From the halls of academe to the comedy stage
Mr. Goodnight speaks with a voice that’s one part Southern gentleman, one part lounge singer, two parts professional wrestler. He stands onstage enveloped by his persona, sporting a cowboy hat, months of mustache growth, and a pair of sunglasses - even though he’s indoors.
On a recent Friday night at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, Mr. Goodnight rolled through his set before stopping cold in his tracks. He’d like to do an impersonation, he announced to the audience: Teddy Roosevelt as a stand-up comedian.
Suddenly, he put on a pair of monocles and faced the crowd, a spitting image of the 26th president. Right on cue, the audience laughed.
“I just finished reading Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle,’ ’’ Mr. Goodnight said, imitating Roosevelt’s voice. “I tell you, I haven’t seen that much spoiled meat since I was at the concession stands at the boardwalk on Coney Island.’’
With each joke, the audience broke into fits of laughter. For them, it was a change of pace. Mr. Goodnight is not the kind of comedian you’d typically see at a Boston-area comedy club. In fact, Mr. Goodnight, who will appear next Sunday at the Comedy Studio, is not the kind of comedian you are likely to see at any club.
Since the fall of 2009, Weymouth resident Joe Possemato - who created the alter ego Mr. Goodnight - has been moonlighting at comedy clubs in Boston and Los Angeles, where he spends his winters. The comedy world is a new scene for Possemato, who just four years ago was a PhD student at Fordham University, teaching history to undergraduates.
Though Possemato’s comedy career is in its nascent stages, Mr. Goodnight continues to develop a bicoastal fan base.
“Mr. Goodnight is a very unassuming intellectual,’’ said Eve Malapiante, who is a fan of Possemato’s character and also performs stand-up comedy locally. “He is nothing he is supposed to be. No subject or venue is too lowbrow or too highbrow for Mr. Goodnight.’’
Before embarking on his comedy career, Possemato was entrenched in academia. Holding a master’s degree in history from Virginia Commonwealth University, the 35-year-old has worked as a professor at Quincy College and Fordham, where he finished two years of his doctorate before leaving school.
“Things were going really well in academia, but I just grew tired of it,’’ said Possemato, who started performing as himself at local open mikes in 2007.
“I actually got into stand-up originally by accident,’’ he said. “I went down to an open mike to support a friend and tried it out. I did it for a few weeks then stopped, and a few years later, I began to perform again at The Red Parrot in Hull when they started to have a weekly show.’’
Though Possemato cut his teeth on the local scene, the character of Mr. Goodnight found its roots in Los Angeles. After moving out there following the summer of 2009, Possemato was performing one night at The Laugh Factory, one of the country’s most venerable comedy clubs. During his performance, Possemato did an impersonation of a professional wrestler performing Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.
Following his performance, Jamie Masada, the club’s owner, recommended to Possemato that he do that character as his entire act.
Mr. Goodnight was born.
Each week, Possemato performs as many as seven times, trying to get on stage as much as he can between booked shows at clubs and open mikes.
“Mr. Goodnight is incredible,’’ said Jon Lincoln, co-owner of Mottley’s Comedy Club at Faneuil Hall in Boston.
“I find everything he does hilarious in an Andy Kaufman sort of way,’’ he said, referring to the deceased comic actor who had a roster of unusual characters. “Audiences often have mixed reactions toward him because of his unique delivery and sense of humor, but those who get him really get him. The best part of his act is that he never breaks character.’’
According to Lincoln, the uniqueness of the character of Mr. Goodnight could pose challenges in finding a home in show business, though he said he has a chance to become a cult figure in the entertainment world.
“I think Mr. Goodnight has the potential to be very successful, although it will take a unique opportunity to put him on the map,’’ Lincoln said. “He doesn’t fit a stereotypical role. Much like ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ (a 2004 film that developed a huge cult following), if given the right opportunity he could become a national sensation.’’
There’s an unusual rhythm to Mr. Goodnight’s act that catches audiences off-guard. Rather than tell traditional jokes, Mr. Goodnight’s act is filled with rants containing a hodgepodge of cultural references, ranging from Roman history to the actor Telly Savalas. Sometimes, he simply gives life advice.
“I found out that if you ever try to fake your own death, change your address, baby,’’ Mr. Goodnight warns in one of his more well-known routines, speaking in his trademark affect. “Because if you go back the next day and check the mail, it just don’t work.’’
Possemato has aspirations to break his Mr. Goodnight character into the acting world. Shortly before leaving Los Angeles earlier this year, he was cast as a background actor, playing a hot dog vendor on Showtime’s “Weeds.’’ When he returns to Los Angeles, Possemato plans to pursue more acting roles.
The Weymouth resident does have bit of television experience. He and his brother Frank hosted a local-access television show called “Weymouth After Dark,’’ which they created in 2007. The show, which tried to parody traditional cable access shows, became rather popular and was picked up by a number of local cable channels. It has even aired as far away as New York City.
Though he may not be spending his days as a historian and classicist as he originally intended, Possemato said he couldn’t be happier with his change in careers. Entertaining crowds with his novel character has felt like a perfect fit.
“It allows me to do something different,’’ Possemato said of Mr. Goodnight. “You have a lot of comics who are making jokes, but with Mr. Goodnight, I don’t do that. Instead, audiences can come in and live in his world. It takes people to the fourth dimension, like Carl Sagan said. That’s Mr. Goodnight’s world.’’