, Salem, MA

November 28, 2013

'Thanksgiving Leftovers'

Comic Jimmy Dunn comes home to Beverly for a one-night show

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — When Jimmy Dunn went to work in his family’s painting business, the first thing he learned was that he didn’t want to be a painter.

“I knew I wasn’t climbing ladders with my dad,” he said. “I painted the steeple at St. Margaret’s Church when I was 15. I got attacked by hornets.”

But Dunn learned a few things from that job in Beverly that would relate directly to his career as a comic.

“My dad was a great storyteller,” he said. “He used to sit down with buddies after work over a beer. They’d tell the same stories over and over, and they got funnier every time, which is what comics do.”

Dunn has been polishing his delivery for 25 years in appearances on Comedy Central, CMT and NESN, and in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York, on stages that he has shared with the likes of Robin Williams, Denis Leary and Chris Rock.

Tomorrow night, he performs at Larcom Theatre in Beverly in a show called “Thanksgiving Leftovers,” a mix of Dunn’s new and old material that also will be recorded for a CD.

“I figured the day after Thanksgiving, everybody’s going to be back in Beverly and have nothing to do,” he said.

Dunn grew up “in a tiny apartment behind the fire station in Beverly Farms” and attended the former Beverly Farms Elementary School and Beverly High.

After painting but before he started telling jokes for a living, he tried several other lines of work, including training as a teller at Beverly Savings Bank.

“My first day, there was some confusion, and they thought I was coming from another branch,” Dunn said. “They put me out in the drive-through window. The traffic started backing up.”

He also worked at the North Shore Music Theatre for about a year, answering phones in the ticket office.

“I didn’t know how to pronounce ‘La Cage Aux Folles.’ But I sat right next to Jay Leno’s parents and watched him perform there. I also got to meet Joan Rivers,” he said.

“It was the late ’80s and I was flunking out of many colleges. I really didn’t have any direction at all.”

Until, that is, he was bitten by the comedy bug one night while sitting in the back of Jimmy D’s, on Route 114 in Middleton.

“I found myself over there and thought, ‘Wow, these guys are great,’” he said. “I started watching the comics over there and started learning a few of the tricks.”

His first break came at the Blackburn Tavern in Gloucester, where he was working for another branch of Beverly Savings Bank.

“I knew the guy who owned the place, because he would do his deposits every Monday,” Dunn said. “One day, I asked him, ‘Where do you find these guys?’”

Three comics from Boston would perform at the tavern every Sunday night, including veterans like Jimmy Tingle and Lenny Clark, and Dunn asked the owner if he could introduce them as master of ceremonies.

The man agreed, and Dunn got to perform 10 minutes of his own material before bringing on the main acts.

“Some of the jokes, they would actually laugh,” he said. “Some, they laughed 10 seconds after they should have.”

But it went well enough that when the owner came into the bank the next day to make a deposit, he offered Dunn a regular spot.

“I got a little bit better and met a whole bunch of comics,” he said. “I literally drove all over New England, and every single night I was anywhere from Worcester to Providence. I drove to Providence every Wednesday night for three years to get on stage, to be a better comic.”

The tipping point came after two or three years, when Dunn was still doing odd jobs in Beverly but had started to make $10,000 a year doing stand-up.

That was a good time to get into performing, when comedy nights were being held up and down Route 1, he said.

When the boom eventually died, and local clubs turned to other attractions, he hit the road.

“That’s when I started traveling and going to different cities,” he said. “I’d be there for the whole week working the club.”

Dunn thinks getting his training in Greater Boston has been a boon to his career.

“When I started doing comedy, I watched the best guys in New England, and it turns out these guys in Boston, they had a higher level,” he said. “They had to have a laugh every eight seconds. I emulated that Boston style.”

Dunn said there’s a growing market for the kind of recordings he will make at the Larcom, which are also played on 24-hour comedy radio stations that are popping up around the country.

“People are buying comedy again,” he said.

IF YOU GO What: Jimmy Dunn's "Thanksgiving Leftovers" When: Friday at 8 p.m. Where: Larcom Theatre, 13 Wallis St., Beverly Tickets:$25 Information: 617-531-1257,