Q&A: Medicinal laughs with Joe Matarese

Joe Matarese has been making people laugh since taking the stage at Philadelphia comedy clubs at age 19. The southern New Jersey native performs regularly throughout the Northeast, including at well-known New York City clubs. He’s been on TV and radio shows hosted by David Letterman, Chelsea Handler, Craig Ferguson, Craig Kilborn and Howard Stern, had his own Comedy Central special, and been featured at the Montreal comedy festival.

Known for turning his real-life struggles into comedy, he has two specials — “Medicated and The Poster’s Wrong” — now on Amazon Prime. Matarese, 51, has also been a contestant on “America’s Got Talent” and appeared on Bravo-TV’s “Better Half” program with his wife, a psychologist he describes as being his “complete opposite.” When living in Los Angeles, he’d acted in several TV shows and movies.

Matarese, who performs June 8 at the Fairfield Theatre Company, recently spoke with Brad Durrell about his act and career.

Brad Durrell: What were you like growing up?

Joe Matarese

Joe Matarese: On the outside I was an athlete. On the inside I was a theatrical and creative kid, but couldn’t show that side of myself. I had anxiety. If something made me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable about what I was interested in, I would quit. That’s what happened in high school with playing baseball and trying out for the school play.

In many ways I wasn’t a quitter, so it was weird. But the anxiety would always win in my head. It wasn’t until I was married — my wife is a psychologist — and had kids that I started taking medications to bring that anxiety level down and was able to go for the things in life I really wanted.

BD: How did you start doing comedy?

JM: I didn’t know there were comedy clubs where you could go sign up for open mic nights. Then I met someone at Camden County Community College who told me he was doing stand-up at a place in Philadelphia. I forced myself to go because that’s what I really wanted to do. As soon as I started, even though I felt uncomfortable, I could tell all the people there were like me. And I’ve never quit. I started at age 19 and haven’t stopped since. I’ve never had another career.

BD: How do you connect with an audience?

JM: It took me years to figure out I could talk to people honestly. I began voicing the insecurity, the realness. I think that’s kind of what my gift is — I’m not afraid. I started pushing myself to get as honest as possible on stage. I would show them my flaws. Audiences like that.

BD: Tell me about your podcast?

JM: Every Wednesday, a new episode of Medicated comes out. I’ve partnered with a nonprofit mental health organization so it’s a self-help podcast and not necessarily comedic. It’s about being medicated — the good and the bad, the ups and downs, having ADD, dealing with anxiety and sleeping problems. Tons of comedians tend to have the same issues. We’re all dysfunctional in our own way.

BD: You’re known for having strong opinions. Where does that come from?

Joe Matarese

JM: My brother is the leader. He’s nine years younger than me and he’s super opinionated. My brother is like my mom. She was a very judgmental Italian-American mom. She’d tell me, “Don’t go play with that kid because of this,” but she didn’t even know the kid. She would just make a judgement. My dad is a little bit more like me. I’ll talk to anyone. I’m not very judgmental. Although my wife does call me a food snob and a movie snob. I admit I do look at reviews and do research being going out to places.

BD: Why should someone come see you?

JM: My biggest fan base probably is parents, people raising kids like me. Having an 11 and 7-year-old, I put an honest perspective on raising kids in 2019 while being medicated. I really don’t know how you could raise kids these days without medication.