TORONTO — Dom Irrera hopes people who come to The All Star Show at this year’s Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal will check their sensitivities at the door.
“You’re always hurting somebody,” he says. “It’s comedy. It’s a joke. If you don’t get it, get out.”
The veteran stand-up comic recalls a 2012 show at the Laugh Factory in L.A. in which Daniel Tosh responded to a heckler with a joke about rape. The comment sparked outrage online (and inspired an episode of Law & Order: SVU).
“It was partially my fault because I harassed him to go on stage and he was not ready,” Irrera recalls. “But because he’s so famous they scrutinize him more. I don’t really care. I’m not afraid of any of that.”
This is not to suggest Irrera doesn’t have limits.
“I’m not going to do anything that’s going to hurt children,” he says. “I mean, I don’t really want to hurt anybody. I just like to make fun of anybody. I like to be an equal opportunity ball-buster.
“If you do it right, I think people like having their chops busted a little. They feel a part of it.”
READ MORE: Full coverage of Just For Laughs
Irrera is hosting The All Star Show from July 16 to 19 at Club Soda and July 24 at Metropolis featuring festival favourites Alonzo Bodden, Ryan Hamilton, Adam Hills, Robert Kelly and Judy Gold.
The 65-year-old Philadelphia native has been a fixture at Just For Laughs and is equally popular at the annual Cat Laughs festival in Kilkenny, Ireland and at festivals in Australia and Scotland.
Irrera says he never feels out of place performing for international audiences.
“I feel more like a foreigner in the American South than I do in Kilkenny,” he explains.
Irrera says his act has evolved over the years. “There was a time where I was more of an Italian comedian,” he says. “Now I’m a comedian who happens to be Italian.”
He shares fond memories of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who gave him his big break.
“All joking aside, man, he worked hard. He never stopped,” recalls Irrera. “I learned about work ethic from Rodney.”
He also learned it wasn’t all about work for Dangerfield.
“Rodney was like Rasputin. You couldn’t kill him. Rodney was 83 and that body had been through it. He did coke and pot — the man could party,” he says.
“I was at his 80th birthday and he goes ‘Hey kid, you want to get f’ed up?’ I go, ‘Rodney, I don’t smoke pot.’ He was going out to smoke some weed with some other comedians.”
Irrera was also a friend of David Brenner, who passed away in March.
“Brenner was just a very smart guy,” he remembers. “I don’t know how the heck he wrote all those sets. Where did he get all that material?”
Irrera, once a regular on the late-night talk show circuit, says he doesn’t pay much attention to comedy on television anymore.
“The real comedy fans want to listen to podcasts rather than television. Late night shows don’t have any of the clout they used to have,” he explains. “When I started out, if you did The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, man, that was a big deal. But there weren’t 700 channels then.”
He’s a fan of Last Comic Standing but hopes viewers realize they’re not laughing at undiscovered talent.
“Those guys have been doing stand up for 30 years and the reason they’re on Last Comic Standing is nobody knows who they are and they’re trying to get some exposure — and good for them if they do,” says Irrera. “It’s not like you’re getting some green kid out of Winnipeg and he never did stand-up and he’s unbelievably talented. They’re pros. They’re only new to the public. They’re not new to stand-up comedy.”
On Twitter, Irrera shares his thoughts on everything from basketball (“I am so f***ing sick of LeBron James”) and soccer (“F*** soccer) to politics (“With all his education Obama is a joke not a good one like i tell but a bad one sad”).
“I express myself in the tweets,” he says. “Sometimes it gets feedback that can be pretty heavy but most of the time people know that it’s tongue-in-cheek, a lot of it.”
Irrera quickly explains that, in fairness to Obama, he doesn’t like anyone with the ego to want to be U.S. president.
“I wish they would go to Boise State and find this woman who’s like the best political scientist in the world and she would be president, but she didn’t want to be,” he says.
Montreal’s love affair with Irrera is mutual.
“I just love Montreal,” he says, citing “those hot French Canadian babes” and the ease of getting a taxi as his favourite things about the city.
“It’s the most European city in North America. It’s just a cool city,” says Irrera, who plans to arrive in Montreal a few days before his Just For Laughs shows to spend time with an ex-girlfriend and her family.
He’ll also find time to enjoy the local cuisine.
“I love that poutine place where they have different kinds of poutine. It’s all they sell,” he says.
“It must be a cardiologist’s dream, that place, but it’s delicious.”
The All Star Show, part of Just For Laughs, runs July 16 to 19 at Club Soda and July 24 at Metropolis. Click here for ticket information.
© Shaw Media, 2014