Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Rocky LaPorte Made Me A Better Speaker !

                                                Rocky LaPorte        

Most of the comedians I write about on my blog are professional acquaintances but a few have become good friends. One such person is Rocky LaPorte. I met Rocky in the late eighties in a small room in Indiana . It was a bar that evolved into a comedy club during the comedy boom in that era.

Rocky seemed like a nice guy and I was generally happy to meet him, as well as work with him, that is, until we both found out that we had to stay in the same room. Now, on the road as a comic, this is usually a big deal because most comedians want their own room. There are several reasons for this, privacy being one, but also smoking, late night partying and just generally wanting to be alone to relax and prepare for the show. After the initial disappointment, we both accepted our fate and headed to the hotel.

This was going to be an experience I thought to myself as we arrived at the hotel separately. Rocky and I seemed to be two totally different types of guys with little in common. Rocky was an ex-truck driver who worked in the toughest part of Chicago who had been badly beaten, shot and stabbed all in the course of doing his job. I, on the other hand, had grown up in a small town south of Pittsburgh, attended catholic school and whose job prior to doing standup was a shoe salesman at JC Penney’s.

We settled into the room and began to prepare for the show. Rocky began to talk about his background and proceeded to show me his battle wounds and scars as though they were trophies. Feeling competitive, I tried to think of the nastiest customer I had encountered as a shoe salesmen but I held back because the challenge of dealing with old ladies with gigantic bunions really didn’t compare to getting shot on the job! Our conversation was very enlightening, as well as interesting, because inherent in all the stories that he told one thing became evident to me and that was how genuine this guy was. In spite of all the difficulties he had endured, he possessed a gentle demeanor and a natural ability to be truly funny. He could deliver a simple phrase and it would become quite funny because of his accent and the manner in which he delivered the words. His genuineness was evident.
What I learned from Rocky with respect to being a better speaker and communicator is to capitalize on the authenticity of your character. Be yourself. This isn’t easy because most performers can't identify what their genuine qualities are in addition to making those qualities appealing and funny. Rocky has mastered it. When he walks onstage and looks at the audience his first words are, "Hey, how ya doin", and the audience goes nuts. Within seconds, the people listening to him identify with what he represents and get on board for the ride. It is an extremely powerful sight to see Rocky perform. He has had many highlights in his career but I think the most impressive example of his ability as a comedian would be when he appeared on the Tonight Show for the first time. By the time he finished his set the audience was giving him a standing ovation. This is an unbelievable feat for a comedian and as of today it is unprecedented. A few years ago Comedy Central asked the viewers to vote on their favorite comedians that have ever appeared on the channel. Rocky finished second. Not bad for ex-truck driver from the southside of Chicago and in my opinion the funniest guy working today! I’m proud to call him my friend!

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