|This biographical article relies on references to primary sources. (March 2008)|
Joe Piscopo, 2009
|Born||Joseph Charles John Piscopo
June 17, 1951
Passaic, New Jersey, U.S.
Joseph Charles John "Joe" Piscopo (pronounced PIS-ka-po) (born June 17, 1951) is an American comedian and actor best known for his work on Saturday Night Live where he played a variety of recurring characters.
Born in Passaic, New Jersey, Piscopo attended West Essex High School and was a member of the drama club "the Masquers". He developed a reputation for never playing a part the way it was written. When he was not clowning around he could usually be found lifting weights with his cousins Paul LaMagna and Bill Dolphin (Scarecrow). Graduating high school in 1969, Joe went on to attend Jones College in Jacksonville, Florida. There he received his degree in broadcast management. Although his mother wanted him to follow in his father's footsteps and become a lawyer, Joe ultimately went into stand-up comedy in the late 1970s, becoming a cast member of the short-lived sketch-comedy series Madhouse Brigade in 1978.
Saturday Night Live
In the summer of 1980, he was hired as a contract player for Saturday Night Live. The show had gone through major upheaval when all the writers, major producers, and cast members had left that spring. The all-new cast bombed with critics and fans with the exception of Piscopo and Eddie Murphy; thus they were the only two cast members to be kept when Dick Ebersol took over the show the following spring.
Piscopo was best known for his impressions of such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, although he feared for his life due to Sinatra's alleged Mafia ties. Piscopo thus rewrote the lyrics for a Sinatra sketch with the help of Sinatra lyricist Sammy Cahn, and recalled that "by the grace of God, the old man loved it." Piscopo left SNL in 1984, but unlike Eddie Murphy he did not find major success. He appeared in a few successful films such as Johnny Dangerously and Wise Guys, and also had his own HBO comedy special.
One of Piscopo's more successful bits on SNL included his sports commentary on the Weekend Update portion of the show (called "SNL Newsbreak" at that time), led by a series of rhyming or otherwise associated words, rather than a sentence, leading up to his first story. One example surrounded one of Muhammad Ali's last bouts during the 1980s, with Eddie Murphy in Rick Baker makeup as Ali.
"The big story, Muhammad Ali! Last night... fight... drama... Bahama... LOST!"
Piscopo's sports reports provided NBC network officials enough confidence to allow him to continue this persona on NBC's Sportsworld program in the early 1980s.
During his time on SNL, Piscopo recorded two singles. The first, "I Love Rock 'n Roll (Medley)" was released in 1982 using his impression of Frank Sinatra, and included big-band arrangements of the title song by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, "Cold as Ice" by Foreigner, "Under My Thumb" by The Rolling Stones, "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar, "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen, "I Know What Boys Like" by The Waitresses, "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple, and "Life During Wartime" by The Talking Heads.
The second single was "The Honeymooners Rap," in which he performed as Jackie Gleason's character Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners. Also appearing on the single was Eddie Murphy as Art Carney's character Ed Norton. "The Honeymooners Rap" also appeared on Piscopo's 1985 comedy album New Jersey.
In the character of Paulie Herman, Piscopo lampooned Piscataway Township, New Jersey, triggering an immediate outcry from officials of that Township, and the character was dropped. Part of the reparteé of the Paulie Herman character was a Piscopo catchphrase in response to other characters mentioning New Jersey: "You from Jersey? What Exit?!"
In the 1980s, Piscopo starred in a series of Miller Beer commercials.
In 1992 he provided the voice for Sheriff Terrorbull in the Saturday-morning animated series Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa.
He also lent his voice to the Canadian animated special The Real Story of Rain, Rain Go Away.
In the early 1990s, Piscopo became a subject of controversy after appearances of his newly buff physique on the covers of fitness magazines led many to speculate he was using steroids. Piscopo has repeatedly denied the allegations and says he began a campaign to improve himself after battling thyroid cancer from 1981 to 1982. He has also appeared in anti-steroid public service announcements. Piscopo lampooned the controversy in his HBO special, wherein he appeared to undergo a drug test during the show.
In 1973, Piscopo married television producer Nancy Jones (Wheel of Fortune). The couple divorced in 1988.
Piscopo's second wife, Kimberly Driscoll, filed for divorce on July 10, 2006. Piscopo is a resident of Lebanon Township, New Jersey, and is an avid New Jersey Devils fan. Piscopo starred in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Gateway Playhouse in August 2009, playing 8 performances per week for a three week run.
Recurring characters on Saturday Night Live
- Blaire, a homosexual hairstylist. Co-worker of Dion (played by Eddie Murphy)
- Doug Whiner, one half of the Whiner couple (Wendy Whiner was played by Robin Duke)
- Froggy from SNL's parody of The Little Rascals
- Harry Schliemer of Schliemer & Laub, songwriters
- Mr. Blunt
- Mr. Wonderful of The Interesting Four
- Paulie Herman, an annoying, high-voiced young man from New Jersey (This was the only recurring character he performed during the Jean Doumanian years.)
- Pudge, an elderly man who plays piano in a run-down bar. He rambles on about the good old days with his friend Solomon (played by Eddie Murphy).
- King Kong (1976)
- Johnny Dangerously (1984)
- Wise Guys (1986)
- Dead Heat (1988)
- Sidekicks (1992)
- Huck and the King of Hearts (1993)
- Demolition Day (1995)
- Two Bits & Pepper (1996)
- Baby Bedlam (2000)
- Bartleby (2001)
- Dead Lenny (2006)
- Last Request (2006)
- How Sweet It Is (2013)
- Strauss, Robert. "So Jersey, He Deserves His Own Rest Area", The New York Times, August 7, 2005. Accessed March 14, 2011. "Mr. Piscopo's father, also named Joe, was a lawyer and the family mostly lived in Essex County, the younger Joe graduating from West Essex High School in North Caldwell. With his Saturday Night Live fame, he moved to one of the richest corners of New Jersey, Alpine, persuading Mr. Murphy to join him there in that wealthy enclave by the Palisades."
- Maxine N. Lurie; Marc Mappen (1 April 2004). The Encyclopedia of New Jersey. Rutgers University Press. pp. 640–. ISBN 978-0-8135-3325-4. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
- "Saturday Night Live Backstage". 2011-02-20. NBC.
- Staff. "On the Comeback Trail: John Kerry and...Joe Piscopo?", The left coaster, March 9, 2005. Accessed June 11, 2009.
- Maciborski, Nathan. "Patriots celebrate successful season", Courier News (New Jersey), December 12, 2003. Accessed January 21, 2011. "Instead another Joe was on hand to honor Lyle and the Patriots, actor and Tewksbury resident Joe Piscopo."