Johnny Cardinale: Stand-up Comedian and Musician

After a week buzzing with the anxiety of college acceptance letters, visiting performer Johnny Cardinale posed an alternative path to Phillips Academy seniors on Friday night: quitting school and becoming a stand-up comedian. “I was an accounting major in college and one day I realized that I was only doing it for the money, and I wanted to do something different, so I dropped out the next week, and moved to LA. I started going to open-mic shows, and that’s how this all got started,” said Cardinale. Cardinale travels to high schools, colleges and clubs throughout the United States. He goes abroad to entertain with his quick lines and spot-on impressions of singers complete with guitar playing. Recently, he spent a month in Afghanistan amusing the troops. Cardinale opened the show with a teasing nod to famous alumnus George W. Bush. From a tame start to a raucous ending, he kept the full house in Kemper Auditorium engrossed by asking where students were from and incorporating members of the audience into his jokes. “He did a great job getting the crowd involved and relating to kids our age with songs that we know, which showed the skill of a great and charismatic comedian,” said Kristen Faulkner ’11. In many of his anecdotes and imitations, Cardinale focused on members of his family. Students felt like they had been invited to a lively family reunion as they met Cardinale’s father who made absurd excuses to call him about relationship issues, his crazy grandmother with a permit for medicinal marijuana and his loud, garlic-loving Italian cousins. Cardinale joked frequently about relationships, comparing boys and girls from music taste to mentality and often providing personal stories of past girlfriends. He taught boys in the audience two notes to learn on the guitar to impress any girl. Though the auditorium rocked with laughter for most of the hour show, uncomfortable lulls came at some of Cardinale’s more politically incorrect jokes. “I felt that a lot of his jokes relied on exaggerating stereotypes of certain groups of people or races for a cheap laugh, like talking really loudly to be an Italian person or pretending all Japanese people are short,” commented Apsara Iyer ’12. Certain jokes caused audience members to consider what comments cross the line and when the attitude behind them makes it okay to laugh, a judgment call that varies for everyone. Cardinale veered back to good-hearted humor when he pulled out his guitar. While playing the chords to well-known rock and pop songs, he joked about lyrics he had once confused and funny noises singers make. “He was jamming out,” said Dan Krichmar ’12, “He made fun of all the songs that have the same chords.” By the end, students were entertaining the audience as well. Cardinale asked if anyone in the audience could play guitar, and, cheered on by the crowd, Casey McQuillen ’11 came to the stage. She sang “Love Story” by Taylor Swift while playing Cardinale’s guitar. “I was not prepared. Taylor Swift was my fall back,” McQuillen laughed. “I was really wicked impressed by [Cardinale’s] musical abilities. I can’t believe how comfortable he was both as a musician and a comedian,” she added. Next Peter Nelson ’11 serenaded a front-row audience member with a nineties favorite, “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet boys. Cardinale looked surprised and impressed at the strong audience participation and wild support. “It was really incredible that the two [students] were able to go on stage impromptu and perform really well. That shows the talent of Andover- pick any kid from the crowd and they’ll go up and do something great,” said Faulkner. Students were happy to have a good reason to laugh at the end of the week. “This was the only show that’s ever made me cry [from laughing so hard],” said Vanessa Merino ’13. After the show, Cardinale chatted with some new fans. He was happy to answer anyone’s questions about his life as a comedian. He said that he enjoys performing for schools more than clubs because of the personal atmosphere and opportunity for audience participation. Cardinale seemed thrilled with his career path. “In the last four years I’ve been to 48 states and 3 different countries,” said Cardinale. “It’s a bohemian lifestyle. I like it because I’ve met so many great people.” He invites all students to friend him on Facebook.