Make ‘Em Laugh

The founder of the Newport Summer Comedy Series returns with a whole new set

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one: So, the Newport Summer Comedy Series runs for 15 years. Headliners include Amy Schumer, Lewis Black, and Jeff Dunham, among other superstars. It’s considered one of the most popular comedy festivals in the country. And then, out of nowhere, the venue gets sold, and the series gets cancelled indefinitely.

Rim shot.

For Joe Rocco, co-founder and president of the series, there was nothing funny about getting the hook in 2015. Understand, Joe doesn’t have to produce world-class comedy shows. During the day, he’s the eponymous owner of RocJo Productions, a TV production company that has garnered two New England Emmy Awards. But he missed it. And when White’s of Westport agreed to serve as a venue, Joe was all in. The Southcoast Comedy Series was born.

“I decided to go back to what I know best,” says Joe. What he does best, of course, is book big names: Tom Cotter (April 12) was a favorite contestant on America’s Got Talent. Lenny Clarke (May 4) is a renowned standup and Rescue Me co-star. And Gilbert Gottfried (May 18) is among the most famous living comics.

“These aren’t comedy club guys,” says Joe. “These are national acts. These are polished, professional, popular comedians. But they all have their own fans. Comedy is subjective. You want to have different acts, who will appeal to different people. There’ll something for everyone.”

Joe also formed a comedy connection with – well – the Comedy Connection, perhaps the best-known stand-up venue in the Providence area. The club is an official partner of the Southcoast Comedy Series. This is exciting for Joe, who used to frequent the Comedy Connection but never had a chance to collaborate with its owners.

Because the series is brand-new, Joe says audiences should get a lot of bang for their buck. Regular tickets sell for only $25, and the auditorium seats roughly 1,000 people; Joe doesn’t expect the series to sell out, so the crowd should be intimate. “We’re probably going to be in the 400 to 600 range,” he estimates. “You’ll be right on top of these people – and the comedians like it that way.”

The timing is also perfect, says Joe, given the grave seriousness of our times. “I think there’s a greater need for comedy now than ever. Just turn on the news for 20 minutes. For two hours, you forget about your bills, you forget about your family drama. If you google the health benefits of laughter, there’s research that backs that up. That’s how I became a fan of comedy. I can remember going to the Comedy Connection, and I can remember what a tremendous stress relief it was.”