By Paula Hendrickson
Comedian Tom Cotter made TV history when he appeared in the seventh season of America’s Got Talent. Not only because he lost to a dog, but because he was the first comedian to make it to the finals. You can see why he was a fan favorite when he performs this Saturday at the Rockford Theatre. The show starts at 7 p.m. Prior to his appearance, we convinced Cotter to answer a few questions. Here’s what happened.
Paula Hendrickson: You may have lost to a dog, but as the first comedian to make the finals of America’s Got Talent you set a record. What comedy or showbiz lessons did you take away from that experience?
Tom Cotter: I learned a few things from that experience. I learned the shocking truth that sometimes America doesn’t vote correctly. I also learned that when W.C. Fields famously said, “Never try to follow a kid act or an animal act,” he wasn’t kidding.
I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs. That has not changed one bit, although I did draft Michael Vick to my fantasy football team, but that is merely a coincidence. Soon, the truth will come out that the dogs that won AGT got their puppy treats from Lance Armstrong. Then I will be declared the true winner, and all will be right with the world. I have no bitterness toward K-9s. Sure they won the entire million dollar prize, and they can lick themselves, but I’m not jealous or anything.
PH: How and why did you decide to audition for America’s Got Talent?
TC: I thought about auditioning for AGT every year, and agents, managers, club owners, and other comics would peer pressure me to audition every season, because my act is kind of rapid fire, and it is well suited for the 90 seconds they give you to perform. The problem was that Piers Morgan was a judge on the show, and he seemed to hate American comedians. Every year he would be mean and borderline cruel to the comics on the show, and I blame him for the fact that no comic had ever made it past the quarter finals until Season #7, when I made it, and he was gone. Once Howard Stern replaced him on the judges panel, I decided that with Howie Mandel and Howard Stern on the panel I had a decent shot to make it at least to the quarter finals and maybe even the semi-finals. I had no idea that I could make it to the finals.
PH: Carving out a career in comedy can be grueling. Would you recommend participating in shows like America’s Got Talent to up-and-coming comics as a good way to get people to take notice?
TC: Absolutely! It was the best thing that I’ve ever done in my career. Comedians are usually relegated to late night TV or cable TV. AGT is not only a prime-time ratings juggernaut, it is also on during the summer, so it is up against re-runs on other networks. We comics all do The Tonight Show, or The Late Show, Conan, etc…, but those audiences are dwarfed by the huge audience that AGT gets. Anytime a comedian can get that much exposure, he/she should go for it. No question.
PH: What did the experience on the show do for your career?
TC: I’ve been a comedian for over a quarter of a century, and coming in second on AGT is far and away the best thing that has ever happened to me and my family. I always say the comedy is a dream job – if you dream of poverty and rejection. Because of AGT, and the amount of exposure it brings, I now get much better gigs, and my retirement plan is no longer based upon scratch tickets and finding buried treasure.
PH: When did you know you were destined to become a comedian?
TC: From conception. As an embryo, I knew I had a gift. I developed into a funny fetus. I would routinely tickle my mother’s internal organs and make her giggle. By the ninth month she very uncomfortable, and had very little sense of humor. That was a tough womb.
PH: How do you balance your live comedy shows with TV appearances?
TC: It’s not hard. I did a TV show last night (Red Eye on Fox News Channel), and I’m on the road today. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the more TV you do, the more butts you get in seats at your live shows. AGT was my third reality show on NBC. I was also on Last Comic Standing, and I had a small part on Dateline: To Catch a Predator, but I don’t like to talk about that.
PH: What’s the funniest thing a heckler has yelled during one of your sets?
TC: “Woof!” I had another guy scream at me in Russian, and to this day I have no idea what he said.
PH: In one word, how would you describe your comedy style?
PH: Other than here at the Rockford Theater on September 24, where will we be seeing you next?
TC: Rehab, I suppose. I’m a regular on Red Eye on the Fox News Channel which you can see from the comfort of your own home, while lounging in your underwear. This fall I’ll be in Milwaukee, DC, Indianapolis, Denver, Las Vegas, NYC, and your dreams.
For ticket price and information, go to rockfordtheatre.org.