BY JAMES BERNICK
Once again, Rockland County is proving its got talent.
Comedian Gary Vider, a New City native and 2001 graduate of Clarkstown North High School, performed on the August 4 episode of America’s Got Talent and successfully advanced past the elimination round, surpassing thousands of other contestants and earning the chance to perform his comedy on one of the most legendary stages in New York in front of millions of television viewers.
Vider, who was singled out for praise by both Howard Stern and Howie Mandel, will perform at Radio City Music Hall next Tuesday. Readers can catch the live broadcast by tuning into NBC at 8 p.m. on August 25.
He’s at least the second Rocklander in recent years to make it to the big show, as Stony Point’s Tom Cotter came in second place during the 2012 season of America’s Got Talent, beaten out only by a group of well-trained dogs. Rockland County Times caught up with Vider on Sunday night at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre East in Manhattan’s East Village to see one of his sets and find out more about this up-and-comer with Rockland roots.
According to Vider, his stint on America’s Got Talent came about somewhat as a lark: “I sent in a video audition to the show- they have open casting -and an associate producer liked what he saw, and so I came in for a live audition. If that associate producer likes you live, then you audition again in front of a group of producers. If they also like you, then you get to audition in front of the celebrity panel in the preliminary round. There’s a couple of levels before you get on TV.”
Vider, who has been doing stand-up now for five years, realized he had a natural aptitude for humor at a young age, “I guess when I was young and I would fool around in school and get a laugh. I got in trouble some- not for malicious stuff but for talking out of turn or joking around.”
His comedic style, which is notable for its deadpan, understated delivery as well as the subtlety of his humor, is the result of a process of trial and error: “It’s all about putting in time on stage. When you first start out in comedy, there are so many things you have to figure out other than just jokes- how you’re going to speak, your body language, how to time your delivery- that you end up experimenting with different styles in the beginning just to see what works.
“In New York, because there are so many venues and there’s so much comedic talent, I’m able to perform 11 or 12 times a week. That really helps you to hone your craft as a comic, and it’s something I’m going to continue doing for the foreseeable future.”
As for specific comedy influences, he said, “I’m not sure that I have a single influence or a handful of influences I can name. On some level every idea that you’re exposed to and every entertainer that you watch is going to affect your worldview and your approach.
“Among working comics I really like Jim Gaffigan, Todd Barry, and Louis CK.”
Asked about his joke writing process Vider equivocated, “I’m not sure that I would describe it as a writing process. It’s more that stuff happens to me in my normal life that’s funny, and then I share it with my friends, and if they find it funny then I’ll try to turn it into a bit. Sometimes those bits work and other times they don’t. I have enough good material now that I can work in a new bit that may or may not get a laugh without losing my rhythm or losing the momentum of the crowd, so it’s a lot easier for me to test new stuff now than when I first started out.”
Many of Vider’s jokes tend towards self-deprecation. When questioned about whether failure is inherently funnier, Vider responded, “I mean, nobody laughs at the story of the time you got the girl. Yeah, I guess failure is funnier. Certainly a lot of my jokes are based on making fun of myself or situations I’ve been in. There’s something about human error that seems to generate laughs much more effectively than stories of success.”
Fortunately for concerned parents, Vider’s act is family friendly and his brand of humor is noticeably clean: “It’s not like I have a rule that my comedy has to be clean. I try to keep stuff clean because to a certain extent vulgarity can be a crutch when you’re relying on shock value rather than what’s intrinsically funny about the joke. Also, cleaner comedy allows you to reach a much wider audience. I probably wouldn’t be on AGT if most of my material wasn’t clean.”
Vider graduated from the University of Buffalo in 2005 and began performing stand up in 2009. He currently runs his own dog-walking business to support himself while he pursues his comedy dream.
America’s Got Talent is not Vider’s first time on television. He was a featured on Conan in June of 2014. Said Vider of that experience, “The way I got on Conan was pretty interesting and unexpected. The guy that casts standup acts for Conan saw me at the Bridgetown Comedy festival in Portland last year and came up to me after my set and asked me if I’d like to be on Conan. We exchanged information, and I sent in a video of what I thought could be a five minute television set for the show. He gave me some feedback and then booked me on the show.”
Vider has stood out in other venues as well. In April 2014, he bested 63 other comedians to be named champion of the fifth annual “Caroline’s Comedy Madness” stand-up comedy tournament at famed stand-up venue Caroline’s on Broadway.
Other, more established comedians have taken notice of Vider’s talent as well. On July 11, 2013, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an interview with Saturday Night Live alumnus Rob Schneider. Schneider was asked, “Do you keep an eye out for up-and-coming comedians? Is that something you’re interested in?” His response: “You know it’s funny. I am. This comedian, Gary Vider, I flew him out to LA and had him do some sets out here. This guy’s a terrific comedian and I want to help manage his career.”
As for the future, Vider is ambitious but remains focused on the task at hand: “Right now I’m focused on doing well on America’s Got Talent. I’ll be competing in the quarterfinals at Radio City Music Hall on August 25. After that, I’d like to go on a national tour. I’ve opened for some guys around the country- Rob Schneider and also the runner-up from Season 8 of AGT, Taylor Williamson. I haven’t yet toured as a headliner though which is something I’d like to do.”
There is plenty on the line for the funny man: if he wins top prize he’ll go home with a cool million.