Jim Serpico loves Boston comedy. As part of the Apostle production company with Denis Leary, he helped put together the lineups for the first 24 years of Comics Come Home. Now he has struck out on his own with a new comedy record label, Virtual Comedy Network, which is releasing “Best of Boston Comedy: Volume 1,” available for download Friday. Recorded at Laugh Boston in July, everyone on the album is a comedian currently living and working in Boston.
“That’s really what I wanted to try to showcase and hopefully bring to the attention of people around the rest of the country and maybe even some industry people, that there’s a real strong pocket of comedy here in Boston,” Serpico says.
The group includes 10 headlining Boston comedians representing a spectrum of ages and perspectives. The newer generation includes Dan Crohn, Kelly MacFarland, Corey Rodrigues, and Will Noonan. There are Boston veterans from the ’80s scene including Tony V., Steve Sweeney, Don Gavin, and Ken Rogerson. Jimmy Dunn and Christine Hurley land somewhere in between those eras. “I really liked the idea of mixing it up, of not just one type of comedy or one age group,” Serpico says. “I thought it was a really good mix.”
On the album, Noonan talks about quitting drinking. “Drinking just didn’t really agree with me,” he says. “It made me kind of sleepy, made my cars crashy.” Crohn is obsessed with true-crime shows, which have made him note the time wherever he is. “I’m like, what’s this guy doing? 12:51,” he says. “My whole life is preparing for police questioning that’s never going to happen.”
Hurley, a mother of five, details a phone call from a school nurse about letting her grade-school-aged son pack his own lunch. “Unfortunately,” said the nurse, “Brendan packed a leftover box of kung pao chicken and two wine coolers.” Rodrigues recalls visiting the beach with his white girlfriend’s brother who wondered why a black man would need sunscreen. “What do you mean why?” says Rodrigues. “ ’Cause I’m made out of meat, that’s why.” Gavin, a master of one-liners who is known as the “Godfather of Boston Comedy,” talks about how he’s not good with money. “Four years ago, I invested pretty much every penny I had in gluten,” he says.
The album has a strong Boston voice, Boston comics, and Boston crew. The only one involved who isn’t from Boston is Serpico himself. He’s passionate about Boston comedy — his company has released albums by locals Robert Kelly and Gary Gulman, plus a new album by Jared Freid is due later this month. But he’s a Long Island guy, born and raised, and still lives there, and he runs his companies out of Manhattan.
A jazz trumpet major at Ithaca College, Serpico thought he’d land in the music business. But his first job out of college was booking comedy, and it hooked him. “I would drive some of these comedians to college gigs,” he says. “And one of the first comedians was Adam Sandler. It wasn’t like I had an agenda, I just started doing this stuff. I was driving Adam in the car and he would put other people on the phone with me, trying to get me to book them. I just went full comedy.”
By 1991, he was a young management executive at a company in New York. That’s where he met Denis Leary, Tony V., and other Boston comics who were traveling to the city looking for work. “I think they were all unique in their own right, and it’s funny first,” he says. “You could tell that they were putting the work in for many years before I was even in the comedy business. That’s what showed.”
In 1994, he started the Apostle production company with Leary, working on TV shows like “Rescue Me,” “The Job,” and “Maron,” films like “Monument Ave.,” and the annual Comics Come Home event. Last year, he left Apostle to start his own businesses. In that span, he had begun to write screenplays and direct, and wanted the independence to produce other acts. “The thing I love about the record company is we can come up with an idea that we’re passionate about; we don’t have to wait for someone to say yes. And the Boston album is the perfect example of that.”
In a roundabout way, living on Long Island has made him sympathetic to Boston comedians trying to promote their careers without leaving their hometowns. “I was told my whole career, ‘You can’t succeed from Long Island,’ and there’s not that many people in the development of TV and film that live there,” he says. But he does travel to Hollywood often to promote his projects.
An album like “Best of Boston” could help local comedians expand their reach. According to Serpico, it’s already working. “We actually did a blind listen on Don [Gavin],” he says, “where a friend of mine who works at a major agency played the track for agents who don’t know who Don is and weren’t told who it was. They all flipped out trying to guess and find out if he’s represented.”
Serpico is planning on releasing a second volume of Boston comedy when the time is right and with a whole new roster. An album like this won’t make anyone a superstar, but it can create some buzz and help working comedians with their bottom line. “As a label, and as a fan of comedy,” he says, “it’s just giving them their due and helping publicize them so they can get more live work outside of their local region, and get it spun and have people talk about it.”Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.