by Will Garre
New York City comedian Sean Donnelly seems invincible on stage, but I discovered recently that, surprisingly, he is mortal like the rest of us. When I spotted him at the bar, I immediately noticed his left arm was wrapped in bandages. It turns out he had sustained an injury to his left hand when his bull dog, Rickles, was involved in a dog park skirmish. Donnelly broke his finger when it got caught in a leash during peacekeeping efforts.
Luckily, he could still bend his elbow, and, while drinking a medicinal beer, Donnelly shared a little about his background. He is originally from Stewart Manor, Long Island. While growing up, he always enjoyed making his family laugh. Donnelly realized he might have a special gift for comedy when he was a freshman in college, and he was involved with the Youth Adult Participation Project, or Y.A.P.P. Though he really has no idea what Y.A.P.P. did, or why he was a part of it, he remembers one Y.A.P.P event very clearly: “[There were] about 30 people there…[it was] an exercise where we were trying to help people with their problems, and this one girl talked about about how she had this big test coming up, and so the moderator said, ‘What can we tell her to help her with this big test?’ and I said, ‘The answers.’” The room erupted with laughter, and Donnelly became aware of his potential.
Donnelly’s first experience with stand-up was in 2004 at a Mexican restaurant on 5th Avenue and 32nd Street. It was an open mic, and he did reasonably well. By 2006, he was performing regularly throughout the city and seriously pursuing comedy. Today, he is a staple of the NYC comedy scene. Not only does he have strong material, but his likeable, genuine stage persona makes him an excellent host, and hosting is not easy to do. He is very natural on stage, and comfortable interacting with the audience. When asked about the secrets to crowd work, Donnelly explained that “sometimes crowds just want you to talk about them,” and stressed the importance of “say[ing] what’s on everybody’s mind.”
Despite the fact that hosting is one of the toughest comedic disciplines, it rarely gets the respect that it deserves. One night, after hosting a show at The Creek and the Cave, Donnelly was approached by an admiring audience member who exclaimed, “Hey man! Do you ever actually do comedy, or do you just DJ in between sets?”
Donnelly lists his influences as Bill Murray, Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, Abbott and Costello, and George Carlin. As a kid, he enjoyed listening to 1960’s Carlin, and he developed an appreciation for Carlin’s classic character, “Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.”
Donnelly co-produces Comedy Show at Alligator Lounge, a weekly stand-up show in Williamsburg, alongside fellow comedians Robert Dean, Steve O’Brien, and Kevin McCaffrey. The show is free, and attendees get a complimentary pizza with every beer. Not too shabby, especially considering the amazing comedic performances on display. If you don’t catch Donnelly at this show, you can also see him on a huge Bushmill’s advertisement in Israel. Donnelly, among other NYC comics, was selected for a Bushmill’s ad campaign photo shoot, but he didn’t think the images would be used. After some time, one of his friends noticed an enormous Bushmill’s billboard in Israel and said to himself, “That looks like Sean Donnelly’s hat.” He then realized that it was, indeed, Donnelly’s hat. Not only that, it was Donnelly’s visage, in all its bearded glory.
Some Sean Donnelly Trivia Questions:
Yuletide Snapper: What was your best moment in comedy?
Sean Donnelly: Following Louis C.K. at Stand-up New York, or that time when Jim Gaffigan complimented my joke.
YS: What is your favorite food?
SD: Fried chicken.
YS: You don’t get heartburn? Fried chicken gives me heartburn.
SD: It gives me heartburn, too, but I just push through it.
YS: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
SD: Blockbuster Video. It was horrifying.
YS: What’s your favorite movie?
SD: Raging Bull.
YS: Name three things that make you happy.
SD: 1. my wife 2. my dog 3. comedy
Donnelly recently auditioned at The Creek and the Cave for Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival. To keep abreast of the results and get updates and information on his performances, see his website, www.seandonnellycomedy.com, or follow him on Twitter: @seanytime. His weekly show, Comedy Show at Alligator Lounge, is every Tuesday, 9:00 PM, at Alligator Lounge in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.