The White Plains Comedy Club had its premiere Sept. 20 in the lower level of the Z Prime Italian Steakhouse at 189 E. Post Road, and passersby could tell something unique was happening in the area because of the large cross-country tour bus occupying several parking spaces outside the restaurant.The tour bus was being used for a multicity tour by Stormy Daniels, the adult film performer and director who was catapulted into the national spotlight in the scandal over a $130,000 payment made to her just before the 2016 election, which she described as designed to ensure her silence about an alleged affair with President Donald Trump. Daniels, the opening night headliner for the comedy club, remained on the bus until a few minutes before it was time for her to go on stage. She declined to be interviewed or photographed by reporters.
“She did a show at Stand Up NY in New York City at the beginning of the year and it sold out and I was curious about why,” White Plains resident Frank Pellegrino, promoter of the White Plains Comedy Club, told the Business Journal.
He has been producing comedy shows in Westchester for the past 11 years. Pellegrino learned that the 40-year-old Daniels was on tour telling audiences about her career and relationships and packaging it as a comedic entertainment event.
“Comedy is so diverse,” he said. “We could have a shocking non politically correct comic one week and then an extremely liberal comic the next. It’s important to have a really diverse array of voices. So, it just turned out that Stormy became opening night.”
Describing the stories Daniels told as graphic and raunchy would be an understatement, yet the audience received her warmly with loud laughter filling the room.
“I know you press people snuck in, so when you write about me get it right,” she intoned.
She had numerous unflattering things to say about Trump’s former attorney involved in paying her the hush money, Michael Cohen, and her former attorney, Michael Avenatti. Daniels also answered questions written on cards submitted by audience members, most of which asked about her involvement with Trump, which she referred to as “a 90-second incident.”
Tickets for the show were priced at $35 or $70 for “VIP” seats close to the stage. Approximately 100 people attended the sold-out event.
Pellegrino figured that booking Daniels for the White Plains opening would generate some advance publicity.
And it did.
He usually promotes his comedy shows through websites and a podcast he produces with associate Liz Widulski called “Out in Westchester.”
“It kind of showcases artists, musicians and comedians that call Westchester County their home,” he said. “We do it throughout the county at different restaurants and bars that will host us. One of our episodes took place at Z Prime.”
That led to Pellegrino being invited to start doing comedy shows there.
Pellegrino started producing comedy when he was 23 and his best friend died suddenly. Pellegrino and others organized a comedy show as a fundraiser to create a scholarship in the friend’s honor at Iona Prep High School in New Rochelle, which they had attended.
“We raised $17,000 that first year,” he said. “I think 200 people came to it and I started growing a passion for community events and fundraising for charities from there.”
Pellegrino subsequently joined the Yorktown Masonic Lodge and began producing comedy shows as fundraisers for the lodge. Their popularity resulted in a friend, Adam Eliassof, suggesting that they both start doing comedy shows in the area.
“We did a show at Lucy’s in Pleasantville and we didn’t make any money,” he said. “We lost a little bit of money, but people came out and the show was great. Then, a month later, we did another. We didn’t lose as much money. At this point we figured out ways to cut costs and we brought in a partner, Rich DeLayo. He helped us get equipment we needed instead of having to rent it, sound and lights. He helped us form what’s now known as NoMa Comedy Productions and gave us the enthusiasm to start producing shows in Pleasantville, Yonkers, Tuckahoe and a long series of shows in Croton-on-Hudson.”
For two years, they produced the Yonkers Comedy Festival and Pellegrino was briefly involved in a comedy club at the Ridge Hill Shopping Center in Yonkers. Pellegrino’s associates Tom Grossi and Rob Catalano joined in expanding the Pleasantville presence to create Lucy’s Laugh Lounge.
“It’s part time, but feels and operates like it’s full time,” said Pellegrino, who works full time for Con Edison. “I’ve had to say no to many places that wanted to run comedy programs only because there are a lot of obstacles in so many restaurants and bars. Are there TVs that are going to be on? That’s a problem. Is there music on? That’s a problem.”
He said even noise from bartenders using blenders to make drinks can be a distraction during shows and setting up a stage and seating in a room sometimes can be problematic. “Unlike music where you can passively enjoy it, in comedy you have to be looking at the stage and it’s one person holding a microphone. If there’s a side conversation happening 20 feet away, the couple sitting 14 feet away is now affected and it spreads like a virus throughout the entire show.”
Pellegrino said on average they’re doing about a dozen comedy shows in Westchester each month and also can arrange private events and fundraisers. Although he does want to see the comedy business expand, he also wants to keep it Westchester-based.
“Let’s keep it Westchester based,” he said. “Let’s be sure Westchester people are running the place, Westchester people are booking the shows and there’s a good sample of Westchester comedians getting up on stage.
“Some people are expecting comedy in a comedy club to be blue, but some are also expecting clean comedy. I always find that when you go to a comedy show, leave your inhibitions behind. You’re not in the real world anymore. You’re allowed to laugh at things that maybe you’d be uncomfortable laughing at from 9 to 5.”