Joe DeVito ’90 – Campus Squirrels Spawn Comedy Success

Joe DeVito ’90 – Campus Squirrels Spawn Comedy Success

Joe Devito ’90 chose Fairfield University after meeting a tour guide named Amy Fairfield at a rival school. “I interpreted it as a sign,” said DeVito.

In his first semester as a Stag, DeVito wrote a feature story he described as “a very silly article about people on campus getting attacked by squirrels” for The Mirror. It was his first experience making a large-scale audience laugh.

Two years later, DeVito became the first junior ever appointed editor-in-chief of The  Mirror. The job fueled his appetite for late nights, tight deadlines, and hard work. The reward for his labor was the rush he got from putting the weekly paper out, then sitting back — often in the Campus Center mezzanine — and waiting for a reaction.

When I started, I had no idea comedy could be a career. I just thought it was interesting and fun and challenging. And I think whatever you choose as your job, if you lose those things, you’re in trouble.

Armed with a 1990 diploma and a creative spirit, DeVito spent his early post-collegiate years pursuing writing jobs and playing guitar in a heavy metal band. He remembered his parents thinking, “Wow, we spent all this money to get him a nice English degree from an esteemed Jesuit University and he’s got long hair and tattoos, and he’s working at a video store.”

By the late ’90s, DeVito had cut his hair and moved from Connecticut to Long Island for a corporate writing job. He fostered his creative side penning freelance humor articles, and enjoyed the familiar rush that came from people responding to his unique view of the world.

A colleague at his 9-to-5 job talked DeVito into taking a stand-up comedy class. Soon he was running from open mics to amateur shows around the N.Y. tri-state area. Pushing past a stomach-churning fear of speaking into a microphone, he came to the realization, “I think I want to be a comic.”

DeVito was in his mid-thirties, debating the folly of this notion when he received another sign: he got laid off from his corporate job. “It was just the kick in the (butt) I needed,” he said.

His big break came the second year DeVito auditioned for Last Comic Standing, an NBC reality TV show. Of the hundreds of comics competing from virtually every English-speaking country in the world, he was chosen as a finalist. The television exposure launched DeVito’s professional career.

In an interview after his Last Comic Standing success, DeVito described how his first audition hadn’t gone well, “In a dark, empty comedy club in the middle of the afternoon, in front of two crabby judges who’d been watching awful comics for several days, I had a panic attack.” He was rejected.

What made the difference the second time around? The answer was in DeVito’s day planner: in the year between the two auditions, he had rehearsed at open mics 625 times.

These days, in addition to a full slate of stand-up performances in the U.S. and Canada, DeVito’s full-time comedy career is jam-packed with podcasts, panel appearances, teaching comedy workshops, and one-on-one coaching.

He likes to tell people, “I didn’t get into comedy to become rich or famous… and so far: mission accomplished.”

But DeVito is also quick to point out the intangible rewards of a career spent in pursuit of laughter. He recounted one night after a show on Long Island, when an audience member came over to thank him. The man shared that his mom had recently passed away, and DeVito’s performance marked the first time his father had been out since her death. “This guy told me, ‘I haven’t seen Dad laugh like that in ages,’” recalled DeVito.

DeVito returned to Stag country to give a first-year Orientation performance in 2014. His audience that night — members of the Class of 2018 — graduated from Fairfield this past May.

When asked for career advice for these new alumni, DeVito spoke from experience: “Be prepared to work. Be prepared to really grind. Because even if there’s a way to cut to the front of the line, that’s not what is going to make you happy. What makes you happy i when you put in the work and you solve the problems and you figure out a solution to what’s in front of you.”

DeVito continued, “When I started, I had no idea comedy could be a career. I just thought it was interesting and fun and challenging. And I think whatever you choose as your job, if you lose those things, you’re in trouble. Because there’s no amount of money that will replace them.

“So I’ve been told. So far, no one has offered me a large amount of money. I could be completely wrong.”

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