Ever heard the joke about the lawyer who quit his job to become a standup comedian?
His name is Paul D'Angelo, and it's no joke.
After serving as Essex County's assistant district attorney for more than a decade and as a criminal defense trial lawyer, D'Angelo ditched the legal life to become a full-time performer. Next week, he will perform his one-man show as part of the Stoneham Theatre's first comedy festival. The festival will also feature seven other comedians and will be hosted by Sandy Hackett, a writer, comedian, actor, and son of comedian Buddy Hackett.
"It was a very tough decision. It would have been easy if I was a lousy lawyer," said D'Angelo, who earned his law degree from Suffolk University in 1982 after graduating from Boston College in 1978. "I was always funny with my friends, but never dreamed of being on stage."
He pursued his interest in show business anyway, performing standup as a hobby for nine years while maintaining a full-time job as a lawyer.
"I wanted to be the good guy. I was sick of being the bad guy. I was winning all my cases, but there were days that made my stomach turn," he said. "Comedy is very cathartic. It's cathartic for me go out there and air my opinions. It's cathartic for people to hear about issues that bother them. Laughter helps people cope with reality."
Standup comedy might not be the image that comes to mind when one thinks of a lawyer, but the ability to analyze, simplify, and persuade is part of the comic's spirit, he said. The courtroom provided good practice, and D'Angelo said he never suffers from stage fright.
"After dozens of jury trials and bench trials, you learn to think on your feet pretty quickly and respond to adversity. The courtroom was an amazing training ground to get up on stage," said D'Angelo, who lives in Wakefield. D'Angelo usually avoids lawyer jokes.
"I didn't do lawyer jokes for a long time because I wanted to separate the two careers. Going out there and telling people I was a lawyer seemed like a gimmick. I'm trying to open myself up now. There's an unlimited amount of potential there," he said.
With an act based on social commentary, D'Angelo went up the ranks to be named Boston's Best Comedian in 1994 and 1995 by Boston Magazine. He is the creator of the sitcom pilot "A Fine Mess," which was featured at the New York International Independent Film Festival in 2002. He also co-stars in the upcoming "Godfathers of Comedy" movie about comedy.
"My parents didn't understand for a while," said D'Angelo. "I don't have showbiz parents."
Sandy Hackett did have showbiz parents.
"For 30 years he was the funniest guy that ever walked the planet," Hackett said about his late father, who was known for appearances on late night talk shows such as "The Tonight Show" and roles in movies including "The Love Bug." "He was like the Pillsbury Doughboy. He'd walk out on stage, and people would just start laughing."
Hackett said that although comedy is in his blood, "you learn what you learn when you walk out on stage." A performer since the age of 11, Hackett has been making his own name on the comedy scene for decades, from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
"I'll be the host in the show, the thread that ties it all together," he said. "There's a wonderful collection of comedians who are all very different from each other. Hopefully, I can help propel the comedy. At the very least, it will help me send my daughter back to attend Harvard."
The comedy festival will feature a sampling of comedians each night. In addition to Hackett and D'Angelo, the other performers will be Rick Beretta, Jane Condon, Jimmy Dunn, Jim McCue, Mike McDonald, Kelly McFarland, and Patty Ross.
"There's so many wonderful comedy clubs in Boston," Hackett said, "and this is all the headliners in one venue."