For over 20 years, the Peabody native has grinded hard on the national club and theatre circuits to become one of the most sought after and well-respected names in the biz. That hard work was acknowledged Saturday night (September 15) at The Somerville Theatre, as Gulman took to the mic (and simultaneously dismembered the mic stand) to give thanks to his fans, as well as the big kahunas in the local game, like Jim McCue, who let Gulman stay on his couch in New York back in the early days of the 6-foot-6 former gym teacher’s comedy career.
If you didn’t have the opportunity to catch him during his most recent moment of glory at the Boston Comedy Festival, no worries — the former Boston College tight end will be back on November 2 as he brings his nationwide “Must Be Nice!” tour to The Wilbur Theatre with a brand new hour of hilarity.
We caught up with “The Gul” ahead of his award acceptance to chat about the honor, his appreciation for those in the scene who helped him get to this point, and the feeling of putting in the extra work to give the hometown crowd a new hour every time he visits.
Jason Greenough: So, the Boston Comedy Festival’s Comedian of the Year! How does it feel to be recognized by your home scene in such a way?
Gary Gulman: Well, it’s complete nonsense [chuckles]. How do you single out one guy, when I can think of 10 guys in Boston who are funnier than me. But it is really nice to be recognized, and I’m so proud of the fact that I came through the Boston system that was really competitive when I came up, and seems to have gotten more competitive over the years as the comedy clubs have closed down. I’m very proud of all the great comedians that continue to come out of there, and the level of the work being done there over the last 25 years since I started doing comedy.
[The award] isn’t something I aspired to, because it wasn’t even around when I started. But I do remember there was a thing in Boston Magazine for the best comedian in Boston that was I always wanted to get, so maybe it’s analogous to that. I am very proud of it, and very honored.
In your own words, how does being honored with this award speak to the love that your home city has for you?
Well, I think since I first started to become a known comedian, and I started to get on TV a little bit, the audiences started to turn out for my appearances, and have never stopped. Every juncture of my career, I’ve always been able to rely on Boston audiences to come out and support and encourage me.
Not to mention the comedians, whether they were comics who started before me, or comics who started after me, they have always given me such great encouragement and in some cases, gave me work and friendship. Their advice, their guidance.
I think of Don Gavin, and Tony V, and Lenny Clarke, Teddy Bergeron, Kevin Knox, and DJ Hazard, who was such an inspiration to me early on. I could just go on and on. I hate to think I’m leaving anyone out somehow. I mean, Steve Sweeney, and Barry Crimmins, who was so encouraging to me over the years. Without those shoulders to stand on, and the helping hands, I never would have been able to do this as a career, So I’m truly grateful for the trails they blazed. [Note: Later on, Gulman added Comedy Studio owner Rick Jenkins and Conan writer Brian Kiley to his list of inspirations.]
You said this award was nonsense because there are so many other comics ahead of you who are funnier than you are, but does the award still add any amount of confidence to your stage game going forward?
Not at all.
Without question, I can draw no confidence from any kind of outside accomplish or even doing a great show, because I always think “well, next show has to be excellent too.” My ego is a bucket with a hole in it, so this doesn’t really give me any more confidence. I just think of the next show and how I’ll be expected to deliver at the next show I do [in Boston] in November. Nobody gets a single laugh out of any kind of award or honor that they received, so the idea of getting any sort of confidence or self-esteem boost from a recognition just doesn’t register with me. I know myself well enough to know that these things are really nice, and they make me grateful, but they don’t help my confidence, sadly.
You mentioned the show in November. It’s one thing to be given an award by your hometown because of your work locally and nationally in the scene, but how different is the feeling of coming home to accept this award from coming back home later this year to bring new material to your show at The Wilbur?
Well, that is always a challenge for me, because I do my very best not to do the same show I did the last time they saw me. So I did a show [at Medford’s Chevalier Theatre] on New Year’s Eve last year, then I did a show in my hometown of Peabody in April. So I’m trying to do a new hour in November, so that’s a real challenge, but luckily I have a very good source for material in Massachusetts, and a very nurturing audience that understands the references and the local stories, the mindset and the sensibilities of the area.
It really is such a challenge, but it is so much fun to get really specific in my comedy, and talk about things that are funny to me, and in some cases, have setups as old as I am. Like I said, it’s a real challenge, but the reward is so great, that it’s worth the time and energy I put into it every time. It’s always a daunting task, but in every case, when I’m done with it, I’m very grateful that I had that sort of ambitious goal of delivering a new show for the hometown fans, and the fact that they appreciate it always so gratifying.
With the “Must Be Nice!” tour, is the endgame a new special? Or are you just going out for the sake of going out right now?
Yes! I do plan on doing a new special with this material, and I’m working with a director and producer on it, even though we don’t know what the platform for it will be just yet. We are planning on shooting it in early 2019, as of right now. I won’t be shooting the same show that I will be doing at The Wilbur, obviously, because the rest of America won’t get a lot of the references to the Mystic River bridge, but there will be some of those components, I’m sure.
GARY GULMAN :: Friday, November 2 at The Wilbur, 246 Tremont St. in Boston, MA :: 7:30 p.m., $35 :: Advance tickets :: Wilbur event page :: Photos by Jason Greenough