Mike DeStefano, a product of Throggs Neck, went from a needle to a microphone. Now he’s telling the story as part of his act on NBC’s hit comedy competition show, “Last Comic Standing.”
DeStefano didn’t always know he’d become a comedian, mostly because he feared he wouldn’t become much of anything.
“I went through some time I wouldn’t wish on anybody,” he said. “I was in and out of rehab, got clean at 18, relapsed, got clean again, relapsed again.”
Even before DeStefano’s trouble with heroin and other recreational drugs, he was a rebellious kid. He grew up on Vincent Avenue in Throggs Neck and went to St. Frances de Chantal, then St. Raymond’s High School, where he was thrown out his freshman year.
“It wasn’t even drugs yet at that point,” he said, “I was just extremely rebellious. My brothers and I were always in trouble. I could never really hold down a job, didn’t want to be told what to do.”
He cleaned up his act, so to speak. DeStefano, who has performed stand-up comedy on Showtime, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Comedy Central Presents, is now one of ten finalists on Last Comic Standing, which airs on Monday nights at 9 p.m. on NBC.
In his routines, he likes to talk about his own story, but also riff on religion, race, and other people’s philosophies on life.
“I like to show the ridiculousness of all of it. I try not to take my jokes too seriously,” he said. “It’s like, our parents just had sex, that’s all we did to get here, and then we all go around acting like we did something so special by existing and being Italian or Irish or whatever we are.”
How DeStefano went from rehab to center stage is a wonder.
“I was actually living in Florida when I did my first act,” he said.
DeStefano had been down there for rehab, and chose to stay a while after being released. “I was so miserable working odd jobs, working as a youth educator for the Department of Health there. I hated regular working life, it just drove me crazy. I would curse in my seminars and the kids would laugh, but I’d get in trouble with the state. It was the kind of job that it’s very hard to get fired from, and yet I figured out how to get fired.”
That was when he got on stage in an amateur setting and, according to the now very professional comedian,
“The first joke I told got huge laughs. I was so impressed with myself, I knew I could do it for a job.”
His mother, Helen DeStefano-Bracciodieta, was impressed with him as well.
“All his brothers and myself are all so impressed, and proud of him,” she said. “I can’t tell you how bad it was for a while. That was the worst time of my life. He amazes me now, he turned into such a wonderful human being.”
His first big break, after some time performing in clubs, came when Denis Leary put him on his comedy show.
He then played a cop on an episode of ‘Rescue Me,’ the FX series about firefighters that Leary stars in.
He lists George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Chris Rock as his comedy influences.
But is it ever awkward for DeStefano, whose style of humor is often vulgar and has a lot of dirty language, to perform in front of his mother?
He said it isn’t: “She understands that comedians have to curse often,” but Helen admitted otherwise.
In the most recent episode on July 12, DeStefano and the nine other contestants each performed a brief act, and voting began. The votes are in, but results will not be revealed until the July 19 episode, in which three of the ten will be cut.
As far as sizing up his competition goes, DeStefano said that he doesn’t waste time with that. He hasn’t grown close with any of the other comics, and doesn’t watch their routines. “I’m not there to make friends,” he said simply. “I want to send them all packing.”
Following the most recent episode, reactions are already streaming in. “Laughing til I cry… Great Show! Best Pick: Mike DeStefano will bring it on,” writes Bill Halford on TVgrapevine.com.
But over at the Naperville Pop Media Examiner, Jennifer Sale writes: “I’m on the fence with Mike. I think he has potential to have funny stuff, you could tell at the end when he got a bit more personal with his humor… He’s trying to be this crass guy, and I’m not sure he really is that guy.”
Next, DeStefano wants to write a seriocomic memoir about his struggle with addiction.