Thursday, March 6, 2014

35 Years of Joyous Laughter

Middlesex County College.
2600 Woodbridge Ave.  Edison, NJ 08818-3050


35 Years of Joyous Laughter

By Chuck O’Donnell ’91

Improvisational comedy is like taking a running leap of faith into the unknown – in front of a live audience. Luckily for Joe Bevilacqua, Jim Folly and Kenny Savoy, they have always been each others’ safety net. It didn’t take long after they met in the Theatre Department at Middlesex County College in the fall of 1978 to realize they shared a calling to make people laugh. And the harder, the better.


Soon, they were spending all their free time – even cutting some classes, truth be told – to write skits and create characters. Where the improv stopped and real life began was hard to say. Didn't matter.

They formed a comedy troupe, dubbed themselves Liquid Comedy and got ready to take the stage by storm.

In the tradition of “The Carol Burnett Show” or “I Love Lucy,” the strength of their bond and the magic of their friendship – being able to read each others’ expressions and feeding off each others’ energy – only heightened the spontaneous and sometimes unpredictable nature of the art form.

Or, in laymen’s terms, it made them funnier.

And all the students who sat and watched them perform “Mary Heartburn, Mary Heartburn” in Bunker Lounge in College Center could see it. So many people began to come to their performances that, as Mr. Savoy ’81 puts it, “We would call ourselves The Beatles.”

And why not? When comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Gilbert Gottfried came to perform at the school, Liquid Comedy would do “Gilligan’s Elevator” in between their acts.

photo, circa 1978, from left:
Jim Folly, Tom Giannazzo,
Joe Bevilacqua, Gary Bihler
and Kenny Savoy. 
They went on to create radio skits that aired on the College radio station, landed prime roles in the Theatre Department’s productions of “Equus” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and even convinced Ed Drake, the head of the department, to allow them to use the stage for a variety show.

“I think we just felt calm and natural with each other so there was no pretense,” Mr. Bevilacqua ’80 said. “None of us were trying to be better than the other. There’s no ego. We’re not looking for compliments. We’re not trying to impress each other.

“We’re just being and it comes out and it fits like a puzzle. Like a hand in a glove.” Many years have passed since their college days. The wrinkles on their faces are like road maps of the places life has taken them. But through it all – births, deaths, illness, everything – their friendships have never wavered and their chemistry has never waned.

Mr. Bevilacqua, Mr. Folly ’80 and Mr. Savoy collaborate on “The Comedy-O-Rama Hour” Internet radio show that streams live each Monday at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on The shows are also available for free download through iTunes, or can be uploaded to your digital device via a free app.

At the start of each episode, the off-key strains of the blaring bugle is a call to order for the off-beat array of characters living at Camp Waterlogg.

Sgt. Lefty, Ellis the Boatkeeper, Chef Ron Drysdale, Stinky, Lil Jimmy, Butch and all the others are brought to life by the voice acting of Mr. Bevilacqua, Mr. Folly and Mr. Savoy. Two founding members of Liquid Comedy – Gary Bihler and Tom Giannazzo – no longer perform with the group, but Mr. Bevilacqua’s wife, Lorie Kellogg, has stepped in. She does the voices of Olive Pitts, Lkie and many others.

Jim Folly, Lorie Kellogg,
Joe Bevilacqua and Kenny Savoy.
In a world where buzz words like “edgy” and “dark” dominate the popular culture landscape, Camp Waterlogg is a breath of fresh air at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. The characters who live here may be misguided or bumbling, but they never hurt anyone. Ridiculous without being malicious.

“The culture has gotten very angry and afraid,” Mr. Bevilacqua said. “Everyone wants to watch shows about people doing harm to each other. Everything is very dark on television and in movies. There’s not a lot of happy stuff going on. You can see that as, ‘Oh, God, we’re so depressed and I can’t do anything about it.’ Or you can see it as an opportunity to be different.”

Different is a good word to describe the show. Mr. Bevilacqua edits and produces the show at their home in Ulster County, N.Y. It’s the real-life Camp Waterlogg, complete with 17 chickens running around in the back yard. When Mr. Folly, who lives in New Brunswick, and Mr. Savoy, who lives in Piscataway, can’t make the 90-minute drive, they’ll simply record a skit and send it to Mr. Bevilacqua, who will splice it into the show.

Mr. Bevilacqua will sometimes enlist the help of some of the comedians he’s met over the years to join them on the show. Al Franken and Rick Overton, among others, have cropped up on past episodes.

More recently, Stuart Pankin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Desperate Housewives”) called Sgt. Lefty after having acquired the movie rights to his life story. When Sgt. Lefty revealed that he had lost his right arm in an automated potato peeler accident in the mess hall – and not in some heroic act on the battlefield – Mr. Pankin pretended to be outraged.

Pankin: “Do you know how much money I’ve already put (from) Pankin Productions into the Lefty story? Now you’re telling me this was a kitchen peeler accident! You understand, that means I have no reason to make this movie anymore.” Sgt. Lefty: “Gee, does this mean I’m not going to get my robotic arm?”

Pankin: “I don’t care about your robotic arm. I’m a little more concerned about the $500,000 I’ve already put into the movie, which is gone. It’s not even tax-deductible any more!”

Here is our Stuart Pankin video

Other characters who appear on “The Comedy-O-Rama Hour” can trace their origins back to MCC.

For instance, Mr. Folly and Mr. Savoy were influenced by the chemistry between Jackie Gleason and Art Carney on “The Honeymooners,” so they channeled that buddy humor into a skit about two madcap Italian bakers and developed it into part of Liquid Comedy. To this day,
Mr. Folly has trouble remembering if he’s supposed to be playing Marcello or Luigi. Either way, that act, and the characters, are still alive today.

So are their memories of MCC. The zenith of their time at MCC may have been when they put on “The New Looney Tunes Show,” with spoofs and skits influenced by everything from Saturday morning cartoons to “Saturday Night Live.”

“We ended with Gary Bihler and me doing ‘Who’s on First’ as Abbott and Costello,” Mr. Bevilacqua recalls. “And it was a big success.”

After a few years, one by one, the members of Liquid Comedy graduated from MCC. Mr. Bevilacqua has made a living doing everything from extra work on TV to audio book reading. Mr. Savoy plays the stock market. Mr. Folly works with Youth Stages, a children’s theater company based in

Mr. Bevilacqua has been plotting a return engagement on the stage at MCC.


“We could do some of the old material and mix it in, but it would mostly be kind of a variety show slash radio theater,” he said. “We could even record it for the radio.”

Truth is, life hasn’t been one long spoof. Sure, there have been a lot of laughs, but also some tears. Through it all, these three friends have stuck together. “We’ve suffered through some tragedies but we’ve also had some great things happen,” Mr. Folly said. “So it’s not just about us doing comedy, it’s about us being human beings and being friends and looking out for each other.”

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