Current hometown: Albany
Current project: Greg’s appearance on MTV’s Revenge Prank aired Jan. 7, 2021
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Greg Aidala’s work as a stand-up comedian, show producer, professional emcee and TV commercial actor has made him one of the most recognizable faces in the Capital Region and beyond. Although he’s performed throughout the country and worked with top names in the entertainment business, he has always nurtured a strong connection to his hometown: building an Albany-area comedy scene from the ground up; fundraising for regional causes; creating an arts scholarship at his Colonie high school alma mater; and even pitching in regularly at his family’s auto sales business while simultaneously building an entertainment career. Our conversation, which took place just before New Year’s Eve, started with an acknowledgment that his dad’s birthday was the following day.
I know that you come from a large, supportive family; tell me more about that. Is this a milestone birthday for your dad?
Well, he’ll be 82. The way I was raised is every birthday’s a milestone, and (I’m) thankful for every day on this side of the grass.
I have four older sisters and two older brothers and a younger brother, and our mother passed away of breast cancer in 1981. My parents were the same age; they were both 43. Aside from owning the family business (Quail Auto Sales) that we still have that’s 77 years old, my father ran that (and) ran our household. And truth be told, he never yelled, he never hit us, he never drank, he never smoked. He stayed by our side, he put us through school, married off my sisters while continuing to run the business and be involved in the community, especially in Albany. I’m so thankful for that, and that’s why we appreciate him so much… the sacrifice that he’s made is truly inspiring.
During COVID, because I’m a certified business and life coach, I heard so much talk — as is in the narrative, across the world — of how important family is. I hope people really do recognize that, because I’ve lived with that goodness and support and love my entire life. And every venture I go into, every production that I’m part of, (every) relationship, I bring that to the table because I’m proud of that.
When my mother died, (my father) gathered us together… and said, “We’ll get through this with three things, and it’s love, teamwork and humor.”
Every Sunday consisted of this: We went to church, then my father cooked us breakfast, then we went to my grandmother (his mother’s) house, every Sunday for lunch and dinner… she taught us perspective. I’ll give you an example… she would say, “Look, what happened with your mother, what’s going on and what you’re going through is hard. But keep this in mind: There’s someone worse off in the world.” You would think, “Wow, that’s cruel,” but it wasn’t. It was perspective.
How old were you when you were hearing that?
I was 7 when my mother died.
That’s just so much to get your brain around, I would think, at that age. But obviously it’s had a tremendous impact.
It has, because you know how you grow… you’re shifting, and you’re really finding your own voice. And as much as the artist in me is ambivalent on my hometown, what superseded and got me around that ambivalence was the goodness that I had around me: family, friends and community… that alleviates a lot of the anxiety in life.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I’m a professional entertainer… it’s rooted in comedy, it started in stand-up. The first show I ever begged to get on — not begged, but I was persistent for three weeks to get on — was with Colin Quinn and Nick Di Paolo. This was August of 2001, and PYX 106 was hosting it. It was at the Schacht theatre in Troy at Russell Sage. It was a fundraiser, and I wound up getting on after three weeks of talking to the booker, who happened to be Colin Quinn’s cousin.
They put me on first, in front of 400 people. I had 10 minutes. I wrote for six weeks, and I put all my family and friends together —
This was your first time doing stand-up?
Yeah, ever. I’d never done stand-up before… as a producer, I would never put someone on a show like that, ever, without seeing their material. This guy put me on blind.
I’ll tell you the quick story… do you remember the Metroland? It was June of 2001, and in the back, and I mean in the back, there was this little square ad, it had a tiny picture of Colin Quinn’s face, and it said, “Looking for stand-up comedians to perform with Colin Quinn for a charity.” So I called the number, and I said, “You know, I’d like to be part of that show,” and the guy said, “Have you ever done stand-up? I need a video.” I said, “No, I haven’t… I’ve done some other stuff growing up,” and he said, “I can’t help you.” I said OK.
One week later, to the day, I called him and I said, “Hey you know, I’m just calling about, you’re looking for comedians,” and he goes, “Did you call me last week?” I said, “Yeah…” And he goes, “I can’t help you out, unless you have material.” I’m like, OK. So, third week, I called him —
It’s so crazy that you had no experience, and you just somehow talked your way in.
I did, I did! And I go, “I just want to be part of that show.” And he goes, “You’ve been calling me for two weeks.” And I said… I don’t know why I said this… “I perform on Southwest and Amtrak, and they don’t allow me to tape, but I’ll win the crowd.” It was dead silent. And I thought he hung up.
And this was total bullshit.
Yeah, complete bullshit. And he goes, “I’ll call you back in two days.” OK. I thought… I’m never going to hear from him. He called me back, and he said, “I talked to Colin. He said he’ll give you 10 minutes, but you better be effin’ funny.”
I’ll pause the story there, because what led up to it is this: When I describe myself, I’m an entertainer, it’s rooted in comedy. I formed my owned company, Radial Gage Entertainment in ’05. I launched my showcase (The Brew Ha-Ha Comedy Showcase) in ’06; it’s still one of the longest-running showcases, despite COVID. I got my first agent in ’08, and that led me to national TV, and I’ve also been my own agent. That’s how I got the MTV gig. But the genesis of it is this… I play guitar, drums and harmonica, and sing. I have a side project band. I grew up with music; this is where it all started.
We started playing music in third grade. I played trumpet in third through 12th, and then I picked up the guitar, harmonica; the drums I started about a year and three months ago. In high school, I would host the variety show and Battle of the Bands. So I had this experience… I was in the mix of hosting and bringing these shows together. I loved the energy of a live room, and everyone not being completely satisfied because you can’t please everyone all the time. But the majority are loving it, and this whole mix of live energy — I loved it! And it all started with — even with band concerts, as a kid. It just evolved. Even in college, my one friend — who’s one of my best friends still, he’s in my side project — he was in a big band, a rock band. And I roadied for him for about a year and a half, while we were in college. And I got all this experience. I was like, wow: Something is nudging me here.
I never set out to be the funniest person in the world. Humor got my family through hardships; my family is really funny and witty. And then it just happened to fall into, holy cow, people were giving me chances. And then it led to being introduced to New York City, because that’s where I grew up in entertainment… and (built) the roster, and my friends. I always wanted professionals on my show, so everyone has late-night exposure. I got into that at the beginning of 2004, in New York. I’m hanging out all night being introduced to all these pro comics… I was just in the right place at the right time.
You’re seeing them in a club or something like that?
Yeah, I’m seeing them in clubs, I’m seeing them at private events I’m being invited to… there was a road comic I met an hour outside of Albany in ’04. I got this gig hosting where I was doing five shows a week for six weeks. At the Saturday night show before the late show, he had come up to me. He was from West Virginia, I’ll never forget. His name was Chris Ciardi. And he said, “Look. I gotta tell ya, it’s been fun working with you this weekend. You’ve got a lot of stage presence, and you’re really organized for someone that just started out… you should consider producing shows.”
Not a month later… the Loudonville Fire Department called me out of the blue. They know my family a little bit, and they said, “We hear what you’re doing. Would you help us do a fundraiser?”… I had friend, my best friend who introduced me to New York, he’s now a head writer on Jimmy Kimmel, and I brought him up and we did it. I wound up doing that yearly for seven years. Within those seven years, you know how things work — other businesses, foundations started to come.
That’s how I got involved in that, in professional fundraising. Then I got on the boards of certain foundations, which I’m still on. I got involved in my high school; I was on a scholarship committee. For the last five years, I’ve had “The Knock, Knock, Who’s There?” scholarship.
I saw that on your résumé, that’s terrific.
Yeah, thanks! It’s something that — you know, everyone talks about “Oh, the arts, we need funds.” Well, make a scholarship, then. You can do these things in life. Try it, at least. Or at least look into it.
And then with the showcase — I’m sure you’re familiar with Tess Collins, who owns McGeary’s? When she owned the Lark Tavern, she had approached me when she bought it because she built the stage and had it really nicely done with curtains and everything. And she had said, “Would you bring your shows here?” Because I had started on Lark Street in ’03 doing 50-seat rooms. I was charging $10 at the door, and I’ll never forget this: The people who managed said, “You’ll never get ten dollars at the door in Albany, New York.” And I did… I believed in myself, and I was packing those rooms. That’s the niche that I had on the Capital Region, because no one was doing that. I was bringing that momentum I saw on the road, and New York, back to Albany.
So when Tess asked me, I launched the show in January 2006. I ran it there for four and a half years monthly, until (Lark Tavern) burned. And on the side of that, I was getting bigger rooms… it all just clicked. I don’t know if you know this, but I was sponsored by Budweiser for 10 years.
I didn’t know that.
Do you remember a guy named Dan Lynch? He did talk radio in Albany… this is how crazy things happen in life. This was the end of ’03. Buddy Hackett had died, and I’m listening to (Lynch) talking about comedy… I had just started on Lark Street filling these little 50-seat venues. It was great, super-tight, reminded me of the Village in New York. And he’s talking about Buddy Hackett; he said, comedy’s not what it was, everything is now blue, the F-word… so I emailed him that night and I introduced myself. I said, “Hey, you know, I’m in accordance with that.” I said, “This is who I am; this is what I’m trying to bring to the region… I try for intelligent comedy.” He wrote me back… and he said this, “Do you want to come on the air and talk about that?” Now, that guy never had guests. Never.
I remember going in. I had never done radio before.
Another one of those, never done it before.
Yeah, exactly!… It was an hour, like 4-5 or something like that. I go, an hour! I think about it now in my career, an hour’s a long time.
He was asking me questions and then he said, “You know what? Let’s take some calls.” What happened (next) was brilliant because he opened up the phone lines. Since I’m from a big family, my family’s been doing business in Albany for decades, we know a lot of people… the hour went by pretty fast. The next day, I got a call from a rep at Budweiser that heard the show in Albany, and said, “Would you meet with us?”
I met with them, and they said, “Look, we want to be part of what you’re doing… we’ll do all your promotion material, and we’ll pay for your ads. And we’ll drop off five cases of beer at every venue you play.” I was like, “Sure, this sounds great!”
And I never did them wrong. I knew, early on, coming from a family business… I was a face for them, and I wouldn’t do them wrong. It’s the same way when I get a campaign and I’m the face of a company, a bank, a New York State department commercial that I’m in. I know I’m the face of that; the reason they re-hire me is that… I really do take that seriously.
It’s all brought me — you know what, if it ended tomorrow, I have not one regret. None.
That’s a great way to look at it.
It even goes back to the (show with) Colin Quinn. Fast forward from ’01 to ’07, I get asked to open for him at Proctors. So, Colin, we’re talking backstage and he remembers the show… he goes, “Oh yeah, that’s my cousin Dylan that put that on… he’s going to be here tonight.” I go, “I gotta shake this guy’s hand. If that guy didn’t give me a chance just to find out something in life that I could make on my own…” Well, we all need people, but you get what I’m saying. Like, take that first step.
That was the first step.
That was the first step! And I was so excited to see him. I said, “You don’t remember me.” He goes, “I do, actually.” And I said, “Wow. Thank you.”
So, we sort of put a pause on that story. You talked your way into the first Colin Quinn show. You’ve got 10 minutes; you’d never done this before… what’d you do?
I got my friends — all my friends in life are from my childhood. We still talk once a week; I get that from my father. I’m one of eight kids, as you know. My father talks to each of us every day.
We brought up all these old stories that were hilarious that happened to us, and that’s what I started to compose. Like this little thread. And I grew up listening to Bob Newhart — I still have the vinyl my dad gave me. I just tried to get that cadence.
And it was all new, it was coming at me a thousand miles per hour. Four hundred people, first show, that’s a lot of people. It’s a lot of people now… I remember pacing the stage like a lion in a cage. But it just felt right… it goes back to that childhood feeling. Something about people being in the room and forgetting about life for 90 minutes.
You know, I’m very thankful to the Capital Region. First of all, I’m thankful for the career to get me across the country… I’ve been on Lifetime Movie Network, Sirius XM; I produce and act on a show on Amazon Prime (Welcome Home); I have MTV next week. The Capital Region is where I started, and I’ll never forget them for that. I’m very thankful that people trusted where I come from, my story and who I am.
I’ll tell you one thing that built my career with trust: I pay every performer, and I’ve grown to big budgets. My talent is paid in full before the show even starts. And that’s (why) everyone spread the word in New York City about me… I started getting calls. This is how I built my roster, and my friendships. And most of my friends on the roster are on TV today — including myself.
And that’s another thing… when I launched the showcase in ’06, that Lark Tavern was packed to the gills. People would pay to stand in the hallway… those were sold-out shows. You would go in, you would pay admission, you would get a ticket stub; my friend Jason Keller, who’s on EQX… he would go up 10 minutes before the show, talk to the crowd… he did all the intro music. Mind you, we had the stage set up, the curtains were behind; we had my logo on the DVD on the TVs, so it closed in the room. Everyone came through the curtain. He gave away shirts; we had prizes. I have my friend who owns a printing company; even to the day, I have brochures at all my shows. When you show up, you get a brochure of who’s performing and what’s happening.
I always like focal points; you ever go to a place and you’re like, “What the hell is going on in here?” That’s what I didn’t want.
Those formative years helped me to get to where I’m at. And it was electric.
You’re really talking to someone that took something out of thin air. I believed in it, and it just led me to so many things. I got certified as a coach; I’ve been coaching for 12 years. That led me to keynote talks. I professionally fundraise; I’ve helped raise literally hundreds of thousands of dollars within the Capital Region… I know there’s great people and great businesses in the Capital Region, and I try to help get behind them because there’s so much negativity in the world. I try to shine the light on people that are doing really good things, that are goodhearted people… I’m just doing what I feel in my heart to bring people together.
Earlier, you said something about being “ambivalent about your hometown,” and I didn’t know what you meant by that.
It’s a very political, parochial area. And you have to really bust through some doors to get anyone to listen to you, artistic-wise. It goes back to that statement when I first started producing on Lark Street, and they said, “You’ll never get ten dollars at the door.”
I broke that barrier because I believed in it… look, this is not a hobby. I have to explain that sometimes… I just know that there is a feeling of conservatism when it comes to the arts. And that happens all over the U.S.
I taught (comedy) workshops in the Albany area from 2008 to 2010, and I had 150 students… (at the time) I was really in New York City a lot. Until 2017, I still had keys to an apartment… but the students were coming to me and they said, “There’s nowhere to perform in Albany, New York, for comedy.” I go, “Yeah, because there’s never been someone to hold the torch to wrangle everyone together.”
This is what I did: I called Tess in late ’08 and I said, “Tess, look. I’ve got a lot of students that need a place to perform. I have an idea. What if we do just a strictly-comedy open mic, Sunday nights, 8-10, Lark Tavern?”… she goes, “Done.”
I organized the whole thing… there’d be 50 people that would come out on Sunday nights for this. It was called Comedy on the Park.
Hard to get people out on a Sunday night.
It is! But here’s the niche: I hit this when no one was doing this. I had a new logo made up, so every Sunday night the new logo went on the screens. I ran it just like my shows. I wanted professional; I wanted people; you never know who’s watching. And it led to work… I’d come back from New York to host it. I had giveaways; Budweiser gave me giveaways. I also did this… I passed around the hat. All the money — because I was getting paid — all the money went to the performers. I split that evenly. And some nights, hey, look, it would come down to maybe five bucks. But at least, hey, put it toward gas, or they’d be like, sweet, I can get a drink.
I didn’t have that. I had the support of my family and friends when I started, but there was nothing in Albany… there’s no clubs, you couldn’t do anything. Until I got involved. I did one play at Cap Rep; met some people that liked stand-up; got me introduced to a really professional couple that had a club an hour outside of Albany. This is how it all started, and that’s why I wanted to give back.
I kept wanting to create something for people to get away from life. That was the whole genesis of it, because when my mom died, we escaped through comedy.
If I were to ask why you do what you do, would that be the answer? Escape from life?
I do what I do… to give people this fun, carefree experience that, for 90 minutes, they can put their hardships or perhaps their bad day aside, and feel relief, through the release of laughter. Because it’s infectious.
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