For 15 years, the Newport Comedy Series has brought comedic heavyweights such as Louis C.K., Joan Rivers, Bill Burr and Amy Schumer to Rhode Island. This October, they’re keeping the tradition going, welcoming Paula Poundstone and Lenny Clarke to their new venue at the Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel.
The Newport Comedy Series was co-founded by President Joe Rocco of RocJo Promotions and Bill Blumenreich, owner of the Wilbur Theater in Boston (where earlier this year Bill Burr set a performance record with 19 straight, sold out shows). They held their first comedy show in 2001 at the Newport Yachting Center with Kevin Meaney, Elaine Boosler, Bob Nelson and the late John Pinette performing in the Center’s 500 seat capacity tent. The reception was great, as even the comedians acknowledged the lively Rhode Island audience, but the financial reality of the series was no laughing matter.
“In the first year, everyone was laughing except us,” Joe says. “We had very entertaining shows, but nine of ten lost money and we almost pulled the plug halfway through the first summer. However, we stuck with it. [We] never opted for less expensive talent, and were able to get sponsors in the second season, some who are still with us today like People’s Credit Union and Clements’ Marketplace.”
As the Newport Comedy Series moved to the Yachting Club’s 1,500 person tent, they hosted such notable comedians as Dane Cook, Chelsea Handler, Tracy Morgan, Seth Meyers and – as Joe particularly recalls – the late, great Joan Rivers.
“Having Joan Rivers was certainly a highlight,” he says. “She performed in the 2012 series and, even though it was a hot night, she put on a terrific show. [She] worked very hard – even fell to the stage as part of her act at one point – and did a strong 75 minutes. When she first arrived that afternoon, she was concerned at how warm it was going to be in the tent – not for herself, but for her fans. She got a huge ovation at the end of her show.”
Of course, performing for 15 consecutive years lends itself to memorable moments, both positive and negative, and in one case, negative turning into positive. “One middle-aged guy decided to drop his pants in the middle of a Lisa Lampanelli show in 2008,” Joe says. “He was quickly removed, not arrested since there was not a policeman there that night, but Lisa got an extra five minutes of material out of it, which the crowd loved.”
With the Yachting Center coming under new ownership, the Comedy Series has made the move to the Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel. Kicking off the October shows is Paula Poundstone, the first woman to win Ace’s Best Standup Comedy Special award, as well as the first woman to perform standup at the White House Correspondent’s dinner. She’s also won an Emmy award and served as a Tonight Show correspondent during the 1992 Presidential election.
For those looking ahead, there’s even more side-splitting laughter to come as the Newport Comedy Series continues onward delivering big stars and even bigger laughs to Little Rhody.
The Newport Comedy Series
Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel
1 Goat Island, Newport