As a Malden Catholic High School student in spring 1982, John Pinette was named to the All State cast for excellence in acting at the Massachusetts high school drama festival. Little more than five years later, he landed a weekly Thursday night show at Nick’s Comedy Stop in Boston.
A stand-up comic who was a mainstay at Boston’s clubs before attracting a national audience, he offered up his large girth and larger appetite as comedic fodder. Mr. Pinette died in a hotel in Pittsburgh Saturday. The Malden native was 50 and lived in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
A Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety spokeswoman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Mr. Pinette was in the city for a family function, and that a relative contacted security at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel after not hearing from him for an extended period.
The Post-Gazette reported that an Allegheny County medical examiner’s office supervisor said Mr. Pinette had been suffering liver and heart disease. His manager, Larry Schapiro, told the Hollywood Reporter that Mr. Pinette died of a pulmonary embolism. He was preparing for a North America tour that included shows next month in Worcester, Providence, and Foxwoods.
Self-effacing and energetic, with a faux short-fuse, Mr. Pinette poked fun at all manner of distasteful things with a signature denunciation: “Nay-nay!” Gastronomic indulgences and peculiarities — from all-you-can-eat sushi buffets to waiting behind indecisive customers at McDonald’s — dominated his routines.
Even a day at a water park with a giant water slide could prompt sharp observations. “Twenty stories high. No elevator; you have to walk,” he said. “It’s $35 to get in — you should carry me up there. I’m in flip-flops and a Speedo and I’m walking up this thing.”
He added: “Let’s not visualize that; let’s just move on.”
Mr. Pinette and Robert Schimmel were named the funniest male stand-up comics of the year at the American Comedy Awards in 1999. Mr. Pinette also appeared in several movies, including “The Punisher,” and released several stand-up shows on DVD, including “Show Me the Buffet,” “I’m Starvin’!,” and “Still Hungry.” He had recurring roles in the television series “Vinnie & Bobby” and “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.”
He reached his largest audience, however, when he played the hapless carjacking victim in the last episode of the iconic “Seinfeld” television show. His plight landed the show’s stars before a judge for mocking him and failing to help under a “good Samaritan” law.
Discussing why he worked his weight into routines, Mr. Pinette told the Las Vegas Sun in 1998 that “all I’m really doing is talking about going on diets and . . . just about being a big guy. Why should that be any different from a comic that says, ‘I was an alcoholic,’ or, ‘I was in a bad relationship’? I want to talk about being a big guy . . . it’s not a fat joke. It’s a joke about living the way you live.”
In 2005, he switched venues and attire for a Broadway production of the musical “Hairspray,” in which he played Edna Turnblad, the overprotective mother of the play’s teen heroine (that character was played by Divine in the 1988 movie directed by John Waters).
Mr. Pinette said he was surprised he was asked to audition for the role.
“My last musical was ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,’ my sophomore year at Malden Catholic,” he told the Globe in May 2005. “Needless to say, I had no idea why they wanted to see me for this part.”
Although he settled into the role, Mr. Pinette initially found the stage acting challenge intimidating and reminiscent of his first night at a venerable Boston institution. “I said to myself, ‘I think I’d rather be in a gunfight,’ ” he told the Globe. “I was as scared as I was the first night at Nick’s Comedy Stop in front of a full audience. Actually, I was less nervous [at Nick’s] because then I wasn’t in a dress.”
He also played that role for a national tour of “Hairspray,” and told the Montreal Gazette that because he had lost 100 pounds following gastric-bypass surgery, he needed to use a fat suit for the part. As a rule, though, he eschewed most exercise, including sit-ups or push-ups. “Ups defy gravity. Gravity is a law. I respect the law,” he told the Gazette.
John Paul Pinette was born on March 23, 1964, and graduated with an accounting degree from what is now the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“I was a very bad accountant,” he told the Gazette. “I knew the book theory, but I didn’t have the heart for it. I did it for six months, and my job was to distract the auditors with jokes.”
Full details about his survivors and a memorial service were not immediately available. The New York Times reported that Mr. Pinette leaves a brother, Robert, and two sisters, Dorothy and Kathleen.
At one point, Mr. Pinette owned a home in Las Vegas, where he found fodder for his comedy in a buffet designed as a tribute to “The Wizard of Oz.”
“My favorite movie and they made it a buffet,” he says in a routine posted on YouTube.
A gifted mimic, he adopted a Munchkins voice at one point and then went on to parody the movie’s dialogue: “Prime ribs and pork chops and scampi, oh my!”
He also modified the lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
“Somewhere over the buffet, food piled high, there’s a meal I must get to, stop me and you will die,” he sang.
The comic opened for such legends as Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas and Shirley MacLaine on tour before striking out on his own, yet said he loved to return home to visit local landmarks. “I grew up in Malden,” he said “Genetically, I was born to be as close to Kelly’s Roast Beef as possible.”