When I reviewed Joe Montaperto’s second book, Lovely Chaos, I wrote that “[m]aybe he will have himself figured out by the third book.” Having now completed that third book, Nobody Gets Out Of Catering Alive, I think that I can safely say that he may have. Possibly. Maybe.
Like his first two books, Montaperto writes in a stream of consciousness manner – but this time, his mind’s thoughts are joined by others, the insomnia-induced characters he creates for a one-man show made for the stage. The fantasy worlds of his characters intertwine with his own sleep-deprived self at times, creating an even more manic account of his life (this time the 1990’s through 2003) than in his prior endeavors.
Montaperto’s attempts at obtaining a zen-like existence (even going so far as to spend time at a Buddhist temple site, complete with vows of silence) are foiled alternately by his lack of sleep, failed interactions with others, and the proliferation of Starbucks locations throughout New York City. This does not stop him, however, from trying to educate the reader about both the benefits of a more “natural” lifestyle and the ills of big business. If a book’s purpose is to make the reader think, then this effort succeeds on many levels. One cannot read Montaperto’s work without looking inside themselves, comparing their own thoughts to those of Montaperto and his various characters, and, sometimes, wondering if they (or we as a whole) are walking along the correct path.
Montaperto is a self-proclaimed entertainer. This book proves that he is correct, because once you start reading, you will not want to put it down. On the other hand, while he often wonders while recounting his life if he is wasting his time waiting tables at parties and writing his one-man show, his stories and musings show that, in that respect, he is completely incorrect.
Andrew Wolfenson, Esq., attorney and author of In His Ex-Wife’s Defense and Deadly Fantasy: A Baseball Story
By David Menzies | The Jersey Journal
Author Joe Montaperto’s latest book – “Nobody Gets Out Of Catering Alive...” – among many things, paints a picture of a gig economy that existed before the term did.
“I work for four different companies,” Montaperto said. “That’s what you do in catering. You don’t work for one company, because you’ll never get enough work. You have to work for different companies, but the drag is you’re going to a different place everyday. You could be up in the Bronx, you could be out in Brooklyn. Wherever the job is, it’s your responsibility to get there.” But the upside, he said, for the 25 years he’s been doing it on and off, is he gets time to travel.
Montaperto, 59, has written three books, each of them in some way chronicling him dealing with curveballs, or sometimes being the curveball.
Born to Sicilian parents in Brooklyn, Montaperto’s life was uprooted along with the trend of whites moving to the suburbs to get away from African-Americans’ increasing presence and demands for equality.
But Montaperto, now a longtime Jersey City resident, didn’t fit in with the population of Roselle in the seventies – who he has said were primarily White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). In part, his first book, “The Edge of Whiteness” is about how the people he grew up around frequently assumed with his increasingly tan skin that he was Puerto Rican, and how he came to identify culturally with some of the black youth who were being bused in.
His second book, “Lovely Chaos” is a two-part tome exploring his time as a rising stand-up comic in Koch-era NYC.
“Nobody Gets Out of Catering Alive” explores the aftermath of what Montaperto describes as a nervous breakdown; this time includes his beginning to work in catering, along with finding himself honing the distinct theatrical voice his work is written in – then, to create a show, “Four Degrees of Separation,” in protest of the proliferation of so many rapidly appearing Starbucks.
“(In 1994) they actually took the Village Gate (nightclub) down,” Montaperto said. "It was there for years and it made a lot of people famous, and they turned it into a CVS or a Rite Aid. That was like the ultimate slap in the face to me, when that became (that). I was part of a group that had performed there many times. I was very sad to see that happen.”
“Nobody Gets Out Of Catering Alive...” begins in 1990, with Montaperto practically lying in the fetal position in his parents’ home in Roselle, trying to find meaning after his years in NYC became more chaos than “Lovely Chaos.”
Around this time, Montaperto said people in the comedy world who’d come up around when he did, or just after, were becoming famous, making him feel like he should have stuck it out.
“There was a place ... up by Columbia University. This was like open mic, you could come in and try stuff out. And they did a show. I didn’t like the place because there was an emcee there, and him and (John) Leguizamo were boys. I did this character (a Puerto Rican woman and hairdresser Monteparto said he named Chi Chi Gonzalez), and they thought I was Puerto Rican. I said, no, I’m Sicilian. And it seemed like they got mad at me, like I was trying to fool them or something.”
But Leguizamo, Montaperto said, was interested in hearing about how he developed the character.
“He wasn’t really a friend of mind, but I was flattered … I gotta give those guys credit – Jon Stewart, Dave Attell, Leguizamo, Martin Lawrence. They really committed and went through the process. I was just self-destructive.”
Montaperto couldn’t bring himself to get back into comedy. “I had this whole spiritual aspect … ‘So If I stay in this, what kind of manic-depressive lunatic would I be?’ I was already teetering on the edge. There were some good people, but … (a lot of it is) almost all ego actually. To get on there, you have to be a big ego.”
“I went and I lived in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for a long time … I did all of these silent meditations. But it still didn’t suit me well,” Montaperto continued. “(Though it did help) it was kind of stifling, in a way. And I wasn’t comfortable.”
So as the Starbucks went up, Montaperto said it spurred a kind of social activism in him. “I went and did ‘The Four Degrees of Disconnection’ about how we’re disconnected from our souls, from nature, from community and from our sexuality. I had four different characters in four different circumstances. I thought I made it. The last show I did there was for these producer-types. They wanted to have a backers show, like Leguizamo’s (“Mambo Mouth,” Leguizamo’s Off-Broadway show) one-man show in this theater. I was back with the girlfriend I had had. Once 9/11 happened, everything got canceled.”
Ultimately, Montaperto’s book is about the 10 years he spent clawing his way to that almost-show and how he deals with yet another curveball.
“When you do a big (gig) in catering, they give people jobs. Like there’s the point team, the knife team, and the fork team, and one of them is the butter people. And what that is, you put a patch of butter on this tray. (And at a gig around that time, this captain was going) ‘Where are my butter people?’ – because most of them were hiding. And I realized, this is what I had become. I had become a butter person. And it was shortly after that I left for Ecuador.”
But that is a story for another book, Montaperto said.
Visit http://www.joemontaperto.com/ to learn more about Montaperto, read his blog, or see him interviewed by the late Jersey Journal columnist Earl Morgan.
“Nobody Gets Out Of Catering Alive...” is available on amazon.com in paperback and electronic editions, and is also available on smashwords.com. It’s not available in local bookstores, not for Montaperto’s lack of trying. He said he at least appreciated Word Bookstore getting back to him about why it wasn’t for them.