Boston stand-up Don Gavin is ready for the secret to get out

Comedian Don Gavin
Comedian Don GavinGiggles Comedy Club

Don Gavin admits he has never had a head for business. In the 1980s, when he was a key part of a swinging Boston stand-up scene that included Steven Wright, Lenny Clarke, and Steve Sweeney, he never got a manager or an agent, never moved to Los Angeles or New York. Instead, he stayed in Boston, found steady work, and earned the nickname “The Godfather of Boston Comedy.” The big break that would make him a star never came.

“I never understood exactly why it didn’t come my way, but it didn’t,” he says. “But also I didn’t pursue it. With this album that’s coming out now, finally maybe I’ll get rid of the moniker ‘Boston’s’ and ‘Comedy’s Best Kept Secret.’ I’d like the secret to get out.


The album Gavin is referring to is “Live with a Manhattan.” It was originally released on CD in 2007 but never properly distributed. “I only sold it at little clubs I was working at and I never really produced it,” says Gavin. “It was like I was selling a bootleg of my own album.”

That changed this week when the album became available for purchase on digital Apple and Amazon platforms and hit streaming services like Spotify and Pandora and satellite radio. Jim Serpico discovered the lost album last year after working with Gavin on “The Best of Boston Stand-up: Volume I,” which was released on the digital-only record label Virtual Comedy Network.

“I and a lot of people connected to the Boston comedy scene admire Don Gavin and think of him as one of the greatest comedians around today and thought that this album deserved a shot to be heard wider than it ever was," Serpico says. "It was never sold nationally. It was never in a record store. It never had a digital release.”


A lot of comedy fans might not recognize Gavin’s name, but fellow comics, especially if they spent time in the Hub in the ’80s and ’90s, love him. “I’m not a household name, but amongst comedians, I certainly am,” says Gavin. In the coming weeks, “Live with a Manhattan” will get a big push from popular podcasts hosted by comedians with Boston roots. Gavin spoke to the Globe by phone from Beverly Hills, and was scheduled to sit down with Bill Burr, Marc Maron, and Greg Fitzsimmons for each of their podcasts.

There has never been a shortage of work for Gavin. He spends 30-35 weeks a year on the road, playing Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the cruise ship circuit. But he’s excited for the possibility of bigger gigs and more fans this new round of exposure might bring. “I hope the little cottage industry I have now will become a bigger cottage,” he says. “Or maybe a house industry.”

It would be natural to ask, why all the hubbub for an album that’s more than a decade old? The answer is that Gavin writes enduring comedy. The jokes work more than once. He has kept some of the same material in his sets for more than 20 years, but it still holds up. “I have stuff that’s older than some of the people in the audience,” he says. “But I’ve never had a complaint of someone saying, ‘Gee, we heard you do that before.’ In fact, I actually get requests.”


A sampling from “Live with a Manhattan”:

On being a horrible driver: “Last year I hit a guy. He was in his … living room. I couldn’t see him from the street. He hid behind the house. I got him … but I had to go through the kitchen.”

On signs in casinos: “ ’If you have a gambling problem, call 1-800-GAMBLE,’ so I called them up. I said, look, I’ve got an ace and a six and the dealer has a seven, and … hoping you could help?”

On traveling on the cheap: “I was at a Motel 5 recently. No, it’s like a 6 but without the frills.”

On cuisine: “I’m a vegetarian. I’m not a strict vegetarian. I eat meat, too.”

Gavin’s delivery adds the extra punch. He’s always been a fast talker, and his style is to set up a joke quickly and tag it relentlessly. “A friend once said I speak 70 words per minute, gusts up to 100,” he says. Some comedians might stop and bask in an audience’s applause. Not Gavin. “I don’t like applause breaks. I like to just keep moving. Now, laughs I like. Applause breaks, I don’t like.”

Gavin says it was that way from the very beginning, when he started working in Boston in 1979. He is taking things a little slower now — he moved to Florida in January for the warmer weather and proximity to cruise ship work. But that will never show onstage. If there is one thing he wants people to know about him, he says it’s “the overall effect of more laughs per minute than almost any other comedian. That I’ve been able to sustain that, that’s what I’m kind of proud of.”


Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.