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Forest Hills native on the road to comedy stardom with recent debut on ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’

Barry Rothbart, a Forest Hills native, appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" recently. Photo by Mindy Tucker
TimesLedger Newspapers

Barry Rothbart, a rising comedy star and actor from Forest Hills, has finally made it to the big time with his debut on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” last month.

“It was an incredible rush walking out on that stage to my mark (on the floor) for the start of my set,” he said with a grin “I wanted to make it my own and not just walk out there, so I started snapping my fingers and pointing at Leno and the band. It turned out pretty funny.

“Jay was incredible. We spoke backstage at length, commiserating on the comic lifestyle.”

He took a short break to do “The Tonight Show” during two exciting months of shooting new episodes of MTV’s show “Punk’d,” opposite famous celebrities. The new season will premiere in early 2012. “I’m not allowed to speak about it yet, but there’s going to be some really wild stuff.”

A charismatic, blue-eyed model type, the comic, who is 28, has been living in Los Angeles for three years. “Getting your first network stand-up TV spot is a big deal, and doing it on the most storied comedy late night show was amazing. It was surreal.”

Putting his personal stamp on humorous scenarios that spoof daily life and ordinary people, Rothbart loves exaggerating human flaws in a cynically edgy way.

Having an iced latte at a Starbucks in Astoria, where he lived for several years, the comedian spoke about his “Tonight Show” experience:

Apparently, he was supposed to schmooze with Leno after his performance, but missed the opportunity when actor Zachary Levi from the television series “Chuck,” who appeared before him, took up too much time recounting his personal adventures to Leno and the audience. But like a true professional, the comic said it was no big deal. It seems California livin’ has given this up-and-coming celeb a totally laid back attitude about life.

“But paying rent and making ends meet isn’t glamorous, especially when you’ve gotta hustle in a town like L.A.,” said Rothbart, who likes to live large on a budget, and knows first-hand how fierce the competition is in the entertainment industry.

Always a Queens boy at heart, the comedian grew up in Parker Towers on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, then moved to Whitestone when his mother remarried. When the family returned to his old nabe after his brother was born, he attended Russell Sage JHS and later Forest Hills High School.

Referring to his lifestyle as bi-coastal, the comic performs at clubs like Caroline’s when he’s in New York., and The Improv and Comedy Store in Los Angeles.

“The best shows are in the smaller venues in New York City that have an alternative comedy feel to them,” said Rothbart. He said Long Island City is an example of an alternative comedy scene, with shows like “Monsters” at the comedy theater The Creek and The Cave. Other smaller bar shows, Rotbart liked, were “Big Terrific” (Lovin’ Cup, Williamsburg), “If You Build It” (Upright Citizens Brigade, East Village), and “Sweet” (Ella Bar, East Village). “Those truly have the best comedy in the city.

“Comedy by nature must be subversive, which was a quality that the clubs system had in the ’70s, ’80s and some of the ’90s, but is completely lacking today. It’s an element of risk, of experiment that makes non-comedy clubs or alternative rooms the smartest and edgiest shows in town.”

Other major milestones in the comic’s career earlier this year, were his appearance on the television series “Men of a Certain Age,” playing opposite Ray Romano, and being invited to perform at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, which chooses only 12 comedians each year in the United States to be the “New Faces” of comedy. And he was named one of the best performers.

Also a budding filmmaker, he is currently completing a feature-length documentary that he’s co-directing with friend and fellow comic Jeff Cerulli. The film is about the world of competitive eating, aptly called “Hungry.”

“Leno observed: ‘Your first Tonight Show spot is like losing your virginity: you’re too nervous to enjoy it, it’s over way too quick and then you can’t wait to do it again.’”

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Reader Feedback

Grace from Queens says:
This is incredible! I think this guy really has "it". And the thing about the "model type" is true!
Dec. 3, 2011, 4:57 am
Jerry from Woodside says:
I don't really know about the "model thing" Grace, but yeah, it's clear this guy has what it takes. Where in Queens do you live Grace?
Dec. 3, 2011, 4:58 am
Grace from Queens says:
I don't appreciate people asking me where I live on a message board. Although, if I had to pick a comedian to have this conversation on an article for I would pick Barry Rothbart. And I live in Astoria, Jerry.
Dec. 3, 2011, 4:59 am
Calvin from Astoria says:
I have seen Grace in the neighborhood here. She really does live in Astoria.
Dec. 3, 2011, 4:59 am

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