Mike Finoia using comedy for a cause

Mike Finoia

Mike Finoia with writer Megan Preisch, left, and Amanda Thome in Buffalo.

By Megan Preisch   

You never know what kind of off-stage personality a comedian might have. The way a performer acts on stage could be very different from real life. Comedy comes in a wide variety with an even wider variety of comics.

When you consider both his onstage and offstage personas, Mike Finoia is his own variety of comic. Taking this into consideration, we had to plan for anything to happen. Would he be like his onstage persona, with edgy, adult humor? Or would he be something else?

We found out quickly. When Mike came up and introduced himself to us, we set down our coffee and instantly realized that he was chill, relatable, a regular guy.

Sure, onstage with a microphone and adult audience, Mike’s humor is mature. But offstage, whether here at Spot or in front of a group of schoolkids, the “apple pie life” he enjoyed as a kid comes through.

Mike, who also is a comedy producer and writer for the popular “Impractical Jokers,” grew up in Connecticut. He was inspired by his father, grandfather, and his love for writing. After his first time on stage, Mike knew that comedy was his calling.

Mike, who grew up in a small town, loved writing and traveled to interview authors and musicians and realized that the small town lifestyle isn’t what he wanted. Mike wanted to travel, be creative, and adventure. So with those ideas in mind, he turned to comedy. He is now a writer for the TruTV show Impractical Jokers and touring with The Tenderloins. On his journey to comedic success, many things affected him and his outlook on comedy. Mike shared with us some of his challenges, memories, and inspirations along the way.

“Just going for it,” he said. “Having the guts to not do what you think you’re supposed to do and find out what you actually love and what you’re passionate about.”

Growing up, Mike didn’t think he was “supposed” to be a comedian. However as he grew up, that’s what he knew he wanted to do. Comedy not only allows Mike to do what makes him happy, but he is able to make other people’s lives better. When he sees the impact of his jokes or stories on an audience, the feeling is priceless. In that moment, the audience is focusing on the laughter and joy.

“(We are) just having this nice collective experience and we aren’t arguing and we aren’t judging and we aren’t pointing fingers,” he said.

Mike is able to take someone out of whatever is happening in their outside life, and put them into an environment full of laughter. By shutting down phones, social media, and by just listening, Mike interacts with the audience through his comedy.

Mike shared with us one of his the most memorable reactions from an audience member. During one of his first shows, a young man with cerebral palsy came into the audience. As a joke was told and escalated towards the punchline, the young man would rock quicker and quicker. When Mike delivered the final line, the man erupted in a physical reaction. This is the experience Mike wants for the whole audience.

“This is a responsibility, you know?” he said. “People come and pay to see a show and I want them to have that explosive experience.”

Even though many audience members share in this type of positive reaction, sometimes comedians aren’t so lucky. With every joke there comes opposition especially when it comes to politics and social issues. The idea of censorship that applies to television and news does not restrict comedy in the same way. Mike told us that he believes a comedian can make and say whatever joke they want as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.

“I don’t like when people take any position of authority and use it as like an “I’m right, you’re wrong. This is my opinion so shut up and listen.” That’s not me.”

Mike doesn’t take a side on controversial topics on stage not only to better the experience to the audience, but also because he feels he doesn’t have to. However, if a comedian does openly joke about a topic, each joke and idea should have a true purpose. Not just looking to attack a single view or opinion.

Now, contrary to stand up, writing for a television show like “Impractical Jokers” is very different. Impractical Jokers is a hidden camera show hosted by four, lifelong best friends. Brian Quinn, Sal Vulcano, James Murray, and Joe Gatto strive to humiliate each other in the most comedic way possible. After meeting Sal while doing stand up, they immediately hit it off and Mike was asked to open up for the guys. Later, when the show was looking for a writer, Mike submitted some work and was chosen for the job.

“They were happy to hear it was me,” Mike said, “and I was happy to join the team.”

The way Mike helps write the content for the show is very different then the stage. Instead of writing for himself, he’s writing with a team for four television stars. Mike compares television to a movie and stand up to an autobiography. He’s writing for characters rather than himself. Even with this different atmosphere, Mike shared nothing but joy in his experience on the show. The fans and the Jokers continuously show overwhelming support for Mike.

“I’m madly in love with both things that I do,” he said, “and I’m very lucky to have them.”

The happy and supportive environment for those on stage and in the audience allows Mike to share a message that is very close to his heart.

“There was a school shooting in Colorado years ago,” he said, referring to the Columbine tragedy of 1999. “My brother and sisters were playing outside and I looked at them and just got so emotional.”

Anti bullying is something that Mike feels very passionate about. This show, that is completely based off of friends joking and poking fun at each other, show the difference between “friend bullying” and actual bullying. Taking this fine line demonstrated on the show, Mike goes to different schools talking about bullying. He goes across the country visiting colleges and high schools.

“When you hear anti bullying you go, ‘Oh we’re going to hear this again,’” he said. “But what if you go into the school and work with students as leaders and ask them what they want to do?”

Mike’s goal was to interact with the kids rather than talk at them. He worked with the kids to find a fun way to work on spreading the idea of anti bullying. His message, whether it be at a school, a stage, or a writer’s desk, is one of making the world a better place.

Mike’s message soon came very much to life, when after a show with The Tenderloins, a boy and his mother approached him and Joe Gatto. Joe and Mike had just recently shared a video on Periscope with a message of loving yourself and others. This boy had seen this video and told Mike and Joe that it saved him. He had been having suicidal thoughts but the video made him have a better outlook on things, knowing that someone truly cared. Hearing his story, Mike and Joe sat down and just talked with him. This one boy, this one story, shows that you can make a difference in other people’s lives.

“I think we all kind of have a responsibility to each other,” he said, “and if anything it’s just to make people feel good when you can.”

As we took our last sips of coffee and thanked Mike for talking with us, I felt a newfound appreciation for comedians. They have the power to influence a whole stadium of people through laughs and enjoyment or arguing and booing. His message is one of complete positivity and kindness. This takes comedy to a whole new level by having a true purpose. After meeting Mike Finoia, I can say for a fact that his sincerity in his message on stage is just as great as off the stage. Mike takes full advantage of this position and uses it in the best possible way.

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