By TOM CHESEK
Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, on May 10 2018
“My phone rings a lot” says Bobby Collins, speaking from Rome, Italy in what must be an epic understatement of this maybe too-connected age.
The constantly working comic — who averages more than 200 shows each year, in locales that range from Hong Kong to Hasbrouck Heights, and Levittown to London — is in Rome precisely because his phone rang the other day, with his old friend CHER at the other end of the line.
“She said, ‘Bobby, I got a f***in’ special event for you’,” reports the veteran funnyman, who’s toured several continents with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, and Julio Iglesias — and just like that, it was off to the Eternal City for a one-off performance, shoe-horned between Cher’s extended-engagement gigs at the Monte Carlo in Vegas.
All in a lucrative night’s work for the have-gags-will-travel Collins, a standup’s standup who boasts six CD releases, a top-selling book, appearances on three iterations of the iconic Tonight Show (“Johnny, Jay, and Jimmy”), and a well-earned reputation that’s carried him from the highway “Chuckle Huts” of this great land, to command performances at the Clinton and Obama-era White House.
Add to that another recent gig with Celine Dion at that “other” White House — Mar-A-Lago — following which President Trump complimented him with a “good show…I started to laugh,” before dropping the question, “so, did you vote for me?”
“ I told him I would rather vote for El Chapo,” recalls the comedy pro who once clocked many hours at the mic inside various Trump-branded properties in Atlantic City. “All of his people laughed…but he didn’t.”
While he might dial back some of “the political sh*t” for audiences in places like Bangladesh, topical topics remain part and parcel of the Collins comedy curriculum, within the busy itinerary of an entertainer who’s constantly testing out new material; who’s not afraid to “go there” or work a shade or two of blue; and who continues to observe that “I get paid to have fun…although the travel gets to me.”
“I take it a little bit easier in the warmer months,” says the theater-size attraction who performs at nearly 50 good-sized auditoriums (as well as “three or four” favorite smaller clubs). “Summer is for casinos and golf benefits…I hit ‘em hard in January, February, and March.” That said, Collins is still out there on the road in the merry month of May — a road that takes him, for the first time this Saturday, May 12, to the House Of Independents in (according to his website) “Ashbury NJ.”
Uh…Ashbury? Granted, the scene along the Cookman Avenue corridor might sometimes bear a whiff of San Francisco’s storied Haight — but for our purposes, we’ll give a mulligan to this seasoned road warrior, whose work ethic has no doubt left him often unable to tell Portland, Oregon from Portland, Maine (even as he maintains a bi-coastal lifestyle between his family residence in Santa Monica, and his longtime pad at 12th and Broadway in NYC’s West Village).
While Saturday’s 8 p.m. set represents a first-ever Collins gig at the heart-of-downtown performing arts space — an ever-eclectic shapeshifter of a venue that’s flirted occasionally with comedy offerings, in between everything from punk moshes, 90s dance parties and film screenings, to Mexican wrestling, locally sourced theater, and Sunday church services — it’s another in a long line of Monmouth County appearances for the headliner who’s performed at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre “every year for the past 15 years.”
“My thing is, if you book me, I’m gonna be there, and I’m gonna perform…only this year a nor’easter showed up ahead of me,” recalls Collins. “I still made it there…and when I got there, 1,153 people were there to see me!”
“It goes to show you how great Jersey people are…always good, always loyal, down to earth…they’ve got a lot of heart, and they know the value of a buck!”
So, while we’re on the phone (and while the topic of the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner is still freshly controversial), Collins insists that “I would absolutely emcee the dinner if they asked me to…as long as they ask comedians to do it, they’re going to get somebody who tells the truth, and who’s funny when they do it!”
“Of course comedy does a lot of the journalist’s job these days,” he adds. “If you’re not talking about what’s going on, you’re taking a big hunk out of comedy.”