Mike Vecchione

The comic gambols past goombah with great jokes.

Mike Vecchione

Mike Vecchione Photograph: Kristian Dowling

This guy can't be funny. That's what your head tells you when beefy, 38-year-old Italian-American Mike Vecchione walks onstage. Don't worry: He knows what you're thinking. "I look like a cop. And not a nice cop—the jerky, Staten Island, I'm-going-to-racially-profile-you cop. It's a look that says, I don't care if Obama won; get out of the car; we have a problem," he jokes.

That this comic swiftly but calmly disarms the crowd with its own prejudices is much more telling than his bodybuilder's physique or modest buzz cut. The fact is Vecchione, who in the past year has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and in his own half-hour episode of Comedy Central Presents, and will be headlining Gotham Comedy Club Friday 1 and Saturday 2, is a study in contradictions. Yes, he did wrestle in high school and dropped out of law school; he also taught biology in Philadelphia and holds a master's degree in special education. He may come across, as his good friend and New York comedy mentor Big Jay Oakerson puts it, "like a lunkhead." But in reality he is a soft-spoken, thoughtful and erudite guy who, as Gotham Comedy Club's Sean Flynn says, "hits you with a sucker punch."

After kicking around the limited number of clubs in Philadelphia while in his late twenties, he moved in 2003 to New York to commit to his craft in earnest. Fellow comics, bookers and even Vecchione himself all use the same words to describe him: methodical, diligent, meticulous. His material won't settle on standard leaps of logic to succeed; he's always pushing himself to find an angle oblique enough that no other comic is working it. (It's not sufficient for him to imagine Tasering people in his neighborhood; he wants to let loose at a Renaissance fair, so he can feel "like an evil wizard from the future.") Though he worships at the altar of the dark Dave Attell and frustrated Bill Burr, his distant and dry delivery is his own. Vecchione relies on the layered construction of his jokes, never dictating to an audience when they should laugh—until the detonation of favorite punch lines, when his face betrays the boyish grin he's been hiding all along.

Though bigger clubs and television producers took time to notice, Oakerson, a veteran performer himself, sees it this way: "You get to a point where you become what I call undeniable. Mike is absolutely undeniable now." As Vecchione continues to write and work feverishly, he's also taking acting classes—even if he doesn't know exactly what he wants to do next, his trajectory looks good. So laugh with him or laugh at him; just don't take him at face value. If you do, you really might end up with a problem.

Mike Vecchione plays Gotham Comedy Club Fri 1 and Sat 2

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