When New Year’s Eve rolls around, comedians have a job to do: make strangers laugh. On one of the biggest paydays of the year, celebrating with friends and loved ones is for other people.
Like a lot of people who make their living on stage, Tom Cotter, Myq Kaplan, and Dick Doherty have had their share of memorable New Year’s Eves, on stage and off. They’ll be among the many comics who will be entertaining revelers at Boston area clubs and theaters Tuesday night.
Cotter, who plays the Wilbur Theater, has been doing New Year’s Eve shows since he came up through the Boston scene in the late 1980s. But there’s one that stands out, and it had nothing to do with his performance. It was a New Year’s Eve gig in New Hampshire, where he shared the bill with Boston comic Kerri Louise. That evening, he invited her to his family’s cabin to go skiing. He claims it was an innocent request, but it would be the beginning of a relationship that would lead to marriage and three children.
And it changed forever a much more painful connection to New Year’s Eve: Cotter’s mother had died of a heart attack in that cabin on that same date when he was 14.
“Meeting Kerri and hanging out with her over New Year’s turned that date around,” says Cotter. “I have weird feelings about New Year’s Eve, but that was the best turnaround of New Year’s Eve ever. Now I have something else to hang my hat on on New Year’s Eve, and that’s my bride. Which has led to my mother’s grandchildren. We’ve turned it around from a negative to a positive.”
Kaplan, who headlines a show Tuesday at the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, has never been one to celebrate much on New Year’s Eve. But he found himself in the middle of the biggest party of them all, the celebration in Times Square, while working at Carolines On Broadway one year.
“Since I had to get to a place of business that was in an ‘off-limits’ range, I got to walk past people and through boundaries,” he says, recalling the heavy security presence. “And once the show was over and the ball was dropping very nearby, we’d just go out on the street. And we were in this cordoned off, self-contained area. That was a nice little oasis to get to take in that ritual that I don’t care very much about.”
Doherty, a comedian and club owner, will play his own downtown club, the Comedy Den, this year. He’s been booking clubs long enough to remember the days before GPS and cellphones made things a lot easier for comedians to find their way to unfamiliar venues. One show in the early 1990s comes to mind, when he had to find a last-minute replacement for a wayward performer. “I had a comic that was supposed to be at a club called Strawberries in Plymouth, and he went to Plymouth, New Hampshire, where I had another club but there was no New Year’s show,” he says.
And then there was 1999, when Doherty was playing a New Year’s Eve gig with Steve Sweeney at a club in Randolph. The crowd was worried about Y2K, speculation that date-related computer glitches might result in massive technology breakdowns at midnight. “Everybody was a nervous wreck that when it reached 12 o’clock, all the systems and the electricity were going to shut off,” he says.
But nothing happened. “Instead of celebrating New Year’s,” Doherty says, “everybody was celebrating the fact that the lights went on.”
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at email@example.com.