After walking around the block one day, Sal Votano told his wife Risa that he wanted to be a standup comic.
“She started laughing at me and I got my first laugh,” recalled Votano.
Audiences at comedy venues throughout New England have been laughing hard at Votano ever since. The Lynn native and former Lynn English student is one of the most dynamic rising stars on the Boston comedy scene.
Votano performed in front of a sold-out crowd at Giggles Friday night during an appearance as the featured comedian in front of national headliner Nick DiPaolo, who grew up in Danvers. Votano had the crowd laughing wildly at his cynical observations about a wide range of topics from his family life to his days as the owner of a liquor store in Newbury (He just sold the business in December).
“I try to take something real in life and try to find something funny about it,” said Votano.
Votano, who now resides in Middleton with his wife and three children, has been a professional comedian for four years. He appears at more than 100 shows a year and is making comedy his full-time career though he still does some work in construction.
And Votano, the son of Richard Votano of Lynn and the late Barbara Votano, is bringing comedy to this city in a big way as the founder and director of a comedy contest at O’Brien’s Pub on Boston Street that begins Wednesday, Feb. 9.
For five Wednesday nights, 35 comedians will perform their sets at O’Brien’s and the members of the audience will be the judges, with the top two comedians advancing to the finals on March 16.
“I performed in the contest at Giggles and that did a lot for me, and there’s really not a lot of opportunities out there for younger comedians, so I thought of putting a contest together and giving a cash prize,” said Votano, adding that the winner of the contest will also receive a spot in a show at Chuckles, a new comedy club located in North Andover.
Votano will be the master of ceremonies for one of the comedy contest shows while headliners such as Lynn native Bob Seibel, Frank Santorelli, Tony V., Joe Yannetty, Artie Januario, and Dave Russo will close the show each week. The other hosts are Johnny Pizzi, Jack Walsh, Graig Murphy, Tony Moschetto and Dave Rattigan.
Votano said he is grateful to Pizzi, a veteran comedian and regular host at Giggles, for his guidance and support.
“Johnny Pizzi is a great influence to a lot of comedians,” said Votano. “He’s encouraged a lot of comedians in the area and he’s done a lot for me – if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at in my career. He’s definitely a guy who deserves some recognition in this business.”
Lynn-based comedians Joe Espi, Patty Punch, Carl Phillips, and Jeanne Sullivan-Toomey are scheduled to compete in the contest at O’Brien’s.
Votano said he hopes to coordinate a major comedy show fundraiser at the Lynn Auditorium in the fall.
“Being a Lynn guy, I’d love to be able to give back to my community through a benefit comedy show,” said Votano. “I think it would great for the city and raise money for some good causes.”
(There are still spots remaining for the O’Brien’s Comedy Contest. Local comedians may contact Sal Votano at 781-710-8331).