Thinking Man's Comic

Randy Vera sings and jokes his way to a master's in philosophy

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

There are far easier ways to put yourself through graduate school than the one Randy Vera chose. In the course of his duties, he's sustained a cut on his head from a ceiling fan, had his wrist stuck in a lighting fixture, and taken a spill off the hood of his car.

Vera's job as a night club performer ordinarily might not entail such dangers, but Vera is not an ordinary night club performer. He combines music and comedy with such zeal that a stage literally cannot contain him - he'll often dance out onto the sidewalk, stand on a table, even hitch a ride with a mounted policeman, singing and strumming guitar all the while. His act has proven popular enough to have landed him several weekly gigs in Boston, an impressive achievement in a highly competitive entertainment marketplace. He has also made spot appearances at the Hard Rock Cafe in Manhattan.

Vera, who earned his bachelor's degree at BC in 1993, has his hands full completing a rigorous master's degree program in philosophy while performing to well past midnight nearly half the week - and with a nascent family life and his professional future to contemplate - but he is not about to sing the blues.

Randy Vera outside the Purple Shamrock, one of several Boston clubs where he performs regularly. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

"It's a big time commitment, when you factor in the hours to rehearse and prepare, as well as perform," said Vera at Sweetwater Cafe in Boston as he prepared for an evening gig. "It means quite a few late nights and some tired days. But having the chance to do music and improv, to just come out, be yourself, have fun - and, hopefully, to help other people have fun - you can't ask for a better life."

Musical expression and comedy seemed to come naturally for Vera, who took up guitar at age 8, aided by a gregarious temperament that is as evident in conversation as it is on stage. Having performed mainly for fun while growing up, towards the end of his undergraduate years at Boston College he turned to it as a way of supporting himself.

"I figured, 'What else do I do well? I mean, there are unemployed philosophers all over the place,'" said the Brighton native. "I just felt that I could present something different. If people just want to listen to music, I can play what they would like to hear. But why not do something a little outrageous, to make them laugh and have a good time?"

"Randy's like an emcee for the evening hours," said Eric Aulenback, general manager at the Sweetwater Cafe. "He can certainly attract attention, but he won't overwhelm the place like a loud live band might. When he's around, people can sing along, they can dance, they can laugh, they can just relax and enjoy themselves - whatever the situation calls for."

Vera's success stems partly from his use of cordless vocal and guitar microphones, which allow him to move around freely as he performs. But from there, he must rely on creativity and instinct to liven up the atmosphere. In one of his more memorable feats, Vera encountered a mounted policeman outside the club where he was working and talked the officer into letting him ride along on the horse - singing the theme song from the "Rawhide" TV show as he did.

Above all, Vera strives to be versatile. Some nights he can be a one-man show, but other nights he is happy to bring along his college buddy Mike McAuliffe '93 as accompanist - "We'll just come up with fun things like a medley of bad '80s music," Vera explained. There are also those times when the audience is clearly uninterested in hearing comedy, so Vera trots out his repertoire of popular songs and his own compositions to provide entertainment.

Although Vera doesn't often utilize his scholarly background in his club work - "The post-structuralism one-liners and Martin Heidegger and Bernard Lonergan jokes just don't go over well, for some reason," he quipped - he finds the perspectives formed from each complement one another.

"Listening to the discussions around you at the club, it seems there is not much concern for anything outside of the pursuit of what appears to be important, like material things," Vera said. "But then you get up the next day and go to a lecture on Lonergan or Plato and you rediscover the appreciation for the examined life. I guess you could say I try to bring that viewpoint with me when I perform."

Vera's outlook on life has changed considerably of late with the birth of his daughter, Caroline, this spring. Her arrival prompted Vera to shelve some of his music-related projects, at least for a while, and he realizes that more tough choices lie ahead after he receives his degree later this academic year and considers pursuing a doctorate. But he appears more buoyed than intimidated by parenthood.

"Caroline is the greatest part of my life," Vera said. "Who knows, maybe I'll wind up playing kids' music for a living some day. I just like being able to do this and I want to keep on doing it as long as I can."

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