“The Heavyweights of Comedy”: These 1988 stand-up performances showed us “fat is where it’s at!”

By on June 23, 2016

In 1988, eight overweight stand-up “heavyweights” were filmed at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, New York for an evening billed as “The Heavyweights of Comedy.” Night Flight’s founder/creator Stuart Shapiro was the director of the documentary film, also called The Heavyweights of Comedy, which you can now see streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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 Tim O’Rourke

The film, a concept documentary, was shot on 35mm with multiple cameras in front of a live audience, and there were no second takes, which is unique in the world of comedy films.

Like Shapiro’s Mondo New York, and the other comedy documentary he made around this same time, Comedy’s Dirtiest Dozen, the idea was to just let the cameras captured whatever they did, with very little to no editing afterwards.

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Barry Berry

These eight comedians — Bob Woods, Barry Berry, “Big Ed” Weldon, Billy Elmer, Tim O’Rourke, Marci Rose, Mark Rossi, and Thea Vidale — were mostly popular Long Island-area comics who regularly performed at the East Side Comedy Club and other local NY-area comedy venues.

The show was hosted by a comedienne known as Queen Kong, a bawdy burlesque-style performer who opened the show by walking down the center aisle and sge even tempts one bearded front row fan with the possibility of a little motorboating action, saying “When I see a beard on a man I just… all I think of is how soft it is.”

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Heavyweights of Comedy hostess Queen Kong warms up the crowd

It’s likely you may not recognize some of these comedians hailing from the 80s, but if you look close, you might remember Tim O’Rourke from his role as the bartender on “The Drew Carey Show,” or Thea Vidale from her short-lived 1993 TV series “Thea.”

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Thea Vidale

Just trust us, these were not just oversized heavyset comedians strolling out on a curiously fog-covered stage, and  joking about their weight and the size of their meals.

They were all big names at one time, particularly in the Long Island and New York City comedy club scene, but many of them were also making regular guest appearances on TV sitcoms that have come and gone, or appearing on national comedy tours, or performing at huge Vegas revues.

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Bob Woods

Bob Woods — who died just a few years after this performance, in 1990 — was heralded for his impressions of both Jackie Gleason and Art Carney and for doing a memorable routine based around the 1950s TV show “The Honeymooners.” His routine was considered amongst his fellow comedians as one the great classic bits of stand-up.

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“Big Ed” Weldon

“Big Ed” Weldon — well-known in the gay and lesbian communities, where he was a comic hero — was often described as “a cross between Joan Rivers and Liberace,” but we sorta think he reminds us a little bit of Rip Taylor too. He died in 1992.

Pittsburgh-born Billy Elmer made numerous appearances on TV shows and even had the honor of appearing on “The Tonight Show” during the final few weeks of Johnny Carson‘s reign. He has also appeared in movies like The Wedding Singer, Inspector Gadget, Fear of a Black Hat, Rock & Roll Mom and Day of the Dead.

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Billy Elmer

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Marci Rose and Mark Rossi (below)

The film was later screened in New York and Los Angeles, and it was ultimately released on DVD with Comedy’s Dirtiest Dozen (with “Heavyweights” included as bonus material).

We think you’ll agree after seeing this film: “Fat is where it’s at!”

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.