Astoria comedian draws inspiration from past experiences to tickle audiences

Astoria comedian Blake Rice draws on his childhood and past experiences for material for his act.
Courtesy of John Schedia
By Tammy Scileppi

One might not think that humor comes from a cranky place, but according to Jerry Seinfeld, “crankiness is at the essence of all comedy.”

Cheerful standup comedian and Astoria local Blake Winston Rice kinda agrees.

“I think Jerry is talking about the discomfort that initiates material aka ‘crankiness,’ ” Rice said. “What is wrong with this scenario? What do you not like about that subway ride to work? What doesn’t taste good when eating airplane food? This is essential to getting the audience on your side when starting up a joke. Or not. I could be wrong … Jerry doesn’t answer my voicemails anymore.”

Sometimes, comics tell jokes because ironically it’s a way of dealing with sadness or pain.

“I think that most comedy needs to draw the audience in with some pain,” Rice said. “Now, how severe that pain is can be up to the comic. I choose to discuss lighter topics. Sure, there’s some dark/sad material in there, but it’s as bad as the pain a 6-year-old feels when he’s sent to his room, a middle school student getting stuck in chorus class against his will, or a 12-year-old having to go to Colonial Williamsburg for a family vacation (instead of Disneyworld).”

The comic describes his style as “very story-telling.” Or, at least that’s how people have been describing his standup shows.

“I like to laugh about all the absurd situations you go through as a little kid: crashing your sister’s ‘breakfast-themed’ birthday party, talking to your pet gerbil Merlin … classic stuff,” Rice said.

Like most comedians, he draws from past experiences and everyday life.

“For my upcoming show, I’ll be talking a lot about moments from my childhood; amping them up and sharing them with the audience.”

If you’re in Manhattan, you should check out Rice’s show at the Triad Theater, located at 158 W 72nd St., Oct. 14, at 7 p.m., where he’ll be performing his headlining standup comedy act, hosted by fellow comedian Paul Schissler.

“What I like about comedy and stand up is that you can find material anywhere. I’m constantly picking up ideas for either character traits, larger picture premises, punchlines, scene descriptions etc.,” Rice said.

You never know what you’re going to hear when he grabs the mic and gets in his quirky funny zone.

“Sometimes, I think or come across something that cracks me up,” Rice said. “I don’t always know why, but it’s just funny to me for some reason and I like to share that with people. It feels good. For example: people running from bees.

“If I’m working on a new bit, I can always ask a buddy, ‘Do you think this works?’ For example: ‘Hey, Kyle, do you ALSO think that window unit AC’s are a silent killer?’ or ‘Yo, Hunter, all avocados are scams, right?’ ”

Rice said his stuff is pretty clean, overall. “My material is mostly edgy and risqué when I perform my patented ‘chorus line’ routine (kidding). I like to throw in a dirty/R-rated joke every once and a while, to keep the peeps on their toes, but for the most part I like talking about material they can show on TV.”

Like all entertainers who dream of making it big, the starry-eyed lad seems excited about the journey ahead, and is already accustomed to the all-too-familiar showbiz hustle. He has come a long way from small-town college grad to big-city comic. Rice never imagined he’d be doing large scale standup shows and pitching television to network executives.

“I wouldn’t call Moorestown, N.J., a huge comedy scene town, so moving to NYC, it was nice to have some fellow comedians to kick around ideas with. But with that being said, the support I’ve received from my hometown friends aka ‘The Goons,’ has been phenomenal,” Rice said. “I perform at the Hard Rock, Philadelphia from time to time and it’s the closest I get to a ‘hometown’ crowd, and it’s always one of my favorite gigs of the year.”

Like Sinatra said, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. The comic has made a splash on New York City’s comedy scene, having performed at QED in Astoria, and The Broadway Comedy Club, The Delancey, Ella Lounge, Camp David NYC, and Metropolitan Room in Manhattan.

But beyond that, Rice said that in the past year his career has started to take more strides in the right direction. He made his directing, screening, writing debut with his indie film “To Whom It May Concern,” which has been selected in over seven International Film Festivals, Including Queens World Film Festival. You may have caught it when it screened at the Museum of the Moving Image a while back.

Rice said after a couple months of pre-productions (casting, location scout, etc.), it took three days to shoot this dramatic short, filmed entirely in Astoria.

The story is set at a chic Manhattan gallery opening, where a young woman is startled to discover she bears an alarming resemblance to the subject of the photographs on display. Over the course of a single evening, she explores both the city and herself in search of the truth behind the mysterious picture she can’t remember taking.

“Gabriella Piazza is our brilliant leading lady; we see the entire story unfold through her eyes,” Rice said. “Logan Sutherland plays Ryan, the last remaining friend and voice of reason. Noelle Lake plays Amy, an advice-wielding photographer/art collector; Kajuana Marie plays an overworked and highly stressed friend of Ryan, and the lead actress who works at the gallery opening.”

You can check out “To Whom It May Concern” at the SVA Theater in New York City via the Big Apple Film Festival, Nov. 1 to Nov. 4.

The busy comic is also acting in the scary movie “Hollow’s Ridge,” which came out in the summer.

“Am I playing a frat-star, jokester who constantly pranks the rest of the incredibly talented cast? Maybe. Typecast? Yes,” Rice said.

Set in the greater Buffalo, N.Y., area, the film is about eight Brooklynites who travel to the legendary Hollow’s Ridge and stumble across sacred grounds, thus forcing them to try everything to escape the town’s deadly curse.

When he’s not making his audiences laugh out loud at comedy clubs, Rice co-hosts a weekly Astoria-based podcast (on Ditmars Blvd.) called “The Cold Read,” where he and longtime buddy and comedian Ricky Ryan write an original screenplay, then invite their favorite actors, comedians and artists to be special guests, and have them cold read original comedic scripts on the spot.

“It’s an acting lesson, improv, live comedy, all wrapped up as a podcast-style radio play,” Rice said. “We dig it and hope others do too. Give ’er a listen.” (soundcloud.com/thecoldread/weekend-getway)

Comedians do more than crack jokes. Rice said he has signed with an Emmy-winning TV agent, and is very excited about two television shows that they’ve started to pitch to networks: “Socially Awkward Sketch Comedy,” and a dark comedy series entitled “Special Days.”

“I get to work on the script for ‘Special Days’ with my good friends Lyons George, Paul Schissler, Hunter Hoffman, Keele Howard-Stone, my older bro Porter Rice, and, of course, Ricky Ryan – all funny dudes who I love to punch up jokes and spitball material and ideas with. The dream team of fellas who undoubtedly roll their eyes at my 4:30 a.m. emails,” Rice said.

Astoria has been home to many comedians and creative types, and according to Rice, what he likes most about the local comedy/art scene, is that everyone is constantly creating.

“If you’re waiting for the train at the Astoria/Ditmars stop, chances are half of your subway is heading to another audition, open-mic, table read. It’s a sweet neighborhood that allows artists of all types to succeed,” said Rice, who knows all too well how challenging getting acting work can be.

But when he does snag a juicy role, he said he loves playing silly characters and stepping into “act-outs” on stage.

“I’m a big fan of the gumshoe detective, who, with eyes squinted, drops a smooth tag line, lights a smoke, drags once, exhales and immediately flicks his imaginary cigarette at the audience,” Rice said.

So, what makes good comedy?

“Oh jeez, that’s a tough one,” Rice said. “One way of making ‘good comedy’ is connecting with the audience. If it’s relatable, if you can find a way to get on the same page with everyone, you’re off to a great start.

“I may be able to better answer ‘what makes bad comedy?’ Haha. You learn much more from jokes going poorly. And, as a comic, you definitely have to sift through more bad jokes to find the ‘good’ ones.”

When he’s enjoying some much-needed down time, the comic said he stops by his favorite Astoria hangouts.

“At McCanns, they got the coldest cruisers on the strip. You can find me there on Sunday, screaming at the ‘GMen’ and rubbing elbows with Astoria’s finest,” he quips.

Rice also recommends The Pomeroy. “It has a stellar gastropub-style menu with delicious cocktails made by the top bartenders in town. It’s a cool place to bring your out-of-town friends and impress them by saying, ‘Heck, yeah, I kick it in dope places like this, like, all the time.’”

In his spare time, Rice pursues a variety of cool hobbies.

“Screenwriting, fantasy football, nerding out on film with friends, grilling, playing basketball – which I am terrible at – and, I like to read adventure/survival novels because I’m a little kid at heart…reference: my entire ‘Hatchet’ book series collection,” Rice said.

At 27, the comic jokes that lately he feels like he’s aging backwards.

“‘Benjamin Buttoning,’ the doctors call it,” Rice said. “My 22nd birthday party is gonna be OFF THE CHAIN!”

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