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  • Tommy Nicchi in his new Comedy Works venue at 388 Broadway Friday May 6, 2016 in Saratoga Springs, NY.  (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union) ORG XMIT: MER2017121114020879 Photo: John Carl D'Annibale / 20036503A

Photo: John Carl D'Annibale

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Tommy Nicchi in his new Comedy Works venue at 388 Broadway Friday May 6, 2016 in Saratoga Springs, NY. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union) ORG XMIT: MER2017121114020879

Tommy Nicchi in his new Comedy Works venue at 388 Broadway Friday May 6, 2016 in Saratoga Springs, NY. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union) ORG XMIT: MER2017121114020879

Photo: John Carl D'Annibale

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For our regular Capital Region Q&A feature, we ask local people questions about themselves, their jobs and the place we call home. Today's subject is Tommy Nicchi, owner of The Comedy Works in Saratoga Springs, whose father founded the business when he was a toddler. Nicchi, 39, lives in Niskayuna with wife, Meghan, and daughters Brooklyn, age 6, and Kennedy, 3. Answers have been minimally edited for space and clarity.

Q: The Comedy Works has been in seven locations in its 36 years, including several in Albany, hotels in Glenmont and Colonie, and, since last year, in a basement comedy grotto in Saratoga. What's up with moving every five years?

A: There's reasons for each of them. I don't think anyone sets up a business plan of moving every five years. We've always done what we thought was the right next step for the business, even if that means leaving behind an investment like we did on Northern Boulevard in Albany. That being said, we've got a fantastic lease in Saratoga now, and we're not going anywhere. Famous last words, I know, but we're not moving again.

Q: So I shouldn't call you in 2021 and ask, "Where are you moving to now?"

A: Do not call and ask me that.

Q: Among the various things you do is book New Year's Eve comedy shows called First Night of Funny. This year you've got it at nine regional venues, including both theaters at The Egg in Albany and in Schenectady, Cohoes, Troy and Pittsfield, Mass., plus another, not under the label, at your home base in Saratoga. Is there really such demand for comedy?

A: We've been doing this for about 10 years, and it's grown a little every year. That's partly because of how New Year's Eve entertainment has changed in general. It used to be he was in a tux and she was in an evening gown or cocktail dress, they'd go out, do dinner, a show, maybe stay at a hotel with a big party and spend $1,000. Now, people want to see something affordable early and be home in sweatpants on their couch when the ball drops at midnight. I would, too, if I didn't have to work. The whole idea is finding a way to eliminate somebody's ability to say no. It's a fantastic price point — about $25. We're at a venue close to you — no long-distance driving. You won't be out late; the shows are done by 10 p.m., so you can get a drink and still be home before midnight.

Q: Where will you be on New Year's Eve?

A: I'm proactive right up until about 2 or 3 p.m., then I become reactive, dealing with what needs to be dealt with. Since we move people around, I'll probably be at The Egg; talent that starts at Proctors and at the Cohoes Music Hall ends up at The Egg. As long as I have my phone and Wi-Fi, I'm OK wherever.

Q: Given that you generally have three comics per venue, is there enough quality talent out there to satisfy the demand for New Year's Eve?

A: Yes, emphatically. If I had the venues, I could have put 50 more comics on stage who all could do 25 or 30 minutes of world-class comedy. I've been in this business my whole life, and there has never been a time when there was more talent in stand-up comedy.

Q: Does identifying it mean spending a lot of time watching videos?

A: Yes, and I'm also in New York City every Tuesday night at the Comedy Cellar. I'm very friendly with most of the agents out there. Of course they have an agenda, to get you to hire their people, but I tell them, "I'll present who you suggest, but if you sell me crap, I'm never calling you again." They know I mean it.

Pop quiz: According to Forbes magazine, Jerry Seinfeld was America's highest-earning comedian from 2006 to 2016, bringing in more than $900 million. But he was eclipsed last year by what comedian?

A: Ooh. Is it Kevin Hart?

Q: Yes. Forbes says he made $87.5 million last year, $30 million more than Seinfeld.

A: Kevin Hart probably outworked Jerry Seinfeld last year, so good for him.

Q: Do you think Kevin Hart is funny?

A: I do, but I also think Kevin Hart is very entertaining. It's not enough to just be funny; you have to be entertaining, be memorable. Kevin Hart is so entertaining he sold out a football stadium in Philadelphia. That was something like 50,000 people, and a lot of them were looking at him from 1,000 feet a way on a giant screen they probably couldn't see very well, but they'd still say they had a good time.

Q: Speaking of rich and famous comedians, two years ago Aziz Ansari, to prepare for a major national tour, honed his act in 13 sold-out shows at The Comedy Works' former location in Albany. He said he loved the experience. That's a nice compliment to you and local audiences, but did having him here have any tangible benefits?

A: It certainly brought in a lot of new faces, and even people who weren't there connect him with The Comedy Works. You can't put a value on that.

Q: Will he come back?

A: The next time he has a big tour, I think he'll come back. His agent is a good friend of ours, and if he wants to come back for something, logistics be damned, he'll be here.

Q: You've been open on social media about your daughter Brooklyn's health challenges. Tell us what she and your family have gone through.

A: My wife was 20 weeks pregnant when we found out that one of the chambers of Brooklyn's heart didn't develop. She had open-heart surgery the day she was born, another when she was 4 months old and again just before she turned 3. She's thriving now, and the prognosis is good; it's not the kind of thing we're conscious of every day anymore, just when we go to the doctor for a checkup every three or six months. Other than sometimes having trouble getting her to let my wife brush or hair or cut her fingernails, she's great.

Q: How has it changed your perspective?

A: I am not afraid of much of anything anymore. I'd always said my biggest fear was having a child who was really sick or had a significant health problem, and life came up and slapped me in the face with it. During my daughter's second surgery, her aorta ruptured, they gave her CPR for 18 minutes, and they didn't know afterward if she would have brain function. She was on paralytic medication, and so for three days we just sat there in her room, watching the machines breathe for her and hearing them beep. After that, if I don't end up taking out the trash on a given day, I'm OK about it; if I have to replace a comedian on a big show at the last minute, fine, I'll do it. Things don't get me worked up anymore. People ask if something like nine shows on New Year's Eve is a risk, and I say no. There's life and death, and there's everything else.

Pop quiz: British psychology professor Richard Wiseman spent a year to determine's the world's most popular joke in English. Do you know what it is?

A: I would say the chicken crossing the road.

Q: Here it is: A guy calls 911 and says, "I think my friend is dead." The operator says, "Are you sure? You have to check to be certain." There's the sound of a gunshot. The guy comes back on the phone and says, "He's definitely dead."

A: Ohh-kaayy. It took a professor to figure that out?

Q: The runner-up was this: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go camping and spend the night in a tent. Holmes wakes up Watson and asks, "What do you see?" Watson says, "Millions and millions of stars." Holmes says, "And what do you deduce from that?" Watson says, "If any of them are like our sun, then there may be at least one planet, maybe many, with life on it." Holmes says, "No, you fool. It's elementary that someone has stolen our tent!"

A: Ha ha ha.

Q: Would you hire someone who told either of those?

A: No. Make a note of how instantly I said no. Comedy really is a conversation between one person and a group of people. It's not telling jokes; it really isn't.

Q: In addition to your place in Saratoga and other regional theaters, you present across the U.S. in venues from as small as firehouses to places that hold audiences of thousands. And you've recently started presenting in Hawaii. How did that happen — and it's OK to say it was a way to justify going there four times a year and writing it off as a business expense.

A: It wasn't originally, but it is now. (Laughs.) I have an aunt who has lived in Hawaii since the mid-1970s, and I've visited her about 20 times. When I was there, I hooked up with basically the only three comedians who have a career on the big island, and we pulled off a show in an old theater in a town that used to have a sugar plantation. We did a show, then we did a three-night run — there were lines down the block — and now we're doing it quarterly.

Q: Isn't it expensive to get talent to Hawaii?

A: Yes, that's why the scene hasn't been good. But since we also book comics on cruise ships, if they're already on a cruise to Hawaii, part of their deal is they get a flight back from the cruise line, so I just have them come back a few days later. Since the talent is already there and the travel is paid for, it works out. It's been profitable since Day 1.

Q: Your umbrella company, Stand-Up Global, books The Comedy Works and venues regionally and nationwide; it matches up organizations, venues, cruise ships and others seeking comics with talent that fits their taste and budget requirements; works with comedians on their websites, social media, publicity and merchandising; has comedy radio, magazine, movie and recording components; and runs an online ticketing platform that artists and small venues can use. How many big is your company?

A: Three of us. There's me, and I have an assistant in Bangladesh who does all of our web stuff and graphic design, and I have another assistant in the Philippines, who sounds great on the phone and does a lot of administrative work for me. They both work 40 hours a week, and I can still have some sort of a life and see my kids.

Q: You've also essentially become a half-time employer of a few comics, buying up dozens of dates for Gilbert Gottfried, Nick Di Paolo and Albany's own recent transplanted-to-L.A. Jaye McBride, which allows you to help them explore other revenue streams and creative outlets besides standing on a stage for an hour a few times a week. What's the advantage of such an arrangement?

A: Having comprehensive deals like that keeps them employed and making money, and they get our full attention, unlike a conventional agent who can give them just 3 or 4 percent of their time. With Jaye, who's just breaking in, we can pay her enough that she can devote most of her time to comedy instead of also having to bag groceries at Trader Joe's. There are people who are famous but not very funny, but they got lucky, were in the right place at the right time; and there are lot more who are very funny but not famous. We don't want the people we develop to have to struggle for so long that when they finally get a big chance, it's 15 or 20 years after they were in their prime.

Q: Because I have magical powers, I can arrange for you to trade jobs with anyone in the Capital Region for one day, and I can give you the skills to do that job. With whom would you like to trade?

A: I would like to be my kid's first-grade teacher for a day, but not have her recognize me. I see my kid walk to the bus, and when she comes back she says her day was good, but I have no idea during those hours how Brooklyn interacts with other people, what she laughs at, even really what she even does all day. I'd love to be able to watch that. I don't necessarily want 20 or 30 first-graders in my life for any extended period, but I would like to see, just once, what my kid's like when she's not around me.

sbarnes@timesunion.com • 518-454-5489 • @Tablehopping • http://facebook.com/SteveBarnesFoodCritic

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