Rocky LaPorte is finally getting the recognition he deserves. After being held up and shot while working as a delivery man, LaPorte decided that standup might be a safer and less dangerous career. That was back in the 1980s. He's since become a headlining comic and occasional actor.
Yet, until being selected to compete in last year's Last Comic Standing, national recognition eluded him.
"I just finished doing the Last Comic Standing Tour," he says from his home in Chicago. "We did two and a half months, and wrapped it up right before the holidays. That was crazy, man. It took up most of my last year. Everybody was great, and I got a lot of new fans out of it."
The tour brought him to the attention of fellow comic Ron White. "In March I'm going to Vegas to shoot Salute to the Troops, which will be on CMT," he says. "That's pretty neat."
Over the years, Last Comic had devolved into a silly, half-baked reality show. Then a new format, developed by comedian and actress Wanda Sykes, brought the ailing franchise new credibility. No phony auditions were held. Instead, comedians were recruited, including five from the Twin Cities: Pat Susmilch, Tommy Ryman, Nate Abshire, Tim Harmston, and Mary Mack.
The producers wound up with a nice cross section of comics. There were relative newcomers like Joe Machi, who LaPorte became a fan of.
"He's a funny kid, that Joe. That was a good thing about Last Comic Standing. It gave exposure to a lot of veterans that people didn't know, and it gave a lot new guys a break. Joe has been doing it nine years, but in this business that's not a long time."
LaPorte's friend Jimmy Schubert was another standup veteran who got a boost from the show.
"He got into the top 10," LaPorte notes. "Jimmy is crazy. He's off the rails, he's funny."
While the show was vastly improved from previous seasons, there were a few strange moments. As the field was narrowed, other, more well-known comics were brought in to coach the contestants. This created some odd interactions. For example, during one round Amy Shumer was brought in to provide feedback to the comedians. Schumer, who finished fourth in the show's fifth season, was certainly a great choice for the task, but what could she possibly tell Rocky LaPorte, who had been doing it for 25 years?
"Yeah, a lot of people questioned that," he laughs. In the episode, he diplomatically stated that he appreciated the feedback.
He wound up finishing in the top five and is now booked through January of 2016. "Things really took off," he says. "A lot of corporate work picked up, too. I like that, but one day I was in Florida, then I was in Pennsylvania, then in North Dakota. You ping-pong all over place. That's challenging in the winter, being in different time zones and sleeping in a different bed every night."
The upside is that corporate clients bring him to some exotic locales. "I got to go Hawaii and St. Kitts. I got to meet The Rolling Stones, and became good friends with Brett Farve. You get some gigs where you're at the North Pole for a week, and then there are those gigs that are unbelievable."
IF YOU GO:
Rick Bronson's House of Comedy
18+; 21+ later shows
408 East Broadway, Bloomington, Level 4 in The Mall of America
$22.95; $19 Sunday
7:30 p.m. Thursday through Friday; 9:45 p.m. Friday; 9:30 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
For tickets, call 952-858-8558 or visit houseofcomedy.net