The Rhode Island Comedy Hall of Fame (RICHOF) held its third induction ceremony Friday, April 4 at the Comedy Connection in East Providence.
Tom Cotter, the runner-up in season seven of the show “America’s Got Talent,” is clearly first in the hearts of his Rhode Island family, friends and fans. The show was sold out to a capacity crowd for months prior to the performance.
Cotter grew up on the East Side of Providence, graduating from Moses Brown in 1982 and going on to attend Denison University.
“Rockin’” Joe Hebert, the founder and president of the RICHOF was thrilled to get his longtime friend to accept the honor. “Cotter and I have known each other for 28 years. The only thing better than Tom Cotter on TV is Tom Cotter live on stage,” said Hebert. “He is one of the hottest acts in the USA and nearly impossible to book. Speaking with him, he’s extremely excited about being a part of the RI Comedy Hall of Fame and he can’t wait to come home and spend some time with his family and friends.”
Besides Cotter, the other members of the RICHOF include Charlie Hall, founder of the Ocean State Follies and now producer of Drink & Dabble, who was the first inductee; and Cranston’s own John Perrotta, owner of the Comedy Factory.
Cotter is proud to be part of this elite club.
“I’m honored to be tapped for this,” he said. “It’s all in the title. Two things that I am very fond of, comedy and Rhode Island. RICHOF sounds like a disease that you might get from breathing in too much Rhode Island.”
Hall, who is a legend in the local comedy scene, served as emcee for the evening. He recalled the first time Cotter was on stage at the former Periwinkle’s Comedy Club in the Arcade. “For eight-and-a-half minutes he was on that stage, telling jokes and putting his heart into [it]. And in that entire time, he did not get one laugh,” Hall said.
But Cotter persevered. He honed his craft, and over the years he started making a name for himself in Rhode Island and throughout New England. He won several comedy challenges, including the Olneyville Laugh Off, garnering him the Golden Weiner Award. He has also won comedy competitions in Boston, Las Vegas and Seattle, to name just a few.
Cotter’s star had taken off and he was on his way. He has performed at over 300 colleges and all over the world, from London to Beijing to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He has also been featured in dozens of television commercials for products like McDonald’s, Doritos and Pepsi.
Hall remembered sitting at home one night getting a phone call at 10:30 p.m.
“It was Cotter. He said in one hour, ‘I am going to be on Jay Leno.’ You have as much to do with that as anyone. I want to thank you,” said Hall.
The next performer was John Perrotta, whose unique form of comedy involves volleying back and forth with audience members at a breakneck speed. He asks audience members where they are from and their names, and before they can respond, Perrotta is already ripping them apart – all in good fun, and with a touch of kindness. He fired the jokes like a machine gun and never missed a beat when talking to the crowd.
Originally slated to perform, Hebert graciously handed over the microphone to a special surprise performer, Kerri Louise Cotter, Tom’s wife.
When asked who his favorite comedian is, Cotter gave the right answer.
“For my own personal safety, and for the sake of my marriage, I’ll say my wife, Kerri Louise, is my favorite,” he said. “Now for the real answer … George Carlin and Richard Pryor.”
The show was not supposed to be considered a roast, but Kerri didn’t let that stop her from taking jabs and teasing her husband. She left a few skeletons in the closet, but most of Tom’s flaws were on display for everyone to mock.
After she had sufficiently (all in good fun) destroyed her husband, Kerri talked about the RICHOF.
“I am really psyched to be here. It is truly such an honor to see Tom get an award from a website,” she joked.
When it was time for Cotter to take the stage, he had to wait for the two-minute standing ovation to be over. He reminisced about his early days at Periwinkles, and the other comics who started their careers there as well. He called Hall his mentor, and acknowledged the talents of Perrotta and Hebert.
Cotter is not above taking risks when it comes to jokes, but he knows his boundaries
“I wouldn’t joke about anything that would make an audience really uncomfortable. A little squeamish is OK, but nothing too vile,” he said.
Cotter’s stage presence is one of sarcasm mixed with mock surprise and ignorance about the world around him. He takes the minutiae of everyday life and turns it inside out and upside down, and makes listeners examine it in ways they never thought of, or really wanted to.
“It’s a slow process for me because I like to write ‘misdirection’ material, and I also like to write a lot of tag lines for my jokes, so it seems like a term paper sometimes,” he said. “You never stop tweaking your material either. Some of my most ancient bits have, within the last year, been altered by a new setup, tag line, pun, innuendo, double entendre, facial expression, gesticulation, etc.
“The truth is that I have to add new stuff on a regular basis because I return to some venues twice per year, and people will stop coming out to see me if the act doesn’t have some stuff that they have never seen before,” he continued. “That is a slippery slope, because you also want to do some of your greatest hits. I’ll usually try to sneak a new jokes or lines in between two tried and true chunks of material.”
Unsure of what the long-term future holds for him, Cotter is sure of one thing.
“I don’t know where I’ll be living, but I will be performing stand-up where ever I am,” he said.
Hebert declared the evening a huge success, and is proud of what he has achieved.
“Our third sold out event has given the RICHOF credibility. There’s no stopping it – unless of course, I forget to pay for the web hosting,” he said.
The event was also a fundraiser for one of Tom’s favorite local charities, Hasbro Children’s Hospital. The night raised over $2,000.
The next inductee will be Frank O’Donnell on Saturday, Oct. 4. For more information about the Rhode Island Comedy Hall of Fame, visit www.richof.org.