“As far back as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed making people laugh,” shared comedian Tom Lloyd Andrews, 23, of Hauppauge. “I don’t know if it’s the absurdity that I enjoy, the quips, or just the simple feeling of putting a smile on someone’s face. All I know is that I’m obsessed with comedy.”

Was this an intentional GoodFellas reference, a sincere bit or more than a bit sincere? Well, words read back only go so far. Better to catch the rising comedian live and in person to fully discern his style for yourself. 

Alongside nine other contestants, Andrews will compete for a slot at the forthcoming Suffolk County Championship. These preliminary rounds will take place Saturday night at the aptly-named ‘Red Zone Sports Bar & Grill’ — located at 770 Sunrise Highway in West Babylon. The top four place finishes in the October 14 competition will advance. 

Interested patrons can attend for $20 cash at the door. They need not expect municipal parking before partaking in the rare college football, playoff baseball and close-to-home live comedy medley. There is plenty of residential parking behind and nearby the venue that’s unique-flavored Buffalo Wings have topped the Long Island rankings of the New York Wings Festival for the past five years and counting, and will most assuredly be on the menu.

As marketed in the Aragona’s Comedy flier promoting the event, the first-place winner of the competition shall receive, in addition to one of the four spots in the McGwire’s Comedy Club of Bohemia-held Suffolk County Championship on Friday, October 27 — 10:00 seating for a 10:30 show: 

  • Up to $350
  • The opportunity to headline their own show 
  • Paid ‘feature’ and ‘host’ spots at upcoming shows 
  • A Spot on ‘Laughter Saves Lives,’ a charitable organization that collaborates with the local volunteer fire departments
  • Open for event host/Aragona’s Comedy producer John Butera at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut

When discussing his craft over interview, Andrews – who may occasionally come across as the next gen sharp-dressed man amongst ZZ Top “stans” on the local comedy circuit, at first glance, instantly overcomes preconceived notions assigned to his babyface with his appreciation for the process.

A history education master’s candidate at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Andrews does not self-deprecatingly indicate inexperience, but rather a decade-plus track record of both worshiping and working in comedy— while endearingly self-aware that he still has miles to go before he sleeps. He rose through the ranks of his school’s improv troupe to become president of the same club his senior year. Here, he would harness his funnyman chops, timing and sensibilities as part of a team-based organism before concluding that, though he learned a lot, “it [improv] isn’t stand-up.” With the edgier lens he was developing, he figured he ought to give unleashing his unmasked voice as a solo act the old college try.

“There truly is something about the art form [stand-up comedy] that makes it stand out to all other forms of comedy,” Andrews said. “It’s also nice to restart. I went from someone who was looked at as the most experienced in the room, to going into an environment where I feel like a complete novice, compared to most others.” 

While home from school this past summer, Andrews interned for a local newspaper by day and hit the open mic slate by night. Like his hero, the late Norm MacDonald, his bread and butter became subversive storytelling; anecdotes that hinged on the ultimate punchline payoff. However, unlike the wonderfully askew Weekend Update warrior, earning his keep early-on in his career means 4-6 minute spots at a time, which means there is no time afforded to Andrews to meander like Norm could in his prime, or current rockstar comedians can on, say, a Joe Rogan or Barstool Sports podcast. 

No, you must get to the point with precision and concision; Andrews did just that in one spot caught at Farrell’s Tavern in Ronkonkoma over the summer, adhering to the old magician’s trick— three downs, (in) and out. Make no mistake about it, he did not punt, nor take a knee. Stating at the top he had a couple of set-ups he was still fine-tuning, Andrews yet again defied his age by not giving into nerves. He did not overstay his welcome, thereby leaving all in attendance wanting more of what he had to offer. 

Improv had taught him how to keep the story going with one stream-of-consciousness non-sequitur after the next, and to thrive coolly under unforeseen pressure. Workshopping his act — which on that particular night, encompassed chuckle fodder born from a day on the links with his Dad and his golfing buddies, to the politically charged headlines that came across his former boss’ newsdesk — helped him both apply all that he learned and collect enough pressure scenarios to dilute their fury. 

Consequently, he and others like him who take that leap from class clown pretender to performatively-versed contender on the prowl earn a much-welcomed look-see at how to keep an audience engaged with what they have to say— not in-character, but as their authentic selves. 

Former ‘Messenger’ intern Tom Lloyd Andrews performing a set at Farrell’s Tavern in Ronkonkoma.

For a vulnerable discipline that requires repeatedly doing the activity (public speaking) many studies demonstrate people fear more than, *reads notes back,* dying, ego is inherently required. And yet, Andrews has again in this instance showed wisdom beyond his years by humbly appealing hat-in-hand to seasoned comedians with uniformly granted requests for lay of the land tours galore. 

It’s this exact penchant for inquisition that led to his introduction to comedy host and producer John Butera, which begot a few spots at the equally Aragona’s-sponsored hows Governor’s at McGwire’s Comedy Club, that which has now begot Tom Lloyd Andrews Andrews being tabbed to compete for the coveted prizes amongst his peers Saturday night at Red Zone.

Having gotten his start in broadcast radio for WSJU as a student at St. John’s University, WFAN and WRCM, John Butera set these passions aside for a time to open popular pizzeria restaurants with his family. He most recently owned Aragona’s Pizzeria in Miller’s Place. One day, he and his wife conceived a dinner comedy show, the first of which was “Portside in Port Jeff.” Not knowing many comedians himself back then, Butera performed for paying customers, and quickly found his second love. 

Less than a year and a spot earned at the New York Comedy Club later, Butera had won $200 in a comedy competition, and started booking spots on other comedians’ shows soon afterward. 

A decade in, Butera does about 20 shows a month, 240-250 year, traveling all along the East Coast before reporting back to base. He’s crossed paths with mentors-turned-colleagues like Joe Piscopo and the late Gilbert Gottfried. In turn, he’s never lost touch with his own fortunate immersion into the coveted comedy scene. He spends his time between headlining shows at Mohegan Sun transforming his Aragona’s handle from the pizza world into the revolving “Aragona’s Comedy” door for local comedians to steal some sunshine and take it with them wherever they head next. 

Though Butera is not performing himself on either night, he knows the virtue of comedy firsthand and emitting from the newer comedians he meets, especially after the global shutdown made their foremost passions exceedingly more difficult to pursue in typical fashion. Grouped together with strip clubs under the State Liquor Authority, comedy clubs and shows in large were axed indefinitely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Butera recalls.

Eventually, Butera and company were able to put on a couple shows a month in outdoor restaurant settings wherein tables were 10 feet apart, and a maximum crowd of 60 people was permitted. 

“We tried to make it as safe as possible,” Butera said, also noting that “by far the weirdest” comedy show he’s performed in his career came during COVID. He stood on the back of a U-Haul pickup truck in the Hicksville-located Broadway Mall parking lot as he entertained “…an audience through a radio single while they all sat in their cars and parked in a parking lot one space away from each other — because apparently you can catch COVID through the car — and if they thought something was funny, we couldn’t hear their laughter, so they’d honk their horns.” 

“Easily the weirdest thing I ever did,” Butera repeated. “They had me do a half hour, and then after the set they played the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” 

Though Saturday won’t be a day onstage for him, Butera looks forward to seeing comedians from all different backgrounds in competition as they seek to strike a balance between demonstrating their original voices and sending off the comedians that inspired them to traverse such waters in the first place.

“You always learn from people, you always try to understand things… you always improve just by watching other people and how they act and perform on stage,” Butera shared when asked what he takes away from watching others perform and host, and what advice he gives to those just starting out. 

Another comedian set to compete on Saturday night who cites John Butera as an influence says he fell just short in the finals last year. He’s used this as a motivating agent to commit to comedy even more so, with several open mic spots a week claimed this past year in addition to regular shows, making him more comfortable with his craft and at his day job alike. 

“I started doing stand up when I was a senior in high school when the school did a battle of the bands and I was volunteered to be the emcee. After writing several jokes about the principal and the attendance software of the school, I was hooked,” said Mike Ellison, 35, of Bohemia. 

Mike Ellison (photo above) is also set to perform at Red Zone on Saturday night.

Adds Ellison: “I feel like comedy can definitely help handle stress and stressful situations because as performers we’re forced into a position to rise above that fear and focus on the task at hand. Hopefully I can have a better showing this year with all of the practice.” 

“I know what does work and I know what doesn’t work. I know my own style, and what works within it. So just learn, and watch, and ask questions,” Butera concluded. “Don’t think you know everything. Don’t think you’re better than everybody else. Don’t be closed off. People out there who’ve been doing it for years can help you.” 

Red Zone Sports & Grill is located at 770 Sunrise Highway in West Babylon. Tickets for the Suffolk Comedy Contest presented by Aragona’s Comedy are $20 cash at the door. Seating will commence at 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. show. 

Aragona’s Comedy Upcoming Local Slate:

Thur, Oct. 19 – Oh, Smoke a Cigar in Babylon 6 p.m.

Fri, Oct. 20 – Riverhead Ciderhouse 6 p.m.

Sat, Oct. 21 – Haft to Go Riverhead 7 p.m.

Fri, Oct. 27 – McGuire’s Comedy Club in Bohemia 1030 p.m.

Sat, Oct. 28 – Governor’s Giggle Room in Levittown 730 p.m. 

Sat, Oct. 28 – The Colony Holbrook 6 p.m.

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Mike Reistetter, former Editor in Chief, is now a guest contributor to The Messenger Papers. Mike's current career in film production allows for his unique outlook on entertainment writing. Mike has won second place in "Best Editorials" at the New York Press Association 2022 Better Newspaper Contest.