Comedian Tom Cotter toiled in relative obscurity for a quarter century until shock-jock Howard Stern saved him.
“I was kind of below the radar for 25 years,” Cotter said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Friends told him to try out for “America’s Got Talent,” Cotter said, but he didn’t want to as long as Piers Morgan was on the panel.
“I was afraid of him,” Cotter said of Morgan. Then, Stern was brought in to replace Morgan.
“I thought this was a chance because Howard Stern was a fan of comedy and the man he replaced hated comedy. When Morgan left, I said, now is my chance.”
Cotter, 49, performs through Sunday at Capt. Brien’s Seafood and Raw Bar, home of the Off the Hook Comedy Club, on Marco Island.
Cotter’s obscurity ended when he shone on “America’s Got Talent,” and he was runner-up last year. He lost the popular vote to the Olate Dogs, who perform various tricks.
“It sounds nice, it’s wonderful, until you realize I lost to a dog act, everybody, in front of 19 million people,” he jokes in his standup.
“I lost to nonhumans, creatures who had no idea they were even in a competition.”
Cotter isn’t complaining. The national exposure meant he no longer would perform his act only at what he called “all the “C’s” — colleges, comedy clubs, corporate events and cruise ships.
He said he spent 15 years performing stand-up on cruise ships, and also worked comedy clubs throughout the U.S.
“You’re doing the Chuckle Hut in Nebraska, but who knows about that?” he said.
Growing up in Rhode Island, Cotter was the youngest of six children in an Irish Catholic family.
“You’ve got to do anything you can to get any kind of attention,” he said of his childhood. “I acted out a lot and I enjoyed that feedback. I kind of became the ham of the family.”
He said he told his dad — now 90 and a retired neurosurgeon — he would take the law school admission test, or LSAT, once he tried to make a living out of standup.
“I never got it out of my system,” Cotter said of telling jokes.
He said laughter is needed in society every day, and it’s not ironic the U.S., Canada and Great Britain are among the more happier countries; all have produced and love comedians, he said.
“There’s not a lot of standup in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “There’s a lot of bitterness.”
Cotter names Johnny Carson, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Rodney Dangerfield as comics he’s admired. He said he would sneak Carlin’s “Indecent Exposure” album into his bedroom when he was growing up, listening to it over and over. Eventually, he memorized it.
He also enjoyed listening to Eddie Murphy’s “live” albums when he was in college.
“He was a rock star, but he was telling jokes,” Cotter recalled. “There was no band. I said, ‘I want to do that.’ ”
Cotter said he’s looking forward to his first appearance this weekend at Off the Hook Comedy Club. He said he’s been pestering owner Brien Spina for a few years about performing there.
Cotter is married to comedian Kerri Louise, and the couple have twin 10-year-old boys and a 6-year-old son.
“She’s giving me many lines in my act and I’ve tried to help her out, too,” he said of his wife.
Louise’s parents live at Heritage Bay in North Naples.
“The first time I saw (Cotter) on ‘America’s Got Talent,’ it dawned on me that he emails me all the time and his family is in Naples,” Spina said.
After seeing Cotter do well on the TV show, Spina said, he contacted him about performing at Off the Hook.
If you Go
Who: Comedian Tom Cotter
Where: Captain Brien’s Off the Hook Comedy Club, 599 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island
When: 7 and 9 p.m. today and Saturday, and 8 p.m. Sunday
Price: $23.52, including online ticket fee; $51.82 VIP, including $25 dinner voucher and ticket fee
To order: www.offthehookcomedy.com/