Steve Scarfo “fell backwards” into comedy. He knew he was a goofy guy and always found himself telling jokes to his co-workers. In 1996, one of those co-workers suggested he try stand-up comedy.
“I said, ‘What the hell, I’ll give it a shot,’” Scarfo said. “I was hooked on my first try.”
Fourteen years later, Scarfo has teamed with two other New England comedians, Mike Koutoubis and Ryan Gartley, to bring more laughter to the Granite State. The trio — known as Live Free or Die Laughing — will take the stage at the Sheraton and Marriott hotels in Portsmouth on New Year’s Eve, with some of their funniest friends.
“When the comics get offstage at the Sheraton they will just walk across the street and get onstage at the Marriott,” Koutoubis said of the group’s ability to be in two places at one time.
Live Free or Die Laughing was originally created to organize shows and fundraisers but has developed into a comedy booking and production agency.
“We use anybody pretty much in New England — top headliners, new open-mike comics as opening acts,” Koutoubis said. “We try to bring in as many people as possible.”
The trio, who met through the comedy circuit, which Scarfo likened to a dysfunctional family, took the stage for their first time under their new moniker for an American Red Cross fundraiser on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, 2009. They raised just short of $2,000. They have since performed shows to benefit Haiti relief efforts and have shows planned on Feb. 4 to benefit the Police Athletic Youth League in Nashua and on Feb. 5 for the Star Spotters Grand Chapter of New Hampshire.
“Being on stage knowing that people had a great time and that you made money for a good cause feels good,” Scarfo said. “We have a great time helping people out.”
During Scarfo’s first routine in 1996, he joked about a group of caffeine and alcohol addicts he called “caffeholics anonymous.” His four-minute set was also filled with Ross Perot jokes and stories about growing up Italian in Maine.
“I want to be ethnic but I just can’t,” Scarfo said.
On New Year’s Eve, Scarfo said he plans to touch on the recent uproar about airport screenings done by the Transportation Security Administration.
“I want to write ‘funky monkey’ on my chest with body paint and see what happens,” Scarfo said.
“That’s a scary image, Steve. Thank you,” Koutoubis chimed in on the conference call.
Koutoubis entered the entertainment ring at age 15, as a professional Ringling Brothers-trained clown. He spent some time juggling fire on six-foot-tall unicycles. As a bouncer at a club in Dover, Koutoubis found himself to be the guy who told everyone to turn off their cell phone before the start of the Saturday night comedy shows. An agent took notice that Koutoubis had been able to turn his instructions into a comedy shtick, cracking dumb jokes with the regulars. He was soon asked to start writing jokes.
“And off I went,” he said.
Koutoubis’ topics have grown from shutting off cell phones and pointing out emergency exits to bits about dating and “men-against-women kind of stuff.”
“My New Year’s resolution is to turn 40 gracefully. A 39-year-old woman’s resolution gets a little scary. They’re all about turning 40 without killing anybody,” Koutoubis said.
Koutoubis said the punchline has become the smallest part of the joke for both Scarfo and him.
“We are very animated,” he said. “It’s all about the story to get to the punchline.”