carlin was a hippie liberal, but he was smart enough to know, “Hey this is wrong.” And his famous bit about seven words you can’t say on TV, I was going to do a new list of 100 words you can’t say anywhere.

I heard some comedian say a comedian should be like a basketball ref. That’s all well and good, but right now the democrats are committing flagrant fouls 40 a minute. And I’m calling them, and now you’re calling me biased.

South: You have a bit in your newest special about how much you’re fan of Trump. What are your thoughts on the impeachment talk right now ?(NOTE: At the time of the interview, the impeachment investigation had not yet officially started).

ND: I think it’s another witch hunt. I didn’t know they’d be so relentless, but I knew as soon as Trump was inaugurated that eventually they’ll try to impeach him. We have so many dumb people in this country that rely on the mainstream media and the internet, and don’t do their thinking for themselves. The polls don’t reflect how people think; they tell them how to think.

South: What’s your favorite Nick Di Paolo joke?

ND: There’s one that I found on a website that listed a bunch of famous quotes. I’m up there with Lincoln, Patton, Vince Lombardi…it’s a joke that I did on the 1992 Young Comedians Special about testing on animals. “If hooking a monkey’s brain up to a car battery is going to save somebody from dying of AIDS in 10 years, I got two things to say: the red is positive and the black is negative.” The prime minister of Australia used that joke. Don Cherry has used it. That’s the one that hit home.

South: It seems like everyone who knew him had a good Patrice O’Neal story. What’s yours?

Nick Di Paolo: We were going through customs this one time, it was me and Patrice and two other comics. They stopped us and we’re all sitting there waiting, and after about 15-20 minutes we’re like, “What’s the hold up?” The guy tells us “One of you has a felony,” and we all look at Patrice. And it was. He’d done something as a kid. I forget what. More about Nick at nickdip.com

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